22 Handling the Holidays Alone, Part 1

Beth Luwandi LPC outlines how to handle the holidays when you’re single. She goes over tips on how to handle it, how to talk about it and who to talk to about it. Beth gives examples for different ways to make the experience better for yourself including feeling your feelings, telling the truth about those feelings with the right people, and exploring your options. Don’t make it worse for yourself. Beth gives tips on how to avoid the stuff that makes it all worse and how to make it a little better.
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Bonuses to being a holiday orphan with someone else’s family:
•    No family dynamics investment. (These are not your crazy family. You‘d be amazed how free and fun it can be to experience someone else’s family without being part of it. Believe me, everyone’s family has STUFF.
•    Freedom to observe.
•    Different experiences/traditions., including maybe some luscious food!

1. Feel your feelings
2. Don’t judge it. Just allow it and observe it.
3. Tell the truth about it to the right trusted person.

How to talk about it:
1. Tell the right person. Avoid those who will say you shouldn’t feel bad. Avoid telling someone who will try to fix the feeling or gloss over it. Choose someone who will empathize with you, not feel sorry for you.
2.  Use Beth’s trademarked CNBC communication  format:
a. I feel … (3 words only)
b.I want… OR I don’t want… (without using the word “you”)
c. negotiate or not
d. Observe what is the response.
3. Talking with acquaintences
a. tell the truth as much as possible
b. prep some phrases ahead of time
c. remember these are YOUR holidays, not someone else’s

How to make it better:

1. give yourself permission to OWN the holidays for yourself.
2. Do something different if you want. Get creative if you want.
3.  Acknowledge the truth of your reality in all the ways you think about it, feel about it and what you decide to DO about it.
4. Look inside yourself to discover what is really going to work for you over the holidays, including changing the expectations YOU have for yourself.

Caution: don’t set deadlines for when you’ll have a mate. If you’ve done this previously, let those declarations drop away gently. Hold that expectation very lightly.

Alone for the Holidays

Is it disgusting how early we promote the holidays and plan for them and contemplate them these days?

If you’re once again dreading the stretch from Halloween through March (including another Valentine’s Day) as a single person, you are not alone.

There’s a reason the chill of autumn signals a downturn in mood and an influx into mental health care. And it’s not all about Seasonal Affective Disorder or the lack of light threatening to undo us all.

It’s the space in the bed and the empty table setting and that we are alone on our snowy hike. Again.

And this state feels permanent. (Just as this present moment so often feels permanent.) Therefore, its foreboding is not really a surprise. How to handle it can feel pretty daunting, though. Even when you’ve done this before. Especially, sometimes when you’ve done this many times before or when you used to have a partner and you’re still healing from the heartache.

First, let’s explore what many people do -including the stuff you may have done before-  to “get through the season.” Then let’s look at how you can add even more helpful and effective methods to your approach this year.

Maybe you’ve tried some creative approaches

Some singles volunteer to feed the less fortunate. They might head up a Toy drive or another fundraiser or work more at church, synagogue, or temple. (There’s nothing like helping people worse-off than you, or reflecting on the deeper meaning of the season to float your boat long enough to bob through the dark and dreary winter ready to emerge on the other side gasping for the fresh air of springtime.) If it’s still working for you, do it. Do it some more.

Some people skip the holidays. These people either leave town on an alternate escapade or they hang out alone, hibernating away the season, resisting all doses of holiday engagement including the commercials sparkling across TV and our hulu and Netflix channels where we’ve gone to escape the constant reminders that everyone else has a partner but us.

Some of us take up the role of perpetual single among family and friends with a hearty bravado and we prep ready retorts for the time when Auntie May asks again if we’ve met anyone special or Cousin Rudy wonders aloud why we don’t just go out and bag all the single ladies in an effort to mend our broken heart. He would certainly be living it up if he had the chance, after all.

Maybe your family and friends treat you differently

Are you the family single guy or gal who elicits expectation from other family members and friends? Maybe your sister-in-law expects you’ll get the tree, haul everyone to the family gathering twice, and go get Granny from the home, because, you know, well, you don’t have a schedule or anything else to do.

Or maybe your friends are doing the pity dance trying to set you up with Everyone and his brother. Does it feel like it’s just to get you off their hands (and maybe feel a little less bad for you.) Worse yet, are they making plans to introduce you to another Thanksgiving orphan at the festivities?

