How do you survive without a real family?
December 21, 2017 8:33 PM   Subscribe

So, earlier this year my dad died. My mom is still alive, but she is a complete mess (basically a mentally ill alcoholic, see past questions for details). Aside from her, I really have no family. Most of my family kind of disconnected from us once my mom became more difficult. I'm an only child who is nearing 30 and I just feel so. fucking. alone. How do you cope without a family? Who do you lean on?

Preface: I am in therapy.

I guess I'm finding Christmas harder than I was expecting, because I have spent the last few days in such a deep state of sadness about the lack of any sort of family in my life right now. There are no aunts and uncles to talk to or "join" as a surrogate family (in fact, my dad's brothers haven't even contacted me since his funeral in March, so... whatever, and last Christmas I also spent the entire holiday alone and none of my extended family members offered any support at all). Like, clearly they are not interested in connecting with me, fine.

My mom isn't any better. On Thanksgiving I thought I would do something nice and ordered us a catered dinner, well when I left the house for a few minutes she ran to the bar as fast as she could and came back drunk. So, I've learned and I'm really not doing anything for Christmas because of that experience.

I just don't know what to do. I have no family at all and it terrifies me and I feel awful. I've been feeling such intense sadness for the past few days when I see any sort of family together. Fuck, I know that appearances aren't reality, but I just long for that. I have a handful of friends, but they're all busy with their own families and I barely have a love life, so there's really nothing there.

I know that you can ~create~ and choose a family, somehow, but that seems so much easier said than done. How do you survive without a family while trying to find a new one? Is there any way to feel less lonely and empty? At least during Christmas? I mean, next year I might just go on a two week trip somewhere during this time.

(I know that AlAnon has been suggested in the past to deal with some of my feelings towards my mother, but the religious aspect of AlAnon makes me intensely uncomfortable)
posted by modesty.blaise to Human Relations (31 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Hi me! I'm so glad to hear from you. You are not alone. Memail me for details . You can do this, tho. Make your own tradition. What makes you feel happy about the season? Do those things. If you are nearby, come over, and we can be weird mothers/no family together. Affinity for cheesey Bing Crosby movies a plus.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 8:42 PM on December 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

The first big events after a loss are always the hardest. I suggest setting aside plenty of time to grieve the dead and the living who are lost.

You cry, you have a few sucky days and worse nights. Consider a pet, or just getting coffee and sitting in public drinking it. Go to parks, volunteer.

None of it really replaces family, but keeping busy is ok. You can survive solo.
posted by Jacen at 8:45 PM on December 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yeah, it’s hard to get over the FOG – fear, obligation and guilt. But the way to do it is to create a new family for yourself. I’ll be spending Christmas with some friends whom I’ve grown close to over the years, and who are also missing family for whatever reason. Creating a “chosen” family takes time, versus just being born into a not-so-great family, but isn’t is SO worth it.
posted by Brittanie at 8:55 PM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

ETA I think you’ll realize the more you are open about this that there are a lot of people who can’t go home or won’t go home or who can’t or won’t be able to depend on their blood family for whatever reason. The more people like that you meet the more likely you are to make then chosen family.
posted by Brittanie at 8:57 PM on December 21, 2017 [15 favorites]

Last year, Christmas for me was super rough, spending it alone, and La La Land was not a good thing for me to choose to do on Christmas Day, but like--you know, yeah, to echo Jacen: Time. Time makes it easier. I would say, basically, that you need to give yourself permission to do what you need to do, at times like this, even if it isn't something that would be considered graceful coping. It's okay to spend the weekend binge-watching TV. Because of the alcoholism in your family, I'd avoid using that as anything approaching a coping aid, but you know, there's other stuff. You're allowed to lay around in bed, you're allowed to cry, you're allowed to eat your Christmas dinner at a restaurant or a movie theater. You're allowed to spend the whole holiday weekend with your head in a Minecraft game. It's okay if during short trigger-heavy periods, your coping method is just keeping yourself incredibly distracted for the first few years.

