For some, holidays serve as a stark reminder of everything wrong with life and of things and people missing due to divorce. Divorce is loss—for most, a profound loss that rocks the very core of all they believe in and hold true, shaking the foundation of their future.
With loss, comes the grief cycle. There are a few versions of what the grief cycle looks like, but the common ones are: shock, protest, despair, and acceptance. For some, they may have already gone through the cycle successfully; but significant firsts can trigger that loss once more, opening old wounds you may have thought were healed.
Special occasions and holidays can be incredibly overwhelming when navigating divorce. Battles with bitter ex-spouses, disappointed, hurt or angry children, and children who may be alienated from their parents can put an incredible emotional strain on you. These occasions can be a time of powerful reminders of painful and unhealthy dynamics. Many may want to shut the doors on celebrations and hide away. This can create, or intensify, feelings of loneliness and isolation.
How can you support yourself as you navigate emotionally charged special occasions and holidays?
Grief can be handled—or mishandled—in a variety of ways. First, be okay with your emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. It's easier to heal if you let yourself feel.
In the shock phase, you are likely to feel like a deer caught in the headlights, frozen into inaction. In the protest phase, anger is very common. Now, anger itself is not bad. It motivates us into action. However, that action should be supportive to ourselves and others. In the despair phase, depression is common. A sense of hopelessness is typical. My caution here is not to get too comfortable with this phase, as depression may lead you into a dark place. The final phase is acceptance. This is a very empowering stage. This is the time you are likely ready to move on and forward, expanding outward.
But how do you get to that self-acceptance phase? How do you manage those not-so-pretty stages, when you feel anger so powerful you can't see straight, or grief so intense it weighs you down, or loneliness that feels suffocating?
First, you must understand how you experience grief. If it's physically, do you get headaches? Do you feel it mentally, losing sleep or being forgetful? Do you respond emotionally, acting out in anger or frustration? Stress and grief and loss are typically experienced in these similar forms: physical symptoms, mental symptoms, emotional symptoms, or spiritual symptoms. Understanding this can help you figure out what you require from yourself, and others, to get the support you need to move through to acceptance.
Go for a walk with the dog or hit the gym for physical support; it's also a healthy way to release that anger. Grab a good self-help book, watch a TED lecture for mental support. Watch a funny movie, attend a comedy show and laugh deeply, or write in an empty journal to support yourself emotionally. Talk to your spiritual advisor, or reconnect with hope, to support yourself spiritually.
All of these ideas will help you take steps forward to healing. And if you have children, you are serving as a role model to them on how to manage grief and loss, demonstrating strength and resilience.