LUANNE: How do you not cry?
HANK: Well, instead of letting it out, try holding it in. Every time you have a feeling, just stick it into a little pit inside your stomach and never let it out.
LUANNE (trying it): Are you supposed to have a pain under your rib?
HANK: Yes. That’s natural. The body doesn’t want to swallow its emotions. But now you go ahead and put that pain inside your stomach too.
LUANNE: I think it’s workin’, Uncle Hank. I feel sick, but not sad.
– King of the Hill, “Luanne’s Saga”
I managed to hold it off until the day before Christmas Eve, but the sad sat down hard on my chest this morning. Driving in to the office about 7:45, alone in my car, Paul Anka was on the radio singing “Rudolph,” all the Christmas lights were shining through the gloomy fog in Centennial Park, and the SkyView ferris wheel was lit up and spinning.
And suddenly it felt like everything joyful and festive and hopeful and good in me was sucked out and only an incredible emptiness was left. I was suddenly acutely aware of my aloneness.
What is it about Christmas that does this? I’m no more alone than I am any other time of year. And I’m not “alone.” The office is full of people today. I’ll be with my family tomorrow. (And for me, gratefully, unlike some, I love being with my family.) But when I could’ve left the office this morning after my 9:00 meeting was over, I didn’t want to. The idea seems cold and empty and dark and – alone.
I tried to alleviate the “alone” this year. I invited someone to come to Christmas Eve at my mom’s with me (and to various other Christmas events as well) – but… well… yeah… you know. And maybe that makes me feel more alone too, when you try to not be alone and those attempts are rejected.
I know there’s got to be more to this feeling that descends on me this time every year. And I’m so glad that it’s only happened a few days before Christmas this time. (For the last couple of years, it hit at Thanksgiving and didn’t let up until Christmas was over.) But even a couple of days of feeling like this sucks!
I read a great article yesterday that feels very true to what I’m feeling. (And I can’t remember where it was so I can link to it, dammit!) But basically it said that feeling anxious about being alone is evolutionary. As cavemen (and women), if you were alone, you weren’t safe.
That’s very much what my aloneness feels like; the emotion feels like vulnerability and insecurity and danger.
I always feel guilty when I feel like this around the holidays. I have so much and I am so blessed. I’m not a big evangelist or testifier, but I truly believe if God hadn’t interceded in my life, I could very well be homeless, whoring, or dead right now from my alcoholism. I have found an amazing church that fits my incredibly liberal beliefs socially and theologically – five blocks from my house. More importantly, that church has become a home and a family for me. I have an amazing family of birth and amazing friends. I have stumbled accidentally into a comfortable career that allows me to provide for myself. I could go on and on.
There are people who ARE homeless. Children who are hungry. I have a friend who’s sitting death watch over his mother right now. There are people who’ve been disowned by their families. There are people wrestling mightily with addictions. There are people in prison. There are people in sexual slavery. There are people in abusive relationships. I could go on and on.
I don’t feel like I deserve to feel sad, but still I do.
I guess one of the hardest things is that (at least most years) I don’t want to just wish away the holiday. When I’m sad or upset about some event at other times of the year, I just tell myself that it’ll be over soon. But I really like Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve at my mom’s where my immediate family eats ham sandwiches in front of the TV, then opens stockings, then move to the living room where we listen to Christmas music on the stereo while we exchange gifts one by one. So I guess I feel very conflicted about loving it and wanting it to be over (or maybe just wanting to not feel sad) at the same time.
I think if I could ferret out exactly why I feel like this, I could make it better. Meanwhile, I have a man pinging me on eHarmony. He sounds interesting. We have a lot in common. He has pretty eyes. But when I get ready to respond to his questions, I’m terrified and can’t bring myself to do it. So maybe I DO want to be alone.
Can you simultaneously want to be alone and want to not alone at the same time. I can’t decide which one is scarier.
I’m living in a limbo of fear and anxiety. Ho ho ho.
- I didn’t think I can fix everybody.
- I didn’t think I can help everybody.
- I could accept things instead of trying to control them.
- I didn’t fear that no one will ever find me worthy of romantic love again.
- I wasn’t terrified to grow old alone.
- I hadn’t been inculcated with the promise of finding a magical romance at the holidays.
- I didn’t feel like I’ve failed at something competitive when I can’t make someone fall in love with me.
- I would stop trying to get involved with men who aren’t available.
- I wouldn’t feel so disappointed and angry when people let me down.
- people could be depended on to do what they say they’ll do.
- I could let people go when I’m doing lots of giving and not getting anything back.
- I didn’t feel like I have to chase men if I want to find love.
- someone would chase me.
- I didn’t give too much and too desperately.
- I didn’t feel so needy.
- I didn’t keep thinking that a man can finally make me feel complete.
- I wasn’t afraid to stop pursuing someone for fear they might be my last and only chance.
- I wasn’t afraid of other people and other possibilities.
- it were easier to figure out exactly why I’m sad when I’m sad.
- I knew what would soothe me and comfort me when I’m feeling empty or sad or needy or whatever this is.
