christmas

The Ebenezer in everyone.

Everyone has an inner Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the guy in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

And it's such an excellent story of personal transformation.

If folks know the story, they often focus on his identity early in the story. If someone's being miserly (what a great word!) we call him a Scrooge! 

It's true that ol' Eb was the perfect example of Scarcity mindset. It's that state of saving, scrimping, hoarding, and withholding. In the story, Ebenezer did this with money as a metaphor for his whole life. He couldn't even hook up Bob Cratchit with an extra lump of coal to warm his office, which expressed his lack of empathy. "My office is warm enough!" said Scrooge, totally oblivious to Bob's request for compassion about his own condition. Ebenezer had a lot of money and over the years became completely focused on that and only that to the point that his humanity took a major nosedive.

YEAHHHHHHH. A poignant story for times such as these, eh?

But Ebenezer had a huge breakthrough! He completely transformed! He literally hurled out generosity and compassion and material wealth into the streets of his local community. How often do we celebrate a story like that?!

Not too often. And I think I know why. Because everyone has an inner Ebenezer. It's called our ego. It's the thing inside us that focuses only on what we don't have instead of what we do have. We can have so much abundance and wealth in so many different forms and yet, what do we do with our time?

Complain about what hurts.

Worry about the future.

Gripe about what others are doing with their lives.

Compare ourselves and what we have or who we are to other people.

Distract ourselves with an endless list of things and post things like, "I can't even," and "omg it's Monday again?!" and "is it wine o'clock yet?" and, well, you can fill in the rest. 

There's a lot of scarcity all around and it's more apparent to someone like me or you, if you have experienced significant loss and tremendous change in your life. The great teachers say that the deeper our spiritual transformation, often brought on by trauma or tragedy, the more clearly we see the world as we never did before. And what we see reveals the truth about what matters and what doesn't. That new lens is the silver lining to the clouds of difficult times.

But until you get there (and often even when you do), people are kind of caught in the matrix of striving and competing and struggling toward something and the result is never feeling like anything or anyone is good enough. You don't appreciate what you have and keep focusing on what's wrong because it feeds that feeling of not having enough. We think if we can fix it (whatever IT IS) then, FINALLY THEN, we can sit and relax. It's a hamster wheel and the Buddhists call it samsara. I wanted to call it the Ebenezer Effect but others got to that phrase first and mean something different by it. 

But we'll get there.

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

image from Disney's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey

The Ebenezer in everyone is all over social media and it's in our daily lives with the people we know and work with and hang out with. Whenever you notice someone who really does have plenty complaining or worrying or focusing on what isn't there or what isn't going right or not happening, that's the inner Ebenezer.

And then what happened to him? What's possible for all of us?

He saw it. He got it. He had the epiphany. With the help of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Ebenezer realized that all the loss he'd experienced and the pain and fear he felt had hardened him into a miserly person who struggled to give and receive love, kindness, and generosity. If he stayed on that path, he was destined to die alone with nothing but his money.

Did you hear that some people are so poor, all they have is wealth? That's another blog post for another time. But that was Ebenezer's fate and he realized it and saw that all the things or money wasn't worth what he was missing out on every day in his life. The ability to help Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim or hang with his loving nephew and give money to the poor. 

He woke up and felt so grateful to still be alive, he changed his whole mindset. He celebrated his wealth and wanted to share it to expand the reach of it. He had the major catharsis that as long as he was alive, he had ONE MORE CHANCE to be the person he wanted to be as best he could.

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

image from Muppets Christmas Carol

And the best part of this story?

As long as you're reading this right now, you have the same opportunity. That potential Ebenezer is in everyone. 

 

Surviving another Solo Christmas

IMG_3407

  Last Christmas, I shared a blog post about waking up alone on Christmas and it was pretty popular. I heard from friends, colleagues and even complete strangers and it felt great to write something that helped so many people.

I shared that story from five years ago because I couldn’t post what was actually happening last year. I was spending Christmas solo, despite the fact that I was in a long-term relationship, and it was just too painful to write about.

This year, because I know people are solo for so many reasons and could use some help, I'll share what happened last year. We can’t help people if we merely allude to it but aren’t actually sharing from our lives, I've really learned that this past year.

And so, I’m sharing what a difference a year made in my life. It began with surviving another solo Christmas last year. If you’re in a similar situation this year, see if anything I did helps you, too.

 

“Where are you Christmas

Why can't I find you

Why have you gone away

Where is the laughter

You used to bring me

Why can't I hear music play…”

 

This time last year, it was clear that the relationship I was in for the past five years wasn’t working, despite my best efforts. Granted, the start of my business and then my transition and the loss of my family led to many stressful times, but all couples experience stress. It's called life. The person I had chosen was ambivalent about committing to a partnership from the day we met ten years prior and I just refused to accept it and move on. Without safety and security, love cannot thrive and by last Christmas, things had deteriorated so badly that I chose to spend the week alone and house-sit for a friend.

I packed a bag and drove across the city. Even though it wasn’t the first time I’d be doing this, it was certainly more difficult. I went from anger to sadness to pure and total confusion and back again. Was I doing the right thing? Was I just spiting myself or was this really a good call? How would I feel waking up alone again, only this time in a stranger’s house?

I sat with those questions and eventually the feeling that I was doing something incredibly right for myself, claiming some self-respect where I had lost it so many times over the past few years, overrode most everything else. I’d drawn a boundary and claimed much-needed space for the holiday experience I wanted to create for myself.

 

“My world is changing

I'm rearranging

Does that mean Christmas changes too…?”

