Why Are the Holidays Difficult?
Everyone knows that the holidays are difficult for many people but sometimes it hard to pin down exactly
what this season brings up for us.
For those who have experienced a significant
loss, especially since the last holiday season, getting through that first round of holidays without a loved one seems nigh
unto impossible. There is a strong desire to escape…to go somewhere, to hole up in bed, to drink
oneself into oblivion. It seems too painful to survive much less find a way to celebrate. When
that loved one was the central person in the family, generally the matriarch, around whom the holidays revolved, the one who
gathered everyone together, the one whose dressing or sweet potato pie could never be replicated, the one we went “home”
to, it is even more heart rending.
For others holiday time brings up memories of conflict and distress.
This is the time of year that those with alcohol and other addiction problems give themselves leave to practice their
diseases to the hilt. What’s Christmas without Dad cussing someone out at the dinner table, or Aunt
Mabel crying hysterically into her vodka gimlet, or the police arriving to halt the physical combat between Cousin Joey and
his bride-to-be. Again the urge is to escape but that hallmark of the adult children of alcoholics, “undeserved
loyalty”, compels most to go through the chaos once again. Read Janet Woititz’s book Adult Children of Alcoholics to see if you fit this mold.
And because the media, the hellish halo of Hallmark, anoints
the holidays as the quintessential “family” time, those who are alone, the widowed, the divorced, the never married,
the empty nesters whose grown children are off in Santorini feel especially unconnected during this period of time.
Their greatest desire is not to escape but to be with someone, even if those “some ones” are completely
unsuitable and wouldn’t know a holiday celebration from a hole in the ground.
The first approach is acceptance. It hurts
because what is…is. I find the Buddhist practice of breathing in the pain especially useful when
I can’t stand it any more. I’ve tried “letting go” at these moments and the pain
seems to cling like Saran wrap…albeit the colorful holiday version. Wherever you find yourself,
stare off into space for a moment, or close your eyes if that is acceptable where you find yourself, and start breathing through
your nose and into your tummy. See my complete instructions on this easy relaxation method. Then, with each breath in start breathing in your own pain, your loss, your fears, your anxieties.
With each breath out, breathe out loving kindness. After a few minutes extend this to the pain of
others who have experienced the same loss or have the same fears who live in your neighborhood. Then extend
it to your community, your state, this country, and then the entire world. It is remarkable how our bodies
can change pain into kindness. For those on a Christian journey, I encourage them to breathe in the pain
and breathe out the love of Christ. If you have a different faith journey, please substitute what is appropriate
for your faith.
The second approach is connection, but not just with anyone.
Think about whom among your family or friends or colleagues is most likely to be able to understand and connect with
your pain. This might be a person who has experienced a similar loss. And if you don’t
know someone, then think about self-help organizations of persons with similar issues. If you’ve
lost a child, think about Compassionate Friends. If you have lived or are living with alcoholism, think about attending an Al-Anon meeting. If the pain is so great that you are contemplating harming yourself or others, go to the resources
The third approach is creating new traditions. The
new tradition this year may just be to connect to at least one person who understands your needs. An hour’s
quiet conversation and a hug may do the trick. But it also may mean skipping the traditional get-togethers
and heading off for a country inn or a meal at your favorite diner. Who says we can’t celebrate the
holidays with meatloaf and gravy! Or finding a beach to sit on, not necessarily a warm one, and losing
oneself listening to the pounding of the waves and feeling the salt spray in your face. Or serving meals
at the homeless shelter…there is nothing like being appreciated for who you are than when you are giving to others.
It is interesting that as a therapist for 40 years, I always took off during the holidays because people
do not make or come to appointments for counseling during that time. They seem to try to ride it out alone.
The surge in appointments comes about mid-January when the holidays are over and the pain and disappointment lingers.
So, if you have a therapist or counselor, think about making an appointment during the holiday season and see if you
can’t figure out a plan that will comfort you through this time.
Wishing you not a “Happy”
Holiday…but a manageable one.