Perhaps you associate the holidays with food, laughter and celebration with loved ones. Or maybe the holidays riddle you with stress, frustrated by capitalism and over-consumption. Personally, I think I’m a little of both.
But the old cliché holds true: you don’t know what you have until it is gone. In the shadows of early morning darkness December 23rd, I learned I would be spending the holiday alone for the first time in my life. In a region with no friends or family nearby.
In the middle of December, I moved across three state lines. I hoped to return home for the holiday. My car was packed and my sleeping arrangements made. It would have been a quick trip, just me and my dog Nitro. Because I was only staying a couple days, I felt decent—though not great—about leaving my cats at home. I installed a camera so I could monitor and talk to them from afar. I placed extra food and water bowls sporadically around my space.
But the night before I was to leave, I became unwell. Anxiety is an old acquaintance of mine, but I do not recall the last time I had a night like I did December 22. As I lay miserable and awake in the darkness of my bedroom, it occurred to me that I knew what was stressing me out. And that it is within my power to eliminate that stress.
So I did. I decided to stay home with my animals for the holiday.
I got out of bed, showered and walked up the street for a soy latté. Then I proceeded home for Nitro, and pulled up the directions to nearby forests. My first several days in my new location were a blur of unpacking. Maintenance crews, electricians and cleaning laborers came in and out. I had only taken Nitro walking in the area surrounding my new home, which is bustling with life but urban compared to what we are used to. Forests are healing, and we needed one. And Nitro needed to run free, unleashed.
As we arrived, the sun was just coming up. The air was frigid, but my new location lacks wind like my Midwestern hometown. There was no one around, so I unleashed Nitro and watched him run around. I called my mom via FaceTime, and to my surprise I was crying when she answered the phone. I wandered aimlessly through the park, weeping, overwhelmed with sadness that I would not be home to spend the holiday with her or see my friends.
But then I looked to my right and saw two deer staring at me and Nitro. Suddenly my crying stopped. Nitro sat down right where he stood and stared. And we stayed silent and still there until they left. My Mom took a picture through Facetime.
And I do not have a verifiable explanation, but the sadness lifted. Turns out, receiving a visit from free-living animals was just what I needed. Gratitude replaced my myopic pain. My phone died, so Nitro and I remained lost with nature for a couple hours. When we finally returned home, I made the decision to make the best of my situation.
Should you ever find yourself alone over the holidays, maybe try the following:
1) Find nature
Reconnecting with the wild rejuvenated me. We have returned to that nature area every day since.
2) Get on your yoga mat
I found a yoga studio within walking distance from my new home. Sharing a yoga practice with others fosters a sense of community while nourishing body and mind. Even if you prefer to practice alone at home, you will still reap the benefits of arriving on your mat.
3) Get ahead on work
My professional and academic obligations do not begin until January 6, but I’m working through orientation materials and familiarizing myself with the workload. Turns out, there is a ton to do. Working ahead made me feel productive and kept my mind busy.
4) Eat well
Unfortunately, my gas oven/stove top is in need of replacing. And due to the holiday, I am without one for a while. This is very frustrating, to be sure, but in an effort to stay positive, I used this as an opportunity to eat a lot of colorful, raw salads.
Although I didn’t get to bake any holiday treats, I drank cocktails in the evenings and binged The Witcher and read fiction.
6) Remind yourself this is temporary
My local support system is much smaller here than in my hometown. And since my siblings are out of town for the holiday, no one could help to care for my animals while I also traveled. Yes, I could have hired the help. But my animals are tender; they appreciate familiarity and being known. They are my family, and I recognize the stress inherent to moving. But it occurred to me that once my siblings return from their travels, I can ask them for help. I’m able to return to my hometown before my obligations begin after all.
A desire for growth led me here. And being alone for the holiday was a lonely exercise in positivity. Though I don’t wish this for anyone, should you find yourself here, know that I have walked the same path before. Certainly many others have, too. Should you ever find yourself alone for the holidays, know that it is going to be okay, and that you are loved.
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Photo: Toa Heftiba