By now we've all seen the newsletters, magazine articles and online blog posts with helpful suggestions on how to navigate the holidays with less stress.
In the days, weeks, even months after Discovery, I was lucky if I could drag myself the ten feet between my bed and the bathroom shower every few days. You know what I'm talking about.
I didn't want to read about how to attend maybe less holiday parties this season to keep my stress levels down? Attend a party? You mean, one in which I'd have to get out of my pajamas to attend? And leave my house? And talk to people? Oh, I don't think so.
I was lucky if I could manage to make myself a cup of tea every day (without burning myself), never mind learning how to say "no" to too many cake decorating, cupcake-baking requests from overly enthusiastic relatives and friends.
And the idea of climbing up into the attic to retrieve boxes of Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree as a way to "cheer up" and see if we can't maybe surf on some of that seasonal joy despite how we feel inside? Just hearing that suggestion was enough to make me reacquaint myself with my pillow and escape under the bedcovers for the rest of the day. I needed to cocoon myself; I had no idea which end was up or down anymore. What I thought of as reality had scrambled. The loneliness in my soul felt overwhelming.
I might have been a tad paranoid back then but-- I also imagined that all those helpful magazine suggestions might subtly be inferring that I should be able to get to a holiday party. Or two. And bring those home-made cupcakes with the icing in the shape of snowflakes.
And while I'm at it, why not cheer up a bit....if I was really doing my own healing regimen the right way.
Pressure, pressure, pressure.
Again, I might have been feeling a bit paranoid, but I surely felt irritated at the mere suggestion that I participate in the festivities around me. About the only event I could have attended that would have authentically matched what I was feeling on the inside was a funeral.
Giving myself permission to feel whatever I was feeling was key.
This year, I think we should keep the message to partners really simple, whether it's very close to Discovery for you (either the first, or the cascades of new discoveries since the first one), whether you are preparing for divorce, or it's your first Christmas as a newly separated or divorced parent, or maybe it is your first holiday alone, period.
And let's not forget that sometimes the worst kind of loneliness can occur when we're still with someone who has demonstrated he'd rather be intimate with others, whether online or off. This can occasion the deepest kind of aloneness there is.
Here's our simple message, then, this holiday season:
We hope anyone going through any heartache right now gives themselves a great, big pass on all the dreaded shoulds of this season. All of them! Everyone will get over you not showing up.
If you're a Christian and going to church at Christmas feels important to you, think about attending one across town or in another borough where no one knows that the you with the sleep deprived, puffy eyes, dark circles, unwashed hair and hollow expression isn't the real you.
One year, I remember just lighting a candle at my little home altar and singing happy birthday to Jesus in my best, sleep-deprived, tearful croaky voice. It was all I had that year. He seemed ok with it, though.
The point is, you don't have to do a thing, if you don't want to, but stay in bed.
Lounge around in PJ's all day and watch movies. Order in, if you actually find that your appetite surfaces.
Better yet, go to Eleuthera and lay on the beach for a month. Heartache is always easier to get through when you're tan and have changed up the scenery from "depressing marital bedroom" to powder-white-sand-beach with a thousand shades of turquoise water outside your casita. Seriously. This should be undertaken if at all possible.
And once you're not draining the bank accounts to pay for all kinds of costly intensives, books and couple's therapy, trips to beachy destinations become oh so much more do-able.
But even if Discovery was seasons ago for you, and/or you've managed to escaped the holidays for the sunny tropics, it still doesn't address the loneliness that can attend this season of often-forced gaiety and goodwill, to say nothing of the preponderance of images denoting blissful holiday coupledom that can bring on a bad case of the lonelies. To wit:
Here is an ad for a relationship workshop that just came into my e-mail, complete with photos of a euphorically happy couple leading the workshop and kissing:
'Tis the Season to be Together
Winter 2016 is the Winter to Get the Love You Want!
I understand the need to sell a workshop, and I don't want to sound bah-humbug, but I feel for all my clients who are struggling to get through the day, let alone Winter 2015 Without the Love They Wanted!