As far as where you find other people to care about and who'll care about you, YMMV, but online fandom's been good to me. Most of my friends being on the internet does mean I'm largely left to my own devices this weekend, but the rest of the time I'm good, so it's okay if a couple of days are rough. Actually, the second year of my deliberately doing Christmas alone, I'm more concerned just that it's going to be boring than that I'm going to be distraught. (Last year I was distraught.) Next year, I think I'll be in a good position to properly plan to do special stuff for just me.

But if you're not feeling up to doing something special, it's okay. You will have future years for special. It's really just fine and not a sign of your failure to heal if you elect to spend most or all of the weekend in sweatpants on the sofa eating cookies and watching movies or reading or playing video games or whatever your escapist poison is. If you just find that insufficiently eventful, volunteering is traditional, but you might also consider finding a craft project. (Or, like me, planning on using the weekend to assemble some Ikea furniture that has still been in boxes for several months now.)
posted by Sequence at 9:07 PM on December 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

I think it would help to re-position this. There are plenty of people who do have families who are alone at holidays, who have nobody to lean on, and are disconnected. But I don't see how you can deal with the fallout of your mother's alcoholism unless you deal with your mother's alcoholism.

I don't think AlAnon is what you think it is:

Al-Anon Family Groups is a spiritual fellowship, not a religious one. We avoid discussion of specific religious doctrine, and members of all faiths (or of none) are welcome. Our Twelve Steps ask us to find a “Power greater than ourselves” who can help us solve our problems and find serenity. Each member is free to define that power in his or her own way.

To me, it would be unfathomable ego to imagine I am the most powerful force in the Universe, so accepting that there is a power greater than me is not an issue. There are also many different kinds of meetings; it is common to meeting shop.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:26 PM on December 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Maybe you can cope some by writing down the things that you want to find/make part of your life again. People to eat with? Open presents with? A traditional thing you love to do? You are basically starting from scratch, and that's scary but also liberating. The holidays of the rest of your life will have whatever rituals *you* want to have, and you can think about what those should be. Things that you do alone or share with others.

For example, on New Year's we like to write down our regrets for the past year on paper and then burn them. Simple but meaningful.

Christmas isn't complete for me without eating some really good sugar cookies, and listening to certain songs. Those are my personal rituals.
posted by emjaybee at 9:27 PM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

My prop is helping other people. I've been helping out at homeless shelters, and most recently working through a local agency Senior Network Services to help elders in various ways. It's helped me immensely both by giving me social and human connections and by reminding me how fortunate I am.
posted by anadem at 9:27 PM on December 21, 2017 [21 favorites]

Posted too soon. Also wanted to say that finding people to share holidays with can take a while, so think of it as something to work toward this coming year. And have a plan for ways to make it a time of peace and self care regardless.
posted by emjaybee at 9:31 PM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just want to add that if your mom is an alcoholic, her siblings may have distanced themselves from HER, not intentionally from YOU. It’s worth reaching out to them and seeing if they are interested in a solo relationship that doesn’t involve her.
posted by corb at 9:50 PM on December 21, 2017 [38 favorites]

I am helping my lonely by organizing an Xmas eve day party for the people in my peer group who feel lonely, just like me. I am going to make my own tradition of nog, muppet Xmas, and talking about feelings. I don’t know if it will work!
posted by gregglind at 10:23 PM on December 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you think you would like to spend Christmas day with other people - did you see this Metatalk thread? It's got quite a few people offering space at their table or inclusion in other plans for people who can't or don't want to go to their families of origin.

If nothing there fits, do you have a friend in your city you could call and see if they could host you? If I knew a friend of mine was in your position and wanted somewhere to go, I'd be delighted to include them in my plans - but I probably wouldn't know unless they asked.

If you would prefer not to be around people, that's totally OK too.

