Philadelphia has entered lockdown part deux just before the cold weather holidays. Some thoughts on spending Thanksgiving alone, or alone with family, from a lifelong Holiday outsider loner.
There are notorious Beech Family Holidays that saw fistfights knocking over Christmas trees, police calls and arrests, and people jumping out of windows on so many occasions I could write a book alone of Beeches jumping from house windows. So, long before I was born, some of my extended family had decided there were days that were better spent in the company of no one.
The fact that I was trained for loneliness and making the best of a bad situation cannot be underestimated. Living with a disability, estranged families, and two divorces can do that over time. When I was young, I would sit in my wheelchair and watch people running or even just walking on grass, it made me adept at watching others enjoy themselves, from a distance. Yes it was isolating, yes it was sometimes sad, but I learned to live set apart and have survived. In fact, deep loathing and self-reflection is something everyone should engage in to stay humble. Sometimes. At least I strongly believe in doing that about twice a year.
My grandmother, Florence Beech, her birthday is November 27. We always called her Nana. She passed in 2011. There were many years we spent celebrating with her on Thanksgiving. She had eight children; one was my father. All eight children and the myriad of grandchildren that followed did not always attend these. Really, only a few people would ever be invited down at once.
One of the fistfight incidents happened at her house on Christmas Eve in the early 70s. She put an end to large family gatherings looking at blue and red lights flashing in circles outside on a cold, dark Bucks County road she was finally ready to leave behind. After that, she moved to Margate, New Jersey, and by the time I was born, a condominium looking out at the sea was her home.
“You don’t have to go through this world two-by-two,” Nana would say. Be discerning about who You spend time with, and do not waste time. With anyone. Ever. The extended family that was invited to celebrate this birthday were my closest family. When my grandmother passed it was difficult to continue the tradition of getting together on Thanksgiving, but my Aunt Mary and I always try our best to.
Whether I was unable to be with another person on a Holiday or I was at a Holiday, feeling set aside, I started to move through the hurt of spending Holidays alone years ago. Let me suggest how to work through some things if You are alone this Thanksgiving. A holiday that I took a long time adjusting to spending alone.
Crying can be a great release. There are quantifiable positive outcomes from crying. It can actually help you feel better after you let it all out. But You should be careful not to wallow in misery too much. Only a bit of wallowing in sadness is needed. When You are ready to engage in such a healing activity be sure to do a few things:
Cold Spoons – Keep spoons in the freezer, they will help reduce swelling around your eyes. It feels really good and helps you look less puffy very quickly.
Coconut Oil – My oldest son asked me recently: Mom, what is that stuff you cover yourself in to feel better? Coconut oil baby, it is called coconut oil. Tears will not moisturize your face, and if you cry anything like me, many tissues will be needed. Just keep some coconut oil nearby and rub it on your face, eyes, hair, elbows. I use an organic kind you can cook with, so that if any runs in my eyes (you know, because of all the crying) it is gentle, natural, and non-toxic.
Smells – Coconut oil has a smell that I love, other smells can help a person feel comforted. That is always individual. When I smell Christmas Trees, like Pines, it makes me so happy. I also use rose and lavender. For example, you could spray a favorite perfume on some blankets and get under them and just stop thinking. If one were so inclined to do such things.
Clean – Take one shower, maybe two. This is a good place to cry. It also helps facilitate getting properly hydrated and moisturized with coconut oil. This is also the best place to cry if you are in a house with other people. Sweeping, mopping the floor, washing dishes by hand, and organizing can all be therapeutic activities.
Drink Fluids – Try to take in enough water and fluids in general. I like coffee, but that can make anxiety and sadness much worse, so a tea without caffeine is generally best. No matter what, when You go to take a drink You will not be able to physically cry. You may start again after taking a drink, but if you feel you cannot stop crying get a glass of water and drink. You will stop crying temporarily and it has stress-reducing benefits.
Throw a ball – another trick to help end the bought of crying is to throw a ball. Emotional crying can exasperate your amygdala and all of a sudden, your brain is flooded with terrible memories that seem difficult to manage. Simply tossing an object can help stop your brain from processing these thoughts from that part of your brain and switch to your pre-frontal cortex to start thinking rationally again because you want your hand to catch the ball. One of my personal favorites is to toss a ball straight up, clap when I think it is as high as it will go, and then catch it. Very really, you can switch your brain on and off in various parts by activities you do, or do not do. And voila, we are freed from thought once again.
It is important to take care of Yourself and those around You. That means embracing real emotions and traumas so that we can all grow and heal. As families, friends, communities, cities, and countries. Have a good cry in the shower and get under the comforter for Thanksgiving. Stay safe.