Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever.

I debated whether I should write this post and then I debated whether I should publish it, but I've been lying awake the last few nights composing it and recomposing it in my head and that pretty much made the decision for me. Still, my hands will be shaking when I click the Publish button.

My instinct is to NOT share experiences and feelings like these. I was taught to hide my "bad" feelings, taught that it was my job NOT to make waves, NOT to cause discomfort. But look where that's gotten me. I now eat and wear my feelings instead of sharing them, and that's the exact cycle I'm trying to break. So here goes....

I spent Thanksgiving alone this year. It wasn't by choice. No one around here invited me to share their Thanksgiving dinner. See, I live thousands of miles away from my family. Everyone I know here knows that. Yet not one of those people thought to say, "Ilene, would you like to join us for Thanksgiving?" Not one. I wasn't expecting invitations from everyone, but one invitation from one person would have been nice.

But that didn't happen. As a result, I felt--and still feel--lonely, unwanted, abandoned, excluded, invisible. At first, I hid my situation. I did the same thing last year when I got no Thanksgiving invitations. I pretended I was spending the holiday alone by choice. Why broadcast that I'm a loser and a social outcast? I learned that lesson in high school--keep your mouth shut and your head down and never let them see you cry. So when people asked in the days right before the holiday what I was doing for Thanksgiving, I again pretended I was fine and told them I would be volunteering with a local food pantry.

That wasn't a lie: I did decide to volunteer with the pantry on Thanksgiving morning. I decided to do that because I could not stand the thought of spending the entire holiday at home alone again. I just conveniently left that part out when I shared my plans.

I tried my best to focus on the bright side. I made a list of things I'm thankful for. I searched for heartwarming stories to cheer me up. I focused on my writing--hauling out some stories I've been meaning to revise and getting to work on them. I tried to accomplish a couple of things on my "I'll get to it someday" to-do list.  I wrote pages and pages and pages in my journal. But those were just superficial distractions. At the end of each day, I was still left with that hollow "nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I'll go eat worms" feeling and I was still left making turkey and stuffing and green beans for one on Thanksgiving day.

So I decided, "Screw it. I'm not going to pretend everything's okay when it's not." It took me a few nights of crying myself to sleep to summon that bravado, but I found it. From that point on, when people asked my plans, I told the entire truth. Not whiningly, not as an accusation, just a statement of facts: "I didn't get invited anywhere for the holiday and I didn't want to spend it alone, so I volunteered at a local food pantry."

That's when I got stabbed in the heart a second time. Of all the people I told that full statement, only one acknowledged the first part of the sentence. Everyone latched on to the end of the sentence and congratulated me on doing something so "awesome" and "fabulous." Most missed the part that I did it out of desperation. Only one person said something to the effect of, "I'm sorry you were in that situation." She's the only person who acknowledged that my situation was less than ideal. Everyone else was strangely silent.

I made it a point to speak matter-of-factly. I wasn't trolling for retroactive invitations. I wasn't pointing fingers. I was simply stating my situation. So why was it so hard for the people I told to acknowledge that situation? Is it too much to expect that people say "Oh, that's too bad" or "I'm sorry to hear that" in response? That lack of acknowledgement hurts more than the lack of holiday invitations. It feels like I'm being rejected all over again. Silence, after all, implies consent and approval: "Oh, you didn't get any invitations? Good. That's way it should be."

And that's where I am now--wondering if my friends here are really truly friends, wondering where I went wrong that I ended up like this, wondering how I will ever survive if next Thanksgiving promises to turn out like this one. Clearly, my therapist and I have a lot to talk about.

All that said, I don't have a witty ending for this post. I don't have a plea to make or a lesson to learn. I am still very much in the middle of this emotional chaos and don't have the clarity or perspective to wrap things up neatly. I just needed to get this off my chest, out of my head, and into the world.

I appreciate your taking the time to read the whole sad story. If you can find it in your heart to leave a small note of acknowledgement, I'd greatly appreciate that too. Thank you.