Feeling through the (Festive) Holiday Season
Lately, I’ve felt ungrounded, purposeless, and, at times, angry. I’ve felt beside myself with frustration, questioning my reasons for being here. I’ve spun out so easily. I’ve felt lost.
I’ve felt this way for months. Just as I was finally getting used to my former site and community, the wind was knocked out of me and I had to move. Facing a holding period of 5 weeks in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, felt like a relief in some ways. Feeling the strongest I’d felt since arriving in South Africa 10 months ago due to Pretoria’s hot showers, flushing toilets, the company of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, smoothies, hot yoga classes and physical therapy offering me daily massages bolstered me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Then, I crashed.
All the grief of leaving the place I embraced as home came rushing over me like a tidal wave. It was compounded by the whirlwind transition to a place so different than my home of the last 6 months. I felt resistance to a new site, a new community, a new family. I felt trepidation about establishing a new home. As timelines entered the picture, I realized the holidays were quickly approaching. Spending my first holiday season alone in a decade furthered the swell. I panicked, yet I had no clue what really lied below the surface.
Today, it emerged.
One of the most painful memories of my childhood occurred during the holiday season, or festive season, as its known here in South Africa. As a single parent, my mom deemed my private, Catholic school education to be worthy of great sacrifice. I was on financial assistance and felt the struggle my mom incurred to meet the remainder of my tuition each month. Education in suburban Washington, DC-area private schools means being surrounded by some of the wealthiest kids in the country.
One year during my adolescence, my mom faced a particularly dark period of her bipolar disorder. She holed up in her room nearly my entire holiday break. I felt so incredibly alone, so isolated, so incredibly scared.
After braving my “vacation,” I endured friends describing the gifts they received and the love from family and friends that they’d spent recent weeks surrounded by. I can’t remember how I responded to their accounts, but this morning, I came face to face with how I felt.
For months, fellow Peace Corps Volunteers have been discussing holiday plans detailing upcoming visits from friends and family or planned returns to the US to spend time with loved ones. I named my feelings upon hearing the first itinerary and scrambled to make plans, which have changed and changed and changed again.
These last couple weeks, amidst attempts to acclimate to a new site, a new community, a new host family and a new home, which have been fraught with difficulty, I have been trying to formulate holiday plans. I’ve experienced flights selling out as they are in my cart, accommodations booking and other logistics seemingly shifting abruptly. This morning, I felt at my absolute breaking point as my New Years plans dissolved. After a rush of emotions and a friend lovingly holding space for me, the truth was revealed.
I have been scrambling to keep loneliness at bay.
I have been pushing, pulling and dragging myself (and, unfortunately, others) through this emotional roller coaster of the impending holiday season.
I sit with the questions, what does it mean to spend New Years alone? What would it mean if I spent the holidays alone?
Tears streaming down my face, I sit with the hurt of that dark season of my youth in which I was so frighteningly alone. I sit with the notion that my family composition has always been different, yet feels so raw right now. I sit with the likely reality that no one will visit me here in South Africa. I sit with the fact that I miss my old host family and my former community.
I sit with the truth that my expectations continue to be dismissed, as the reality of this commitment differs so radically from its reality.
I sit with the discomfort of loneliness. I sit with grief.
I sit with all this and recognize it’s temporary. I sit with all this and recognize it’s all necessary.
I sit with the energy and weight of the holiday season because, for many of us, it is intertwined with extremes of grief, joy, obligation, loneliness, overstimulation, contentment, pain, anticipation, gratitude, expectation, disappointment and confusion.
I choose to sit with it all, filling myself so full I feel I could burst.
And, then, I exhale.
I let it all go.
In this writing and reflection, my host nieces have knocked on my door twice to relay messages from my host Gogo. Each time, I was drawn back to the present, my Word of the Year for 2017. I’m reminded that there is hope here. There is possibility here. There is a desire for connection here.
I’ve been swept away by emotion these last few months, rudderless and homeless, living out of bags for the last 10 weeks. I was, indeed, at my breaking point this morning. I asked aloud, to myself, to the Universe, to God, “why can’t anything go right?”
Now, in this moment, here in the present, I realize that it’s all right. It is all right in this moment. It will be all right in the future.
As so much of my life right now is up in the air with the newness of site, community, family, home and to be confirmed holiday and vacation plans, I am reminded of the advice of my teacher in our last session before I came to South Africa. She invited me to refer to my inner map.
I realize that since my move, I haven’t been taking good care of myself. The chickens and roosters at my new home wake me throughout the night. My routines of nourishment and exercise are awry. I’m pushing and pulling for integration during a season notorious for inactivity here in South Africa.
Our inner maps yield the tools learned through our struggles with light and dark. We hold the wisdom within. It is our choice to speed through the holiday season in overdrive or pause and sink into the present, taking inventory of what is here.
There may be residue of the past gripping us tightly.
There may be expectations of the future clinging, too.
By anchoring in, slowing down, taking breath and taking pause, we may usher in all that is and live awake and aware here and now.
I invite you to take that moment of pause right now.
Carve out at least two minutes of quiet time. Sit tall and feel the stability of the ground beneath you. Close your eyes, if you are comfortable doing so.
Take three deep breaths in through your nose, filling your diaphragm, and release the breath through pursed lips. Notice the rise and fall of your belly. Place your hands on your heart and ask yourself these three questions, giving yourself permission to sit with what is:
What is present, right now, in this moment?
What is present for me in this holiday season?
What might I need to release from the past, present or future holiday seasons to make room for the fulfillment of my highest purpose?
As you are ready, take three cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly.
Open your eyes and reacclimate yourself to this time and space.
You may choose to sit further with these questions or journal about them.
May you be at peace ♥
My deepest gratitude for joining me as I process the emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of Peace Corps Service here in South Africa.
The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.