Will I ever be okay again?
December 22, 2021 1:19 AM   Subscribe

How do I survive spending the holidays alone and not feel defeated about my life? I am broke and hungry.

I grew up in a physically abusive and emotionally manipulative household for years and endured so much violence. Last year, I finally managed to leave my family of origin and live on my own. Then as I was settling in, the pandemic started, so I was really isolated. Experienced severe PTSD—every time my neighbours slam a door, I get into an anxiety attack and I forget that I'm safe now. But I dealt with it as much as I can and for the most part was okay.

Then I lost my job when my employer forbid me from taking a leave. I asked for some time to grieve because someone close to me died and that didn't go well, long story short I was out of work. Was really struggling a lot with paying for rent and food and basic necessities. But I endured all that and made it to this year.

This year, my parents had some trouble and I had no choice but to help them out. I felt like I had to even after everything they did to me. I felt sick to my stomach, but I couldn't bring myself to let them suffer alone.

This decision ended up with me getting sucked back in to the dysfunction that I struggled for thirty-five years to leave. For the whole of this year, most of my waking hours were spent helping my parents manage their business. I worked long hours, and I didn't get paid a single cent. And since they have all my time I was not able to find a job and earn income for myself, and I found myself in the same place as I was last year: worrying about rent, enduring hunger, etc. I think my mental health was worse this year than last year even.

Now I just want to spend the holidays alone. I am so exhausted and at the end of my rope. But they want me to go over there. I already said no, but they are hounding me and stressing me out and pressuring me. Said I was destroying family traditions, and that I'm selfish and calling me names and all that.

I'm determined not to go back to that house because if I do, I'll never get out and I worked so hard to leave the first time. I feel like they intend to pressure me to the extreme until I give in, and I’m determined to be the strongest I can be but damn if I’m not feeling the exhaustion physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I wonder how long I can last. They keep telling me I won't make it on my own alone during Christmas.

I don't know what to do anymore. Thank you for listening.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You sound at the end of your tether so you might find that speaking to a crisis helpline is useful. Details of text and chat helplines available globally.

You will make it on your own alone during Christmas. Not only that, your family will survive you not being there too. It will probably be better for them to miss you than to berate you. It will certainly be better for you. If it's practical, tell them that you'll speak to them after Christmas and then make it so they can't contact you for a week.

Can you make some plans in your own mind for what you will do? Do you have food? If not, can you acquire some - from a shop, from a food pantry, from a friend? If you have internet access there is a massive world of entertainment and fellowship available to you throughout the Xmas period. There will be people to find who are in your exact situation, and others who want to connect online at this time. If you celebrate Christmas and are tolerant of Christianity, subject to Covid, you can probably find a festive service to attend at no cost where people will be welcoming. You can go for nature walks in your neighbourhood and just observe the plants, birds, animals, people, architecture.
posted by plonkee at 1:59 AM on December 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

It's not literally true that it's always darkest before the dawn, but it is still a useful metaphor. Your parents are throwing what is sometimes referred to as an extinction tantrum and it is understandably getting you down. Tell them the decision is made and you will not be with them for Christmas. If they continue to protest, tell them that if they don't stop you will hang up the phone/walk away. If they continue, do that. They are making the holiday (and apparently the entirety of the past year) about their wants and needs with no thought for your own. That's exactly the opposite of what the holiday is supposed to be about!

Going forward, prioritize your own needs. You can't help people if you are in danger of going hungry or being evicted. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

And if you need some money to get yourself some Chinese takeout or whatever else you want/need to help you through Christmas, send me a MeMail. I can send $20 with CashApp or PayPal.
posted by wierdo at 2:02 AM on December 22, 2021 [30 favorites]

You have accomplished a nearly insurmountable task by moving out and though you worry about rent, you have been able to not move back despite the pandemic and job adversity. You’ve made a giant leap and I ask you to acknowledge that and give yourself some credit. Sometimes progress is not straightforward and you take two steps forward and one step back, or a giant leap forward (moving out) and a step back (helping out, at a high cost to you). Perhaps now comes a step forward again (spending the holidays without exposing yourself to a lot of harm, planning how to extricate yourself from the business support, find a job, looking after yourself, getting help, or whatever you think moves you in the right direction). You’ve already taken a step by asking here. I wish you strength to keep moving.
posted by meijusa at 3:04 AM on December 22, 2021 [10 favorites]

They keep telling me I won't make it on my own alone during Christmas

What does that even mean? I've had some holidays alone with a cup of ramen and a good movie, and that was plenty peaceful and comfortable and nice. Making it mentally through another holiday with your parents seems like the bigger challenge.

