How to deal with holiday lonelinesssam
From your corner of the world, the holidays aren’t looking so holly-jolly. Whether you’re divorced, have recently endured a breakup, or are less-than-contentedly single, you’re not looking forward to the seasonal social swirl. This festive, family-oriented time of year highlights your own solo status—and all of the negative memories and emotions associated with it.
Author Avalon Sequoia Brandt, who has been through three divorces, understands.
“Being single during the holidays—especially when the past year has been full of heartache—is its own special form of torture,” says Avalon, author of Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces (Avalon S. Brandt, 2014, $18.95, www.stillilove.com). “Familiar traditions, beloved holiday movies, and even songs on the radio conspire to remind you of what you don’t have. And while there’s no way to magically erase the loneliness and disappointment you’re feeling, the good news is that there are tactics you can use to manage your pain and even experience some joy during this time of the year.”
In Still I Love, Avalon tells the compelling story of her three marriages and divorces, which she navigated on the long road to earning her degree as an attorney. While Avalon’s story reads like a movie script, it’s interwoven with her heartfelt observations and advice. Avalon’s reflections on how she has succeeded in maintaining her positivity, resilience, faith, and belief in love will speak to anyone who has dealt with a broken heart and divorce.
Here, she shares eight strategies to help you navigate the holidays (and the heartache they may bring) on your own:
Pencil some events into your holiday calendar (even if you don’t want to). In your current state of mind, it may be tempting to spend the next few weeks like the Grinch: alone in a dark cave. But Avalon urges you not to isolate yourself until after the New Year’s Eve ball drops. Shunning all special events will only reinforce how lonely and unhappy you’re feeling.
“You don’t have to fill your social calendar to bursting,” she says. “Just choose a handful of events to attend—preferably, ones that feature people or activities you enjoy. Who knows? You might be surprised to find that you’ve been laughing with your girlfriends for several hours without obsessing over your ex! Maybe you’ll even meet someone new.”
In particular, reach out to other “Grinches.” Odds are, you know other people who might also be sad or resentful that they’re flying solo this holiday season. Reach out to them and make arrangements to meet for drinks, go ice skating, or enjoy a potluck meal, for instance.
“One caveat: Consciously choose to stay positive, not to wallow in bitterness,” Avalon stipulates. “Look at this gathering not as an excuse to air your dirty laundry and rehash the past, but as an opportunity to support and encourage one another while enjoying the season.”
Start a fresh new tradition for yourself. No matter what the future might hold for you, you’ll always be spending the holidays with yourself. That’s why Avalon says it’s important to learn to enjoy the company of the person in the mirror. This holiday season, she challenges you to start a new tradition that will boost your self-esteem, put a smile on your face, reconnect you with an interest, and/or remind you of how wonderful you are.
“After divorcing, I taught myself to look forward to the holidays by singing in church, because I love music,” Avalon recalls. “Your new holiday tradition might involve volunteering in an animal shelter, treating yourself to a massage, attending a concert, or taking a day trip. There’s no right answer here. If it will bring happiness to your holiday, it’s fair game.”
Let your negative feelings out. If it’s a continual effort to put on a happy face around so many loving (or at least functional) couples when all you want to do is wallow on your couch with a glass (or three) of eggnog…then wallow! Negative emotions are a normal part of being human—especially when you’re feeling lonely, hurt, and disappointed—and you need to process them so that you’ll be able to move forward.
“Whenever you feel angry, sad, in despair, confused, or any other negative emotion, allow yourself to experience those feelings,” Avalon urges. “If you can, call a trusted friend who will allow you to vent without judgment. If you’re at work, retreat to a quiet place and let your emotions flow freely. If you’re at a party, step outside for a moment. Get the pain out of your chest. Whatever you do, don’t bury your feelings in an attempt to convince yourself and others that ‘everything is fine.’”
Have a response ready for uncomfortable questions. During this time of year, family and friends whom you may not have seen in awhile will want to catch up on your life. But this year, you’re dreading their curiosity: “What happened to you and Jess?” “It’s too bad you and Cameron couldn’t work things out.” “When are you going to introduce us to somebody special?”
“Unless you wear a sandwich board that says something like ‘Don’t ask me about my divorce—or else!’ you’re going to have to field some questions,” Avalon admits. “You can save yourself a lot of awkwardness by taking time beforehand to compose a response. For example, ‘Cameron and I just weren’t right for each other. I’m looking forward to what 2015 might hold.’ Then, change the subject as soon as possible. Don’t allow the conversation to dwell on painful aspects of your personal life.”
Don’t force yourself to show holiday cheer. If you’re miserable or uncomfortable at any particular event (say, if Great-Aunt Eleanor won’t stop pestering you about why you’re single, or if your ex unexpectedly shows up), you don’t have to force a smile and a good attitude. You don’t even have to stay.
“Yes, I’m giving you permission to end the conversation, to hide in the bathroom for awhile, or to simply leave!” Avalon says. “Your well-being is more important than being polite, especially if someone else’s insensitivity is hurtful. If you need to disengage for 15 minutes or for an entire evening, do so.”
Be thankful. It sounds trite, but having an attitude of gratitude really can be a game changer. Challenge yourself to identify things for which you’re grateful, whether that’s family and friends, your career, your pets, your yoga teacher, or the jar of cookies on your kitchen counter! At the very least, focusing on something other than your heartache can take your mood from “miserable” to “mediocre.”
“Personally, after my divorces, I found it helpful to focus on how thankful I was to have supportive friends and family around me,” Avalon shares. “Even though one area of my life was causing me heartache, I knew I was fortunate to have so many people who were willing to listen and who reminded me of how wonderful I was.”
Tell others how they can help. If people who care about you know that you’re feeling heartache (and they will), they’ll want to help. Allow them to, and don’t be shy about telling them exactly how they can make your holidays happier.
“Your best friend will not mind if you call her and say, ‘I’ve been feeling down—can we meet up for coffee this weekend?’” Avalon assures. “Hopefully, she’ll also respect your wishes if you ask her not to bring up your divorce. Remember, your friends and family care about you and want the best for you. Ignoring or downplaying your pain probably won’t fool them. When you invite them to support you, you’re doing everyone a favor.”
“While holiday stereotypes center around images of happy families and loving couples, the truth is, that’s not always an accurate representation of reality,” Avalon concludes. “There are quite a few people out there who, by choice or not, are flying solo. If you’re among our ranks, I encourage you to take good care of yourself this holiday season. And I wish you a new year full of love, joy, and success.”
About the Author:
Avalon S. Brandt, Esq., is the author of Still I Love: Loving after Three Divorces. She was educated in the Baltimore City Schools. In 1994 she graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. She is currently employed with the law offices of Saul E. Kerpelman, which represents children for injuries resulting from childhood lead exposure. Prior to joining the Kerpelman firm, she was a partner with the law offices of Wilson & Brandt, providing legal representation in custody, divorce, child abuse, and criminal defense cases.
Avalon has a strong desire to help young people successfully achieve their educational and career goals. She has been a speaker for career day activities at various public schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Since 2008 Avalon has served on the board of directors for the corporation L.I.F.E. (Living in a Free Environment), which provides housing and daily activities for persons with physical and mental disabilities.
In 2011 Avalon was appointed as an advisory board member of U2Can a non-profit organization that provides guidance, support, and training needed to empower parents to be their child’s first teachers of reading. U2Can encourages primary caregivers to be actively involved in their child’s education and to foster positive beliefs in academic successful outcomes.