“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” – Ellen Burstyn
I am spending Christmas this year alone, voluntarily. I’ll be cooking and playing video games, watching movies and doing yoga. And cleaning. My apartment needs a deep clean like woah. I’ll be happy. Our culture tells me that I shouldn’t be, but I am and I will be.
A year and ten days ago, I got out of a four-year relationship. This relationship was not a good fit, and the years spent living with an extrovert as a deeply introverted person had drained me beyond recognition. I spent every Christmas with his family, caged in their traditions, their schedule, their beliefs. I had people to spend the holidays with every year but I never felt so alone in my life.
I remember the last Christmas we spent together: me, an atheist, sitting through another joyless Catholic Christmas mass in their town’s cold, colorless church; choking back tears of despair. I have never felt the lack of a family as much as I did in that moment. It was the most scary, empty, awful feeling of my life.
Being shoved into someone else’s life, someone else’s normal was the only time I ever felt bad about my situation, because all I could think every year is “If I had family I wouldn’t have to deal with this.” I felt alone and unprotected, out-of-control, and judged. I felt as far from how you are “supposed” to feel on Christmas as a person could get. I started to have fantasies about disappearing that scared me. I felt invisible and yet somehow simultaneously under constant, critical watch.
Sometimes, we have to create our own normal. I never feel alone on the holidays, even the ones I choose to spend alone, because I’m at peace with my life. I chose to not have the family that I don’t have. That choice gave me normalcy. People see the lack and not the gain. Choosing to not have family gave me control over my life and my environment. My life will never look like the status quo but I am able to come home everyday and not be afraid of what is on the other side of my door. That feels normal.
So my new normal is to be alone. Or, sometimes, to be with friends or people that I choose to be with because they make me feel safe and loved. But never to be with anyone simply to not be alone. I spent my birthday with my close friends, Thanksgiving with a couple that I love and their family. Both days were amazing, beautiful, warm experiences that I’m grateful to have had. But Christmas this year is mine. I’m going to spend Christmas with the little girl inside who didn’t have anyone to look out for her until I stepped in. We don’t have a tree, we won’t make a special dinner. There’s nothing here with us to remind us of what we don’t have, only things that represent all that we gained. And we’re very happy with that.
If you feel different, strange, or judged, just remember that normal is subjective. No one can tell you what your normal looks like. Build a life that makes you feel safe, cut out the shit that makes you sad or scared, and be proud of yourself for making these choices because you’re a fucking warrior in a scattered but resilient tribe.