Nothing kills holiday cheer like the fresh residue of divorce. Kristen Hick walks us through moving on and making happiness a part of your new tradition.
At a time when family and friends get together to celebrate, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of what was, what will never be, and who is not here anymore.
Recovering from any sort of loss or heartache can be especially difficult around the holidays. And coping with the holidays after separation or divorce can be its own special circle of hell.
Many of my clients report that as holiday songs, decorations, and invitations start to accumulate, any post-divorce peace they thought they were feeling starts to dissipate; as the pain of the loss resurfaces, it feels like a giant setback.
The truth is, this is hard, incredibly hard. Experiencing the regret, loss, hurt and pain is normal at certain intense times of the year, especially anniversaries and holidays. It may feel like “going backwards,” but with these tips, you can stay on track.
10 Tips for Post-Divorce Holiday Survival
1) Validate Your Difficulty
The holidays are harder right now. Trying to convince yourself otherwise (or that you shouldn’t feel the way you do) will only make the feelings more intense. Do yourself a favor and validate that this may be difficult, maybe even really difficult. But also tell yourself that you can and will get through it. Like I tell my clients, it will be difficult, but not impossible.
2) Establish Boundaries
Setting boundaries (what you will and will not do) is always important for maintaining your emotional and relational health. However, it is absolutely vital to do around the holidays—if, in fact, you would like to come out on the other end intact.
Start by sharing your preferences with your friends, family, and even your ex (if you are still in contact). Are there gatherings you would rather not attend? Are there topics you would prefer not to be brought up at the dinner table? Want your extended family not to invite your ex to their annual holiday gathering? If so, communicate these boundaries beforehand. This will help your family and friends be sensitive to your needs at this time.
3) Stay Present
If there ever were a time that you may be tempted to numb out through alcohol or drugs, the holidays post-divorce would be the time. However, indulging to any extent when you’re already upset may lead to a resurfacing of tears, angry outbursts, or worse. If you do decide to drink, make a plan of your personal limit and stick to it. Telling a friend can help you stay accountable, and of course, plan for a designated driver. No need to make this holiday memorable with a DUI.
4) Focus on Your Children
If you have children, you cannot make the executive decision to cancel the holidays. Doing so would be very difficult for them, especially in the midst of all the change and transition they have also experienced as a result of your divorce. By focusing on making their holidays bright, familiar, and cheerful, you will undoubtedly find yourself partaking in some of their holiday joy as well.
5) Create New Traditions
Holidays are a time of celebrating, usually in fairly similar and repetitive ways. Some of these traditions can serve as a source of comfort during times of difficulty. Some can also serve as painful reminders of your divorce. If you find yourself feeling the latter, try creating some new traditions. For example, cook a special holiday meal, visit the family you were not able to visit because you historically visited your in-laws, or plan a social gathering with friends.
6) Discard Old Traditions
There may be some traditions that found yourself dreading every year, but celebrated anyways because it was important to your former partner. The good news is, you don’t have to anymore if you don’t want to. Yes, I am giving you permission to let go of any traditions that you’ve never liked.
Giving to others is a tried and true way of taking the focus off your own problems. It’s like a temporary relief pill for your post-divorce holiday stress. If you are not already connected to an organization that needs holiday help, start by doing some research into local volunteer possibilities. You can also find opportunities through your church, synagogue, or community center. Some organizations require volunteers to register or go through an orientation ahead of time, so plan ahead. Invite a friend, bring your children, or enjoy the time serving others on your own.
8) Surround Yourself
The pull to isolate yourself in your home, watching your wedding video, romantic dramas, or looking through old photos is likely an attractive option of avoiding the holidays altogether. If you need one day of doing so, take a day. But, surrounding yourself with friends—the ones you can be real with—and supportive family will feel much better than consistent isolation. Plan ahead with people you might call in a time of need, and make social plans in advance so you have a reason to get out.
9) Have a “Plan B”
Even the best-laid plans go awry. You might feel you are ready for the big family gathering, but when you get there feel suffocated with questions and tilted, nodding heads trying to support you. Identify a family member or friend to save you from such sympathetic misery. Have a back-up plan so if you need to leave, you can, but won’t go home to cry in your eggnog all by yourself.
10) Remind Yourself: It Will Get Easier
The first of everything—especially anniversaries and holidays—are usually the worst. At the same time, don’t judge yourself if the first or first few are a breeze, and grief suddenly catches up with you a couple holidays later. No matter how long it’s been, holidays often serve as reminders of your painful past. Each one can get a little easier.
You will create new memories, new traditions, and feel stronger that you got through this, overcame it, and reached the other side.
[image: via sunlight cardigan on flickr]