An Unconventional Approach to Surviving the Holidays If You’re Recently Single
Are you freshly divorced, separated or broken up? Does the sight of holiday decorations at the local drugstore, shopping mall, grocery store and every other surface from which people can drape twinkle lights make you groan inwardly at the thought of forced mirth? Has your ex-wife or girlfriend alienated your children from you? Are you feeling lonely, angry or depressed? Do you grit your teeth when well meaning friends and family tell you that you should be happy and count your blessings at this time of year?
If so, you’re not alone. Oftentimes the typical upbeat prescriptive advice professional caregivers and loved ones have to offer doesn’t help. In fact, it makes many people feel worse. Therefore, here’s some offbeat advice to help get you through the holiday season with a certain style, joie de cynicism and unabashed malcontent-ed-ness. Sometimes you have to “go through the dark” in order to “lighten up:”
- Distract yourself and keep busy. Call, visit or e-mail friends who dislike and dread the holiday season as much as you do this year. Surround yourself with misanthropes who avoid dysfunctional family gatherings like Progressives avoid Tea Bagger rallies. Get together for martinis and carbohydrate-laden hors d’oeuvres. Don’t worry about the caloric damage now; you need to come up with New Year’s resolutions in a few weeks anyway—at least you’ll be prepared. [*Please note: If you actually are experiencing a bout of depression, please avoid alcohol and other known depressants as they will only exacerbate your feelings of sadness.]
- Find non-traditional ways to pass the time during the holidays. Is your family too difficult to deal with? Begin an annual, multi-denominational holiday dinner party. Years ago when I was having a tough time, I started an annual “Very Gay Jewish International Christmas Dinner” for all of my local friends who were far away from their families or felt left out of the typical holiday cheer for whatever reason and who clearly appreciated my sense of humor. We became a family of choice and had a great time, albeit, the heavily spiked mulled cider didn’t hurt.
- Self-care. Only do what’s good for you. Period. Does your family put the “fun” in “dysfunctional?” Don’t be guilted into attending family parties that will leave you feeling depressed and desperate. If they don’t understand your choice; too bad. You’re an adult. They have another 364 days in which to make you feel guilty about not attending the family festivities. They’ll just have to content themselves with that. Eventually, it will blow over. If not, that’s why Caller ID was invented.
- Missing children. On a serious note, if you’re separated from your children for the first time this year, my heart goes out to you. I understand how painful it must be. The beauty of being non-traditional means that you can celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, etc., any day of the year you choose—it doesn’t have to be the arbitrarily chosen calendar date. Plan to celebrate with your kids on another day. They’ll feel pretty lucky two have two holidays and a dad who loves them enough to put up a tree or light a menorah in January or April. If your ex is really vile and you don’t know when you’ll see your children next, buy them a gift anyway and save it for them. Even if it takes years, your children will be touched to know that you’ve always had them in your thoughts.
- Dark humor heals. Watch your favorite dark comedies. Anything that helps you laugh at the absurdity of it all is perfect. Personal recommendations include: The War of the Roses, The Ref and Very Bad Things; preferably something with a body count at the end.
- Subversive holiday cookies. Make a batch of anatomically correct gingerbread men or gingerbread women cookies and name them after your exes (Molasses Honey Ginger Cookies). If you’re not handy with the icing decorations, some well chosen candy (e.g., Tic-Tacs vs. Good-n-Plenties; mini-marshmallows vs. nonpareils) is just as effective, not to mention a time saver. After you’ve named and decorated the little lasses or lads, pour a frosty glass of ice cold milk and ENJOY. I think you’ll find this takes “comfort food” to a whole new level.
- Holiday housekeeping. Weed your garden. Rid yourself of anyone or anything that is toxic, draining and unhealthy. Do so with neither remorse nor regret. There are those among us who are energy-joy vampires. They will suck you dry until nothing is left. If you can’t rid them from your life entirely, at the very least, minimize contact.
- This too shall pass. Look to the future. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, this year is just another bump in the road. You will heal and get past this in time. Decide what you would like to be different in the year ahead and then pursue it with purpose and determination. Think of where you’d like to be this time next year and make it happen.
Sometimes what works for most people doesn’t work for everybody and that’s okay. March to the beat of your own rhythm section and don’t worry what others think. Smile and know you’re having fun (or not) while living life on your terms. Besides, the road less traveled is a hell of a lot more interesting.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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Merry Christmas to you all by prakashdaniel on flickr.