As I'm walking through Manhattan this week, there are glossy posters of very happy couples dominating pretty much all the store windows this time of year:
Photos of a handsome, rugged man with a fresh-cut evergreen tree slung over his shoulders is holding hands with his beautiful wife, both of them laughing and bonding while snowflakes dance around them on their perfect walk home through the pristine mountain landscape. With the Christmas wreath draped around the neck of their happy Labrador dog running through the snow alongside them. Of course.
(I'm sorry, I was never this happy)
The local wine shop has posters in all the windows of couples snuggling on the sofa in front of a giant, blazing hearth sipping their cognacs and rubbing noses together.
And then there are the mannequins in the window display at Tiffany's showing a man down on bent knee, proposing to his true love with a diamond ring as glittery as the sparkly snow on which he is kneeling. (*sigh*)
Romantic, right? Sure. Unless you're alone this year, in which case a simple stroll through town can send you into fits of crying into your cashmere scarf. The one he gave you last year, before he decided to run off with his girlfriend.
Or maybe he didn't run off but he dropped his recovery and yet again, you found yourself living in that wretched limbo of "married but with no actionable recovery in place" on his end.
No doubt about it, this is brutally difficult to go through, especially if it's not the first time you find yourself in that hellish limbo.
So what's a partner to do?
Well, if you're not up for the most helpful tip from those holiday magazine articles, namely, to volunteer at a homeless shelter or an old-age home with all that extra energy you (don't) have, then my simple tip is this:
See if you can reframe the word "alone". Stop imagining him out buying gifts for his stripper new girlfriend, while you're sitting home crying into your mug of reheated Campbell's soup.
Instead, try thinking of yourself not as "alone" but as free.
"I am free from the anxiety of ever again wondering if he's really working late, or if he actually got out early to spend a few hours at The Cheetah Lounge hanging out with Jasmine, Brianna, Desiree, etc."
Now, doesn't that feel better?
And: Instead of imagining the two of you in the Bahamas with him sporting dark sunglasses, which you know he wears so he can ogle the poolside bikini fest undetected by you, which will send you into massive triggering -or-
He will be trying so very, very, very hard to avoid the strain from knowing he's supposed to avert his eyes from the young beauties on the beach... which will still send you into massive triggering....
Reframe that to:
"Thank God I can reclaim the beach as my own without breaking into hives just thinking about it.
This beach is mine now! I own this beach!"
Feel that freedom?
Instead of spending the night crying because your sexually anorexic withholding boyfriend claims, for the three hundredth time that he's "not feeling safe enough" to make love to you, (read: he's feeling like a victim again, after he's destroyed all your trust) reframe it to:
"Thank God I am free of ever wondering if we'll have sex again without having to beg him to have a "date" with me, like I'm a household chore right up there with having to scrub the black mold off the shower tiles"
-and - "Thank God I'm free never again to see him flinch with barely concealed disdain when I try to initiate lovemaking, like I'm an 800-lb. Walrus covered in barnacles and he's the unlucky fellow who has to, oh no-- touch me!"
See how the Reframe Game works?
It's really not as silly as it sounds, either- it actually helps shift your perspective and makes you grateful to have your space to yourself again, to say nothing of having your life back to yourself, sans living with anticipatory anxiety every single day.
Anticipatory anxiety is treacherously insidious and you aren't even aware that the anxiety works like a stealth program operating in the background of your life all the time, eating away at you.
Until you are alone free for awhile.
Then you can start to notice how you're breathing more deeply, how you feel noticeably lighter without that five-hundred pound weight on your chest you had just sort of strangely gotten used to over the years somehow.
Will there be lonely moments again in the future? There will. But we are confident you can survive them. If in doubt, just review the kinds of scenarios described above and you'll move back into gratitude, we're sure of it.
So if you find yourself abandoned, separated, divorced, unsure of your status this holiday season but feeling lonely and alone either way, please take your precious freedom by the hand and go find that sunny beach in Eleuthera.
All you need is your suntan lotion, a good novel, your wide-brimmed straw hat, Netflix streaming for the iPad you no longer need Covenant Eyes on (yay!) and a surfside table at which to enjoy your lobster, mango and avocado salad. With a glass of champagne.
Merry Christmas. Enjoy entering the beautiful zone of living your new life anticipatory-anxiety free!
Now, tell us, how will you be dealing with the holidays this year? Hopefully you'll share with our readers your thoughts here.