by Mel Blackwood @troubleon8wheels
Can I start by saying thank you to those members of the community who have commented on these SUTG posts or said to me in person that they have found them helpful. I often find that I have something to say and also that the words elude me. (Or more often the courage eludes me).
I'm not committing to any particular frequency of blog posts, but I will aim to show up at least once a week. My concern was I didn't want to overclog people's inboxes! Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time if the content is not for you.
How do we stay strong over the holidays? There is so much unspoken trauma that exists, yet we are expected to sugar coat this and pretend that everything is okay? That is gaslighting ourselves folks. Of course, I've been there and done that, taken the smiling photo, pretending I am not hurting and lonely inside. Look here is the photo from 2016 proving I'm 'okay'.
(By the way, I'll refer to Winter Holidays, as I feel this is more inclusive to other cultures. Growing up, my family celebrated Christmas, we went to all the church services as well as had gifts.)
In the years when I was newly separated, the Winter Holidays were exceptionally challenging. It was the one and only time of year that EVERYONE I knew spent with their families. That includes the whole of Tinder. I absolutely did not want to be the third wheel at anyone's family celebration. My own parents live a couple of hours drive away and rather than drive to theirs, I chose to stay in my flat so my son could see his dad and I on Christmas Day. Waking up on Christmas Day by yourself is a weird feeling when you are used to a house with people in it.
That first year on my own was miserable. It was hard and horrible and I felt totally forgotten by the world. Sure, I was pinged a load of Happy Christmas messages and I replied with the same sentiment, but I didn't actually feel happy. Did I tell anyone that? Of course not. I didn't want to feel like a burden to anyone else or take the joy from their Christmas Day just because I was having a tough time. I'm pretty sure they all assumed that I was spending the day with my family, even if they knew I was going through a divorce. I didn't like my own company and wanted to be distracted by others, ultimately, because I didn't actually love myself. I know this now, I had no idea then.
The second year, I was determined not to be a total wreck. That pesky emotion grief still snuck up on me and caught me by surprise and I had to always have tissues in my pocket. Seeing a mother hug her child, seeing other people's festive lights through a window or being the only person at the gym (because you know everyone else is with their family) made me catch my breath. Even in the supermarket - folks are loading up their trollies compared to my ready meal in a basket - made me have to rush to the toilet to cry. I had to re-write the story! (I only learned this year from my therapist that grieving for something we no longer have is a completely normal emotion. It won't go away until we sit and acknowledge its presence though.)
My son and I decided to have a pyjama Christmas Day. Neither of us are bothered about a roast dinner with all the trimmings, so we designed our own Christmas Day. I wanted him to feel empowered to do what he wanted to. He chose to see his dad on Christmas Eve and come to mine on Christmas Day. He would happily ride his bike between our houses as he got older, as we lived in the same small town - a deliberate choice to allow my son the opportunity to see both his parents as easy as possible.
On getting to my flat, the first thing we both did was to open our new pyjamas. We put them on and started with gifts. We may have only had a few, but it was still fun. Then we went for round one of our Christmas Day all day buffet. Buying frozen party food for just two of us was fun. We had a starter round, main course round, warm dessert, cold dessert, ice cream and cheese rounds. We watched as many Harry Potter films as we could, fell asleep and then ate some more. The food easily lasted us 3 days and as a single parent with no child on Christmas Eve, it allowed me to run the gauntlet of the 'posh' supermarkets, without feeling stressed that I still didn't have sprouts. Beige buffet for the win!
It's now been 7 years since I've lived with my son's dad. Even though I live with my new partner now, I embrace time alone at Christmas (he goes to visit his family). This works for us, as I am vegetarian and he is not, so he can have his turkey roast elsewhere. I still put my son first on Christmas Day. That makes saying no to other things really easy. When I wake up and I'm in a house on my own over the festive season, I'm at peace with myself. I watch whatever weepy comedy I want to on Netflix. I put music on loud and dance in my kitchen. Sometimes I even put my skates on in the house! I fill my energy levels back up, so I have more to give to others.
We are all doing our best. Let me say that again. You are doing your best. I am doing my best.
This is the toughest time of year due to so much pressure to 'do the right thing'. Also tough because the coping mechanism of roller skating is the least accessible - it's not safe to skate outside, or it's just too cold and we don't have a permanent indoor skate space nearby. It is okay that things are hard right now, just keep going and it will get easier. By the way, I still cry easily. I'm okay with it though.
Do you give yourself enough compassion when things are hard?