When You’re the Stranger in the House at Thanksgiving Dinner

Imagine standing in a room, filled with joy, laughter and chatter, and all you feel is an overwhelming loneliness engulf you. Imagine looking out at the people you love and having tears well up in your eyes.

I stood in the corner of the room, slicing pie and keeping my hands busy, playing and petting my rescue pup as I fought back these tears. My friend sat down with one of her daughters as the other two were playing with their cousins and other family members engaged in conversation. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming sadness and jealousy toward everyone in the room.

Everything in that moment, everything that had been building up all day and through the early evening culminated in standing in the hallway, facing my friend and barely nodding at her question, “Are you sad?” while choking back my tears.

While I cannot be more grateful and thankful to have a place to celebrate Thanksgiving for the third year in a row, I can’t help but think about all that I have missed growing up without family structure or the exposure to what family is and can be like. I missed out on my childhood, having to have become an adult at the age of 8. I took care of myself, my passport and my Green Card while I traveled across the Pacific Ocean every summer vacation. At 16, I was handed the keys to the car and told to handle my own engagements. At 18, my parents dropped me off at the airport with two suitcases and wished me luck as I headed off to college.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a hard time for me. Holidays, where the family traditionally gathers, have been hard for me. There was never a time when my family sat down to eat a meal together, to celebrate, to give thanks. I have always dreaded Thanksgiving because of that. It is one of the few times during the year when there seems to be a magnifying glass placed upon everything I wished for in my heart that I didn’t get from my family.

It has gotten harder and harder each year as I see what family can be. I see interactions between family members and can’t help but feel a pang of sadness followed by jealousy for what these people have and what I don’t and may never have. It makes me realize I am different from them all, that I am the stranger in the house, invited because I have nowhere to go, nowhere to celebrate, nobody to be around.

While there is a lot for me to give thanks for this year, I can’t help but focus on the missing pieces in my life. I can’t help but focus on the fact that I don’t deserve the kindness, care and compassion I have received in the time I have known my friend. I feel the sadness envelope me and overtake my ability to receive anything positive in my life. The sadness reminds me I am still a broken child, healing from years of trauma and abuse, that I don’t have a place in this world, that I don’t belong.

Despite all these feelings, what I don’t understand is why I continue to fight. What is there left to fight for? Why bother if I don’t belong any one place?

The answer isn’t as simple as because everyone deserves life. So while I ponder this question, I’ll leave you with what I am thankful for this year. Despite the sadness, jealousy, pain, hurt and devastation that come with this time of year, I am thankful for the following:

  • My rescue pup, Maddie.
  • My friend, who saved my life.
  • My little sister, whom I cherish.
  • My job and education.
  • My ability to run, and run I will.
  • My insurance that allows me to have access to mental health treatment like my medications (that are my lifeline) and therapy.
  • My friendships, old and new.

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