When the Holidays Aren’t Picture Perfect
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in need of some serious real-talk comfort. Something is happening in your life around the holiday season that isn’t so great and I am so sorry. Holidays are meant to be magical and heartwarming and when you feel like you’re the only one who is not "in the spirit" it can brutal. Trust me, I've been there. No one wants to feel like a Grinch, but the reality is, holidays can be tough.
For my family, the holidays haven’t always been so great. For many years, it was surrounded by the loss of loved ones, heartbreak, disappointment and health problems. There have been funerals, hospital stays, and so many things happening around the holidays where life has not always been picture perfect and it feels like your own personal hell. All you can think is “why me?” In the season of giving and uplifting, why must you feel so defeated?
In past few years, I have not always felt my usual fun-loving, creative and joyful self, and I was definitely not in the holiday spirit once they came around. I was spiteful, sad, angry, frustrated and I didn’t know how to handle it. My dad has been sick for the past few years during the holidays as some of you may know, so it hasn't felt quite right. Now, that's hard to explain to others when all you see are ugly sweater parties, cookies, lights, and everyone seems to be in this magical world of holiday cheer and you’re just... not. It’s hard, and I’ll be the first person to say this to you, you're not alone. I’ve gone through it, and in many cases, other people in your life are too, even if you don’t know it.
I’m not an expert, and I certainly don’t have all the answers but through my own grief and hardships during the holidays I’ve tried to compile ways I’ve gotten through it so maybe it can help someone else too.
Focus on the people that are there.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, someone is deployed, in the hospital, divorce, a falling out, or whatever the circumstances that someone you love will not be around this season, I urge you to focus on the people who are surrounding you. If you were surrounded by 100 people last year, and only 10 this year, or even 1 person. Focus on them. They are the people who showed up and clearly care about being there for you during this difficult time. Make sure you acknowledge them and let them know how much they mean to you because in our grief it can be hard to remind ourselves of that because we are so trapped in the ugly things that are happening we aren’t able to open our eyes and see the good. Try your best to see the good. Shutting people out only further isolates people who will want to help you, so make sure you communicate to them what is best for you so they know how to care for you during this time.
Don’t fake it.
In many cases, I would say fake it til you make it. This is not one of those times. If you’d rather not go to an annual holiday party, don’t. If you don’t want to participate in listening to Christmas music 24/7, don’t. Do what is best for you and if that’s sitting in your PJs with hot chocolate watching cartoons than that’s okay just don’t force yourself to fake that everything is fine because it’s okay if it’s not. Don’t feel that you have to have a picture-perfect Instagram post where you’re laughing with your gifts under the Christmas tree in a new outfit if that’s not your reality. It’s not many people’s reality, and the sooner we can all accept that we need to stop pressuring ourselves to act like every moment in our lives is perfect the better off we will be. Financially, Christmas and gift giving are hard and we are in a culture that wants to show off all of the good things that are happening to us, we never want to show when things aren’t going great. Be confident in what you do have, and don’t worry about what others have, that you don’t.
When you’re at your lowest, it helps to reach out to other people who are also having a tough time. When things weren’t going so well for me I was spiteful and did not want to put effort into anything, but there is always room for you to help others. In turn, I felt much better about volunteering and helping people in need because it got me out of my bubble. Yeah, maybe things weren't so great for me, but I am one person and I had the ability to do good for many. Get out into your community and spend time with other people who need your help. I guarantee you’ll come back with a greater sense of peace. There are various shelters, food banks, child care facilities that need your help this holiday season so get out there and be a part of bringing your community together. It really puts things into perspective.
Start new traditions.
For many families, traditions are the hallmark of the holidays. That can be tough when someone is missing, or there are hardships financially, etc. My family and I always go out for a festive Christmas Eve dinner and then late night mass. Last year, when my father was in the hospital, my mom, sister and I didn’t want to do that same routine because we knew we would acknowledge that void of my dad not being with us. While we still went to dinner, we decided to go see a movie Christmas Day instead. Now, it has become a new tradition that we can carry on that brings good memories and something fresh to our routine each holiday season. It can be new lights for your outdoors or going to see a play, going to a new church, cutting down your tree from a different farm, or going on a holiday Santa run. It can be anything, it just had to be fun, new, and different. Acknowledging that this upcoming holiday will not be the same and starting new traditions will help heal that aching feeling.
Stay away from the booze.
This is a big one. Holidays can be lonely, especially when there’s turbulence in your life. Alcohol and other substances will not make it better and will not fill the void you feel. It may feel better in the moment, but I guarantee you will wake up lonelier, and more upset than ever. If you are having issues dealing with this, please contact a helpline that can make sure you receive the attention you need. (www.aa.com)
Count your blessings.
Literally, count them. Make a list and stick it on your mirror. Make a reminder on your phone to go off at the same time every day that reminds of you something to be grateful for because there is something, even if it’s one small thing. I hated when people said this to me... because most people always put “health” as something that they are thankful and sometimes I wasn’t able to put that on my list and it frustrated me so much and distracted me from the things I did have— a roof over my head, a loving family, an education, a winter coat, things that not everyone has. There will always be people who have more than you, and people who will have less. The more you remind yourself of the things you do have, instead of the things you don’t, you will feel a sense of relief and gratitude.
Those are my few suggestions. They aren’t going to make you feel 100% better, but I hope they help get you through. Life is hard and can be quite cruel. But it’s going to be okay. You’re not going to wake up and have your problems be washed away, no one will. But continue to believe in yourself if you do nothing else— be kind. You never know what someone else is going through and the more we have that mentality as human beings, the better off we will all be.
Peace and blessings to you, and your family this holiday season.