Every month my partner Liza and I jump on the phone and host a free call for women facing change, coping, and surviving divorce.  We don’t have fancy equipment nor do we rehearse…let’s just say our schtick is far from polished. But we find more and more women joining us each month as we informally chat about the challenges divorce throws your way, and what’s more, the actions you can take to not only survive, but to actually nurture yourself.

Yesterday we hosted a call about surviving divorce and the holidays, a topic near and dear to our hearts. Liza and I both distinctly remember the eggshell-walking, crazy-making holiday times during our own divorces. Liza spent many years with her young girls feeling torn: on one side throwing herself into the merriment, on the other side, feeling like a fraud.The first time the holidays came around for me after I left my husband, I was unprepared for just how lonely and lost I would feel. For these reasons and for many others, Liza and I opened up our call to other women to hear what’s on everyone’s mind and to offer a few insights.

Surviving the holidays is possible if you prepare for them.  How?

1.     Lose the Norman Rockwell interpretation. Why is it that when this time of year rolls around we all have visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads? (What is a sugarplum, do you even know?)  The storybook version of the season is never how it really turns out and you know it.  Under the best of circumstances things go sideways so don’t set yourself up for disappointment.  Expect things to not go perfectly.

2.     Avoid winging it, have a plan. Anticipate what parts of the holiday you might struggle with and make a plan for what you will do during those times.  Where will you go Christmas Eve or the first night of Hanukkah? Don’t assume you’ll be fine and figure it out in the moment. Chances are that day will come and you won’t know what you want to do – and you’ll end up feeling sorry for yourself instead.

3.     Also have a plan B.  Just in case you really really don’t feel like doing what you originally planned to do, have an alternative plan ready.  Perhaps you were going to spend the day with your family but now the thought of that is just overwhelming…perhaps your plan B will be to go to the movies with a girlfriend who understands.  Tell your family ahead of time about plan B, let them know you will do your best to be there but that you might need to pass this time to take care of yourself. They’ll better understand your absence if it’s not a last minute cancellation.

4.     Don’t be afraid to mix it up.  There is no rule that says you always have to get a tree or bake or make latkes or spend a certain day at so and so’s house.  If what you’ve always done before is now something you find yourself dreading, do things differently. Create new traditions and new patterns that you can actually look forward to. If you have kids, brainstorm together what things you’d like to do for the holidays.  Challenge yourselves to think outside the box!

5.    Look ahead to the next holiday, now.  If you have kids, you’ll actually need two plans for each holiday:  One for when you have the kids, and one for when you don’t.  Use this planning time to think ahead to this time next year and all the holidays in between.  This is long range planning, not just what will you do to get through the next 3 weeks.  Get out the calendar and take a moment to brainstorm ideas so you don’t find yourself at a loss when the time comes.

6.    Try changing the setting.  We live in New York and this time of year is dreary, dark, and cold.  If you are feeling cheerful about the holiday season, you can pretty easily overlook the weather and the tree and window decorations give you a boost.  However, if you are not feeling so “fa-la-la…” well those decorations just annoy you and the weather can literally put you into a state of depression.  You must change your environment.  Plan a trip if you can, someplace with a very different feel from home. Perhaps you can visit an old friend or connect with a family member you might not typically see this time of year. If you can’t travel, do something to alter your environment at home… maybe try new curtains and a bedspread or rearrange the furniture. Changing your environment will help your brain get out of the negative thinking pattern.

7.    Boycott if you want to.  When I was navigating my own divorce recovery, I simply wanted nothing to do with the holidays.  I didn’t want to go to any parties nor make myself crazy shopping…I just didn’t have the heart for it.  I gave myself permission to disengage from most of my usual obligations one year.  I spoke to my friends and family, letting them knows that I needed some time off and that I’d be back next year.  Granted, I did not have children at the time and I know this might not be possible for some of you moms…but I do encourage you to pull back on the number of things you are beholden to.  Choose the most important traditions and honor those – while giving yourself a break and some breathing room from some of the others.

8.     Maintain safe boundaries. Your friends and family might know (or at least suspect) what’s going on with you and your marriage, but you do not have to feel obligated to open up and talk about it.  Establish a boundary that feels safe for you and create a statement that you can say if someone tries to cross the line… saying something like “I know you care about me and I appreciate your concern.  I’ll let you know when I’m feeling more comfortable with sharing the details” will go a long way in helping family honor your privacy.

9.    Start a gratitude journal.  Believe it or not, there is actually a lot of research that supports the fact that writing in a gratitude journal has positive psychological and physical effects. Here’s how it works: 1. Buy a notebook or journal that you love. 2. Once a week (not more often, that has a reverse effect and starts to make it feel like a chore) write down one thing you are grateful for. Throughout the week you’ll find yourself thinking about what you’ll write next week and that keeps you in a place where your brain is regularly engaging in positive thinking – helping you to see everything in a more positive light.

10. Recognize this is finite and start scheduling the new year.  It’s easy to get stuck in a funk and lose sight of the fact that this is all temporary. In fact, there are only a handful of holidays in a year but they get so easily get blown out of proportion.  Look beyond the holidays and start making appointments and planning things for the regular days ahead.  Schedule appointments and notes on the calendar for January and February so you have plenty to look forward to.

Toward the end of our call, a listener added an 11th tip to the list (… thank you Patricia!) that we think is ESPECIALLY important to include here:

11.  Don’t play the victim anymore! We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking everything is happening to us alone, or that our spouse is so beastly, or our kids are so insensitive. In short, we convince ourselves we have no power here. That isn’t true…you can choose to stop playing the victim. Turn the table and actively decide that you are going to stop letting others dictate how your feel. Make the choice to stop letting circumstances and people rob you of your joy, this time of year, or any other day or hour.

We invite you to join us on our call next month — and the month after that. Join us — to not just hear our thoughts, but to hear those of other women facing many of the same challenges as you. Or, if you’d like specific, confidential feedback on your situation right now, we offer every woman, whether she decides to work further with us or not, a free 45-minute consultation. Reread tip #11 and do something for you.

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