I also agree that you could think about reaching out to your aunts, uncles and/or cousins to establish a relationship with them separate from your mother, but I can understand you might not want to do that this year so close to Christmas.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 10:46 PM on December 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

To address one component of the situation : I don't think your aunts and uncles not reaching out to you means that you would be unwelcome or that they don't consider you family. In their mind you have your mother and you are young- many people would feel like they are overstepping to invite you under those circumstances. Is that the most gracious way to behave? Maybe not but I definitely think it's worth trying them.
posted by jojobobo at 11:06 PM on December 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Like, clearly they are not interested in connecting with me, fine.

Please don't conclude this just from their silence unless/until you try to contact them yourself and ask to talk or meet and they say No. If you already have tried, feel more than free to ignore the rest. I hate this (the explanation I'm about to give) and I don't understand it or defend it, but in my own family it is true, maybe in yours as well:

as the younger/youngest generation, you get conditioned to speak when spoken to, to be the one who waits to be approached, because that's the respectful thing for children to do, is not bother or bore adults. I mean, this was always my mindset, and the way I was implicitly raised to think about things. maybe not your experience, but it's a common one in certain families. and you're not a child anymore but as long as you're interacting with people you met as a child, you feel like one, and you expect the rules to stay the same. but -- at a certain point, older people completely forget, or just don't know, that this is even happening; they come to think of themselves as socially undesirable and of "young people" as this monolithic bloc of hip happening people who are just too cool and happy to waste time on old people. it is a delusion on their part and it is profoundly unfair that they switch their expectations regarding who is assumed to be uninterested in whom, given mutual lack of contact, without telling you. especially when they should certainly know how upset and isolated you are. but this happened in my family after my parent died and I am still upset about it even though I know this is the reason.

maybe it doesn't apply to your relatives and the last thing you need is somebody encouraging you to reach out just to get slapped down, at this time of year especially. but if your uncles etc. were ever kind or pleasant people to you before -- and I know not everybody's relatives are, so this is just if they're people you'd want to be in a family with -- I think they probably didn't forget about you or stop caring. that is not what their silence means. it is selfish and thoughtless but if you're in your late twenties and they're in their 60s or so, they expect you to be the one to call, if anybody does. yeah, even though you're the one whose parent died. it makes me angry. but although I may be wrong about your situation, I know this does happen.

putting that all aside, supposing they do have to be written off, you can find other friends with no family or with what you have, worse than no family. the late twenties are prime years for total familial estrangement, there are many people in similar situations to your own who can relate. they won't be instant family, that will take a few years, but if you can meet a few people who are orphaned or as good as, you can have people around who understand and who will be with you on holidays as equals in misery. even when they're fresh acquaintances, that means a lot.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:08 PM on December 21, 2017 [28 favorites]

I hate Christmas/thanksgiving and mostly ignore it. You can, probably next year, try to find other people in the same situation and invite them over/host them.

IDK it just is a shitty time of year. I listen to a lot of Sufjan Stevens (his mom is also messed up) if I feel like crying, and I otherwise just ignore it and watch unrelated TV shows or whatever.

More generally, you have to strengthen community ties and invest more in non-family social relationships. This is a lot of work and time and effort that other people don't have to expend, which is annoying. But it can be pretty okay if you work at it. It's literally just a lot of work, though, no magic. Saying hi to people, remembering things about them, reaching out when they're having trouble, making an effort to be friendly. If you do that for a while you'll find that you will end up with people to rely on. It's not nearly as secure as actual family would be, which sucks, but it is what it is.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:29 PM on December 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Mr. Fish and I both come from large families with very set Christmas traditions. We realized that they were exactly this: traditions, routines, and nothing more, because those traditions/routines just we're not working for us anymore. We travel now over Christmas and that is our new tradition, even if just having each other is family for us right now. We love seeing how different cultures do (or don't do) Christmas - it really changes perspective. I highly recommend it!

