When my husband left me mid-November many years ago, I had already scheduled to do a holiday book signing for my new book at a major bookstore. A week before Christmas, I found myself seated at a table by the entrance, pen in hand, looking normal but feeling like I was a spectator at an atrocity. I couldn't avoid all the happy couples who rushed in the door, eyes bright, shopping list in hand, obviously comfortable in their coupledom, just as my husband and I would have been not long before. I sat there at my table for two hours in complete misery. It was brutal.
It’s amazing how much loneliness and loss can hurt. The hurt can be so intense, it’s almost physical. And nothing will trigger it more than feeling alone when everyone around you appears happy and together. The whole zeitgeist of the holidays is about happy families. It’s everywhere and unless you live off grid in a cabin in the woods, you can’t escape it. So what do you do?
The question boils down to – do you try to do the normal things you would do every year during the holidays when you were together or do you hunker down and hibernate till January? My answer is . . . yes. You do a bit of both.
If you’re invited to parties with friends who are in couples, it can be hard to be the only one alone. I suggest that you go, but bring a friend or family member with whom you can chat. Warn your host in advance that you may duck out early without saying goodbye if you can’t cope and need to make a speedy retreat. You may have a struggle at the party, particularly if you are meeting new people and expected to talk about your life, but you may also have a bit of fun. But even if it’s difficult, you can be proud of yourself that you went. Let’s face it, your life isn’t over!
On the other hand, you may want to just ride out the season keeping busy doing things that help pass the time. Movies are good for that and even going alone to a movie, once you get used to it, can be a good distraction. I also always suggest connecting with Mother Nature as a great way to soothe your soul. Walk by a lake, visit the beach (even up north in winter), or go to the park. Look at the sky and trees and remember that you won’t always feel this badly. Believe me, it helps.
For some people the hardest part is Christmas day itself. Last year, perhaps, you were all together. This year, someone is missing. Do you follow the same traditions or avoid them (e.g. go to a restaurant for Christmas dinner instead of the traditional ham at home)? Either way, don’t agonize about it. This year will be hard – there’s no way around you – but the important thing is your state of mind. Although you may be intensely sad or angry, you need to promise yourself that you will keep working towards healing, doing whatever you can that you know is good for you.
A little tip! I tried to not be too much of a drag around friends when I went to a dinner or party. Before I left, I would read the newspaper and prepare some interesting things to talk about, other than my own outrage or misery, not wanting to give my friends compassion fatigue. Although you may need to share your true inner feelings with close friends, they want to have fun at the party and you should give them a bit of a break from time to time.
It won’t always be this bad. Take care of yourself in this season and one day, you’ll wake up feeling better.
I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of The Divorce Talk - How to Tell the Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Breaking the News without Breaking Their Hearts; and Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal and My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and found online at www.vikkistark.com.