Regret. Who hasn't felt it at some point in her/his life?
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
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.
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
Last week I did something I'd been thinking about for a long, long time. I woke up and felt completely discouraged and a little bit hopeless and I posted what was really happening for me in a really long Facebook status. I put it all out there. I shared some really deep details about myself.
I was completely terrified to do this. I was afraid it would leave people with the impression that I was a failure of a human being and most definitely a failure as a health coach. I overcame the fear and was practically brought to tears as the likes and comments multiplied minute after minute. To date, it has 124 likes and over 60 comments! I overcame the fear and chose to open it up and put it out there, and people resonated very deeply with it.
I'd been carrying this fear around with me for a really long time, though. And it was bugging me to see person after person engage with my Facebook wall or blog posts and the whole time I was left feeling like they were really interacting with a cardboard cutout of me, instead of the REAL me. I know a lot of business folks, or just everyday people, who do this and are perfectly content with it.
See, there's this trend that everyone's aware of but still participates in. A lot of people are going around posting the highlights of their lives and not really talking about whatever else is happening. I know this for a fact, because I know what people are going through and how it compares to what they show.
Welcome to the social media monster, right?
It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, the more I see people do this, the less I feel inclined to engage with them. And I was concerned people were getting that vibe from me, too. After listening to Pema Chödrön talk about "fake spiritual people" one day, I realized it was sort of my worst nightmare to be coming off as fake to anyone. I was talking about my life and the good and not-so-hot parts of it to other people but I wasn't really showing it publicly. I get the point of professionalism, really I do. But what's the point of that when I'm touting authenticity and fearlessness from one side of my face and pretending everything is fine and dandy from the other side.
I don't think I ever gave that impression but was focused on posting positive stuff to inspire and encourage people. Based on the response I received from that post the other day, people don't just want or need positive stuff. They certainly don't need more negative, cynical stuff but they want real. They want strife. They want to know how I struggle and overcome the same stuff they deal with every day.
I realized I wasn't sharing that with my folks and it wasn't serving me, personally or professionally.
I can't relate to someone who only shares smiles and sunshine. It tells me that person can't be present to the grief and darkness that is part of being human. And that isn't who I am or want to be for others.
I've gone through some very difficult times the past few months which included leaving a long-term relationship, moving all my worldly belongings twice in three months and opening a new office for my business. Not easy stuff, I tell ya.
It wasn't easy, but I did it all because I have learned how to take really good care of myself. In fact, those choices and changes are a RESULT of how well I take care of myself. It's all part of the same package. When I share that with people, it is the full picture of what's behind my healthy breakfasts, my personal-record-breaking jogs, my donut dates with good friends, the pink armchair in my new office and my selfies.
There was a time not long ago, several times in fact, where I couldn't stand my own reflection. To take a selfie and post it is a testament to how far I've come to appreciate my own likeness in the past few years.
This is what people need to see.
This is what people need to read about.
They don't need more resentment. They don't need more complaints. They don't need more advice telling them what to do or think or feel or say to be "right" or "wrong".
They don't need more pictures that highlight the good and make the pain or challenge invisible.
I don't believe it when I see it so I know people weren't believing it about me, either. People aren't stupid, they saw the void where a partnership used to be in my life. They saw a new table when I took pictures of my food.
By opening up and letting it all out, I invited them into what real transformation looks like, what real change requires and what real life is like when you're giving it all you've got to do the best you can.
I was afraid to be so real because I thought people would think I had nothing to offer them as a health coach. If my life isn't perfect, what would they have to learn from me?
I realized that wasn't true. The most valuable thing I can provide people is an example. I can show up fully and be a real example of the resilience, tenacity and self-love one needs to be your authentic self, to leave relationships that aren't supportive, respectful and loving, to pursue work that is meaningful and fulfilling and eat healthy food and exercise even when it feels like your life is falling apart.
I can show up fully, even when it's scary, to inspire other people to do the same.
What can YOU provide people? What would you share if you stepped into being fully authentic?