Lonely for the Holidays

Holidays are tricky. They can be exciting times, filled with a frenetic break from the norm. But with a mounting gift list to buy and mounds of food to make, it can be exhausting too. On the other hand, it can also be a time where we get together with the people we know, maybe a little more than we’d like to. This can be stressful to say the least. But for some of us, this is an unavoidable reality. So the question is, what happens when we change, but are still connected to our unchanging pasts. Usually, we end up lonely around the holidays.

I’ll be talking a little about my situation. How I got to where I am and what I’ve done to change the ways I relate to my past. Especially in the form of those I’m connected to, from my past. Whatever your case is, just know you’re not alone. The holidays can be difficult. But maybe we can find some healthy people to rely on to get us through. Let’s start by taking a look at how I got to where I am.

Lonely Reminders of the Unchanged Past

I’ve made some fairly drastic changes in your lifestyle. I’ve also worked diligently on keeping my mental health and well-being a priority as well. While my family… not so much. So how do we be present with the sometimes excruciating experience of being with the unchanged reminders of our past? While also keeping ourselves safe and cared for in the present without feeling lonely? It takes skill, but it can be done without revisiting some old ghosts.

Boundaries are Important

The key is to maintain healthy boundaries between where you end and those whom you’re connecting with begin. This isn’t always easy. Especially if you haven’t had healthy boundaries modeled for you in the past. I wasn’t even sure what a boundary was. In my family it was seen as being disloyal to be a separate emotional self from those around me. It was taken personally. As though they were being rejected in some way if someone didn’t take on what they were experiencing.

In case you are or were in my situation, let me tell you that this is unhealthy. First, it’s important to set some boundaries for yourself. Another way to view it is, by setting up some rules for how you will and will not accept being treated. What are the things that people do or say that make you feel poorly about yourself. As though you’re not adding up in some way. Or maybe feel ashamed about who you are if you’re not meeting someone else’s impossible standard. These are the places you’ll want to take a look at while establishing your boundaries.

Caring for Yourself While Around Those With Unhealthy Boundaries

It’s important to know and understand this aspect of your relationships. Because the longer you’re exposed to these poor boundaries, the more likely you are to take them on as your own. But also while you’re enduring these manipulations of feelings, you’re also setting the standard for how you will tolerate being treated. Maybe why we allow this breach of boundaries is because we fear feeling lonely and isolated for wanting to go against the family’s unspoken rules.

It’s critical to understand how you’re feeling while you’re in the midst of what may be an emotionally challenging environment. Strong opinions may be tossed around or mean spirited gossip may be aimed towards anyone who is seen as other. These are only a few examples of unhealthy boundaries and bonding. So in order to know how you are feeling in the middle of what could be a confusing space, it’s important to take some time to check in with your feelings.

Taking Space to Not Feel Lonely

Don’t be afraid to take space. Go for a short walk if you are some place that is scenic. Or maybe you have a favorite coffee shop nearby where you can grab a calming cup of herbal tea. Even if it’s just a corner out of the flow of people gathering around you. Take some time and space to see how you’re feeling.

Also, don’t be afraid to take this space as your own. If someone asks to come, or finds you while you’re checking in on your own, don’t hesitate to say you’d rather be alone. This is your time, and you will need some quiet to check in with yourself. You may feel a bit lonely at first. Especially if you’re just learning how to set boundaries. But the feeling of being lonely will fade as you learn to support and rely on yourself.

How to Check in With Yourself

Once you’re alone, you can start to do the work of getting to the core of how you’re dealing with and feeling about your current situation. For myself, I find a helpful place to start is by being kind to myself. It helps to allow for the emotions that are bound up for fear of being surrounded by what feels like an unsafe place to be, come to the surface and feel heard. If you’re used to an environment that is ripe with aggression, this may take some practice.

Some of the feelings you may be feeling are, lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, angry… It’s important to understand what you’re feeling in the moment, so you can respond to it with kindness. I use Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. method for checking in with my emotions. It’s simple and effective.

I didn’t have a lot of kindness modeled for me in my youth, towards myself or others. So it took a lot of practice and getting use to before it took hold. And on top of that, I was raised to believe that kindness was not only a feminine trait, but also a sign of weakness in Men. Not for the human trait that it is. So understanding the beliefs we were raised with, will also help with uncovering our emotional selves.

Being With Your Vulnerability

Because this is vulnerable work. Sitting with our emotions and understanding how we’re feeling about them. Or towards our situations and ourselves. If all that was modeled for us was a sense of judgement and criticism, then vulnerability can be a scary and raw feeling. One we will most likely want to numb out or avoid at all costs.

I know I did for a long time. And I learned how from my family. It’s also equally as important to know that it’s not your fault. It’s not your family’s fault either. But we can only focus on ourselves and knowing that these feelings are difficult in the first place, something we instinctively want to avoid, helps a great deal to relieve some of the guilt we may be feeling in how we’ve avoided them in past and our aversion to them in the present.