Outside of that, friends, neighbor's, co-workers. Just be friendly and keep putting yourself out there. You can also volunteer on Christmas - I've done that while completely alone before and it made me feel not-alone and that I was helping others even if that feeling was fleeting and just for that day.
posted by floweredfish at 2:22 AM on December 22, 2017

Lots of great advice so far. Since this is a “bridge” year, for Christmas, there is an unofficial non-Christian tradition of going out for Chinese food and taking in a movie, which can be a backup plan. Start a new ritual...give yourself a gift that honors you and your dad. Have a brunch with family foods. Call your mom and wish her a merry Christmas. Text your friends to do the same. Oh, and today, maybe send a few cards to family you’d like to explore. You need to get out from the shadow of your mother with them. Who reached out when your dad passed?This is a subtle reminder that you are not your mom, as she has likely exhausted your family members. It may also be that there is more dysfunction on her side of the family, but a couple of nudges toward connecting is to be expected. Just floating balloons here. Therapy is a great gift. There are other groups beyond Al Anon, though some choose to identify their higher power as a collective unconscious experience. You will find a fair number of atheists there.
Best wishes!
posted by childofTethys at 4:28 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Missed the bit about your Dad’s brothers...some guys believe that the relationship tending falls to the women. And grief is a funny thing, if you want to give them some grace. Call them on Christmas- they likely have a landline if they are of a certain age. Chances are talking about your dad with them will soothe both of you.
posted by childofTethys at 4:39 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

This may be out of your comfort zone given your mother's mental illness and alcoholism but perhaps something to consider. I think a large part of feeling a sense of belonging has to do with being able and allowed to express love for those around you. If that is taken away because of your mother's illness and alcoholism is is naturally going to be very painful, year after year as holidays and birthdays go by reminding you of what was taken away from you. You cannot express love to those who are deceased by giving gifts, providing company and sharing stories. You can't do this with your mom either because she is more interested in getting drunk than participating. Be that as it may you can still find peace in your heart over what she has done to herself and to you. This is only for your benefit and not hers so don't think it needs to be that you are forgiving her but rather you are allowing yourself to not suffer the pain anymore because you don't deserve it. You could buy her a small gift, writer her a card or poem, give her a photo of better times, bring her a coooked meal if that is what you would do with your ideal mother. But instead of bringing it over and hoping for a miracle, just provide it and leave with a good feeling in your heart that you are taking care of your own needs. You could even leave it there when she isn't home. How she responds to this is not a concern for you any more, but be damned if she will take away your joy and need for a mother.
posted by waving at 5:18 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great advice on here. When I became more open about my situation, my friendships became deeper and more authentic and I did have people I could spend holiday time with. I reached out to my cousins and have friendships with them, too. I also my my husband just before I turned 30, so ...

I second advice to go and volunteer, if that's something you feel you can do - lots of people would love to be able to do that. Find a local parkrun that's running on Christmas Day and go and cheer cold runners on, if actual volunteering feels like too much.

You. Have. Got. This.
posted by LyzzyBee at 5:18 AM on December 22, 2017

One of my Christmas traditions is cemetery duty, I am doing it today. I take a broom, a scrub brush, and a couple of gallon jugs of water to the family plot and give it a good cleaning. I don’t know if this is possible for you, but it does help me. It sounds like a depressing thing to do, but for me it is not.
posted by raisingsand at 5:23 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

hello, me from 15 years ago! i just wanted to stop in here quickly to say -- it's totally normal to feel those depths-of-grief-and-anguish feelings of loneliness. they get less and less as the years go by. it'll probably still happen sometimes, but that is okay, because you're gonna build such a nice life for yourself.

i'm in Toronto, and haven't been home (east coast) for Christmas in 10 years this year! once i made the decision that holidays were solo time for me, they actually... got filled up with people. and love. because my time and energy was now free to focus on people i wanted to nurture relationships with. i stopped squandering it on people who didn't value my love and effort. this was hard to enforce, as i was pretty committed to banging my head repeatedly on that wall of booze and indifference.

