Hi, Girlfriends and Guy friends –
It’s me, Gretty. Have you had a recent relationship break-up? Are you dreading the upcoming holiday season?
If so, this post is for you. I’ve packed it with 16 practical tips to help you navigate your (potentially painful) upcoming holidays and anniversaries.
The worst pain ever
What makes me qualified to write about this topic? Here it is. In January of 2005, my ex-husband of 27 years, left me for another woman who was pregnant with his baby. It devastated me. When he walked out, a hole was ripped in my soul. It felt like open heart surgery without anesthesia.
That first year sucked
Initially I felt suffocated by memories surrounding me in Philadelphia. I needed the healing love of my siblings to carry me through the devastation, so I moved to Madison, Wisconsin.
As awesome as my family was for support, I needed a mentor. In 2006 I reached out to my church for additional help. I received a Stephen Minister, Betty, who met with me every week. Her listening skills, empathy, and prayers, were powerful. After a year-and-a-half of snotty tissues, my tears stopped. I had processed the pain of abandonment and was on my way to healing. Betty steered me through unexpected emotional ambushes and showed me a healthy survival plan. She was a Godsend.
The next year, 2007, I was asked (along with 11 other post-divorce individuals) to launch a DivorceCare class at our church. Each week our team met with dozens of people experiencing the trauma that comes with divorce or long-term break-up. I cannot begin to describe how thrilling it was to see change and healing in our attendees as they worked through the 13 week program. Here are some of the topics included in DivorceCare; Anger, Depression, Finances, Loneliness, New Relationships, and Sexuality.
Running into you
And now? Almost 13 years later, I keep meeting so many of you! Living our nomadic RV life doesn’t detour me from individuals who are surviving a break-up. I’ve met you at the dog park. We’ve met at author lectures. You’ve stopped at my RV to ask about our coach. At one point I asked John, “Am I a divorcee magnet?” But then it dawned on me (I shouldn’t be surprised) given these statistics:
“In America, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year.” (McKinley Irvin Family Law)
Replacing Pain with a Plan
I hope and pray the timing of this post helps you. Spending time attempting to pick up the shards of your broken relationship will wear you out and cut your fingers. However, following a game plan for healing will focus your energies into areas you can control. These 16 tips come from my own life experience and from a program called Surviving the Holidays* which is put out by DivorceCare.
(To all friends and family members who want to help? In two weeks I’ll post “How to support your friend/family while they are reeling from a break-up.” Stay tuned!)
1. A New Normal.
Acknowledge things will not be the same. You have a “new normal”. Before your separation or divorce, holidays or family gatherings were probably full of traditions. And your significant other was usually a part of the festivities.
That must change.
Acknowledging that you have a new normal is a big head-start to healthy recovery.
And I’m not talking about just Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah.
2. Hidden Holidays.
Your holidays may not be other people’s holidays.
For example: the anniversary of your first date, your wedding anniversary, birthdays, anniversary of your divorce, the day you first met, your first kiss, etc. These hidden holidays will bring stress if you don’t prepare a plan.
Make a list of the hidden holidays coming up on your calendar.
Then circle them.
Plan to give yourself a special treat that day.
Be good to yourself during these holidays.
Surround yourself with people who can lift you up and help you through.
3. You will be surprised by the emotional roller-coaster.
If you just experienced a break-up, you might get blindsided by your emotions
Certain events, areas, smells, tastes, songs, and photos, might ambush you emotionally.
Acknowledge these ambushes will happen.
Set realistic expectations for when you do get ambushed. Don’t bottle up the tears when you hear a song that was your wife’s favorite. Let it out. Be kind to those emotions. Honor them.
Don’t be surprised by the magnitude of your emotions. They are new and might catch you off guard. Acknowledge the intensity, knowing that this will pass.
Be honest with people close to you about the reality of your pain. Just saying those words will lift a weight off you.
4. Don’t numb your pain.
Drugs, alcohol, involvement in a new relationship, spending sprees, gambling, and porn are some of the worst things you can do when you are going through the pain of a break-up. When they wear off, your depression will be more intense, and you will have to deal with the guilt/consequences of your behavior.
