Grieving Personal Growth

5 Ways to Survive the Holidays

When you’re grieving or otherwise a total mess

I have always loved Christmas. Unfortunately, I don’t come from a holiday-loving family. Don’t get me wrong, we celebrated. But it was never a huge deal. And honestly, it never felt homey. A few years ago, when I was living in Chicago, my boyfriend at the time had me over to his family’s house for Christmas. That time was the first time I’d experienced everything I thought Christmas should be. They really made me feel like a part of the family, and never before or since have I had a Christmas like that. This will be the first year in 13 years that I won’t be wishing Chris a Merry Christmas. That was the only Christmas tradition I ever had. We won’t be exchanging gifts or watching Love Actually over Skype. If the lack of Christmas cheer in my social circle wasn’t enough, there’s also that.

Still, I’ve tried my best to get in the holiday spirit. I bought a cute little reindeer for my Elf on the Shelf, which I’ve always wanted to do. I listen to Christmas carols every morning in an attempt to shower myself in holiday joy sprinkles. So far I’ve been coping pretty well, I think. But the holidays are notorious for making many people, especially those of us without that strong family dynamic, feel lonely as hell. Ever proactive, please find below my handy dandy guide to at least not being a mess in a pile on the floor this holiday season (most days, anyway).

1. Listen to music

Music is powerful and has the ability to make us feel all kinds of things. I saw Last Christmas recently, which featured mostly songs by George Michael. He can be heard daily on my Spotify since, especially “Waiting for That Day.” I recommend listening to things that make you feel the range of things; not strictly happy, but not strictly sad either. For me, that ranges between Solange, Frank Ocean, George Michael, Prince, Lizzo, and more. My go-to’s are always a lot of Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, and Christmas carols. I love those old Nat King Cole Christmas carols, they make me so relaxed yet kind of sad in a sweet way.

2. Mind your body

I’m as guilty as the next person of plopping down and settling in. I find it interesting that physical health is probably the most important thing (once your physical health is gone then it’s all over really), yet it’s the first thing we put to the side when we are stressed out. I’m not judging, I do it too. It’s so easy to just eat whatever is around, or not flop down like a blob because you’re too exhausted, in every way. I can only speak for myself, but when I get into that pattern, it takes a toll on me.

Recently, I’ve taken up Muay Thai. I’ve always wanted to learn a martial art, and I thrive better in a physical environment where I’m learning how to do something. Honestly, I can just barely afford it. Like it’s definitely money I could be putting into my savings account instead or leave in my account to give me a bit more breathing room. But I realized that I needed to make it a priority to get moving and if I’m paying as much as I am for it, I’m more likely to stay with it and be accountable. It also feels really good to punch and kick things, painful as it is, and I feel like I’m able to take my feelings and put them somewhere – right into the bag. Do whatever kind of movement feels right to you, even if it’s just stretching every morning.

3. Cry if you want to

Even after all of that exercise, I often find myself a word or thought away from tears at any given moment. Sometimes I can’t help but just sob. Tonight I was stuck in traffic for an hour on my way to Muay Thai. At first, I was so angry about it, but within a moment, I was sobbing. Saying there’s a pain in my heart sounds very meh. Pain, heartache, sadness, we all have them. I’d say that a more accurate description of how I’ve been feeling is that I’m aching inside. Sometimes feeling lonely and thinking of what I’ve lost is an ache that latches on like a rabid dog. Maybe that’s the nature of loneliness, it’s always looking for company.

Sometimes, more often lately, I find it easier to take a walk and enjoy the beauty of just existing. Sometimes I am here for the aching party, and I’ve arrived with my box of tissues in hand. It’s a mixed bag. All I can say is that your feelings are valid, and cry whenever you want to, whenever you need to. Demand space for yourself and your emotions. Don’t hold shit in; it’ll just fester and what good does that do anybody?