How are they contacting you? Can you block their number and set up a filter for their email? You can always undo it later. Or keep it.

You've been in the hardest part these past few years - breaking away and trying to build something new. It does get easier.

If you don't have anyone to talk with and you feel the need, I'd be up for a phone call. You can memail me. I'm probably in a different time zone than you, but I'm often free and I don't celebrate Christmas so no need to worry about interrupting anything.
posted by trig at 3:07 AM on December 22, 2021 [26 favorites]

Tell them you need rest and won't be contacting them for a while. Block their number(s), unplug the land line if you have it, mark their emails as spam. That's it, you're done.

Congratulate yourself on making such huge leaps despite your trauma. Curl up in your bed with a good book or a good movie and enjoy the peace and quiet.
posted by gakiko at 3:11 AM on December 22, 2021 [13 favorites]

They keep telling me I won't make it on my own alone during Christmas

...say the people who depend on you to keep them financially afloat. Yeah right. One of you is not self sufficient, and that's NOT you.


For the whole of this year, most of my waking hours were spent helping my parents manage their business.

I'm not telling you to stop doing that, because I recognise how hard that is for you and how hard it was for you to move out in the first place. You moved a mountain. You will figure the rest out, too. I believe in you.

I'm telling you that you don't need to believe the word of people who don't have their own shit in order, and also depend on making you feel like you need them.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:18 AM on December 22, 2021 [52 favorites]

I spent last Christmas on my own due to pandemic reasons and it was fine. It's a day you can treat like any other. It's not a moral failing to not be a character in a Hallmark movie.

Send them a text, tell them you'll be back in touch on the 26th, and you hope they enjoy their Christmas.

Spend some time on each of the days between now and then applying for jobs.

If you are actually hungry, please contact a food bank in your area. If you need help finding one, please message me and I'll be happy to help you!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:36 AM on December 22, 2021 [21 favorites]

I've spent Christmas alone since I think 2018, after a passive aggressive gifting incident broke the camel's back and I decided I wasn't going to participate anymore. Even with the problems of the pandemic they have still been my best Christmases because I don't have to perform for anyone. Anyway, yeah, you'll be ok.

Shoot me a memail please.
posted by phunniemee at 5:25 AM on December 22, 2021 [16 favorites]

I'm sorry you don't have the parents you need. I have been there.

It might be helpful to try and reframe the holidays, or at least come to peace with them this year. It's just another day, after all, and it doesn't even mean anything to many people on this planet.

I stopped visiting family on Xmas about 5 years ago. i would spend three months anticipating that one night and then 2 months after beating myself up about it and then look, in 3 months I have to start stressing about seeing them at Xmas again. Yay! I would leave every year feeling terrible about myself and my family, and I just couldn't do it anymore. It became more and more apparent that the only reason they wanted me around was to be abusive since they had little contact with me throughout the year. For them, the holiday was about bringing the dysfunction on home and cycling through it all. Any public pretense of family bonding or christian spirit of the season or the joy of being generous was all just that -- a pretense for them to be awful to me in private. This sounds like your situation. Them pressuring you to be there is not motivated out of love and desire to share a special moment with the family. You know this, and this is why you left (which, BTW, HUGE shout out to you for surviving that and escaping). You will get through this too.

Please don't be hungry or think you deserve it. Without knowing where you are, there are likely food banks and shelters that are providing meals at this time of year. If you are not opposed to seeking help through faith, this is that time of year that faith-based organizations open their warm doors and don't ask questions. You don't have to believe to accept help from them. THEIR motivation is to help those in the community in need at a meaningful time of year in our culture. Please seek them out and also accept the help offered herein. Accepting hunger is a slippery slope to other forms of self care decline. And you won't process any of this meaningfully while hungry.
posted by archimago at 5:47 AM on December 22, 2021 [15 favorites]

I already said no, but they are hounding me and stressing me out and pressuring me. Said I was destroying family traditions, and that I'm selfish and calling me names and all that.