- everything weren’t so complicated.
- I could be stronger.
- I could afford to be weaker.
- I wish I had the courage to give up.
I was sweating my recurring holiday anxiety the night before Thanksgiving. I SO want this year to be different. I really, really want to enjoy the holidays again.
But I drove to Thanksgiving lunch Thursday with a sense of dread in my stomach.
Anxiety is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You worry about the possibility of feeling anxious which makes you feel anxious and you think, “Well damn! Here it comes again.” Which makes you feel anxious.
So as I tooled down I-20 West with a knot in my stomach, I finally took a deep breath and said to myself, “OK. You’re smart. What is it that you’re really dreading? Be honest.”
So I thought for a while, and I realized that going to my grandmother’s house makes me feel anxious, first, because the whole atmosphere at her house is a bit cold and tense. She’s not a huggy, “make you an apple pie” grandmother. She’s a “get mad at you for sitting on her bedspread” grandmother. She’ll tell you you’re fat. She’ll tell you she doesn’t like your hair. After all, wearing it that way makes you look manly. *sigh*
Secondly, half the people there don’t WANT to be there and spend the whole time making snarky comments about my grandmother. And that makes me feel bad.
Finally, as Grandmother’s gotten older, she can’t hear much and so my mom spends the whole day yelling at her trying to communicate. It’s not intentionally confrontational, but they start to get irritated with each other and between the yelling and the frustration, the tension rips the scab right off my confrontation anxiety.
I thought about those things after I let myself admit them and said, “You know. Hating those things doesn’t make me a bad granddaughter, daughter, or Southern woman. It makes me human.” And I felt better.
Then I asked myself what made me uncomfortable about going to my mom’s house – the house where I grew up. And that one was easy. Although I’d never really admitted it, I feel such an yawning emptiness there since my dad died. My mom is amazing and I love her and I like spending time with her. But there is a gigantic love and laughter and warmth hole in that house since Daddy’s gone.
I thought about that for a while and realized that it doesn’t mean I don’t love my mother or that I’m a bad person for feeling some negative emotions when I’m at the house. It only means I love my daddy, that I was blessed to have a magnificent father, and I miss him at the holidays. There’s no shame in feeling that. And I felt better.
I realized that it doesn’t make me a bad person or a Scrooge to have things about the holidays or my family that make me uncomfortable or sad. It’s OK to feel negative feelings. Feelings can’t make you a bad person. The world is not perfect; the holidays can’t be perfect; my family isn’t perfect; and I don’t have to be perfect. “It’s OK,” I thought. “It’s all OK.”
Then it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I took a deep breath. My heart didn’t race and there was no hint of hyperventilation.
I went on to grandmother’s and had a good time. I let it be what it was. And we ate good food and we had good conversation. My cousin and I put up Grandmother’s Christmas tree and we watched a little football. And I felt satisfied and relaxed, not like I needed to escape.
Then I went to my mom’s for a while and hung out. And my dad wasn’t there. And I didn’t like that. And it was OK. We watched TV and fed the cats and put her big, light up, plastic Nativity scene on the front porch. Then we kicked back in our recliners and watched the lighting of Macy’s Great Tree. And it was OK.
Back home last night, I decided to put up my two-foot tall fiber optic Christmas tree and my tiny figurine of Snoopy and Woodstock decorating their Charlie Brown tree. I was hurting so much and feeling so bad last year that I never put them out.
And as I turned off the living room lights and watched my little tree spin and change colors, I was content. It was beautiful. It was a little tacky. It made me smile. And at least for the moment, I didn’t fear Christmas coming.
I’ve always loved the holidays – the lights, the gifts, the music, the television specials, the anticipation! And I still love all those things, but a confluence of several factors including my divorce and the death of my dad have changed things. There is an empty place in my heart.
The holidays are supposed to be a time for joyful gatherings. But I always feel like a giant zit under a magnifying glass when I’m alone there these days. I rarely feel self-conscious, but inevitably I do at holiday parties.
I feel it particularly strongly at family gatherings. Except for my widowed mother and grandmother, I’m the only one not coupled up and the only adult without kids. It makes me feel like Forrest Gump at the Black Panther party, and like I screwed up all the things you’re supposed to be and do as a grown-up. Here I am, 46 years old and alone at the holidays without any “family.” And it’s my fault for quitting and walking away from my marriage because I thought I could find something better.
Disney and Hallmark and all the others have conspired to make me believe in happy endings, in love stories, in holiday magic. I have daydreamed countless scenarios where my magical holiday ending finally happens. My imaginary stories are so romantic, full of kisses and Christmas lights and love!
But a life’s true story isn’t wrapped up tightly in a bow after two hours. There are very few happy endings. And there are many, many sad and lonely people.
Every year at the holidays, I swear this time will be different. I’m going to beat the holiday blues. I’m going to love myself. I will be enough. I’ll have more gratitude. I will find joy.
I will not have a prolonged anxiety attack from Thanksgiving Eve through Christmas Eve.
So far on night one of the countdown, I’m not starting out too well…