that decision, all by itself, was a little scary sometimes. making friends is weird! am i being too effuse with inviting ppl to things!? is this gift too intimate for the level of friendship we're currently at?!? are we "spend xmas day together" level of friends yet?!?!? it felt risky. it felt like work. it also felt... hopeful. like putting little wishes out into the universe for a nice life, and trusting that some of it would eventually stick.

it didn't happen quickly. it happened with the addition of a little new tradition every year, a christmas spent with a fellow orphan-type, an open house for all the solo folks, making an epic amount of snacks, which over the years extended into group visits to the market....

... not even noticing these were traditions, until i realize i'd been doing some of them for A DECADE. a decade!! that still feels bananas to me! when i realized this last week, i'm not exaggerating when i say it brought me to my knees with gratitude. for the first time since my dad died, there's an absence of holiday dread in my heart. there's even some joy & anticipation in there this year.

for so many years at the holidays, it felt like the most i could hope for was the absence of suffering (which also felt impossible and unlikely). i just limped through with ample bourbon for the first bunch of years. i can see now that that was a normal part of grief and evaluating what's really important to you... because my capacity to experience that anguish & loneliness is what carved out my present capacity for true intimacy with my friends, and joy.

you're not alone. your post is so vulnerable and brave and honest that everyone here is holding you in our hearts. being able to identify how you are feeling and share it with others is the best footing from which to move towards good things. sending the warmest wishes for a nice / bearable / cozy week.
posted by crawfo at 6:40 AM on December 22, 2017 [19 favorites]

This program is local to NYC, but maybe there's something like it where you live?
posted by edbles at 6:55 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

There is so much OBLIGATION and EXPECTATION built in to any "tradition"-laden event or timeframe. Witness the angst generated by people who cannot figure out how to have a wedding without offending random people, or Christmas without visiting parents etc. We get so locked in to these patterns of expectation. They can crush us and ruin everything.

For many, those are positive things- they want the traditions, welcome the rituals, etc. etc. And those are lucky people, and I salute them.

But- when those patterns are NOT what you want; or if life events disrupt your patterns, and you are left bereft- these tradition-laden events/timeframes can be horribly horribly awful.

If at any time you are trapped by these patterns and obligations- realize that YOU HAVE FREE WILL. No one can make you suffer. Choose not to be subject to that pain.

Choose new traditions, make new patterns. Honor yourself. Lovingly and cheerfully explain, in a way that feels safe, to anyone who gives you shit about it, that you are Doing A New Thing. And let that be the end of it. It will feel bad and you may have some struggle. But make this time into whatever you need it to be. You are not beholden to anyone else's idea of what holidays are "supposed" to be.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:24 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is so, so painful and I feel for you at this time of year.
One thing I would recommend trying to do is to be around other people who don't have a family either. Who understand what it's like to be an outsider.
Even though I do have family still, I've always felt the alienation of Christmas. I've come to my own insights about it and basically being empowered about it to me, means accepting the fact that I'm not a Christian, never will be, and that i'm not alone in that. And then looking outside of the dominant narratives of what "Christmas" is to see what other outsiders are actually doing at this time of year. The reality for so, so many people is so different than the image. In my view Capitalism and Christianity (not in its essence, but in its public American manifestation) go hand in hand. And everyone knows capitalism is not cool, so it's OK to say Christmas is not cool either. I'm trying to go back to the pagan origins of Yuletide in order to mentally escape the prison of the pressure of Christmas. Anyways that was a bit of a ramble.