Knowing How and When to Put Yourself First

This whole process is something that takes a lot of patients and courage. Standing up to your family is no easy task. But if they are locked in unhealthy patterns, it is paramount that you put yourself first and take care of your emotional health and mental space. And sometimes this can feel selfish and be a lonely place.

Sometimes I get hung up on is wanting to help, change or “save” my family from the unhealthy habits I see them wrestling with. The ones I had or still am dealing with. Because I’m seeing them from a new perspective and I want to come to their rescue. But you can’t make someone want to change. That’s important lesson to understand. Especially if you’ve grown up having your emotions manipulated by caretakers as I had. Knowing that we are solely responsible for ourselves is important to helping us create a healthy boundary between our emotional selves and those around us.

Also Knowing When to Keep the Door Open

It’s equally as important to remember that just like you, everybody is capable of making healthy choices. I used to write people off. As though they were disposable if they crossed me. This black and white way of thinking left me with a lot of burnt bridges. And hurt feelings as well, with few friends to call on for support. But it was also a way of keeping myself safe from potential sources of harm. Knowing we can keep ourselves safe while in relationship is an important step. Not only towards building healthy and lasting relationships but also helping those whom maybe want healthy relationships.

That being said, leaving the door to our vulnerable selves wide open can lead to hurt feelings or feeling taken advantage of. So there’s a balance to strike. Somewhere between not writing people off but also not letting them continue to practice old and unhealthy patterns of being in relationship. This is a place I explore with the help of my therapist. And something I definitely suggest seeking professional support and guidance for if you’re in this position. These are not places I wanted to visit at all, but to go alone and with no tools just seemed overwhelming.

Have a Plan

And finally, have a plan for what you will do if you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Knowing that you have a plan, even if it’s just to take a walk and get away for a bit, helps to give you a sense of agency. Like no matter what happens, you are in charge of keeping yourself safe. You can rely on and trust yourself to take care of you. Maybe in the ways you never were before.

I hope this helps in some way. The holidays can be tough. And having as many resources as possible will help to ease some of the tension they can bring. Be safe, be well and happy holidays. Peace : ]

Image Credits: “Backpacker Night Shift” by mallix is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

Intentions: They’re More Than You Think

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and how much I couldn’t disagree with it more. I’m guessing it’s intended meaning is something along the lines of, actions speak louder than words. But what I feel isn’t being accounted for is the connection between the inaction and the circumstances surrounding the words of intent and the inaction.

Actions or Intentions, Which Is More Important?

Actions are indeed an important part of the equation, but it’s not the only part. More so, I feel that intentions are what actions are born from. I feel that when our intentions are in line with our actions, then we are being motivated from a place of integrity. Where our bodies are carrying out the deeds of our ideas. And there’s a lot to be said for acting from a place of wholeness. The focus of your intentions aligning with what you say you will do.

Setting Intentions

I think one of the reasons I disagree so strongly with the above phrase, has a lot to do with my yoga practice. If you’ve read my post on “self care” you’ll know that yoga has become an integral part of my self-care routine. I practice at home now, but when I started my practice, I went to a studio. The instructor would usually start the class with the phrase, “set an intention for tonight’s practice”, and to be honest, I never did.

I thought it seemed silly at the time. “What do intentions have to do with yoga and my body” is how I initially saw them. But as my practice developed and my relationship to myself became stronger, I realized that intentions are really the base of all actions. Another way of putting it, you can have an intention without an action, but not an action without an intention. And the more you repeat your intention, the stronger it gets. Just like working out a muscle. Your intentions are the “muscles” behind your actions, or what you value. And when practiced often enough, they become your character.

If your intention is to spend your time in front of a screen playing games, then you will develop the characteristic of lethargy. This is one I’m very familiar with. But maybe it’s not always our intention to get stuck behind the screen. Maybe we get wrapped up in a distraction (i.e. video games), to avoid the difficult work that may be wound around our intended actions. If that’s the case, what’s making it so difficult to execute? To step away from our distractions and realize our intentions.

What’s Stopping Us From Acting?

From my experience, if intention is the birth of action and if we’re unable to follow through with our intended actions, self doubt and fear are usually at the heart of our stalling. So if you have an intention already set, all you need to do is to get over the fear and self doubt. Easier said than done, right. So how do we get over these stumbling blocks that are in the way of us reaching our intended goals? I’m not sure that we ever really leave them behind. Or get rid of them all together. But we can find ways of responding to them that makes it easier for them to be in the picture. And it starts with a little kindness.

Fear and Doubt

Fear and self doubt are two feelings that are demonized all too often. And we can use them as a way to avoid our intentions. For example, if you’re trying to mend a relationship. The work of going through the difficult emotions with another can feel overwhelming. You may doubt that the relationship is even unsalvageable. Or fear that the same breach of trust may happen again.

This is precisely where treating our fear of being hurt again and the doubt of not being up to the challenge of mending the relationship with kindness, will soften the difficult emotions and make space for confidence and strength to grow. So when we treat difficult emotions with compassion, we are sending the message that, “we’re here, we care” to ourselves. Which over time, builds up our resilience to what we find difficult to be with a well as our compassion.

