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Estrangement and the holidays part 1: Finding new traditions

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Young person with long hair walking on the street and looking into the distance

The holidays can be tough for anyone who has needed to separate from their family. In part one of our series on estrangement and the holidays, Peer Support Worker JD talks about finding meaning this holiday season after cutting ties with relatives.  

The holidays are a bittersweet time of year. Even though I know that I am a million times better off having no contact with my family of origin, it can be tough when I see happy families all around me.

I want what they have. And it feels deeply unfair that I don’t have it. No matter how far I go in life and the relationships I build – nothing can ever replace the unconditional love of a parent or sibling.  
But I think the reality is that my family was never happy. And their love for me had many conditions that destroyed me. What I am craving and yearning for is something that they cannot give me. So, there is a massive element of grief involved, not just for the holidays I’m not having now but the holidays I never had. And the family I never had.  

With that being said, I feel a great deal of optimism for the holidays I will have in the future with the family I have by my side now. 

The ghost of holidays past

The holidays in the past meant shrinking myself. I would put on a brave face and pretend everything was alright so that my extended family never knew about the abuse.  

Yes, my family had fun traditions, but our overarching tradition was abuse and silence. Sometimes I need to remind myself when I have a happy memory of the holidays and long for it again, that that wasn’t the whole story. That was the story we projected to the world.

It is a very lonely feeling knowing that I am the only person who carries and seems to care about the truth.  

The ghost of holidays present 

It feels deeply unjust that I, the person who decided enough was enough and removed myself from an abusive situation, have become the black sheep that people wonder and gossip about.  

A part of me debates rocking up every year and causing a scene and I have had to try (and I am still trying) to accept that in some people’s eyes I am the villain in all of this because I chose to leave. It is an incredibly hard pill to swallow. It makes me viciously angry if I think too long about it. 
But on good days, I am immensely proud of myself. And most days are good days. I made an incredibly difficult choice to cut my family of origin out of my life. A choice I tried everything to avoid. A choice I never wanted to make. And it has been the best choice I have ever made in my life.  

Sometimes, I just need to remind myself of that when there is so much holiday cheer in the air.  

The ghost of holidays future

I cannot stress enough how much better my life has been since cutting my family of origin out of my life. My mental health has come along leaps and bounds. Every day I edge further and further out of survival mode and towards living a life I am really proud of and want to live.  
Part of that has been building new traditions and finding ways to connect with my culture and heritage beyond the family unit. I often do this through food. I cook and bake traditional Jewish holiday foods and feed them to loved ones.

I have also become a lot more invested in the online Jewish community. For example, I get a lot of joy out of watching my fellow young Jews use TikTok to review donuts for every meal of the eight nights of Chanukah.  
I have also started getting involved in friends’ Christmas celebrations. As a result, my December is fuller than ever! 

My favourite part of this time of year

One of my December highlights is New Year’s Day. This used to mean seeing my extended family and dreading it. In the past on New Year’s Day, my partner and I would end up going to the movies and getting Mexican food after seeing everyone. We would eat and watch the movie in silence, just trying to decompress. 

This was a tradition born out of necessity. But now, we have kept it going and on New Year’s Day we have a Mexican fiesta and watch trashy Boxing Day releases and laugh ourselves silly. This tradition has become so much fun, and I look forward to it more than any other part of the holidays.

It feels so freeing to do something that used to just help me survive, but to do it with a whole new perspective on life and this time of year.  

It gets easier

If this is your first holiday time without your family, I promise you it gets easier. 
Anyone who has spoken to me as a Peer Support Worker knows that I always harp on about Marsha Linehan and making your life meaningful. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically says that your life can be very painful and very meaningful at the same time. What this means for me in the context of the holidays is that it may be painful without your family, but it can also be very meaningful to be independent from them.  
Even though I know the choice to cut my family of origin out was the right one for me, it is not everyone’s path. Whether this is your first or tenth holiday period separated from your family, or you are only just allowing yourself to question if this is an option for you, or if you find yourself mentally preparing weeks in advance for what’s to come, I trust you know what is right for you.  

And I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season! 

If you’re struggling with separation from family at this time of year, you’re not alone and there are places to connect. Head over to our online Forums to chat with others who get it. It’s safe, anonymous, and available for you 24/7 over the holidays.  


And check out part two of our series on estrangement and the holidays, where JD has some tips on coping with challenging family events. 


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