I would suggest strongly that you engage in volunteer work with the homeless. They are outsiders too, and they probably don't have anyone at this time of year either. Being around them will not make you feel more lonely, that is for sure. You might be able to find a sense of community and get rid of some of the alienation. And if you are able to break that barrier, you will have broken open a part of your heart that will stay open for the rest of your life, and you can continue to open it further and further the stronger you get. Love and hugs to you
posted by winterportage at 7:52 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

- Find a friend or go alone to some sort of public celebration like a restaurant event, soundbath, Special Christmas movie screening, Christmas show at the town hall, religious org's holiday party, etc.. These exist and a large gathering will scratch that itch.

- Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass at the fanciest Episcopal Chirch in your 'hood. Mine does High Mass + a reception afterwards. We are walking distance, on the way home if it's clear and you are in the Northern Hemisphere you will see Orion in the sky. High Mass at an Episcopal Church is not to be missed.

- Ignore the day. Go to a spa or hotel or hiking or skiing or whatever it is you do.


- All day reading marathon.

- Go device free for a day.

- Reach out before hand to friends and ask them what's up. Someone else may be in your boat and be up for a dinner or a field trip, ask around!

- Spend the day with your Jewish friends. If they are not attending someone else's Christmas, I guarantee you they have fun plans.
posted by jbenben at 8:23 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some things I've done at shitty Xmases, of which I've had a few:

1. Hands down the best was Meals on Wheels - caroling edition. I had no car but this was a mini bus that went around that day delivering to not just regular clients but people who needed a meal. The experiences I had changed my perspective permanently. If you do similarly volunteer, it might help build your support network for you too, since your mum is such a handful. Other places that might be looking for volunteers would be seniors' homes, shelters, soup kitchens.

2. Shoutout to the Elgin Street Diner in Ottawa. I had a Christmas dinner there one year and although I don't think I actually spoke to anyone other than the typical restaurant interactions, the feeling of us all diner-eating-people on that day was kind of special.

3. Watched the entire extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, and ate as often as Hobbits.

4. Told my friends how I was really feeling. They made Christmas for me, not in some movie over the top way but...invited me by for part of their day.

You'll get through this. I hear you on the AlAnon but my actual Christmas wish for you would be to find a meeting that speaks to you.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:34 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I know that you can ~create~ and choose a family, somehow, but that seems so much easier said than done. How do you survive without a family while trying to find a new one?

First, you need to tone down the terms you are thinking about this -- it's true that social isolation is painful, because over the course of human history it was dangerous to be without some sort of family or tribe, but it seems very unlikely that you are literally in a situation where you will not actually survive the winter without a family. Your lizard brain is sure that your life is in grave danger, but your conscious thoughts don't have to follow that path.

You might find it helpful to get out to some group events in public. Movies are good because you can participate in watching pretty much the same way with or without anyone else with you.

For this year, there are still cheap flights available to the sort of vacation destinations people don't tend to go to for Christmas, be sure to check prices for Christmas Day. If it's at all feasible to take off on a last minute trip except for the flight costs you might find you can go somewhere.

As far as finding what some people call "chosen family" -- it takes time. I spent a number of Thanksgivings as a guest with people who just "didn't want me to be alone on Thanksgiving". It can be really awkward to spend the holiday with a group of people that you might only know one or two and have nothing in common with the others -- or it can be a great time. Generally it's better if you are not the only non-related person there -- but try not to turn down an invitation, if you have multiples you might be able to come by earlier or later "to help watch the kids while you cook", "for drinks", or "for dessert". Even if it feels awkward and you are completely out of your element, just take it as a new experience and enjoy it for what it is. You won't click with everyone.

Eventually as I got to know more people one year I went to a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's large home where they had a potluck of about 30 or 40 people and had a great time. The next year I asked a few months in advance if they were going to do Thanksgiving again -- and they hadn't really thought about it yet but decided to do the same thing that year. Now it's a tradition and they consider me to be part of how the tradition got started.