Another way of looking at it is: good intentions, fostered with gentle and kind compassion, leads to compassionate actions. This quote sums up my intention, “An intention is intended to flow through our every word, thought and deed“- Emma Newlyn. What I like about this quote is, that it illustrates how our intentions are woven around our deeds, actions and words. And over time, they make up the fabric of our character. It also shows how connected everything is. Words, thoughts and actions, all just extensions of how we are in the world.

Keep Practicing

The takeaway? Compassion, good intentions and lots of practice. And that’s not to say that we avoid the difficult emotions by covering them over with kind thoughts. Rather it’s to respect the emotions that are arising, while staying strong in who we are. From a place of love and kindness. To be conscious enough to act from a place of kindness and not from the difficult emotions.

And of course it’s not easy. But hey, few things worth the effort in life usually are. The good news is, it does get easier with practice. This is where I leave you my friends. I hope you are having a safe and joyful holiday season. Considering our collective circumstances. So be well, be safe and until next time, peace : ]

Image Credits: “Woven” by arbyreed is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Self-Care Physical: Read the Labels, No New Clothes Well Maybe

Self-care and clothing runs deep in my upbringing in relation to my perceived elf image. As I’m sure is the case for most people. So off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or a new type of soap instead of clothing. But I always feel a bit weird walking into a store that’s trying to sell an image. The sleek lines and the bass driven rhythmic thumping of music. The smell of slick cologne or perfume laying heavy in a thick haze across the open concept display rooms. It doesn’t feel natural

Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to go into one of these stores once and a while to get the experience. But for me anyways, it only lasts so long before the fatigue sets in. If you’ve read my Mission Statement you’ll know where I’m coming from when I say I’m slightly nostalgic for this experience in a borderline unhealthy way.

What’s in Your Wardrobe?

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plain with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazoned across the front or back. I have a shirt that sports the name of the city I live in, one with the name of a place I went to while on vacation and a few others for sure. Oh, the “MT. WASHINGTON 6,288′” shirt I got when I climbed Mt. Washington. But most of the clothes I own have little to no visible brand name affiliations. What can I say, I like plain clothing.

Recently on my way back from an appointment in a neighboring city I stopped into a thrift shop. The shop supports a sober living community and I stopped in to look at some clothing while waiting for my train home. I bought a pair of jeans that would have cost 70+ dollars retail and a sweater equally as expensive for about twenty dollars.

I felt good afterwards. Not contributing to the cost of generating new clothing and feeling as though I helped in some small way, the mission of keeping alcoholics sober. Not to mention I saved a bunch of money to boot!

Also I realized that I hadn’t shopped for second hand clothing since high school. This seemed strange because one of my life goals is to live as zero waste as possible. Shopping second hand just seemed like such a no-brainer that I’m surprised I haven’t started doing it much sooner.

So my question is, what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing, we don’t go to stores that supporting big, name-brand clothing companies. But instead, why not buy from one another in the form of thrift markets or online used clothing markets like Ebay, Poshmark or Swap?

Or how about going out to a good old-fashion yard sale. This builds community by connecting individuals whom are trying to express a facet of their personality, while also repurposing old clothing that would have gone to a landfill. And the need to purchase new clothing would perpetuate the unhealthy cycle of consuming for the sake of keeping up appearances. So it’s a way to recycle and break some of the fast fashion trend.

Thrifting, It’s Not Just For Clothing

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to the buying and selling of clothing. Another versatile use for thrifting is sustainably gifting. This past Christmas I was thinking about going to various thrift stores and buying people convenience kits. Something that would be useful for the everyday and practical, while maintaining a sense of the person’s style.

Like in one kit for my stepmother I may buy a travel coffee mug, water bottle, cloth bag, a pair of sunglasses, a book and a pair of gloves if I’m giving it in the winter. Or something summer related for a summer gifting.

With seemingly unlimited options the list is only limited to the stuff that people have donated. Not by a season or a product line. I know from my own experience that I’ve donated thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff over my lifetime. Odds are someone found a good home for the things I traded in. And that’s a nice way to think about it because I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I get a little sentimental over inanimate objects.

I’m also a big fan of upcycling clothing. Like old tee-shirts into bandanas (some self disclosure: I wear a lot of bandanas). There was a period in high school when I made my own patchwork corduroy pants that had 36″ cuffs. Asides from them being comically big on me, it brought me such a sense of joy and accomplishment from making something that I wore every day. It helped that I was a dirty hippie and often wore articles of clothing over and over without a wash 😀

Self expression is about finding what it is about you that makes you shine. If it’s clothing, why wouldn’t you want something that had your name written all over it instead of some designer you don’t know. Also who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at any price. In some cases, harming the environment.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy the clothing we like new, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. Let’s try to get back to what matters, connections and curating something that makes you more you 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading.

Updated: 2/3/22

Me in High-School
Evidence of my bandana wearing hippie ways in my early years. Me (on the left) with my then girlfriend and friends on the front page of our town paper complaining about how strict the school was that year 🙂
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