4. Get cozy with being alone

This one is easier said than done, but highly important I think. A few months ago I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicians at a live podcast recording here in Phoenix. Her name is Javiera Mena, a queer woman from Chile, and she is just everything. But she performed a song called “Alma” (soul) and afterward spoke about how the song is all about being alone. That she was inspired by how often in music women make songs about being alone, but it’s usually negative. It’s always pining or longing or sorrowful. She thought about how being alone gives you time to heal, but also allows you to connect with yourself. I’m trying to relish in this. I’m trying to savor these moments where it’s just me, on my own.

That’s not to say that you should isolate yourself by any means, or that you shouldn’t feel lonely. But I think being lonely and being alone are often viewed in similar ways as being sad or unhappy. That they are feelings that should be banished as quickly as possible. But I remember some years ago, I took a Buddhism class in school and I read this quote from some monk who had said that humans are naturally inclined to want to avoid pain at all costs. Like we will do almost anything to not experience pain. But if we could accept pain (and by consequence, negative or unpleasant experiences and feelings) as just part of life, and part of who we are, not just something to avoid, then it would give us a completely different outlook on our lives and our experience of it.

Hoy estoy aquí en mi vida, sola/Y es difícil aceptar que siempre estuve sola/ Pero ya aprendí que de la orilla es difícil saltar/Pero me lanzaré/Me atreví a nadar/Y estoy en medio de la hermosa soledad/Para conectarme con el alma/Entregarme a esta noche sin escapar/Voy a invitar a mi soledad/Y sentir el corazón/Hoy, hoy, hoy

Here I am in my life, alone/And it’s difficult to accept that I was always alone/But now I’ve learned that it’s hard to jump from the edge/But I’ll throw myself/I dared myself to swim/And I’m in the middle of this beautiful loneliness/To connect with my soul/To surrender myself tonight without escaping/I’m going to invite my loneliness/And feel my heart/now, now, now

5. Routine is your friend

I’ve never been a regimented person. I like plans, but I don’t always stick to them, and I’m open to change. Over the last few months, though, I’ve taken note from some of the books I’ve read and therapy, and have tried to put them into practice. I have begun to develop a routine for myself. I wake up every morning and check in with myself, and also set an intention for the day. The same happens before bed. I make my bed every morning. I fold my clothes after taking them off and put them away.

Sunday mornings I clean my room and bathroom. I try with absolute intention to not procrastinate and do things at that moment. I have multiple calendars that I use to keep track of goings-on. It sounds anal maybe, but I think it’s helping me feel like I have some control in my life and that I’m not entirely subject to the universe’s whims. It also helps me be accountable to myself. I read once that when you break a promise to yourself, you’re only demonstrating to your brain that you don’t have any follow-through. I am actively trying to undo a lifetime of that pattern.

Bonus: Creativity is your other friend

Above all things, one must create. It’s human nature to want to make new things. I don’t have a whole lot of free time, but I’m trying to take some time to make something as often as I can. I’ve been trying to write some, mostly fragments. I’ve been playing a lot more music. Sewing is so time-consuming that I just don’t even want to start a project, but I’m creating in other ways and would like to do something interesting with my short stories and poems. I’d like to lean harder into music. So make something! Anything! Pour your whole heart into it. Cry if you need to while you do it.

And speaking of music, I’m embedding the playlist that I listen to most often when I’m aching. It’s a collection of songs in Chris’s memory. Some are songs that make me think of him, others are ones we shared with or sent to each other. Right now, I’m not crying (yet) and it feels nice to listen to it. Give me an hour and I’ll probably feel differently.

I hope these little things help you along and that you get through whatever you’re going through. If you need a friend to talk to, please hit me up. Shit is hard. Really hard. Sometimes so hard it feels like you’re not sure how, or if, you’re going to get through it. But someone wise once said that the only way out is through, gashes and all.

I take a note from this lovely email that the woman who runs my community meditation group sends randomly:

Take one deep breath in
and out
right now

All is well.

Asa x

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