Thanksgiving – to give thanks. To bestow or grant a grateful thought. To greet a moment, or a day, with special gratitude. Gratitude born of all the myriad of circumstances we have to be thankful for. A roof over our heads, fresh air in our lungs, maybe a phone call from a loved one or the perfect afternoon stroll through our favorite park. This practice of thankfulness ‘should’ be easy, especially on an occasion established to unite a nation under one mantra for a day – a mantra which hopes, anticipates, even expects this practice of thanks. So how come it isn’t easy for so many to live up to this expectation of gratitude?
Let us start by saying this. It is often the expectation of a good thing which can quickly and mercilessly reveal its complete lack. When we order our favorite dish and we learn the main ingredient is out of stock, or when someone said they would show up and they were absent. It is not until we had our eyes set on the best apartment that the option we could actually afford felt disappointing. It wasn’t until we believed someone cared for us and their actions showed otherwise that the gap between what we hoped for and what actually took place is highlighted, bolded, and underlined.
What if everyone and everything around you was pointing towards being grateful – for friends, for family, or for the favorite stroll in your favorite park, but all you could muster was an immense feeling of lack? An overwhelming feeling that whatever it was you were experiencing was less than, was disappointing, was not living up to your own hopes and expectations? Well, if this sounds close to home, I imagine you might feel, along with many other emotions, pretty sad.
Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Thanksgiving is reportedly the loneliest holiday of them all. This means that millions of Americans report feeling lonely during a time when the expectation of gratitude propels them to look around for reasons to be grateful and to come up completely short.
If this is you, we are here to relay to you the following message:
You are not alone this thanksgiving. You are not a bad person and there is not something wrong with you for feeling sad.
I’ll say it again – you are not alone this thanksgiving.
Shame, grief, and sadness have a way of creeping in when we look around and see the glitter of the holiday season everywhere except in our own hearts and homes. Have you ever noticed that the longer you keep a secret, the more it feels like it needs to be kept? Almost as if the window for ‘coming clean’ has passed, and you’re so far into a lie that revealing it would be too embarrassing or too vulnerable? Shame works in a similar way. The secret of shame is that it becomes louder and louder the longer it hides. Maybe you are feeling sad, or maybe you are feeling lonely. And maybe, on top of all that, you feel guilty for your loneliness and your sadness because you’re not living up to the expectations of the ‘glamorous’ holiday season.
It’s quite a vicious cycle. However, we’re here to tell you that it can be broken.
Not only are there others with you who are feeling the same way, but there are those who, in the face of feeling guilty and ashamed, have decided to share their #nofilter stories to help rewrite the narrative around what the holidays are like for most. They’ve written their stories for you – to help normalize your experience, and maybe even to encourage you to share your story, too. In telling the story of sadness that has been on repeat in our heads, we give ourselves room to transition. We go from being the keeper of a secret to the teller of a story. We go from shame of failed expectations to relief of sharing our pain with one another and learning that someone else might reply, “me too”. We learn, in time, that in sharing our story we release the deceptive power of shame and loneliness and that we are not alone in our struggle.
Before you go, we want to invite you to a simple exercise. While sharing your story may seem intimidating, we want to help you imagine what it would actually be like. For a moment, find a quiet space where you can be alone and close your eyes. Empty your hands of anything and make sure you’re in a comfortable position. We want you to take a few deep breaths and relax in the room that you’re in. Take note of what it smells like if there is a breeze, or how your clothes feel on your skin. Eventually, bring your focus onto your breath.
Once you’ve sat with your breathing for a moment, consider someone you might be willing to share your emotions with. Usually, the first person that comes to mind (or heart) is who we want to share with the most. Now that you’ve brought them to mind, consider what it is like for you to sit in their presence. Odds are this person is someone who loves you very much because they came to mind as someone with who you would feel safe sharing something vulnerable. Maybe when you’re with them you feel a sense of calm, or safety, or peace. Relax into that safe space, and allow yourself to feel what you’ve been feeling. Now it’s time to recite your story.
Take a moment to reflect on how you feel once you’re finished. Maybe practicing the telling of your story brought you to tears, or maybe it brought you a huge sense of relief. Imagine now the power of someone you love, or who loves you, sharing your story with you. That, right there, is your number one loneliness combattant. It is the first line of attack against shame, guilt, and sadness. Remember what sharing here felt like, and we hope that this remembrance gives you the courage to share over there, too.
Circles is offering free Circles of support from December 24-26 so you can share without shame and connect with others going through a similar experience. You’re not alone this holiday season. Sign up for a free Circle here.