For some of us, at least once in our lives, Christmas is going to totally suck. If we are honest, there are a lot of Christmases when our expectations were high and the results were lower, or at least different, and it was ruined. On one level, Christmas can let all of us down, but there’s also a whole other level where Christmas brings up pain and sadness.
I remember that first Christmas we spent in Denver and I was pregnant with our second. I remember holding tightly to traditions because it was going to be the last one that we spent with Chip as an only child. Fast forward a year and things were completely different: we had moved away from family out of Colorado and we were back in Orange County. Still one child. And now, a whole world of hurt just bubbling at the surface. Even this year, as we got our tree back to the house and started setting up, I burst into tears as I saw Chip and his excitement and pictured (as I often do) what it would be like to have our second son, who would be a year and half old, be excited too. I thought about how as brothers they would be decorating and experiencing Christmas, and I just lost it.
Sometimes, Christmas hurts.
And when that happens, because it will, we’ve all got to figure out what in the world we are going to do. These 5 things are experiential advice if you will, they are from the trenches and up the ladder into stability. I’m not really a professional anything, so take it with a grain of salt, but I’ve grieved (and still do) and these are things that gave me a sense of hope when it felt like I had none.
The one thing all have in common is permission. You are allowed to not be into Christmas. You are allowed to lose it, and you are allowed to cry. All of these things can be a part of your story. There was no room for Mary and Joseph at the Inn and she gave birth in a flipping stable. That couldn’t have been how she pictured it. Right? No way. But she found a place where there was room, didn’t she? Because brothers and sisters, sometimes it feels like there isn’t room for you and your emotions at the over-produced holiday light parade, but man, there is so much room for you in the Kingdom. You are welcome here, just as you are.
1.Tell the Truth: Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If it was, then we wouldn’t go around to every Christmas party or event with a smile on our faces, now would we? I’m not suggesting that you walk into a party and you lay your soul bare and be vulnerable in front of your entire office. The number one rule of vulnerability is to be vulnerable to people who are going to pick it up, hold it gently, and accept you right where you are. They will listen and they will hear you and they will sit shiva with you. That’s all they will do.
Tell these people the truth. Let them know what you are feeling and why, and carve out a safe space for you to be able to express your feelings. Why is Christmas hard? What emotions is it bringing up? Tell your safe people these things, and lay them bare. Don’t ask for forgiveness, just receive empathy. Does Christmas suck for you? Be honest about it. This won’t make the hurts go away, in fact speaking them out loud may even feel like it brings up another bucket of emotions that you thought you successfully got over, but being honest about where you are at invites others into this pain and suddenly it’s a little bit less lonely.
2. Make a list: Sure, holiday parties are fun, but are they really? I mean, speaking of boundaries, where is this holiday party on your list of priorities? I was talking with a dear friend the other day who has a choice in front of her and I told her to make a pros and cons list like we learned in middle school. Every situation we are about to enter has a list of pros and cons and they will differ depending on the day, the mood, or the weather.
Made your list? Great. Now look at that list closely: does every situation have pros and cons? If not, then do it again. No situation is perfect, nor is every situation horrible. Be honest about how you are feeling and the environment you are entering into and try the list again.
Now, take a look at those cons and ask yourself the following question: “Which of these cons do I have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with on a healthy level?” If the answer is that staying at home allows you to be a sane individual and hold on to your sense of self, then do that. Honestly? It’s been my experience that life goes on when you miss a party. Or 5. But you? In your fragile state, you really can’t afford to send yourself into a situation that brings pain that you can’t deal with in a healthy manner. You are worth way more than that, sweetie. Put on a Christmas movie, pour some nog. You don’t care, you just chose health and hope over the rest of it. You win.
3. Self Care: No kidding, you’ve got to put this in place or it’s not going to happen. Go get a blowout, get your nails done, read the book you’ve been wanting to, do something for yourself that involves quiet and a healthy alternative to the rut you are stuck in.