 

Christmas eve at three in the afternoon found me standing in the aisle of Whole Foods completely numb. The little green basket dangled from my hand as people passed all around me. I gradually made my way around, feeling grateful for the many years I spent working and shopping in health food stores; it felt like the home I needed. As I picked up the essentials of what I’d need for the week, I muttered to myself about the excess of food sitting back at my “home”. I bought a few cookies as a treat. This wasn’t a time for deprivation. It was Christmas, after all.

As I began to cook, my mood instantly lifted and the knot in my stomach loosened. I played Christmas music and sang along. The therapeutic process of self-care began to work its magic. When my confidence faltered, some writing and phone calls to my best friends helped restore it.

With each hour that passed, I realized my own strength and resilience. It takes tremendous courage to powerfully choose solitude and consciously embrace loneliness any day but especially around the holidays. I was doing it for the second time in my life. There is so much hype telling us that we need someone or something, either the perfect family or the perfect partner or perfectly-wrapped material items to feel included in “the spirit of the season” or make our lives complete. It isn’t true. I witness so many people talking about rushing around and being stressed out, it seems to miss the point of things.

I think that all we need is ourselves and whatever makes us happy.

I went to bed and slept well but when I woke up Christmas morning alone, I cried. I cried for my childhood that had been filled with stockings and piles of presents. I cried for a family I never see or hear from. And then, I cried for the time and energy I’d invested in a relationship that wasn’t working. I cried because I couldn’t understand and it wasn’t fair. I got it all out.

And then I made coffee and a couple of eggs and I might have had some chocolate, too. I got to make the rules that morning.

And then I realized that I got to make the rules for the rest of my life. I was done settling or feasting on scraps in any way. That decision led to many more I've made this year and, as a result, my life is rich and full of everything I want and need.

A year later, I am celebrating this Christmas as a triumph over last year. It was a rock bottom for me, as I hid out in a friend’s house and published an article that wasn’t telling the whole story of what I was enduring. I no longer feel like a fraud for posting pictures or mincing words to belie the reality of my life.

 

There's no tree this year.

No stocking.

Few presents to give or receive.

But I don't feel alone or deprived in any way. Actually, learning to adjust my expectations has allowed greater freedom and appreciation for what I do receive. I have an invitation to Christmas dinner. Two friends made me homemade goodies.

I feel happy and content with everything I've been given in the past and will receive in the future.

 

“I feel you Christmas

I know I've found you

You never fade away

The joy of Christmas

Stays here inside us

Fills each and every heart with love”

 

Whether you’re dealing with loss of family from death or estrangement, an unworkable relationship or something else, surviving a solo Christmas isn’t about surviving at all. It’s about finding strength in being alone or embracing the pain we feel from a loss somewhere in our lives. It's about remembering that things aren’t always what they appear in the lives of others. It’s about sitting with things as they are. It's about cherishing old memories and dreaming of ones you'll make in years to come and finding tremendous freedom and power in that future!

 

*lyrics to Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You? co-written by James Horner and Will Jennings and sung by Faith Hill

What I Learned From Waking Up Alone On Christmas

madewithOver (2)

  In December 2007, I woke up alone on Christmas for the first time in my life.

It was one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences of my life--to date. I learned so much about myself, my inner strength and the power of fear. Fear is powerful, but it's not real.

I had moved to Boston from New Jersey (born and bred, baby) in July of 2006 and had traveled home for the holidays that winter. The following winter, I just opted to stay put. A few friends from my place of employment at the time offered me a place at their tables on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I was set. It would be weird, yes. Awkward, a little. They were people I knew and trusted, so that helped.

But it required some courage and confidence to prepare for the morning--when I would wake up alone. No presents under the tree. No one to hang my stocking, let alone fill it with anything. It was a departure from life as I had known it before. It was new territory, a demarkation carved into my cortex between my former and current self.

Would I be able to do it? What would happen when I woke up in the morning, alone, without a soul to see on a really important holiday?

Christmas Eve dinner was great. My host was kind, the guests kinder and there were cookies. Always a win, for me. I lingered but eventually had to leave. I don't remember commuting home or falling asleep.

But I do remember waking up.

It was quiet. It felt sad. I held my stuffed animals, placed strategically around me on all sides, and I cried. I cried tears that came for so many reasons, some related to the emotions of the morning, some that had nothing to do with anything I felt in that moment. Just tears. Tears cried in the solitude I had chosen to experience.

Eventually, I stopped crying. I got up and ate some cookies and made some breakfast. I watched The Godfather Trilogy, which was something I had set as a goal for myself.  I sat present with emotions ranging from pride to sorrow and back to pride, again. I had done it. I had woken up alone on Christmas and lived to tell about it.

I watched Fredo get the kiss of death. I studied Al Pacino's expressions and thought of my father, who resembles him. My father is also extremely talented and probably would have been an excellent actor.

3051

I got up, eventually, showered and dressed and found my way out on the commuter rail to a remote suburb for my Christmas dinner. More strangers seated around a table who made a place for me.

To this day, I remember that experience and all I learned from it, namely the profound depth of my inner strength. If we can feel the fear and face the tough stuff, we get to see what we are truly made of. 

I was so afraid of waking up alone on Christmas Day. Even though I chose it, I was worried about what would happen, how I would feel and if I would be able to handle the experience of waking up alone.

Turns out, I handled it just fine. Often, our fear of something ends up being way more difficult than the actual experience.

That experience transformed me and my experience of fear for the rest of my life. Every time I feel afraid of something, anything, I remember every moment of that Christmas in 2007. I remember making the decision to do it and I remember sitting with that choice all the way through the holiday.

Six years later, I still feel good about it. It was damn hard but I feel damn awesome about myself.

Merry DAMN Christmas!