Saccharine images of the holidays never appealed to me, even when I was little. Growing up with an alcoholic parent sort of crushed those fantasies of festive bliss by the time I was seven. As an adult, I’ve struggled to create new traditions for my kids, and enjoy the dark days of Advent.
Every year, I decorate the house, cook, bake, and buy gifts. I try to be cheery, which really is easy when the kids’ faces light up. But this holiday season will be a new challenge, as my family is now divorced.
A sense of gloom fell over me at Halloween, as I thought about Thanksgiving. What in the hell to do about it? Aside from my own family, there’re only a couple relatives in town. Knowing I’d have to make the dinner myself, I started scoping out a Rachel Ray magazine for recipes- and hoped for a way forward.
“Ask and you shall receive” I used to hear at mass; and sure enough there was a way forward. It happened when I put myself in my children’s shoes, and wondered what they would want for Thanksgiving. They would want their dad here- so I invited my ex. He was rather gracious and relieved. He didn’t want to be away from our kids. I hope by opening my home to him, he will return the favor next year.
This leads to my first coping strategy: think of someone else’s needs besides your own. This has been an unpopular attitude for decades, but I believe it’s making a comeback. When I am unbearably miserable in my head, I do something nice for someone else, and it always makes me feel better. I know it’ll be a tough day having my ex here, but the kids will feel so much better with their beloved daddy to hang on. And I can just tough it out.
I’m no martyr, so another coping strategy is purely selfish- let myself wallow in it for a couple hours a day. I don’t have to be Pollyanna, nor do I require it from my friends. It’s okay to be in a shitty mood- and then it’s okay not to be. Inflicting myself on others is inconsiderate, so I’m trying to do my self-pity-parties when no one else is around. A little overflow happens occasionally, so I am quick to apologize and totally understand if I don’t get a call back sometimes. It goes with the territory.
Listening to “Graceland” is another coping strategy for Holidays 2012. How Paul Simon constructed such a pure piece of musical medicine, I will never know. Listening to this album is like a shot of serotonin- try it!
Read something you don’t understand. This sounds bizarre, but it’s helping me right now. I’m reading Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, and I don’t understand most of it. But it’s waking my brain from a slumber. Challenging myself to stretch intellectually keeps the gloom at bay, at least until I become so frustrated I throw the book across the room.
Don’t break the damned bank on gifts. Every year I was married we spent too much on Christmas, and then argued about money. Stupid. Thoughtful gifts purchased in advance for a good deal are the best ones by far. When I’ve considered what a loved one really likes, and not just hit the mall, I’ve had happier outcomes. This takes planning- but it’s worth it. Buying and making gifts is actually really fun when there’s no pressure to get it done in a hurry or to spend a certain amount of cash. Money doesn’t create love. It just doesn’t.
List off the things you’re grateful for before falling asleep. I know this sounds hokey, but I’ve been doing it for quite some time, and it really works. Also, I have fewer nightmares when I put my brain on the right track before nodding off. Nothing reduced my anxiety as quickly and effectively as acknowledging how blessed I am. And I am- I really am blessed.
Dress up a little in the morning, even if you feel lousy. I have an issue with yoga pants- I wear them too often. I’ve heard them called sweats, which is unfair. They don’t look that bad, but they don’t look good either. This week I am wearing all my favorite little dresses with tights and sweaters. I may not have anywhere important to be, but I feel better.
Hug your kids, friends, and relatives; tell them “I love you” like it’s a chant. The only thing that counts is love- it is what we all seek, cherish, and grieve. I love you, I love you, I love you…
All these things I’m trying and they seem to help. The usual standbys, like alcohol, really make things worse this time of year, so it’s best to be sparing. Hot tea with honey is my drink now. I also continue my usual coping strategies, like yoga and long walks.
January 2 will come, and each little holiday milestone will be achieved in my new family. Knowing this helps.
Best of wishes to all of you- I hope you don’t need to think of coping strategies, and just enjoy this time of year. For the other half of us- I’d love to hear some of your ideas….