I am writing this in my dorm room, alone, on Thanksgiving. My Christmas Day will likely also look something like this. No, I won’t be seeing family or friends—I will be alone.
The holidays have always been a difficult time for me. I have a strained relationship with my family, and our conflicts have often come to a head around this time of year. The normative social pressures of gifts and the extravagance you see in Lifetime movies aggravated the stress borne by an already dysfunctional family unit. So the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas signified a lot of strife and resentment, instead of gratitude and love.
We, all of us, have an idealized version of what familial relationships look like. Often, this vision is epitomized by the versions of holiday cheer we see in media surrounding Christmas and Thanksgiving (shoutout to Hallmark). So, if I disclose the estrangement with my family in response to the question “What are you doing with your family for the holidays?”, I am either met with pity or am lightly shamed and made to recognize how abnormal it is to not be loved by them. Either way, this makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me and like this situation is my fault, even though I know my full history and the other person doesn’t.
At this point in my life, I’m at peace with the relationship I have with my family. I am content knowing what’s best for my well-being, and that the idealized version of the nuclear family is, most often, not realistic. However, this contentment has come from a lot of tears, dark times, therapy appointments, and psychiatric drugs. It isn’t easy to acknowledge, especially when you’re dealing with the expectations of being a student.
That being said, the holiday season always makes me lapse in this confidence by bringing up adolescent insecurities and triggering memories that I thought I had overcome. And the reality is that many, many people feel this way, and do so silently. The worst part of being alone on the holidays is, well, feeling alone. But, I know I’m not alone—either in the reality of my connections with other people or in my circumstances.
I know there are other Columbians out there that will be staying in John Jay, Woodbridge, and Schapiro during the holidays. While other students get a reprieve from the stresses of campus, we have to find solace in this place, which looks a lot different when it’s deserted (side note: thank God Columbia students do not have to apply for winter housing, although I wish it were the same at Barnard). Whether you stay because you are international, low-income, have no attachment to the holiday season, are estranged from your family, or otherwise, I want you to know that there are others like you, even others like you here, and you are not alone.
Getting through the holidays, for me, looks like a fridge stocked with junk food, sad music (note: not of the Christmas variety), funny YouTube videos, and forcing myself out of my dorm, at least for a little while, and into the brisk winter air. Even if the season is tough, I can still find little things that anchor and remind me that I can be happy exactly where I am. It’s important to have something to genuinely look forward to, even if it doesn’t fit what the holiday looks like in your head. Sometimes, if it’s a really dark time, you have to give yourself permission to feel, to mourn, to grieve. Just get through the day.
If you have friends that fall into this category, maybe make an effort to check up on them a little extra during this time. Maybe make the effort to tell them that you love them and that you’re happy to have them in your life. Even if you don’t explicitly know that your friends are in any of these situations, maybe reach out anyway, because there are a lot more of us than you think.
The author is a senior in Columbia College, and would like to offer her expertise via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for students dealing with similar struggles. Drop her a line, and we’ll get through this together.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.