The holidays are a magical time of year, but for someone who is recently divorced or going through one, it can feel like a special kind of hell. All of the memories of holidays past and the traditions once shared as a family tend to pour salt into the open wounds of our hearts. So, how exactly are you supposed to make it through this time of year?
I learned the hard way just how painful the holidays could be the year that my first husband filed for divorce. It was shortly after Thanksgiving that he decided he couldn’t handle one more holiday married to me. As Christmas quickly approached I began to realize that all of the traditions we shared were null and void and that for the first time in years I would be spending the holiday as a single woman. Each Christmas song that played on the radio seemed to be targeted at me to remind me of what I had just lost. Blue Christmas, Miss You Most (At Christmas Time), and All I Want For Christmas Is You, would send me into a frenzy of tears and depression. Despite the extreme emotional mood swings, I did make it through the holidays and I’m here to tell you that you can too
Create New Traditions
Just because you aren’t able to carry on the traditions that you and your spouse used to share, doesn’t mean that the holiday can’t be special without them. I found that focusing on helping others gave me a sense of peace and renewed the meaning of Christmas for me. I rang bells for the Salvation Army and delivered groceries to impoverished families and discovered that there are people going through worse things than divorce. There are plenty of ways you can replace the traditions that bring you sadness with ones that warm your heart, you just need to be willing to try. Whether it is going on vacation, serving your community, or avoiding the holiday all together, do whatever brings you peace during this difficult moment.
Don’t Be Afraid To Disappoint Others
That year of my first divorce came with a mix of emotions. I was sad and scared and angry and this caused a lot of disruption in my other relationships. My relationship with my parents had already been on very rocky ground, as there had been a lot of unresolved feelings regarding their divorce only a few years prior to mine. There was a lot of pain and anger associated with how they had disrespected each other both while married and divorced. My sister and I were not feeling very holly jolly towards spending the holiday with either of them, so we decided to celebrate alone, especially since my life was now upside down and I couldn’t handle any additional emotional drama. This decision led to some hurt feelings, but honestly, it was the right decision for us.
On Christmas Eve we ordered Chinese food, made mulled wine and dressed up in our snow gear to dance under the street lights as giant snowflakes fell all around us. On Christmas Day we roasted a gigantic turkey and experimented with a bunch of fun recipes we found online. We didn’t exchange gifts, instead we ate the amazing meal we created together and spent the night laughing hysterically. Nothing was like the memories we had shared as children or the traditions I had formed as a married woman, but when I look back on that Christmas, it is one of my favorite Christmases ever!
Yes, we disappointed our parents by spending Christmas without them, but it was exactly what I needed to do in order to survive that first holiday single. It is alright to be selfish sometimes. It is ok to take care of yourself and do what is best for your emotional state. If being around your family makes you feel more sad, then take the holiday to do your own thing this year. Or maybe your family is your source of comfort and spending time with them is exactly what you need in order to get through the holidays. Only you know what is going to bring you the most peace this year, so don’t be afraid to say “no” to the things that twist a knife in those sore memories and know that your friends and family will forgive you eventually.
Spend Time With People Who Make you Smile
My sister is one of my favorite people on the planet! She and I haven’t always had an easy relationship, being only 16 months apart in age, but the year that I went through my first divorce she was the person who was there for me through it all. We grew extremely close through that terrible time in my life and she truly is what made me keep going when I didn’t want to be alive. Spending that Christmas with her was what bonded her and I and made us become best friends. Even though I was experiencing pain that was deeper than anything I had ever felt before, she somehow was able to make me smile and laugh when no one else could. I truly couldn’t have made it through those first holidays as a divorcée without her.
Do you have someone like that, who shares your sense of humor or who can make you smile when you feel like crying? Cherish this person! Spend as much time with them as you can during the holidays, because it is important to find reasons to smile and laugh when your heart is breaking. Spending time with friends and family who lift you up won’t heal you completely, that only comes with time, but they will help you to start taking those first steps towards healing, as well as serving as a much-needed distraction. You may even find that you create new happy memories together that are far superior to any you had in your past life.
Remember The Reason For the Season
As we get wrapped up in family traditions and engaging in the commercial aspect of the holidays, we tend to forget what the holidays are all about. This is the perfect year to stop focusing on the gifts and traditions and remember what we are actually celebrating. Take time to refocus on what Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or whatever holidays you celebrate are truly about. These holidays are meant to celebrate so much more than giving gifts and decorating the house, they have a much deeper meaning.
As a Christian, I found that when I decided to not give or receive gifts or participate in my usual Christmas activities the year that I got divorced, I was able to think more about the birth of Jesus and the reason Christmas existed in the first place. Traditions and gift giving can be a fun part of celebrating the holidays, but they are not the most important part. After that Christmas my new tradition carried over to future years, as my family decided to eliminate gift-giving (except for to the little kids) and just focused on spending time together, eating an amazing meal, and making memories without the presents. This may not be for everyone, but for my family, it has created a more enjoyable experience.
Avoid Holiday Movies and Songs About Love
I can’t emphasize this enough! As much as you love listening to Mariah Carey or watching, “Love Actually”, this really isn’t the year for it. Maybe you are completely over the situation already or have moved to a stage of hating your ex, rather than reminiscing over what used to be, but if you feel sad, lonely, or emotional about your divorce try to stay away from movies and music that send you deeper into sadness. Instead, watch something that makes you laugh and listen to music that brings you excitement and joy. There will be plenty of years of holidays when you are feeling happy once again and are in a good state of mind for indulging in lovey-dovey entertainment again, but this year may just be too emotional for it.
Don’t Celebrate If You Don’t Want To
There is no law that states that we have to celebrate the holidays. If you are not feeling festive this year then say, “Screw it”, and do something else. Go someplace warm for a few days or explore a city that you have always wanted to see. This could be the perfect year to get away from it all and do something that you have always wanted to do, but never could do because of spousal obligations. If money is tight and you can’t afford to go away, like I experienced during my divorce, then find activities you can do that are fun and free. Chances are, there may be other people who aren’t celebrating the holidays either and want to hang out. I hadn’t been sledding since I was a child, but one of my friends asked me if I’d like to go and I agreed. It was definitely much more of a work-out than I remembered it being as a child, but it was also extremely fun and gave me an hour where I was able to let go and not think of divorce.
Once again, your mental health is the most important thing right now, so choose activities that are fulfilling and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks about it. No one can completely understand what you are going through or what you need in order to get through it, so don’t feel bad for focusing on yourself for once.
The Pain Is Only Temporary
The holidays may be increasing the pain you already feel about getting divorced, but know that not every year will feel like this. As time progresses, the sadness will dissipate and the memories will soften. Focus on doing what makes you laugh and spend time with those people who bring you joy and know that if you can force yourself to make it through this first year of holidays, you can make it through anything. New memories will replace the old ones, new traditions will become more fun than past ones, and in time, some of the memories and traditions that you used to share with your ex will not be as painful to engage in again. I know from personal experience just how much the holidays can sting the heart as you endure a divorce, but stay strong and know that you are not alone. Things may seem like they will never be good again, but I promise you that it is possible to find happiness after divorce and create a life that is better than anything you’ve dreamed of. I’m wishing you peace and comfort this holiday season!
Love Always, Alex Prince – Creator & Editor-In-Chief of Damsel Divorcée