Part of the Dodging the 'So You're Still Single' Holiday Question Series
Christmas is supposed to be filled with joy. Instead, for many divorced people, it's filled with emotional pain and loneliness. Perhaps you understand because you lie in bed at night and think about the things you used to do before the divorce: hanging the stockings, purchasing Christmas gifts for the kids and kissing under the mistletoe. Your heart desperately aches and you wonder what to do with that grief that will only intensify during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you feel like going to a deserted island during the holidays. But before you hop on the next plane, here are some ideas that you as a divorced person can do to lessen the emotional pain.
Give yourself some room to grieve
Do you remember the movie Mouse Trap? In the comedy, one tiny, pink, unsuspecting mouse gnaws his way through a mansion until it crumbles bit by bit into a pile of rubble. Lying to yourself about your emotional and spiritual condition after divorce is like allowing a little mouse to chew right through your emotional foundation. Eventually, your "house" will crumble and fall.
Therefore, a first step is to be honest about your emotional pain and give yourself permission to grieve. After all, losing a mate to divorce can be compared to losing one to death; after all, it is like a death in the family—and all deaths take recovery time. So don't expect to bounce back like a rubber ball. Instead, give way to your feelings by journaling about them or sharing them with a trusted confidant for support. And most of all, don't forget to talk to Christ. He knows how you feel and wants to give you comfort.
Create a supportive community
When Michael first divorced, he developed a loving community with fellow believers for support. "Community gives you an outlet for your feelings so that you aren't invalidated. Get a community of people you can trust and stay close to them," he says.
Today, Michael still meets once a week for support and prayer with a male friend he met during his divorce. You may want to develop a loving community by meeting with friends for a Bible study, connecting with others from work or church, becoming a member of an exercise club or a Divorce Recovery group.
Identify Your Buttons
When I was an elementary school teacher, I learned that I had many "buttons" that could be pushed by the little people that surrounded me every day. If one of my little ankle biters hit the right button, I could be pushed to the edge of insanity.
When you are facing the holidays alone after divorce, it's important to try to determine what kinds of "buttons" may cause you to become depressed, isolated from others or to feel hopeless.
One of Larry's buttons is television. "All they do is advertise holiday stuff," he says, which makes him feel the loneliness of the holidays even more. For this reason, he stays away from TV and instead focuses on his church family and celebrating Christ's birth.
Occasionally, one of Michael's buttons is his family. Dealing with loneliness could mean staying away from family members that cause additional stress. "If your relationship with your immediate family isn't strong, give yourself permission not to see them, because it can just add to the stress. Sometimes, your confidants in the community you have built are much safer. It just depends on the kind of family you've got," Michael says.
It's also important to realize that what works for one of your divorced friends to cope may not work for you. While your best divorced friend avoids one thing, that may be the very thing you'll need to embrace. Whatever works for you is what works the best.
Forgive if you need to
When Sam's wife cheated on him several times, he was naturally devastated and felt betrayed. The first time it happened, he took his wife back. "Then, we got back together and she did it to me again. That was the real challenge. I had to deal with forgiveness a second time because God doesn't come back and say, ‘I forgave you, but. . . ‘"
Sadly, his wife's affairs still led to a divorce, but in the spirit of Christmas and the love of Christ, Sam has chosen not to say another word about them to her or to others. "I won't go around saying trash about what happened and what my spouse did. I choose to forgive. Even though she wronged me, I can't do that to her."
Not only has Sam's attitude blessed others who have watched him glorify Christ, but it has also blessed him. As a result, he says he'll be able to enjoy the holidays much more. "It [forgiveness] has really changed me."
Hold onto Hope
Do you remember the last time you went to a really great movie? If it was like the one I recently saw, it had elements of suspense, sadness, joy, pain and anticipation before the happy ending. In the same way, remember that the pain you are currently experiencing as a part of divorce is just like one scene in a movie; it may look bad now, but things are going to get better.
God will redeem the pain of your divorce if you will allow Him to make you stronger and give you a greater hope. Eventually, your future holidays will be filled with more joy and a gratitude for what He has brought you through to the end of your "movie." Just remember that this today isn't the end of your story.
Also remember that it's not uncommon for intense feelings of sadness to last two years, three, four, five or six. "The grieving process is different for everyone," says Michael. "It could take two years for one person to start feeling better during the holidays and six for someone else. Just be encouraged and know that there will be an end [to your grief]."