Guest Writer: Kimberly Lorah, LPC, CDC
It’s touted “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. But when you are in the midst of a divorce, sometimes it’s hard to be “Merry and Bright”. I clearly remember my “First Holiday Season”. My then-husband had moved out of our family home on December 9, 2016 – the day before my 47th birthday. This would be the first holiday season without my husband since 1995 – over 20 years. Technically, I was still married and stuck in that purgatory between filing for divorce and finalizing the divorce decree that would “dissolve” our marriage.
I had already (barely) survived the first Thanksgiving without my kids. “Surviving” consisted of me putting my “babies” (ages 10 and 14) on an airplane to fly to their grandmother’s house in Rochester, New York all by themselves. I held it together until I watched them walk down the jetway and disappear into the plane. Then all hell broke loose. Smack dab in the middle of the airport, I was transformed into a blubbering, sobbing, bawling mess. I felt powerless. It sucked. It really sucked.
Somehow, I made it back into my car and called my mom who talked me down, told be to lock my doors, buckle my seatbelt and start driving to Philadelphia where my family was waiting for me. I joined my parents at my brother and sister in law’s home where they all welcomed me, took care of me and fed me ToFurky (I’m a vegetarian).
As we moved closer to the Christmas holidays, I was feeling confident that it was going to be smoother sailing from here on in. Afterall, I had survived my husband vacating our family home. I had made it through Thanksgiving without my kids. Christmas is “my holiday” according to our Parenting Plan. I was going to glide right into 2017 like I was riding on Santa’s sleigh.
Until I took a wrong turn down Memory Lane. Shortly after my husband moved out, it was time to put up our Christmas tree. We dragged up the tree and the trimmings from the basement and got to work. When I opened the box with our ornaments, I felt like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer had kicked me in the stomach. As I looked down into the box of ornaments, I felt like I had unwrapped a big gift of anger, sadness, rejection, pain and loss – all tied together with a festive bow. Staring up at me were ornaments we had purchased as souvenirs from almost every trip we had taken together. I was emotionally assaulted by ornaments marking “Our First Christmas Together”, “Our New Home”, “Our New Baby”. It sucked. It really sucked. I had to take a break before I even really started.
Right then and there I decided my little family of three would have to start creating our own, new memories. ASAP. I decided that I wanted a new experience – unique and festive – so we got in the car and went to a local farm to cut our own Christmas tree. We had never done that before and there was something so empowering about the whole experience. We got to choose our own tree. Wandering in the field, with so many options, we were in control of which tree would become ours. We chose the perfect little tree (which was really just the one that all 3 of us could agree upon). Crouching down on the cold hard Earth and sawing away at the trunk was both raw and cathartic. This tree was going to be ours. We had control. We had power. And it felt good. Really good.
After we tied it to our roof, we went to a quaint café and had the best hot cocoa ever. We got home and put our tree on the back deck right outside of a big window. We decided to give back to nature since we had taken from nature. We made our own ornaments by covering pinecones with peanut butter and rolling them in birdseed. We could admire our tree and watch the birds enjoying a treat from the warmth of our living room. As far as our artificial tree and the ornaments in the box, I had some choices to make. I eventually sorted through them. I hung many on the tree, packed some up, and threw others away.
Fast forward three years. I am mere weeks away from my 50th birthday. We have created a pretty comfortable “New Normal”. We are planning our, now annual, tree cutting tradition. My kids are going to Rochester for Thanksgiving and I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my entire family. This year, while my kids are with their dad, I am spending Thanksgiving with one of my best friends, on a beach, in the warm sunshine, on vacation. I am looking forward to relaxing by the ocean, lounging in the pool and drinking fancy drinks with umbrellas. And the ToFurky is optional this year.
TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE HOLIDAYS DURING YOUR DIVORCE
Going through a divorce is one of the most derailing events a person can experience. Combine that with the stress of the holidays and the roller coaster ride can feel a lot more overwhelming.
But being mindful (having a non-judgmental awareness of your present, moment to moment experience) will give you a greater sense of peace and well-being. And maybe even give you some Merry and Bright. When you compassionately see and feel things for what they really are, you are better able to choose how you want to respond. When you are being mindful, it allows you to see things more clearly in the present and are you are less likely to be influenced by your mind’s chattering about your past pain or worries about the future. You are better able to optimize your options, consider your choices and Rock Your Power.
