For Those Who Choose Not to Spend Thanksgiving With Family

This is for those who don’t have a family to spend time with this Thanksgiving. I am not speaking of those who have loving families who are simply far away; I acknowledge that such a predicament can be hard, but I am writing for those whose families are broken or simply nonexistent. This for those who, like myself, the word “Thanksgiving” cannot be said without a stab of pain in their chest. This holiday that we call Thanksgiving has so much imagery of family and wholeness wrapped up in it that it’s hard not to feel a little sad when you have neither family nor wholeness.

Thanksgiving for me has always been a source of pain. I have never had a Thanksgiving day with family that was not tainted with strife or plagued with loneliness and hopelessness. In fact, on this holiday, one of the most painful memories of my life was formed. While, I cannot, and will not, go into detail about this event because it is extremely personal to me and my family, I can say that this memory continues to cast a shadow on my Thanksgivings still. I cannot separate the idea of Thanksgiving from this particular memory or other memories of previously and subsequently tainted Thanksgivings.

I know that in this time of Thanksgiving and family, those who have no one to turn to and nowhere to go are often left out of the picture. It is the hardest and the most damaging when people assume that you do. While people may have the best of intentions in asking what you will be doing for Thanksgiving with your family, when you respond honestly it can all seem patronizing when they kindly question why you choose to be alone. This is made worse because sometimes people don’t take your word for it. I can’t tell my whole life story to a stranger, and even when it’s a friend, there might still be things I would rather keep to myself. So what do you tell people? I often say things like, “I just need to be alone” or that I need to “reflect”, even if I want to do anything but “reflect” or be alone. But even this explanation isn’t enough for some people, and it can get frustrating when people constantly dig for information where it doesn’t concern them -- friend or no friend.

This Thanksgiving, I made a conscious decision to spend Thanksgiving by myself, and this decision wasn’t understood by everyone. The first reason for this decision is that if you have had bad family experiences, the logic may be that you should surround yourself with positive images of another family, and this is true. I spent last Thanksgiving with a close friend, and it was helpful to see that there are wholesome families out there (not that I didn’t know; it was just nice to see it in action with my own eyes). But it is equally true that sometimes you have to know your limits. Sometimes, what others think is good for you may actually be the thing you need the least. I knew that seeing a happy family was not what I needed. It would automatically remind me of the state my own family was in. It would remind how much I missed and loved them. It would also remind me of their brokenness and how much it angered me that I could do nothing to fix it.

Second, sometimes you do need to be alone. Personally, I find that constantly being around others often yields much joy when you are in a weak state of mind. However, I realize that it is a harmful tactic that I use to distance myself from my problems and at the end of the day I feel drained. Worse yet, all the problems come rushing back to me when my friends and I go our separate way for the day and I just end up feeling numb inside. I am falsely happy for a moment but nothing really changed. To be alone this Thanksgiving is to force myself to reflect even when I don’t want to. There is no one I can run to to mask what I feel and so I have face it. It is a time where I can force myself to realize that it is okay to be alone instead of always extending myself. I would like to make it clear however, that you also have to know what you can handle. It could be that it is best for you to be with others, rather than be left to your own devices. However, I knew at that point, I needed all the time possible for myself. I needed a time where I didn’t have to smile and say I was okay when in truth I wasn’t.

You may need the time to just do something you love. It may take your mind off your problems just a little and it could be a moment of accomplishment. If you are constantly around others, you may not get to relax and do all you want to do which cannot be accomplished during the hustle and bustle of school. This break, I bought a coloring book and a sketchbook in order to pick up an old hobby of mine. I wanted to get some logistical chores out of the way and do something I rarely get to do while school is in full swing like reading or building on my language skills.

I also had to learn that I didn’t have to justify this moment of chosen solitude to anyone. Either way, I have found that when I give my reasons for wanting to be alone, others may shrug it off or think I am weird for wanting to spend the break alone. If I vaguely tell them of my family situation, they would say I am overreacting. At the end of the day, I knew I had to do what was best for me.

I wanted to share these things to let those in similar or worse situations know that it is okay to want to be alone, and that you have to do what’s best for you. A holiday is not the only time you can spend with family and it is not worthwhile anyways to cause yourself mental harm to fit into the societal ideas of how people think Thanksgiving should be spent. Taking care of your mental health is, to me, a great way to spend Thanksgiving. Familial concerns follow you wherever you go. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they haunt you. You think of them constantly and, as a result, your outlook on life can become pessimistic and bleak. While I am aware of the brokenness in my family, because I am able to destress and reflect, I am able to see how amazing my mother and my sister are, despite their brokenness. They are the strongest women that I know for going through what they did and protecting me all the way. On this Thanksgiving, I am aware that I could never make it this far without them. I can focus these moments and see how amazing my family is in their own way, rather than comparing them to what my broken heart considers a “perfect family.” Maybe you have no family at all, whole or broken. That might not feel okay for you, but it is okay to spend this time and work through all the pent up pain and anger you may have about your familial situation. It may be that Thanksgiving break spent alone can help you take your mind off of what you are lacking; it could be that it is best not to surround yourself with what you don’t have. Conversely, that may be what you need to do. It still stands, however, that sometimes you have to remove yourself to recuperate and have a new outlook on life.

I hope that whether you are spending this Thanksgiving alone or with family and friends, that you will have a calm, relaxing and fun-filled time with good food!


Images: 1, 2

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