When I was depressed, lonely, angry and could barely move (Merry Christmas, anyone?) my mom would frequently come to me as I was losing it over something that didn’t matter and gently place a wad of cash in my hand. Sometimes it was $5 others it was $40, and sometimes it was just car keys. She would gently whisper: “You need to take some time to yourself” and then she would walk me to the front door, open it, gently push me out and lock it behind me. I often stood on the porch wondering what to do, then just resigned myself into going somewhere. I chose coffee shops, wandered around a bookstore, or simply just drove. If it wasn’t for my mom, I would not have begun to put in parameters of self care in my life.
Of course, going to get my nails done didn’t take away any of the issues that I was dealing with, but it did offer me a moment of reprieve. Rest. For a second, I wasn’t thinking about everything that was weighing me down. It was nice that for 30 minutes my biggest issue was what color nail polish I wanted. For one hour, I was able to feel a little bit normal and like things were going to be ok. For those of us who are deep in the traps of depression and sorrow, that one hour is worth its weight in gold. You are so worth this. And much, much more.
4. Meditate For reals, y’all. I was a skeptic, and really on the fence and then my therapist told me to get on the bandwagon and so I listened and did it. Basically when she tells me to do something I just figure that I may as well try it, because I’ve always been one to do my homework. I started with this app called Stop, Breathe and Think and it’s simple, 3-5 minute meditations. If you are reading this post, then you have time to do a meditation.
Before you get worried about meditation, I want you to remember that its simply breathing exercises. Its a literal breathing in and out, and concentrating on one thing at a time, for a short amount of time. Like I’ve said before, we were in the middle of a whole parade of awful, and so often I felt like I couldn’t make any progress in understanding my own feelings because all of the things were lumped together as one. Meditation taught me to focus in on one event or issue, and then to be there and deal with that. No, 3-5 minutes will not heal or solve anything. But it will teach you to focus on one thing, and to start to chip away at the things that you can control and to let go of the things you can’t. That, my friend, is a huge gift of freedom that will come with a little discipline in 5 minute segments.
5. Practice Gratitude Here’s the thing. I recall it being negative 15 degrees outside and I was vulnerable to a non-safe person (mistake number 1) and she replied with “Maybe you should try being thankful.” Uh, what? I get what she is saying, because most Christians always try and make it about what we do have and being thankful for what we haven’t lost and the rest of it. But, that’s also basically telling someone that they have no business feeling the way they are feeling, and that’s the fastest way to send someone deeper into the trenches of isolation and loneliness.
But, studies show that practicing gratitude can open the door to more relationships, improve physical health, improve psychological health, improves self-esteem and increases mental fortitude. Wow, right? So yeah, being thankful seems like the way to go, but how do you get there when it literally feels like there is nothing to be thankful about?
You start with one thing.
That is it. It can be as trivial as you having the ability to watch Pitch Perfect every night for 6 months, or as important as sitting with your loved ones that are around your dinner table. But here’s the real kicker: no matter what you choose, give yourself permission to be thankful as well as hurting.
Just because you are dealing with a whole shit storm doesn’t mean that you can’t also find the space to be thankful. And just because you find something you are thankful for doesn’t mean you have forget your feelings. There is both pain and happiness, joy and sorrow within life. Just look at the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross holds a myriad of emotions and somehow we have managed to allow them to all coexist. This can be true for you, too. One emotion doesn’t have to trump the other. They can live together, and both be strong and vivacious.
So many times we act like if we remember a happy moment then we are cured! yay! Glitter and rainbows abound! No. The buck stops here. Remembering one thing you are grateful for will give you permission to live a balanced and authentic reality in the midst of your pain. There is strength found here, but only if we chose to feel all the emotions on the spectrum and do so with grace and confidence.
Be kind to yourselves. You are deeply loved, and God, He is already there, weeping with you.