You have already done more than you should, and you do not owe anyone your time or health (mental or physical). You come first, then others.

Two years ago I went no contact with my mother after years and years of only maintaining contact with her because I felt that I should, because people can't understand how you would not have a relationship with a parent.

After an initial period filled with pangs of guilt, I have felt far better not stressing over talking to her or the inevitable random contacts probing for money.

All of that to say: you can and should spend the holiday alone if that is your preference. People who have your best interests in mind don't call you names for choosing to take some time for yourself. It might be disappointing if a loved one says "hey, won't be there for Christmas" but you accept it, you don't try to tear them down for it.

They keep telling me I won't make it on my own alone during Christmas.

You can, and you will. You got this. What's going on here is their fear that if you create space for yourself, you won't be at their beck and call.

My advice to you: Stay away, go no contact and take care of yourself. Before you try to help others you have to make sure your own needs are accounted for and that you're in a good place.
posted by jzb at 6:27 AM on December 22, 2021 [6 favorites]

It was incredibly generous of you to help them. Tell them any lie you want, say you'll come over, then call and cancel on the day, say you got invited to a Christmas dinner by someone and plan to go. Tell them a work friend gave you the use of a nice apartment and you'll be away. You need to move yourself away from them, as far and as fast as possible. If you have to choose between your personal survival, and the family business survival, choose your self; if the business is that fragile, it will just fail later.

They're a mess, they're a deep, enmeshed dysfunctional system and they will do everything to pull you in, because they think that's how family works. Stop answering the phone. If they come to your door, don't answer. You're in another city staying at a friend's. You sound like someone sincere, maybe you're trying to explain to them who you are and what you need. They aren't able to understand, and they will wear you down with arguing.

Read Stop Walking on Eggshells, about how to disengage. It's difficult but possible to disengage without anger or acrimony, and it feels better, mostly. I moved 1,000 miles away and lived without a phone for a year, easier in 1979, and it allowed me to control communication, a huge help.

Please start a GoFundMe or similar; let people here help you get through the immediate issues and get yourself ready to move forward. It's possible to build a life, really. Your post is titled Will I ever be okay again? and the answer is yes.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 AM on December 22, 2021 [15 favorites]

To answer the title question: yes, you will be okay again. Everything is temporary, the world is always, constantly changing whether we want it to or not.

But, there is a part of your brain that doesn't understand the concept of time, so whatever you're feeling right now seems like it's permanent. You feel shitty and your brain doesn't immediately say "it's okay, this is temporary", your brain says "OMG this is so horrible and it will be this way forever". Your brain is dumb, so you have to be smart.

And, there is a part of your brain that doesn't understand the concept of fiction, it thinks everything is true. So when that other bit of brain says "OMG this is so horrible and it will be this way forever" then this bit of your brain totally believes that because everything is true. Again, your brain is dumb, so you have to be smart.

The bad is news is, there is no instant fix. Counseling/therapy, learning about psychology, learning about philosophy (I recommend Buddhist philosophy), meditation, etc are your fix, but they're a long term project. In the short term I suggest people. Find a community and participate. Partially, that's just to distract the dumb bits of your brain while you work on the long term project of being a better you.

Best of luck

PS. I don't recommend any religion but I called out Buddhist philosophy because it has good instructions and strong ties with meditation. Meditation isn't a bullshit self help thing, it's a way to train your brain so that when the dumb bits say things you can recognize it and know that you don't have to believe it.

PPS. Due to limits of space and time everything I typed is massively over simplified, the real point is that it's a solvable problem and the solution doesn't require anything more than time and effort.
posted by Awfki at 7:02 AM on December 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

The more upset they are, the more they are showing that you have the power here.
posted by amtho at 7:05 AM on December 22, 2021 [10 favorites]

Okay, my little secret is that I really like solo holidays. I've done them off and on since 2001 after an awful family holiday the year before, and that first year deciding on it and not going home felt weird and scary and I felt like I'd betrayed them somehow and I went to sleep at like 9pm on Christmas Eve because I felt so paralyzed and then... Christmas morning came around and I took a long bath and read a whole book and changed back into my PJs and watched a movie I loved twice in a row and drank endless cups of hot tea. I bundled up and took a walk and looked at lights. It ended up being really nice.

