Much is said of how those of us who spend all our high days and holidays alone and much of that is said by people who never spend their high days and holidays alone.
I haven’t spent a Christmas or a birthday with anyone for five or six years now. After the first few years it’s pointless counting. I’ve been in this position before 20 years ago. It’s not good and there are things I can do to make things go a little less roughly but nothing quite removes that sting of failure: I must be a bad person otherwise people would want to spend special days with me.
No one ever suspects that it can happen to them as big families surround them but that was me once. I was part of a big family in another lifetime.
What changes? What takes you from the centre of one world and places you untethered into another?
Families are mobile these days. The kind of family that I was raised in where people lived close to one another all their lives is disappearing with greater rapidity each year. We move away as I did and some of us never return. The obligation was on me to travel to the family rather than the family travel to me. A glimpse of how my family functions I suppose. They never made the effort and on all the high days and holidays I get less than 10 minutes in a phone call to listen to the list of my mum’s imagined ills. The distance grows.
My drinking placed barriers between me and the rest of the world. I was angry. I drank. I was an angry drunk. Who wants to have an angry drunk spend time with them? Alcohol, the great remover. Wipes out stains and relationships with consummate ease. Nearly 21 years after my last drink people still talk to me as though it was last week. Amazing how long memories are and how reluctant people are to forgive.
The mental health problem – don’t forget the mental health problem. Too many people have little idea of how to talk to people with a mental health problem let alone spend a couple of hours with them. The most oft asked question is, strangely, “what would happen if you were ill when you were with me?” Push a person asking that question and they have no idea what “ill” is.
Five or six years ago I couldn’t have written this. Five or six months ago I couldn’t have written this. So what changed? Nothing has changed other than my attitude. I have accepted for the time being that, like it or not, I’m spending Christmas, Easter and birthdays alone. It hurts and I allow myself to feel that hurt. Denying feelings intensifies them. This Christmas I put up decorations, threw myself into things, bought myself a huge gift though it is difficult to wrap up a washing machine and put it under the tree.
I also accepted that it is not one day. Christmas doesn’t come and go in 24 hours. If you’re in a position where you’re off work or don’t work you may not see another person to speak to in a friendly way for three or four days and that’s what being alone is – isolation.
Growing up we always invited someone who would have been alone at Christmas to spend time with us. An hour or two over lunch to break up that sense of isolation. I thought everybody did that. I think everybody should. I think I’ll do it next year.