How to Get Through the Holidays After Separation or Divorce.
Recovering from any sort of heartache, especially divorce or separation can be especially difficult around the holidays. At a time when your family and friends are gathering together laughing and excited to celebrate another holiday, you may be feeling sadness and overwhelm from your divorce at a whole new level.
Every holiday song, Christmas decoration, and holiday commercials can be triggering and bring about a painful reminder of how things were, not so long ago, and how they will never be again. This brings out all sorts of painful emotions to the surface and maybe even new emotions at the reality that your former spouse will no longer be celebrating the holidays with you, and that your family dynamics are sort of “under construction” at the moment.
Some of my clients have reported that while they felt they were healing and putting back the pieces after their divorce, the holidays brought out such fresh heartache, they felt that perhaps they were experiencing a major setback on their recovery.
The good news is that this is normal, and that it will not be this way forever.
Here are my tips to help you navigate through the holidays.
1- What we resist persists. Acknowledge that the holidays are very difficult for you right now. There is no point on trying to be brave and lying to yourself about how you feel. Being completely honest with yourself is best so that you don’t internalize and intensify the emotions which could backfire and come out at full force unexpectedly. Once you acknowledge this, it is very important to also tell yourself that although it may seem impossible to get through it, you absolutely can and will get passed it.
2- Surround yourself with friends and loved ones during this time. Isolating yourself during the holidays is not a good idea. Being alone during this time will only have you looking at old photos, obsessing over your marriage and going through all the "what ifs" again. Being with friends and family who who love you and whom you can really be yourself with and share a few laughs with will feel so much better than being alone with your thoughts.
3- Set boundaries. Be honest with your family & friends (and even you ex, if you have to share a holiday with them because of children) about what you can and cannot handle right now. You can say no to certain events. You can also let your loved ones know in advance if there are certain topics you would prefer not to be brought up at the table. This will help your loved one be sensitive to your time of need and take some of the anxiety away from you.
4- Be careful with your alcohol consumption. This can get tricky because on one hand, there is nothing wrong with celebrating and toasting with your friends and family, but if you are internalizing or are already feeling extremely emotional, drinking will most likely set you off into tears and depression or maybe even angry outbursts. None of which you will be proud of the next morning.
5- Don’t cancel your holidays. If you have children, it’s never a good idea to cancel the holidays all together as they are undoubtedly experiencing their own painful emotions as they adjust to a new life. Try to put your focus and energy on lifting their spirits and having a nice holiday, despite things being different. Maybe start some new traditions like cooking or baking something together or making a special craft, or maybe visiting a relative that you haven’t seen in a while. This will help you bond together and add some much-needed cheer to all of you.
6- Volunteer. Another amazing way to take the focus off your own problems this holiday is to do something good for your community. Volunteer for those who need you. If you are not already connected, start doing some research into local volunteer organizations. You can also find opportunities through your church, community center, or you can search local charities in your area through Google. Some organizations require volunteers to register in advance, so make sure to plan ahead. -And bringing your children with you, if it’s possible, will also add to your family bond and help shift their focus off their sadness and put it into being compassionate and bringing joy to others. It's a win win. You do something great for yourself while you help those in need.
7- Find gratitude. It may seem impossible to feel grateful when you are going through such a difficult time, but there is always something to be grateful for like having a roof over your head, your family, your children, your pet, your health, etc. Look around. (Remember things could always be worse.)
8- Remind yourself that it will get easier. Use affirmations throughout the day. Try and use this time to create new memories with your loved ones and new traditions. Soon enough, you will feel so much stronger knowing that you got yourself to other side where there are plenty of good times to come.