How do you find these things? Well, in part this might be about making more friends if your current friends feel like these times are just for "family" and would never do something like this. There are many people out there who either don't have relatives nearby, don't have any relatives they get along with, or just flat out don't have any relatives. You also need to let people know what's going on with you -- in the US it's culturally assumed that you'll spend the day with relatives, and if people know your mom is alive (and nearby, I'm getting the impression), no one is going to invite you to something unless they already know you aren't doing anything.

Do say yes even if things seem like they could be the awkward thing where you only know one person -- a few years ago I found out on Thanksgiving eve a friend of mine I would have assumed would do Thanksgiving with her nearby parents that she got on well with, but due to a bigot in the extended family was not going. Well, when you are going to a giant potluck for Thanksgiving it's pretty easy to finagle a last minute guest -- I was the only one my friend knew, and I suggested she take her camera and pass photos on to the hosts. This ended up becoming her tradition, I was not able to go this year and friend went with her girlfriend, "like usual" as she said.

So, if you are going to a celebration where you won't know many people, plan something in advance that will give you a hook to interact with them in a way that's likely to fit into their tradition.

For holidays and birthdays that I'm pretty much on my own for, I like to get out in nature or a big park at some point during the day, with a lunch if the weather is nice enough.
posted by yohko at 2:38 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I so sympathize with you! I’m an only child too, 38 now, and lost my mom 4 years ago and my dad less than two months ago. Thanksgiving was rough this year. There are so many good suggestions here. Be kind to yourself. Do things that you enjoy during the holidays, maybe things that involve being near others, like movies or a holiday play. The challenge for me is to understand that what we’re feeling is temporary. You will build a life, and family, for yourself, but it takes time.
posted by percor at 7:09 PM on December 22, 2017

Someone I know who is in AA says that for her the spiritual nature of the group and the program is in the care and concern members have for each other. I think you might find that care and concern in an alanon group. It might take a few tries until you find a group that suits you.

In the meantime, can you go out of town for the next few days? Being a stranger in a strange place can often feel less alienating than being alone in a familiar place.

I hope you can let go of trying to take care of your mother. Break away and go live your own life. Your sanity and happiness are at stake here. It's ok to cut off a family member for your own self-preservation, really, it is. Reach out to some of those relatives, they have managed to cut your mother off and may help you do the same. And reach out to others who offer friendship here and elsewhere.
posted by mareli at 5:50 AM on December 23, 2017

There's some excellent advice here about how to cope with the holidays and your other relatives. As someone without a "natural family," I'll touch on the part about how to build your "chosen family." It is an active but extremely rewarding thing to build, but it takes time and nurturing. There are people in my chosen family that I've known for 17 years and others that I've added only this year. What do I want from my chosen family? People who support me, affirm me, play with me, eat with me, challenge me, help me with things I'm bad at or can't do. So that means I do those things for them. It also means that sometimes you ask them for help. It takes initiative and follow through, but it develops over time by reaching out to people - both at the beginning of the relationship to initiate activities or say how are you and at every stage throughout. In short, it means accepting the person and being with them. So if it looks like someone needs help, offer to help if you can. If you see something they might like, share it with them. Try to remember (calendar) birthdays. If you are genuinely interested in them and make an effort (a natural effort from a place of friendship and togetherness) it will pay off. It will grow into something that becomes true companionship. Some of these are intimate relationships and others are more practical and less emotional, but they know they can count on me and vice versa. Some of them I talk to/text once a week and others every few months or so, but I keep the contact going and make the effort as long as I want the relationship. When I was in my twenties I was more focused on finding people to fill family roles - he is like my brother, she is like my aunt - but I've let go of that impulse and they are just family (except their kids, those are my nieces and nephews). Practically speaking, how did I meet this family? Volunteer teaching, at poetry readings, in my neighborhood, walking my dog, community theater, sharing an apartment, work. In short, by doing things I like doing and living an engaged life. I will say that some of them also do not have much, if any, natural family and others have big natural families.

You are not alone - there are more of us out here than you know.
posted by perrouno at 9:20 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

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