For me, Christmas had always been a hectic yet joyous occasion. I loved decorating the house, cooking a special holiday dinner with the turkey and trimmings, finding those special gifts, wrapping the gifts as if they were designer gifts by Martha Stewart, baking dozens of holiday cookies, and celebrating with friends and family.
Facing my first Christmas alone after my separation was devastating. Everything was a reminder of what it wasn’t anymore. I was forcing myself to go through the motions of “having Christmas,” but putting the Christmas stockings out with the names of my children, my ex, and even one for the dog brought a surge of tears as I remembered making them with my children.
My ex-spouse and I had divided up the ornaments – yes that is how granular our division of assets had become. I had created the tradition of buying a new ornament each year for each of us to commemorate that year’s Christmas – but half were gone to a person who never bought a single one. The symbolism of those ornaments became meaningless.
The usual holiday open house party invites from friends were curiously absent; it felt like I was being shunned. I felt like I had a “D” for Divorce tattooed on my forehead.
And if I saw another happy couple walking through the mall, I thought I would scream.
The emotions of loss were like a tsunami: unexpected and unstoppable. There was never enough Kleenex handy. These emotional ambushes can be exhausting.
The level of pain you feel will take you by surprise. The depth of your pain is greater if your separation is more recent, if it has become acrimonious or if you are being subjected to a form of parental alienation or rejection by your children. For me, that first Christmas was all three.
There are some ways to cope with and mitigate some of that pain when it does rear its ugly head – and it will.
Following these tips will help with handling negative emotions during Christmas:
- Let the tears come. That’s right. Cry. Cry until you can’t anymore. It is cathartic. All that pent-up stress and emotion can be released through tears. Just take out the Kleenex and don’t apologize.
- Not up to parties? Don’t go. I don’t do fake very well. To go to a social event faking a level of gaiety I did not feel and to have to explain my marital status yet again was more than I could bear. If you feel unsociable, be considerate of yourself, your host, and the other guests. You don’t want to be a wet blanket at a holiday party or someone people avoid because they don’t know what to say to you. Stay home and watch a movie.
- Don’t overcompensate for your sadness. Some people think the best thing is to do more, buy more, and go bigger to show that you are moving on and are not affected by the separation or divorce. You are not fooling anyone, including yourself. It will only add to the usual holiday stresses of trying to do too much – not to mention a cost you can maybe ill afford.
- Create a new tradition. Sounds crazy, I know. But all those memories that conjure up pain can be replaced in part by creating new memories that don’t involve your ex. I read a Christmas book each year. Okay, so it makes me cry because it always has some miracle of Christmas in it. But that miracle also refreshes my hope and gratitude for the blessings I have – and there are many.
- Be kind and gentle to yourself. You are all right. You don’t need to be fixed. You need compassion and understanding. Create some “me” time and do something just for yourself over the holidays. Pamper yourself for a day or an afternoon doing something that will give you peace and respite from the busyness of the holidays and your emotions.
The message here folks is that you are human. Those emotional ambushes reveal that humanity – especially during the holidays. Allowing that with some coping tips will lead to hope and healing. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.