Here are some tips that may be helpful to survive and perhaps even thrive during “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
- Validate Your Feelings
Holidays can be hard and if you try to deny you emotions it will only make these feelings more intense. Validate that, while this may be a difficult time, you can – and will- get through it. Remember that difficult is NOT the same as impossible. “Firsts” of everything are usually the worst but sometimes grief catches up to you a couple of holidays later. Remind yourself that things will get easier. When authentic feelings do arise, acknowledge them and allow them to flow – but keep ‘em moving.
- Be Honest with Your Kids
Be open and honest with your kids about what has changed and what will stay the same. Kids feel better when they know what to expect such as how the holidays will be shared with parents. Reassure your kids that holiday celebrations will continue but may look different.
- Be Realistic
Those Hallmark Channel Holiday movies only really exist in TV land. Have realistic expectations – especially the first year. Be kind and gentle and give yourself a break. But remember that life doesn’t stay static – it’s always moving forward. You can move forward too. By doing so, you can model optimism for your kids (if you have them). You can’t cancel the holidays for your children and if you focus on your kids, you may all move forward with laughter and joy.
- Start New Traditions
Brainstorm with your kids new ways to celebrate. You are free to decide. You can “Do the Holidays” any way you choose now. Traditions can be comforting and special, but they can also have a nasty habit of reminding you of loss during a divorce. Since holidays are a time of celebrating – usually in a fairly simple and repetitive way – now is your time to shake it up a bit.
- Ditch Those Dreaded Traditions
Any traditions that you hated but felt obligated to follow because of your ex or in-laws – Good Riddance! Too painful to hang those sentimental ornaments on your tree? Cover some pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed and hang those suckers in a tree by a window. I promise you the birds will love it and so will you.
- Give Back and Perform Acts of Kindness
Giving back and being kind helps you practice gratitude and recognize the good things in your life. When we give to others, it helps take the focus off of our own problems. It can be a great way to take a break from the holiday stress while helping others. Let that warm fuzzy feeling penetrate your soul.
Self-care is basically an investment in your mental health. Sleep, exercise, eating healthy all maximize your ability to cope. Yoga, meditation, journaling, rest, relaxation and nurturing are great ways to recharge your batteries. Self-Care for me also includes my guilty pleasures – reading PEOPLE magazine in a hot bubble bath or snuggling with my pets and binge-watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. No judgement please.
- Just Say No
Can’t string all those Christmas lights on the bushes and trees in your yard? Just Say No!
Can’t muster the energy to organize your work holiday party? Just Say No!
Can’t volunteer at your kids’ school holiday bazaar? Just Say No!
Can’t cook a huge holiday meal like you used to do? Order Take Out Chinese
Can’t stand going to the crowded mall? Amazon Has An App For That!
For the things you have or want to do, remember to focus on one thing at a time. Let go of anything that is not serving you or is causing you distress as much as possible.
- Just Say Yes!
Connect with your friends and family. Get out. Invite people in. Don’t be a Grinch with a shrunken heart holed up alone on top of a snowy mountain. Accept invitations. Extend invitations. Surround yourself with people you love and those who love you back.
You can also rely on these people to be a healthy support system if the holiday blues do creep in. If you are feeling isolated, lonely or sad, tell them exactly what you need from them (company, understanding, a shoulder to cry on, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s)
- Have Fun and Laugh!
Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time said, “A Good Laugh Heals a Lot of Hurts”. One night when I was newly separated and my kids were with their dad, I was having a particularly difficult time. I was throwing myself a pity party and I was the only guest. My friend, Cathleen, called to see how I was doing and through my tears, I croaked out, “I’m fine”. Within 15 minutes she was at my house, forcing me to put on my coat and was driving me to our friend’s house where we watched “Bad Moms”, ate Chinese food and laughed and laughed. It turned out to be one of my favorite nights with some of my favorite friends.
Finally, one of the most important things to remember is that “stuff” doesn’t matter. Connections – time, attention and emotional presence – is much more essential than elaborate gifts when rebuilding a new sense of family – and self. The Holiday Season is just a season like all other seasons. It will end and another will come. A New Year, A New Beginning, A New You. Think of this as a perfect time to reintroduce yourself to yourself. You may feel a bit battered and bruised but life moves on. So do you. And there is a new and exciting life that awaits
- Kimberly Lorah is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Divorce Coach and the owner of Blossom Coaching, LLC. She has experience with divorce, both professionally and personally. As a mental health professional who also specializes in the unique needs of people impacted by divorce, she can help you manage the overwhelm, explore options, and gain clarity so that you are able to make the best possible decisions for your future. In addition, Kimberly is trained in collaborative divorce as well as mediation and acts as a divorce coach on collaborative teams. Kim offers free consultations and can be reached at 201-903-0240 or [email protected]. For more information, visit www.kimberlylorahcoaching.com