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Finding Gratitude in Spending the Holidays Alone

Why Boundary Setting with Family Can Be Itself a Celebration

This is the first year I will be spending Thanksgiving alone. It is the first time since living in the dorms my freshman year of college that I have been out of my parent’s house, and I have chosen to not go home for thanksgiving although we live in the same city. The holidays have always been painful reminders for me that my family home is not a positive or healthy setting to try and experience joy in. as a child, Christmas was my favorite time of the year and my family relished in the holiday spirit, but once I became a severely depressed adolescent the holidays began to fade in their magic, and I looked at them as only an occasion to get drunk and/or stoned.

I attended the majority of holidays inebriated to push through them and procrastinate the inevitable despair and loneliness that was just beneath the surface. There were many holiday fights, including one on thanksgiving where the police were involved, due to the toxicity of family members spending any prolonged amount of time together when we otherwise lived mostly detached and separate lives, even within the same house. This year at age 24, I finally was able to heal myself enough to move out and have found deep emotional relief from that contaminated environment. I have been processing my childhood abuse from which I developed CPTSD, in therapy, and placing much-needed boundaries between me and my family members.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving this year, my parents disinvited me from attending dinner with the family. At first, I was surprised and offended because I was doing the HEALTHY thing in removing myself from a triggering and traumatic situation, so why should I be punished? A little later, my family re-invited me to the Thanksgiving celebration and was told that I could come if I could “be civil and everyone else would be civil too.” I thought about it, and respectfully declined the invitation.

“The Holidays” are supposed to be occasions to celebrate, be festive, joyous, peaceful happy, grateful and full of love. For many years, this high-intensity expectation has only left me to deep disappointed when the chronic feelings of grief, sorrow, emptiness and aloneness were present, regardless of the chemical substances, or festivities. As I heal myself, I recognize the importance of a balanced and chaotically-peaceful life, and no longer feel comfortable in unhealthy environments or relationships. I am still in pain, but my most content moments of happiness that have created fond memories have not been from the elaborate attempts at happiness, but the average, quiet, and surprisingly enjoyable experiences that I have formed on my own. I am enjoying my own company and becoming secure in the previously distressing purgatory of isolation and fashioning a space to rest in with purpose and dignity.

Although I was asked multiple times to attend Thanksgiving and told how much I was wanted there and how I would be lonely without my family, I am excited to celebrate a holiday for the first time completely independently, except of course, for my 4 beloved pet rats. I am going to cook a feast of my own for me and the rats to enjoy and practice my own gratitude. I could find other relatives or join a friend’s family, but I don’t want to. I am proceeding my sovereign course and while it is often a very lonesome road, I recognize that no one can or will be able to take responsibility for my healing and I feel empowered to accept this blessing/burden of Me upon myself with pride and humility, despite the knowledge that it means having space from others and letting go of former routines in favor of fresh pathways that are healthier. Part of this means limiting the contact I have with people who have hurt me and not returning to negative spaces and traditions that kept me despondent.

There are many people who are in a similar healing position of self-reliance and novel boundary-setting that find difficulty around family-based holidays. It is unfair to have to be alienated when you are only working your hardest to find self-respect, but if you are being alienated by toxic people or finding that your values are evolving away from theirs; that means you are doing something healthy and right for you that they are not able to. We must allow ourselves gratitude for the progress and healing work we are doing that we struggled to do before, even if others dismiss it as cold, insolent, or selfish. There is no shame in prioritizing your needs during a holiday, even with, and especially in relation to close family.

Even if you are seeing relatives this Thanksgiving, take some time to yourself to reflect and give thanks to you for what you are doing. As for me, I’m hoping the rats will enjoy the carrot Jello and sweet potato casserole I’m going to attempt for the first time. I’d set them out plates, but I don’t think they have the best table manners.

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