That alone would be enough to make anyone want to fly to Mexico or otherwise escape the whole season.

You probably know exactly how your season is shaping up. You know the particular challenges you face and exactly why they seem so painful. Maybe this year, facing the coming weeks and months is worse than usual. You know precisely what you’ve tried in the past. You might even know exactly why your approach seems not as effective as it may have once been. You don’t need an analysis.

You need new ideas that truly help

Here are my top three:

  1. Tell a trusted someone just how you’re feeling. Hard stuff often loses much of its impact when we’re able to share it honestly. Choose wisely. You’ll want to pick someone who responds by listening instead of trying to fix things. It’s okay if they don’t do this automatically. You might need to say “I feel bad. I want someone to listen without trying to solve my problem. Can you help with that?” You know which friends or family members will respond in a positive way. And if you don’t know for sure, testing by asking the above question is a really Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™. You might already know who will really listen when you ask them to listen. If you can’t think of anyone you’d take the risk with, consider a therapist or helping professional. It’s what we do. 😉
  2. Make space for the reality. Allow it instead of skirting it. Look it square in the face, sit down with it and go ahead and feel the weight of it. Scared the feeling will linger, take you over, be difficult to escape? That’s okay too. It’s normal to have the fear. In fact, fearing the weight and power of our feelings is one of the things that drives us to avoid them or medicate them with (well, medicine) or food, alcohol, or activity. Honestly, the nature of emotion is that if you allow it and feel it fully (even experiencing it in your body) it will change and drain away. Try it. Worried about emotional overwhelm? Again, seek support from a friend or family member using Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™ like this: “I feel so heavy. I don’t want to get completely overwhelmed with this bad feeling. I want someone to sit with me in it and help me get out of it if it lingers too long. What do you think?” And if there’s no one who can keep you steady like that, pay someone to do it. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Try something completely new. If you’re harboring a heartache or just facing one more season of holidays in the same old manner, mix it up. Try something different. Do skip the holidays if you haven’t done that before. Stay put if you’ve tried the escapism route before and see what it’s really like to experience every element of what you’re dreading. Start a tradition of your own, different from what you did with your ex or different from what you’ve done with family and friends in the past. Instead of thinking how you can help everyone else, think of what is a great gift to yourself this season. Have you been on the pity pot? Go ahead and see what it feels like to invest time giving to others.

You can do this

You’ve already weathered a good deal of pain and suffering in your current state. You’ve survived this long. And no matter what your path getting here, you did manage to get here, to this place, reading this information. Now, be encouraged. You have skills. You have choices. Implement both to find a way through the season. It just might surprise you how good each one of the days of the holiday season can actually be. Even if only a few of them are lighter than you were first anticipating, you’ll be ahead of where you started.

Don’t go it alone if you feel it might get to difficult or overwhelming. Need to know more about choosing the right therapist? Here’s a great place to start, including links to other resources. And, as always, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it’s going.

 

 

Time Alone

If you’re still searching for a partner, it might surprise you I’m an advocate for time alone. For singles AND for those IN relationship. If you’re looking for a partner, I still advocate time alone regularly. Either way, I know this can sound like crazy-talk. Read on and find out just what I mean.

Every connection needs the space required to desire dancing back together. We need time in deep intimacy and connection AND away from it. We all need time to miss the other.

We also need time to refocus and reconnect with our selves. Believe it or not, this is good for extroverts too, or those who get energy from being with others. No matter how you’re made and what your current relationship status, I’m talking to you.

In relationship or single and unattached, we all need time for THE most important, longest, guaranteed-to-last relationship we will ever have: the one with SELF.

This relationship is the foundation for all the other ones we have in life, whether you’re aware of it or not. (More good information on the topic here.)

Frankly, I like my alone-time. Sometimes I need to NOT give my time, energy, and attention to a single other human on the planet. I need time to reconnect with myself. Not only am I introverted enough to NEED it, but I like doing what I want when I want, thinking about whatever, while I’m wearing what I want.

For instance, I love thinking who cares if I look frump-city ? If I utterly neglect grooming: no make-up, air-dried crazy hair and mismatched, baggy clothes? Hurray!

