Alone on Christmas

This year was my first year being alone on Christmas.

Desperate to miss the Christmas rush, my Dad helped me book tickets from Limerick to America for the first week in December. I spent four days in North Carolina and three days in Maryland before departing from Boston back to Shannon Airport.

The trip was perfect.

I saw my family. There were no mad lines at the airport. None of my flights were even that heavily populated. The four hour drive from NC to MD was blissfully traffic-free. The best part was that everything actually did feel like Christmas. All the best parts of Christmas. My siblings loved their gifts. The food was incredible. My Mum even waited to decorate the tree til I got home.

When I flew back I felt satisfied and full of Christmas excitement. I came home to an empty house, my roommate having left a few days prior to travel other countries in Europe. I’ve never lived alone. The silence was haunting at first but soon it became a welcome thing. I cleaned the whole house that first day. I just wanted everything new and spotless.

By the second week I was a little lonely, but for specific people. I missed my best friends, all of them back in America. My friends in Limerick were busy completing assignments and preparing for their holidays. Since I had finished all that up before going to America, I felt out of the social loop.

I had offers to stay over with some classmates in various places in Ireland, but I enjoyed the comforts of being home too much to venture out. After a while I decided that I would actively put this grass-is-greener loneliness aside and fully embrace the freedom of being on my own and financially independent for the first time in my life.

The first thing I wanted to work on was my body confidence. Perhaps that seems strange. I suppose in truth the past year in general has been a focus on this area. In many ways it has been a guilty journey. The things I used to hate about myself both physically and mentally had become so synonymous with me as a person that relinquishing their control on me felt undeserved and unjustified. In other words, who am I if I’m not the girl who hates herself? I chose to rediscover who I was by walking around my house in lingerie or nothing at all. I wanted to see my body in all its glory and stop being afraid it wouldn’t be enough for the mass-produced and often unrealistic standard of beauty in the world today.

After that I examined my sexuality. I suppose being naked most of the day helped with this one. I wanted to understand why I mentally both craved and feared sex. I wrote a sex scene. Not smut or pure erotica. Just sort of an experiment with the things I like being played out on a page. I don’t have a consenting male friend to practice with, so I gave myself permission to fantasise. I don’t really have all the answers yet. All I know is that my violent history with my mother’s abusers has made me wary of any aggression in men, but I also am completely turned off by passivity. My adoration of “gentlemen” is not a romanticised obsession, instead I believe it is a product of the terrifying reality of rape culture. The fact that having consensual and pleasurable sex has become a luxury in our society terrifies me. Above all, I am attracted to a man who respects me. I am drawn to intelligence and sensitivity as well as the many physical aspects I find appealing in different people. However, what I discovered was that the upmost attractive quality to me will always be respectfulness.

Lastly, I meditated more. A friend of mine suggested more mediation and mindfulness in my life. Typically I’m uncomfortable with meditating. My mind wanders and often turns dark very quickly. The first time we meditated together, in fact, I cried uncontrollably. I like guided meditation because I can focus on one thing at a time. But I don’t enjoy all guides. Some voices distract me too easily. A lot of the background music is actually grating to my sensitive hearing. So I took my friend’s suggestion and tried it on my own, only with my own music. A lot of times, I cried. I suppose I needed to, so I’m no longer ashamed of that outcome. Recently, though, I’ve been able to just relax and stop worrying about what is the “right” thing to be doing at that time. It’s been a freeing experience.

On Christmas Day I woke up beneath warm covers. I slipped on a blue lace-and-velvet lingerie set with a house coat and wool socks. I did my makeup and my hair and began cooking Christmas breakfast for myself and prepping for the Christmas dinner I would cook later. I read over my short story, editing a bit here and there. When my brother woke up and video messaged me, I covered up and wished him a Happy Christmas as he excitedly showed me all his new presents. He had more than our sister this year, so he was quite chuffed. I watched Christmas movies the rest of the day, talking to loved ones sporadically. My dinner was fantastic. The wine even more so. I messaged friends. I ate mint chocolate ice cream.

Just before midnight, I lay on my bed and meditated. I don’t remember what I thought of, if anything at all. I do know that I was happy. Not at all how I pictured spending Christmas alone.

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Wisdom from my Mother

Twenty-six.

I never imagined myself at twenty-six. Twenty-five was as far as my ambitions really soared. I thought I would be married, have a thriving career, be finished with school. I never took time to imagine the next year, even in my fantasies. I thought the most important things would happen, and then the rest of life would drift as happily as floating in a pool.

At twenty-six my mother was married. Not to my father and not at all happily. At twenty-six my Mum was thriving in her career, but not the career she had imagined for herself. At twenty-six my Mum was working and going to school and minding her six-year-old-daughter who idolised her and mistook her beautiful smile as attainable perfection. It would be many years before I understood that that smile was only for me, a smile she had to put on to cover her tears.

Recently I spoke to her about my turning twenty-seven in just a few short months. I was worrying, as I do, about the relationships I want to have and the career opportunities I have little control over and the directionless path my life seems to be careening down. I spiralled further and further down this specific rabbit hole that I visit too often alone. I wasn’t looking for her advice, but as she is a mother, she gave it anyway.

She simply said, “Whatever you do, don’t force it”.

She began to tell me little cautionary tales from periods in her life where she had tried to control something to the point of forcing an outcome. Each little tale ended with her miserable. Her plan of attack had been flawless. She got exactly what she had wanted every time. Every time she was unhappy.

Her stories started to make me think of other stories. Those ones where someone is granted wishes and each wish leaves them unhappier than the last. I never could help but think that I would be clever enough to outsmart the genie or jinn or trickster spirit. I could figure out how to have everything I ever wanted without any fear of deceptive fine print. Perhaps that’s the arrogance of youth.

Now I’m starting to think all true happiness comes from contentment. The rest will find it’s way to you.

In three short months I’ll be twenty-seven. Another year I never imagined for myself. Nothing good in my life right now was planned even a year ago. I’m not advocating a lifestyle of aimlessness and I don’t think my mother is either. I’m only saying, as she did, to not force it. Enjoy the now. Be content. Joy will find you.

And I will try my best to take that advice, too.