That whole day and week spent reclaiming Christmas for myself felt like a long, full-body stretch after a transoceanic flight in a cramped middle seat. It felt like I unfurled. After that, Christmas became something I did with family only if I wanted to. And it got easier, and better, with time.

Families can be so hard. Eventually after I had lots of time to dissect why spending time with some of them filled me with absolute dread, I started really embracing the concept of the chosen family.

Please do take up the offers of a phone call or assistance this week. They're genuine, and you may feel like resisting, but I promise they're helpful. You deserve kindness and love, and metafilter people are lovely.

I'm around all week & would love to send you a chatty email or hang out on the phone this week, even just sit quietly and hold space. I also love snailmail if you'd like to receive a card or letter. I got a call from a mefite when I felt overwhelmed recently and it really brightened my day.
posted by mochapickle at 7:18 AM on December 22, 2021 [26 favorites]

Your family sounds like a piece of work, from my perspective. If people who spent holidays alone were destined to disappear in a puff of misery, well, I wouldn't have made it past 23. I'm almost 40 and I'm still here, only now my wife and I are spending the holidays together avoiding both our families' history of holiday drama!

Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk to someone.
posted by Alterscape at 7:31 AM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Memail me and I'll kick you a few bucks for some takeout. It would be my pleasure. You can do this, you're going to be ok!
posted by cakelite at 7:56 AM on December 22, 2021 [14 favorites]

They are projecting big-time. You were incredibly kind to help them when you could ill afford it so I think you can make it through the holidays without them dragging you down just fine. Do some things you enjoy that you couldn't do if you were with them (check out books from the library, watch stuff they don't like, take a walk, a bath, listen to music, whatever makes you feel safe and peaceful, etc.) Enjoy your hard-won freedom! You are on the right path. Please memail me so I can send you a little help for food that you would enjoy. Keep going and take good care of yourself.
posted by *s at 8:42 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Now I just want to spend the holidays alone.

Reaffirming what everyone is saying here - that is a totally reasonable choice and preference that can result in a calm, lovely holiday. Take whatever measures are required to silence the pestering (block, filter, etc.). Find a way to enjoy your time.
posted by jeoc at 8:52 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

You can do this. You will make it on your own at the holidays. I promise. They're freaking out because they feel like they're losing control of you. That just shows how much stronger you've gotten despite how hard the past year has been.

There are a lot of us on our own this holiday season thanks to the pandemic. I'll be thinking of you.
posted by praemunire at 9:25 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

(And, yes, stop taking their calls/texts/etc. until you feel like talking to them. You've already informed them of your plans. You're not changing them.)
posted by praemunire at 9:27 AM on December 22, 2021

First of all, <3, hugs if you want them.

My family is less than ideal and features a narcissist at the helm, but no physical abuse, for background. I spent holidays with my in-laws until divorcing a couple of years ago.

Honestly? And I'm writing this partly for myself? Two things: You're missing bad stuff and gaining good stuff.

No wincing and cringing and swallowing away your real self and keeping your personality in check and avoiding anything but small talk. No waiting for the bomb to drop. Freedom from all that. You've come so far - you've done it!

Instead, lovely solitude. Whatever you want! Music or movies you like, food you choose, comfort, a good book or silly pictures of internet cats. A lovely walk with nobody criticizing you. A reclaiming.

That's a rosy picture. I know it's not so easy. I know! But I also know about Those People. They don't consider YOUR feelings except to make you feel bad. They want you to twist yourself in knots trying to please them, and they cannot be pleased. What are they doing for you? Considering your feelings, your peace? No. Protect yourself.
posted by Occula at 10:08 AM on December 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

Coming back to note that keeping you working for them for free is an excellent way to keep you under their thumbs - you have to be in contact with them, a lot, for the work. You're doing them a big big favor. AND it's preventing you from getting a paying job. They're probably banking on you "crawling back." I'm so, so happy that you've come so far already. Please know that you've shown a lot of strength and courage. Stand strong.
posted by Occula at 11:59 AM on December 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you don't mind virtual fellowship, look for an Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families meeting to go to on Christmas–also before and after. You may find some of the support and healing you need if you have a computer and can access the Internet during the holidays. So that is one resource.

Another resource is Captain Awkward, who has given great advice for dealing with toxic parents and family members over many years.

