You are not alone.
I don’t know who else needs to hear this, but I sure do.
The recent holidays had me throwing my customary pity party. I reserve such occasions to ruminate on my fractured family of origin and how my kids don’t get to enjoy relatives coming together for celebrations. With divorced parents, the onus is on us siblings. It hasn’t gone well. By scrolling through friends’ elaborate Seder tables and Easter egg hunts, I can wallow. I realize these aren’t actual problems, but at this time of year, I can’t be stopped.
Making my own family traditions has been complicated by an atheist partner who doesn’t share my desire for festive, spiritual practices. He has other fine qualities but he has no interest in this. It’s impacted our kids’ beliefs as well. My father had a similar attitude about the holidays even though he was the experienced Jew, my mother the convert. When my Jewish stepmother took over, I don’t recall celebrating anything.
Feeling alone becomes more acute for me during holidays, but to be honest, it’s been my “emotional home” for as long as I can remember. As a kid, there was no place for my outspoken, true self—only a tight slot for the pleaser, the fixer, the one who didn’t require attention. I avoided the hard feelings that resulted. Instead, I saved it to my holiday file and have rationed out a little bit of sadness every few months since then.
While I don’t talk about any of this with my own family, I’m certain they have picked up on it. Energy is matter. My daughter has voiced this same painful thought. I wish our family would come for big events. Kids are perceptive. I would like to free this space for something new.
If you have an old pattern you’d like to change, let’s try it together, shall we?
1. THE FOUR AREAS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE
To know what we can control and what we can’t, it helps to understand this basic cause and effect. Our circumstances shape our thoughts, our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings cause our behavior.
Most of the time, we have very little control over our circumstances. We waste time wishing things could be different instead of accepting what it is. I did this with my parents for ages. The circumstances in my family of origin—marital discord, divorce, abandonment, estrangement—were beyond my control. Still are. My siblings have other priorities in addition to triggers from our past. We each live entirely separate lives. Maybe not always but for now, this is it.
From these circumstances emerged the thought I am alone. Hence the sad feels. When I am upset, I tend to close myself off from other people, which makes the alone part a real thing. The truth is, I am married to a great guy with three beautiful kids, have special friends, wonderful work colleagues and you, dear reader. But the thought caused the feeling that created the behavior. My thoughts did that. Powerful stuff.
We often confuse feelings and thoughts when we say for example, I feel like you don’t understand me. That is not a feeling, it’s a thought. A feeling state originates in the body and must run its course. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel, the pain is simply deferred and prolonged. I didn’t allow myself to feel much as a kid. That sadness didn’t go anywhere.
2. FEEL THE FEELS UNTIL THEY ARE ALL OUT
There is no moving on from anything until we let emotions out. The old ones from decades ago totally count. I never processed the pain from the original blow. Back then, I didn’t feel safe enough.
Now that I realize there’s no way around it, I make it my business to find ways to release the feelings. Whatever helps you access stored up feelings, by all means, do that. Music can reach that hiding place inside of me. Especially if there’s a story behind the song. Those televised talent shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “Got Talent Global” often have their performers share how they overcame great odds to pursue their art. Usually there is a proud relative there with them—that always makes me extra weepy, sitting there wishing I had a parent show up for me like that. I can almost cry the whole way through the song. My body always wants to stop before its all out though so I still have to work on this.
Another great way to release old emotions is in the latest episode of Martha Beck’s podcast The Gathering Pod, Episode 81. She does a visualization of welcoming back past selves who felt they didn’t have a place to belong. Each of those parts are asked to rejoin our compassionate witness self which is our one true home. I’ve done it several times. It helps release all the avoided feelings from former versions of you that were too afraid to let their guard down.
3. QUESTION THE PAINFUL THOUGHTS
This thought of mine—I am all alone—is so ingrained in me, it’s hard to even think of myself without it. But I am reminded that our thoughts are not who we are. Our true self is the awarenessbehind the thought. Choosing to identify with this thought—I am all alone—has been my way of taking childhood pain and converting it into lifelong suffering.
So. This thought about being all alone may have been true at times, but it isn’t anymore. And I now realize I am the one who knows what my life truly means. It can be about the wounds or it can be about the insights, my choice. As Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I can focus on where I am stronger.
These are my gifts:
No matter what the set back, I never give up.
The limitations of other people to show up for me do not dictate how I treat them or myself.
No matter where I am, I am home.
I have a spidey sense of what is a safe situation for me and what is not.
The feeling of not belonging helps me see other people who exist in the margins and be a voice for them.
Suffering made me a stronger, more compassionate person.
I have transformed my own pain into a way to help others heal.
I have the courage to speak the truth even if it’s uncomfortable.
I can be relied upon.
I have an abiding faith in a beautiful future.
The truth is, we are all connected. At any time, we can reach out to the good people around us.
Turning the holidays into an opportunity to focus on what I don’t have isn’t what I want my life to be. From now on, every holiday will be about gratitude because I literally have EVERYTHING.
OKAY. I feel so much better now. Turns out, we don’t have to believe our painful thoughts. They are designed for suffering and we don’t have to go along with it.
WRITING PROMPT: is there a painful thought you can get rid of once and for all?
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