Tuesday, 23 December 2014

On being alone

Winter can seem like a string of family or relationship-oriented holidays, and nearly everything in the media and food we consume and the products we buy reinforces a silent message that celebration is for groups, and if you are not part of a group then You Are Wrong. But so many of us have difficult relationships with families, or have lost one or more members of their family, and have no partner or no way of spending Christmas with their partner (this last particularly applies to long distance, LBGT and interracial couples). Worse, it seems to be starting earlier and earlier, with decorations and piped music wheeled out before shops have even packed away their Hallowe'en stock. It can feel relentless.

The first thing I want to say to those of you spending the winter alone is this: You are not broken. Nothing is wrong with you. I'm sorry if the season makes your situation harder, and if it does, that's not your fault.

I am not alone this Christmas. I am spending it with my family, with whom I have a complex relationship, and I will be addressing this in a later post. But over the past couple of years, I have spent a lot of time alone. Recently I've been taking a lot of comfort from listening to this lovely spoken word poem called "How to Be Alone" by Tanya Davis.

(For anyone reading this who is D/deaf or hard of hearing, the text is reproduced in the video's description box, so click through to the YouTube link.)

It's not a perfect poem. Not everyone will feel comfortable or safe doing the things that she suggests, such as eating out alone or going to a club by yourself. Not everyone can afford to travel to an unfamiliar city. Many of these things are, in any case, difficult or impossible to do around Christmas. Instead of dwelling on or dissecting her advice on specific activities, though, I want to focus on one line:
If you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.
You might not be happy in your head. That's OK, too. But if you're spending Christmas alone, perhaps you can take the time to work on that. Plan a day full of things you find soothing and pleasant. If you're in an empty house that's usually full, take advantage of it. Buy or make yourself a present. If food treats are your thing, have a few of those ready, and enjoy the silence of the people who might shame you for it. If social media makes you feel sad, stressed, or angry, turn it off. If social media makes you feel fulfilled and connected, enjoy that connection. Consider helping out at a local homeless shelter or visiting some older people who, like you, are alone. Rest as much as you need to. If the weather permits, go for a long walk and enjoy the relative calm. Chill out with yourself for a while and see where it takes you.

My sister has spent a couple of Christmases alone whilst on gap years in Japan. They report that they had hoped they would be able to have a good time by themself, but despite their exciting surroundings and their best efforts, they still found themselves sad and longing for home. Being on the other side of the world from your family and friends is taxing at the best of times, and more so at a time of year you traditionally associate with bonding with your loved ones. Any barrier to spending that time with those supposed to be closest to you can be a tremendous emotional weight, and if you feel it pressing on you, that is natural and fine. Your feelings are real and valid, and you are not broken.

Have you spent Christmas alone? What was it like? How could it be better, or what would you do again?

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