The holidays are hard. And not just Aunt Ethel’s stale fruitcake hard. Navigating this time of year alone for the first time post separation or divorce can stir emotions or wreak havoc on the progress you’ve already made in getting through to the next chapter of your life.
So, we tapped the experts – people who have been in your shoes – for their advice on holiday survival:
1. Give Yourself a Special Gift
“Invest in yourself. You might not be receiving gifts from your ex- this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy yourself a special gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but just the idea of treating yourself to something special will make you feel good.
“I had someone make me a custom stamped silver necklace that had a charm with the birthstone of both of my kids on it, and three hanging tags that were stamped with the words ‘patience,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘strength.’ I wore that necklace almost every day, and would find myself holding onto whichever word I needed most that day. My friends would tell me that I was going to rub the words right off the silver tags! That necklace holds so much meaning for me. I don’t wear it nearly as much anymore, but when I do, it still serves as a solid reminder of how I got through my divorce with patience, strength and faith.”
2. Keep the Old Traditions, but Make Them New
“I went through a divorce during the holidays for the first time last year, and it hit me really hard. My marriage had just ended and I was working through the grieving process. I had been married half of my life and it was my first holiday season on my own. What helped me was to allow myself to embrace the grief, to know that it was okay to feel sad, to not yet be ready to let go of some of the traditions we had.
For example, my husband and I had made a tradition of going shopping at the mall around Christmas, splitting up, hunting for gifts for 30 minutes, and exchanging gifts right there afterward. So, I did that on my own with a friend, and it really helped to honor my past by keeping that old tradition, but to do it in a new way so that new memories and good times were formed.”
Eleora Han, PhD is a clinical psychologist and author of the book, Grieving the loss of a love: how to embrace grief to find true hope and healing after a divorce, breakup, or death.
3. Refocus on You
Jenny Ford was married for four years before separating from her husband in December 2016. The holidays were difficult, but she found her way through: she booked herself a staycation in Washington, DC, she lost 30 lbs, wrote a book and reconnected with the agency she created. She knows you can, too:
“Don’t be afraid to go against tradition. We have ONE life, and there’s no manual given at birth that tells you exactly how to live your life. If facing questions, awkward looks, or if the weight of the holidays is just too much, book a staycation or vacation, and decline invites and spend your holidays on a beach somewhere with your favorite playlist. It’s completely OKAY to not be ready to deal with everything so soon.
Better yourself. Work on becoming the best you. Go back to school, get a new job, or get your body back in shape. Doing something that makes you better will only increase your self-esteem, and you’ll glow from the inside. Feeling better about yourself may give you a new perspective on your situation, and increased confidence will help you to not give a damn about what others think. Rock your life, you only live once,” Jenny advises.
4. Give Something Back
“Eight weeks before Christmas, my marriage ended abruptly in a whirlwind of exposed lies. It would be the first Christmas in sixteen years that I wouldn’t see my family for the traditional holiday gathering on the East Coast. Because they were his family.
My survival instincts told me to get as far away as possible. So, I traveled to the Transylvania Mountains in Romania to volunteer at an orphanage. It was exactly what I needed; complete immersion in an unknown environment being helpful to others.
While I highly recommend it, you don’t have to exile yourself to another country.
Volunteering was the best thing I did during my divorce. For the holidays, you need to sign up in advance because it’s a busy time of year for volunteering. If you don’t find anything local, do what I did and volunteer abroad. There are plenty of people who need you. Whether you want to work with kids, animals or in nature, there is an organization that will be happy to have you. Volunteering gave me great perspective and feelings of being valuable.”
Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of Wine, Sex and Suicide – My NearDeath Divorce and the creator of You Can Heal Your Heartbreak,an audio program based on her book, MyHeart is Broken. Now What? Her life coaching helps people rediscover themselves after divorce. Connect with her at www.pattybluehayes.com
5. Change the Date of Your Holiday
“I had to create the “new normal” pretty quickly. My kids’ dad and I separated the day before Thanksgiving; by Christmas, the kids and I had moved to a new home. Nothing was the same, nor would it ever be – but being the romantic idealist I am, I didn’t want to lose any of the holiday magic, but emotionally, I didn’t know where to start.
I quickly realized that the actual date on the calendar had to lose its power. We celebrate anything and everything, regardless of what “day” it is, or what the rest of society happens to be doing. This year, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving a week early and I’ve blocked the day that everyone else will be celebrating Thanksgiving (including my kids with their dad, stepmom and extended family, several states away) for a personal retreat day – a great novel, my journal, coffee in the morning, wine in the evening. Self-care has to be a priority for the single parent, it just has to. We have so much on our plates and try so hard to create a magical experience for our kids, but it often comes at a personal cost. In so many ways, we’re the glue that keeps our world together – and self-care is our glue.”
6. Netflix and Chill
“That first Thanksgiving/Christmas was the toughest one of all for me,” recalls Susan McCord, host of the Dear Sybersue Lifestyle Talk Show.
“Tell yourself the holidays are only a few days to deal with and that soon it will be over for another year. Keep yourself busy, spend time with trusted friends, get away or curl up with a good book, stock up on junk food and watch some funny movies that make you laugh out loud.
Humor is the cure for many sad times we go through in life. Time does help heal the heart but the holidays can pull off the Band-Aid opening up those old wounds again. Don’t let them own you. It really does get better.”