Child to mid-twenties
Thanksgiving used to be celebrated 3x every year over the course of 2-3 days: once at my parents’ home with certain family members; once with my father’s side of the family; once with my mother’s side of the family. There were tables full of food; children, teens, and adults everywhere; noise levels similar to stadium concerts (at least from my perspective) with so many people and televisions on loud; and secrets. So many secrets and people sneaking off for minutes or hours at a time.
By the time I was in college, Thanksgiving was celebrated 2x every year with less and less family/friends and lots of tension. Most of us were grown and had other places to be. The next generation of children were second or third cousins removed on my mother’s side, and I was disconnected to them. On my father’s side, people cooked while others watched tv or read books (me) and ignored or were ignored by everyone else. Then my younger cousins and brother scattered to be with their friends while my parents kept me isolated and ignored.
You may be wondering why or how they managed that. Part of it was me – I isolated myself and chose not to make friends or trust people at that time. Part of it was them limiting access to my car – they always blocked me in and parked their cars in front of the driveway so I’d have to move their cars to get out. And I did not want to drive their cars. Asking them to move the cars was like banging my head against a brick wall.
Mid-twenties to early thirties
Then I walked away from my family.
Holidays became something different.
For the first time in my life, I could celebrate any way I wanted. I could sleep through the day. I could be alone. I could cook or not cook. I could decorate or not decorate.
Bottom line: I had choices.
And for a long time, I chose not to celebrate. Instead, I let my alters out to play on those days. Together, we worked through the scary memories, anxiety, anger, shame, and negative experiences associated with those anniversaries. We stayed inside; read books; watched movies; slept; and took care of ourselves.
My favorite foods of Thanksgiving:
Butternut Squash or Yams
After everything that happened over the last few weeks, buying pre-made food to reheat made more sense than cooking from scratch. Cooking from scratch triggered memories, but re-heating didn’t.
Text messages kept me in touch with close friends and family while keeping me safe from the toxic people.
Instead of sleeping through the day, I put together part of my sofa. By part, I mean the sofa is in use, but the sectional and sleeper parts still need to be put together. By the time I finished the main sofa and realized the rest had to wait, my muscles were saying “we’re done. No more please.” But the rest of me felt happy and accomplished.
So happy, in fact, that we slept on the sofa that night. It’s surprisingly comfortable. In spite of the muscle discomfort and stress from the upstairs neighbor’s musicals, putting together the sofa brought out feelings of accomplishment, joy, and contentment – aka endorphins. Not even phone calls with my family and flashbacks could get me down.
Maybe it’s petty of me, but I also felt grateful that having a secondary place to sleep pissed off my upstairs neighbor. She couldn’t disturb my sleep because I wasn’t using my bed. Therefore, her musical of dropping stuff on the floor above my head didn’t work. It was the first night in a while that I managed to sleep undisturbed and wake up on my own time.
But then I was also grateful her musical dropping of stuff on the floor woke me up the next day. It was early enough that I had time to call Ikea, get my replacement parts for the sofa sectional, then go out to visit friends and see a movie. It was Black Friday, and I was afraid that going to a mall would make things worse. Instead, it was cathartic. I felt calm, relaxed, and grounded inside myself. The movie was good too, but I’m still not a Thor fan. And I really need to put together a magic bag for crowded movie theaters.
The musicals still occur just after I settle for bed and randomly throughout the day, but the sleep headphones and a favorite playlist make it all tolerable.
Mostly, I am grateful to have enjoyed Thanksgiving awake and grounded in the present instead of dissociated, hyper-vigilant, and upset.
I am still a solitary person who prefers alone time instead of crowds. After so many years of being alone and/or lonely in a crowd of people, celebrating alone without any obligations feels good. Maybe someday the other people in my life will understand that being physically alone does not equal being unconnected to my loved ones.
Relationships, connections, and interactions come in many forms. And my heart, my mind, my spirit is always open to them even if my physical self shuns sharing space with others. I keep all of these people and places in my heart and my mind during the holidays, so they are always with me.
Thanksgiving and similar holidays used to anger me, all parts of me. I could honestly say that I hated the holidays and mean it. But that hate gradually changed as different parts of me opened up to the rest of us. We shared our pain, our grief, our fear, and our shame. Then we learned how to cope with those feelings and associated memories with lots of help and support from outside people.
So thank you guests, family of choice, mental health providers past & present, family of blood, and other providers past & present who’ve helped me get to a place where holidays are fun instead of stressful.
Thanks for reading.