You don’t need that.
5. Have a Plan.
Take Christmas for example. Ask yourself these questions:
Do I really need to do this decorating for the holidays like I always have?
Is it necessary to bake six varieties of cookies?
Do I need to send out Christmas cards?
What is the most important thing to do this holiday?
How many items can I realistically do?
How many do I not want to do?
Do I have the energy to do this?
Who could help me with this?
Do I have the finances to do this
It’s OK to think selfishly.
You cannot possibly operate at the same level that you used to.
6. Intensive Care.
Remember this: If someone was in the Intensive Care Unit with a physical ailment, would you expect them to do these tasks around the holidays?
Of course not.
Well, my friend, you too are in ICU.
An emotional Intensive Care Unit.
Your wounds may not be visible, but they are real and cannot be ignored.
Honor your wounds.
7. Make a budget.
Be creative when it comes to your spending. Don’t compete with your ex to buy a more extravagant gift. Don’t spend money to numb your pain.
8. Arrange custody of the children for the holidays, or make a plan for your grandchildren.
Your new tradition may require celebrating on a different day of the week than you are used to. Be flexible.
Do not celebrate together with your ex. Ask yourself what the motivation is behind this thought.
To secretly get back together?
It may create false expectations and hopes for the children or family members.
9. Choose friends wisely.
Same sex friends are the safest. Don’t hang around people who wear you out. Don’t hang around people who might tempt you to do something you may regret later.
10. Help your children prepare for the holidays.
Sit them down and talk it out. No surprises for them. Give them several days to digest what you talked about. A few days later, discuss it again to see if they understood the initial conversation.
Remember, they too are grieving.
11. Traditions: Old vs. New.
Take it slowly with this area. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
You are exhausted emotionally.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Talk over traditions with your family to see what is really important for you to retain or to reinvent.
For me, my son’s were 21 and 23. It was a bit easier to create new traditions for Christmas since they were adults. Since I lived in another state from them, my focus was on creating our new holiday traditions.
Be creative with new traditions. Go visit a nursing home and sing carols with the elderly. Use your vacation time to travel over the holiday. Plan to help others who may need you. It always feels good to help someone else even when you are hurting.
12. The trouble with Isolation.
Again, be kind to yourself. Be aware of what you are doing.
Are you intentionally isolating yourself from people?
How long has it been since you interacted with people?
Is this behavior unusual for you?
If you are sleeping patterns change, contact your doctor and seek medical advice for possible depression.
We tend to have the most negative thoughts about ourselves when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Be aware that you are more susceptible during H.A.L.T. You are grieving.
Make sure you are eating regularly.
Know that you might have sudden bursts of anger especially when you are tired.
Being alone is not unhealthy.
Loneliness can be an unhealthy thing. Talk with someone about your loneliness. Just because your significant partner is no longer around does not mean you are half a person. You are still a whole person.
Make sure that you get enough sleep each night. You may need to take a sleeping pill during your months of transition. I know I did.
14. Handling uncomfortable situations.
Your friends may not know what to say, or they may ask you personal questions about the break-up.
Be prepared with an answer to their queries. You are free to say “I don’t want to talk about that right now”, or, deflect the question back to them by asking them why they want to know? Go to social events with friends who know the situation. Give your hostess or host a “heads up” that you might need to back out of the commitment if you don’t have the energy.
15. If you are alone on the holiday.
Give yourself a special treat. Make a plan as soon as you know that you are going to be alone for a holiday. Stick with your plan. Impulsive last minute decisions may make it worse. Remember, the day is only 24 hours long. You’ll get through.
16. Sign up for a support group like DivorceCare.
Join with others who are on a healing path. The workbook, videos, and topics led by professional counselors are fantastic. Click on DivorceCare or Surviving the Holidays* to find a group in your area.
I hope these strategies have been helpful. Please let me know.
I care about you. You are not alone.
Feel free to privately contact me:
*I would like to acknowledge and humbly thank DivorceCare for granting me permission to share their information on Surviving the Holidays.