For a long time I dreaded Christmas.
On Christmas Eve 2001 I stood in a busy London bar, surrounded by friends and strangers, yet I’d never felt so alone in my life. I watched as my first husband made a big show of flirting with someone I knew – even though I’d asked him to stop.
Just a few days earlier I’d met him at Heathrow airport. After months of being apart I was so excited to spend the holidays together, but the hours following his arrival were painful. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end of our marriage. I wasn’t even 30, yet we’d been together for over a decade.
Two years later and our divorce papers had been filed. It was my second Christmas without him, yet I was only in the very early throes of putting my life back together. I hadn’t done too well until then, I’d mostly focused on numbing the pain, but in doing so, I’d also numbed so much joy. Plus I’d made a series of bad choices and mistakes, which had resulted in more hurt – my own, but I’d hurt others, too. Sometimes I felt so lonely it made my teeth ache and my loneliness was beginning to feel like its own entity; some days I wondered if it was going to be mine forever – I was carrying so many wounds, but I didn’t know how to close them.
In the years since, I’ve spent Christmas in various countries around the world; solo, with girlfriends and with David, my second husband. I’ll always cherish the memory of our first Christmas in the home we bought together in London – although thinking about it, I honestly can’t recall if we’ve spent a Christmas there since. I’ve also had a few Christmases with my in-laws, a loving yet noisy affair, which can be tricky to navigate when you don’t really drink and prefer not to overeat and everyone keeps saying, “Forget about your diet for today”. Um, I haven’t been on a diet since 2013.
This year David and I will spend Christmas with dear friends in Singapore, which makes me happy – shared experiences are the particularly sticky glue that holds friendships together – it’s precious. Yet writing this has made me realise in the 17 years since I left Australia to move to London, not once have I been back to celebrate Christmas with my family, which has left me feeling sad and the tender ache of missing them.
So, whilst no two Christmases look the same and Christmas doesn’t look the way I thought it would when I was growing up, I have moved beyond the chapter of my life when I dreaded its arrival. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t take some time each year to remember the pain of that particular year with my ex, and to stop and think about the ones who may feel alone or lonely, forgotten or lost, the ones who are fighting for their lives, the ones who are grieving the absence of a loved one or nursing a broken heart, the ones in a relationship yet longing to get out, the ones who may be wondering how many more Christmases must be navigated solo, or if the much longed-for child will ever arrive and be part of the celebrations.
I’m holding space in my heart for everyone this season; whether you’re celebrating, or not – whatever your reason for not participating. Maybe not celebrating means you’re left feeling like you don’t belong. Or perhaps you’re simply feeling the weight of the season. Maybe it’s always a difficult time of the year because of your family history. Perhaps there’s something else bothering your dear heart.
I know we can tell ourselves that Christmas Day is “Just another day” but I also know how sometimes this can feel anything but true.
I know at this time of year it can feel like someone has taken your aloneness and your disappointment and your fear and your hurt and magnified it.
I don’t have any wise words to share with you if you’re feeling any of the above, not really. Only: Be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself like someone you love. Don’t be afraid to put some boundaries in place whether they’re in regards to time, money, energy or topics of conversation. It’s okay to say ‘No’ and to create space for yourself if you need it.
These could be the very best gifts you receive.
“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.
We’re all in this together because ‘everyone is afraid of something, loves something (or someone) and has lost something (or someone)’. Life is complicated and messy because we’re all human beings with beating hearts – which means Christmas can be complicated and messy, too. But being human and being alive is such a gift in itself and sometimes things can still be beautiful – even when they don’t always look the way we think they ‘should’. Maybe the trick is to consider what a beautiful December 25 could look like for you, no matter how different it may be from ‘the norm’ or how odd it may appear to others.
It may be ‘just another day’ but it’s also another precious day of your life.
So, I’m holding space for you in my heart. It doesn’t matter if we know one another, or not. If we’ve met before, or we never do. I see you.
*This is my most recent Love Letter, which I send out via email every month. I don’t usually share them here, but I received such a moving, overwhelming response to this one that I decided to make an exception, in case you needed to read these words too. If you wish, you can sign up here to receive the Love Letters yourself, plus a digest of blog posts.
© 2019 Esther Zimmer