Holidays are traditionally the time when homo sapiens gather in flocks, herds and swarms. It's deep in the race to cluster at Christmas.
Some are geographically distant from those they hold dear and raise a solitary glass to absent friends. Others have lost loved ones to the grave. But for many of us, "no contact" is a choice we consciously made.
Loneliness is simply less painful than the agony of spending time with our toxic families. Dickensian jollity doesn't automatically put a one-day cease and desist on dysfunction. Oftentimes, it seems to exacerbate it.
But let's face it. This no contact thing can be pretty shitty, especially on a holiday. Being in contact was even shittier. Whichever one we choose, shit happens.
Remember back to the B.N.C. (Before No Contact) era? Mmmm, I can see it plainly in my mind's eye. Tiptoe with me through the snow to peek through my grandparent's steamy kitchen window. Have you ever seen a more Norman Rockwellian sight?
Grandpa's standing at the kitchen counter expertly carving the Christmas ham, surreptitiously cramming "nibbles" into his four granddaughters' mouths with greasy hands. The mouth-watering scents of buttery dinner rolls, candied yams and gravy hangs heavily in the air. Grandma's there too, bustling thither and yon, anxiously stirring this and tearfully dishing up that.
How I miss it. The warmth of family, cohesive and comforting. Soft hugs from Grandma. The glow of grandfatherly pride in Grandpa's eyes. Playing games with my cousins. Being tickled unmercifully by my uncle. Admiring my aunt's jewellery.
Ah, those were the good ol' days.
Or were they?
The dysfunctional dynamics started well before Christmas, swelled in the car on our way to Grandma's, reached a crescendo over the ham and slowly petered out the last week of December as we settled down into our ol' familiar workaday dysfunction.
Before we sink into the quagmire of lonely Christmas blues, take a walk with me down Memory Lane. No, not the Memory Lane swagged with tinsel and twinkling lights. The other one. The swampy lane festooned with cobwebs and dripping with Spanish moss. Yep, that's the one.
Flashback music, please.
Ah, yes, I remember it like it was yesterday. The knot in the stomach as my family geared up for seeing the relatives. First, there was the pre-Christmas lecture by mom. Her topic: What we "did know" and, more importantly, what we "didn't know."
You see, fibre optics had nothing on the speed of Grandma's gossip dissemination. She put the fastest Information Superhighway to shame. No one was immune. She gossiped about her daughter to her son and about her son to her daughter. Grandchildren, in-laws, neighbors, acquaintances and perfect strangers were fair game. No one was immune. She relied on everyone's discretion to hide her naughty little hobby. Thus Mother's lecture, lest we betray knowing something that we couldn't possibly know... unless. No, Grandma's secrets (plural!) were safe with us.
Christmas Eve I was sent to bed early so I looked fresh and rested on the great day. After all, a lot was riding on me. My father's whole reputation rested on my skinny nine-year-old shoulders. I must look rested, refreshed, perfectly groomed and happy so all and sundry knew he was a good daddy, a perfect parent, an excellent educator, a worthy human being.
And we were off, speeding over the interstate and through the concrete jungle to Grandmother's house we went. Mother nervously checking her lipstick and running a comb through her hair for the umpteenth time.
Our arrival was heralded with big hugs and awkwardly forced smiles. And then the battle of the brother-in-laws began. Oh, they never acknowledge it in so many words. In fact, Daddy always said he was merely showing my uncle how to be a good parent.
Exhibit A: Me. How I remember being pushed unwillingly to the center of the room, shyly avoiding eye contact, blushing furiously as I acquiesced to my dad's demands. I recited poetry. Sang songs. Showed off what I'd learned in school.
Naturally, Uncle reciprocated by herding his three daughters into the center of Grandma's perfectly decorated living room as they lifted their airy, young voices in quavery song. Dad wasn't impressed. He'd have some choice words to say about their lack of enunciation later.
And that's when the proverbial shit really hit the proverbial fan. In the car on the way home.
My parents chewed up and spat out the very people they'd fondly hugged goodbye just half an hour before. And in the backseat, their impressionable young daughter was silently taking notes. After all, I never wanted to be "bad" like our loved ones, apparently pathetic life-forms, richly deserving of Dad's criticism. A million "should's" and "should not's" haunt me to this day.
Small wonder then that my dysfunctional family disintegrated when Grandpa died in 2000. No one realized that this Second World War marine, inventor and grower of seven-foot tall tomato plants who hated lies and gossip was the glue holding us all together. Dad and Uncle haven't spoken since then. And me? Well, I entered the N.C. (No Contact) era two years ago myself. Haven't spoken to the lot of them, including Dad and Mom, since 2013.
This Christmas, I won't be enjoying succulent ham, but there's serenity in my soul. I won't be dunking garishly decorated Christmas cookies, but I'm also not "Exhibit A."
Thanks to going "no contact," sure, I may be a little lonely, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. This Christmas, there'll be no boundary bashing, no one-upping, no tears, no snide remarks, no unspoken judgments, no "should's," no shit! You might even say, "And she lived happily ever after."
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
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Plan early to make sure you will be able to see or speak to neighbours, family and friends – get in touch by email, sending a text, giving them a ring. If you can arrange to meet face to face then do, but if not just sharing some laughs over the phone can make a big difference. See mind.org.uk for more information
Make the most for everyday opportunities for social contact – have a chat in the shop or at the bus stop. See mind.org.uk for more information
The internet is a great way to maintain social contact. You could joint a support community like Elefriends.org.uk where you can build friendships and chat with people about how you are feeling. See mind.org.uk for more information
Helping out with a charity or good cause can help you feel good, and give you a chance to meet people. See mind.org.uk for more information
Some people find that being in a different place can feel much less lonely, you can see new things and might meet new people. See mind.org.uk for more information
If you do have a number of days which you know will be difficult make time to do something nice for yourself, even taking a relaxing bath or going for a 20 minute walk can help to change your mood. See mind.org.uk for more information
Christmas is often a time of overindulgence but resist the urge to eat excessively. Your diet can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels. Christmas diets are often high in stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol, which can make feelings of anxiety and stress worse, and leave you feeling lethargic. Try to get plenty fresh fruit and vegetables, as these are proven to lift mood. See mind.org.uk for more information
If you are spending time with people who you often argue with it might be helpful to plan in regular breaks where you can clear your head, and stop negative thoughts and emotions from building up. See mind.org.uk for more information
Techniques like mindfulness, keeping a journal or practicing yoga can help you learn to feel content when you are alone. See mind.org.uk for more information
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