This may not be the most warm and fuzzy thing to talk about this time of year. But our refusal to talk about it only makes the situation that much more difficult for those who are struggling. We have to name our pain before we can address it. So I’m going to do the unpopular thing and put it all out there.
The holidays are really hard for a lot of people. Like, hardest time of the year hard. Hard with a capital H. Crazy hard. Barely able to get out of bed hard.
I know this because I’ve been there.
Oh, believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve had Novembers and Decembers I didn’t know how I would survive.
The holidays are hectic for everyone. But for people already going through hard times they can be almost intolerable. It’s like shouting in their face, “You’re supposed to be super happy right now, but your life SUCKS!”
The holidays are harder
The holidays are harder for people who feel alone. Maybe you feel alone because you truly are physically alone, in a nursing home or a dorm room or an apartment or a little old house or an enormous brand new house.
Maybe you feel alone even though you are surrounded by people, because your marriage is falling apart, or you’re in an abusive relationship, or you just realized you have been living a lie and all your friends are fake, or you don’t realize you’re living a lie, but you know you feel empty inside and can’t figure out why.
The holidays are harder for people who have suffered a loss since the last round of holidays. There are all these firsts… First Thanksgiving without him, First Christmas without her. What to do with that person’s stocking? Do you hang it up anyway?
You were just getting good at pretending it didn’t hurt to breath and now you are being forced to acknowledge the empty chair at the dinner table.
The holidays are hard for people who were already overwhelmed. The bills were piling up before you were supposed to buy Christmas gifts for your kids. Cooking and cleaning and caring for your family was impossible to stay on top of before you had to drag a damn tree in your house and bake endless cookies for bake sales and cookie exchanges. Work was stressful enough without having to take time off for Christmas programs and volunteering and gift shopping.
You’re supposed to experience the joy of giving, but you’ve got nothing left. How are you supposed to give to everyone else when you’re already tapped out?
Holidays are hard for those with dysfunctional and estranged families, for those with addiction, for those going through a divorce or struggling to co-parent children, for those struggling to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, for those with chronic health problems…
The holidays are, for so many, just plain hard.
Speaking as someone who has experienced so, so many of these tough holiday seasons, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned. Because here’s the thing… I am currently still experiencing some of these hard things. Yet I’ve learned to find joy, in spite of it all, by giving myself permission.
If you need someone to give you permission to be joyful this holiday season, let me be that person.
I give you permission to…
…Cry whenever you need to.
…Laugh in spite of your despair.
…Step away from the chaos and just be quiet for a moment.
…Say no to whatever drains your spirit – parties, gatherings, volunteering, donating, toxic relationships, decorating, elaborate gift giving, elaborate cooking and baking, hosting, guesting, and anything else you just can’t this year.
…Set boundaries against unreasonable expectations or toxic behaviors.
…Turn off the buzz of media and negative social or cultural debates.
…Spend the holiday however you and your beloveds want and need, regardless of the expectations of others.
…Talk about your loss, even when it makes others uncomfortable because you are dragging down their holiday high.
…Ask for help.
…Seek relationships with people who listen, bring you healing, and give you grace.
…Be loved by those who bring you joy.
…Feel hope that there are better holidays to come.
The stuff of life knows no season.
Despair, pain, and crisis don’t take a holiday break. It is not realistic to presume that every single November and December will be joyful. That’s not real life.
This year, if you are in despair, know that you are not alone. The truth is, most of us have been there. Seek out support with others who will love you through your pain, your grief, your struggle. And disregard the expectations of those unable or unwilling to be real.
If you are having a good year, seek out those around you who may not be so fortunate. It doesn’t take much. All you have to do is listen. Be present. If you have the emotional strength to do so, put your discomfort aside. Recognize that the holidays are tough for some people.
The gift of grace
In this season of giving, let’s give the gift of grace to ourselves and others. What we really need this time of year is the same thing we always need – permission to be our messy, joyful, despairing, complicated selves.
Copyright © 2019 Sara Beth Wald