You haven't posted where you are located. Can you get a moderator to include your city and country or, failing that, your region/country so we might be able to give you more specific advice? You say you are broke and hungry. Do you have a place to stay? Do you have any other support?

Please know that in recovery (from nearly anything), it is common to slip. Escaping from your parents was an amazing thing. That was a huge accomplishment that has not been lessened just because you got sucked back into the family dynamic. That happens. That is not surprising. But you left your parents before and you can do it again. We are rooting for your success. Just please give us a bit more information so we can perhaps offer more helpful advice. Please hang in there!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:13 PM on December 22, 2021 [6 favorites]

It might help to define, for yourself, what "making it alone" looks like. Because your parents are asserting you will not "make it," but that is based on their definition, right? And why do they get to have that power?

You said: I'm determined not to go back to that house...

So maybe "making it" can be defined as simply as:
  1. Am I still, literally, alive? (breathing! have a pulse!)
  2. Am I still out of my parents' toxic and abusive home?
And every hour or two that you can say "Yes!" to those questions, is proof positive that you are, in fact, making it. Stay strong, we are all rooting for you!
posted by tinydancer at 12:39 PM on December 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

You have just dedicated all your time to helping them to the point you haven't been able to find a job. You survived - you endured the hardships, and it must have been really difficult, but you made it through. I have no idea how you did that and I congratulate you. At this point I think you could make it by yourself on a desert island. If it comes to self sufficiency you have it in spades.

You can't 'make it on your own'? Coming from people who can't make it on their own? You don't have to give that any credence. Take time to care for yourself, please. You deserve it.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 1:37 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hey I'm going to be alone on Christmas for about the third year and honestly it kind of rocks. No work, most things aren't open so less noise and traffic. Quiet time! It's lovely.

Nth-ing everyone else wanting to toss you a few bucks. If we can help we will.
posted by emjaybee at 2:32 PM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

I cancelled my Christmas plans because of a few different reasons but mainly I decided I wanted to be home. Alone, with my cats. It will be my first solo Christmas in many years, and I’m going to watch movies and walk around a cook a big pot of something festive (and cheap!).

You can do this! Be kind to yourself. You are not responsible for your parents.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:44 PM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Christmas is just a day! Obviously you can survive a day by yourself. Think about all the ways you could spend it:

-watching a ton of crap TV in your comfiest clothes
-drinking tea
-take a walk, bike, or drive
-re-organizing your space and making it cuter
-cooking something that takes a long time and makes something cheap into something amazing (beansss)
-getting out to nature
-doing long-ass youtube yoga classes

(not all of this will be relevant to you, but some might. this is just what i have gone for in the past when on my own for a holiday)

So much joy is waiting for you once you block their numbers.

I would also sincerely love to sponsor your christmas take-out via paypal.

We're all rooting for you.
posted by athirstforsalt at 11:02 PM on December 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

This year, my parents had some trouble and I had no choice but to help them out.

You have given your all, and it is still not enough for your toxic parents. I wish you a much better 2022, a year in which you will accept that you will never be enough for your parents because of who they are, and not because of who you are. Which means you never have to go back and you never have to try to save them again. You gave it your best shot, and your parents are too messed up to pay you, love you, or accept you despite everything you have done for them.

Good news: You are enough exactly as you are! The only one who needs to understand that is you. Best of luck in finding a new job and the true support and healing you so desperately need.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:49 AM on December 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

You need to become your own person. If you feel your parents are toxic right now and you want to be alone, that's perfectly okay! I'm so sorry you're struggling.
posted by GiveUpNed at 10:41 AM on December 23, 2021

It's hard to make progress if you have people actively pulling you down. Don't let them drown you. Working for free? They owe you at least $30'000 if not a few times that, just in pure business terms. (But I wouldn't expect to see that, clearly.)

Also, a bunch of internet strangers are treating you better than your family. Food for thought.
posted by Jacen at 9:22 PM on December 23, 2021

Shoot me a memail with your PayPal info please. I'd love to treat an internet friend to something delicious and comforting. Here for you.
posted by The Adventure Begins at 1:19 AM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you're willing to share paypal or your address; I'd like to chip in.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Like others, I can contribute via paypal.
posted by kathrynm at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know Christmas was yesterday but I’d also love to contribute.
posted by anthropomorphic at 7:55 AM on December 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

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