More than just being funny, that’s a big deal for me because I spend a lot of energy paying attention to all the visuals I send, create, and receive. It’s great to take a break from that for a minute and shift my awareness elsewhere.

You’ve got your own thing you identify with heavily all the time and you could stand to take a break from that too. I’m sure of it.

I hear your protests.

Not all of us have the luxury of time alone. (Everyone needs me.)

I just can’t afford it. (There’s too much to do.)

Isn’t spending time alone really just selfish? (What will people think?)

I’m not interested in all that woo-woo navel-gazing crap. (Time alone is just for Narcissists and crazies.)

And for some of you, spending time alone without structure, getting acquainted with the real you, scares the shit out of you. After all, who knows what you’ll discover/feel/experience? And, ultimately, what if it’s not pleasant? Dear Heaven, what if it involves pain?!

If that’s you, I’m speaking RIGHT to you! Trust me, it’s okay. You will live. Even if you are grieving (heartbreak, bereavement or OTHER loss,) no need to trust me; trust yourself, you won’t die. Know how I know? For starters, I’ve done it. For one thing, I survived the worst winter of loneliness and you can read about here. I’ve walked through this with many, many clients and they have all discovered their alone time does not actually kill them. That’s great news as you intentionally spend a little time with your self.

Some of you are single and unattached and you still don’t spend much time alone.

Your time is full of other people and their struggles, full of activities, endless movement, cleaning, “book work” and one project after another, the endless answering of demands from all those people who expect, and require, and demand, and want from you. It feels like a vibrant, full life to you. It all makes you feel that you matter.

The prospect of coming home to a dog, cooking for one, and settling into some mind-numbing television is all the alone-time routine you can envision and the thought of that seems pathetic and awful. So you avoid it. At all costs.

Some of you’ve identified that you need it and you’ve taken responsibility for getting it.

I recently had this discussion with a man living squarely in mid-life. He’d been dating, in and out of relationships/entanglements for the past several years and now is just past the first flush of relationship with a woman he actually thinks might be “it.” He can see a future with this one. Still, he realizes he needs his alone-time.

Here’s a story from one woman in Minnesota (and you know that’s where I’m from!) who spent the July Fourth weekend alone. It CAN be pretty awesome!

Another woman I know is freaking out because her husband just retired at age 59 and he is expecting to be able to hang out with her all the time. She wants to continue the freedom of doing her own thing naturally two nights a week while he is out of town on business. He’s not going to be out of town on business anymore and while she loves him deeply, she realizes she is going to have to do some grown-up communicating and negotiation in order to have some time to herself.

Sound familiar? Still scary? Here are some tips for making the most of your time alone.

Get to know yourself as you would get to know any new connection.

You don’t have to spend all your time alone, just think about spending time getting to know yourself like you would in any relationship. And plan to be kind.

  • Pay attention. Notice what you do, what you like, how you feel.
    • Check in with your daily, physical habits. Usually these are so thoughtless, we don’t realize we’re being overly demanding with our physical expectations. Or maybe you’ll find you take the couch-potato approach to daily living.
    • Check in with your emotions. Scary? Just breathe. See if you can notice them and name them. You don’t need to do more with them right now. That’s a great start.
    • Check in with your physical self. Don’t worry, just because you acknowledge an ache or pain does NOT mean it’s going to get worse. Tired? Sleep. Hungry? Eat. Angry? Breathe.
  • Seek understanding. Be curious.
    • Learn about yourself by asking gentle questions like “what’s going on with me that I feel so tense?” That’s one example.
    • If you don’t know yourself well yet, now is a great time. Read, research, look! Ask yourself, “how am I made?” Your subconscious will go to work answering the question AND you’ll start to uncover evidence all around you.
    • Enlist the reflective help of a good psychotherapist. Tell him or her directly that you are looking to understand yourself more and you want to know as much as possible what they observe.
  • Finally, ACCEPT what you find. Love yourself unconditionally, once and for all.
    • Just notice. You don’t have to be perfect. You get to be human. You don’t even have to be perfectly human, just start.
    • Go ahead and say out loud the things you like about yourself. You don’t have to tell everyone; just tell yourself. Count your strengths.
    • Notice some things are harder to accept? Bring these things to a trained psychotherapist and ask directly if she/he will help you see how to shift this stuck spot.