|You can color in your holidays however you choose.|
And though change can be tough, especially change that we didn't invite into our lives, it can also create renewal. It can spur growth. It can remind us to look around with fresh eyes and examine our lives, to do some metaphorical decluttering.
It's with that intention that I'll be writing some blog posts under the headline: Reimagining...
There's much we can reimagine following a partner's betrayal. Within the darkness, we can shine a light selectively on those parts of our lives that we want to change, whether wholesale reinventions or smaller tweaks that lead us back to our authentic selves.
Let's start with a time of year that's often the source of stress at the best of times, but that also tends to be rooted in deep traditions: The Holidays.
My D-Day was December 10, 1996 so you can probably imagine that Christmas. Merry, it was not. My parents, who were incredibly supportive of me in my agony, nonetheless bore the brunt of my pain. I screamed at my mother for her alcoholism in my childhood, casting my current pain as an extension of the pain I'd felt much of my life and for which I blamed others without self-control. Like her.
My kids, unaware of what was really going on, were on the receiving end of some of my wrath too. Early Boxing Day morning, as I tried to sleep, my year-old son began a fight with his little sister. I stomped downstairs, told him to stop and when did it again, I picked up a discarded box and bonked him on the head with it. He wailed with outrage more than any pain. And to this day, despite sincere apologies by me for losing my temper and "using my hands instead of my words", he reminds me of the "child abuse" he suffered early that morning.
I don't remember much else of that Christmas season beyond misery and anger and a profound disappointment that one of my favorite times of years was "ruined".
I hear that word a lot on this site, especially about the holidays. Birthdays are "ruined", Thanksgiving "ruined", Christmas or Hanukkah "ruined".
And yes, in the short term, there's so much pain and so much disappointment that a holiday pressuring us to put on a happy face and "celebrate" is inevitably going to feel "ruined."
But what if we gave ourselves permission to do things differently? What if, under the circumstances, we gave up this idea that things always had to look a certain way, or include a certain tradition, or involve certain people? Does that seem frightening? At a time when so much feels uncertain, we might want to cling even more tightly to rituals we can trust. But if those rituals are creating more pain, maybe it's time to reinvent them. To remind ourselves that human survival does not depend on whether the turkey includes homemade stuffing, or if our passive-aggressive mother-in-law is at the table, or if we celebrate on a certain calendar day or the day after.
You are in crisis mode. And when you're in crisis mode, old norms don't hold. When you're in crisis mode, you get to make the rules. You get to decide just how much you can handle and how your energy is best expended. Maybe, just maybe, it's more important for you to build in time for a long hike in the woods on Thanksgiving than it is to host your annual gathering of extended family. Maybe, if a separation is part of your post-D-Day world, you can sit down with your kids and redesign this year's holiday, holding on to what brings joy and tossing out what doesn't. If you're going to be alone, maybe this year's holiday includes a volunteer stint at a soup kitchen (don't underestimate the power of realizing that there are many kinds of pain and many opportunities to experience compassion) or maybe what the doctor ordered is a day of watching movies and crying into a bowl of Doritos.
Let me tell you, as someone who reinvented my own holidays in the years since D-Day, the sky is not going to fall. Trust me on this. The laws of nature will hold. One day will follow another. Nothing is worth hurting yourself further when you've already been so hurt.
But there are some rules I'll ask you to adhere to:
Be honest. Start with yourself and figure out what you honestly want given your situation. This isn't about wishful thinking and falling into an abyss of how you shouldn't even have to be dealing with this. You're right. You shouldn't. But you are dealing with it and you can deal with it from a place of honesty with yourself.
Then extend that honesty to everyone around you who will be affected by any changes. Be prepared for backlash because people are freaking crazy about tradition. Be prepared for tears. Be prepared for blame. Be prepared for passive-aggression, for all the countermoves we talk about on this site. Because you're likely doing something you don't often do, which is put yourself first. It's high time people discovered that you are entitled to your feelings too. And if it matters so much to them that the Thanksgiving dinner include your secret gravy, then tell them you'll happily pass that tradition along and that you'll be delighted to savor their version.
If all this seems daunting, then tweak it in ways that serve you. Carve out some alone time with a friend who knows what you're going through. Take that walk with the dog and let everyone else clean up. Or do whatever you can to create a tiny space of peace for you. Changes, big and small.
Check your motives. Don't wreak havoc as a way of expressing your pain. Don't throw out things that genuinely matter to you just to make someone else hurt.
Check your expectations. This year will be different. There's no way around that. Expecting it to feel like "good" years is destined to leave you deflated and disheartened.
Watch for moments of grace: Make it your task to mentally catalogue at least five moments of grace. Maybe it's someone squeezing your hand because they know how hard this is for you. Maybe it's your child or grandchild climbing into your lap and giving you a hug. Maybe it's an overcooked turkey that everyone eats anyway because what's on the plate doesn't matter so much after all and you all realize, more than ever, that hearts are fragile and we need to be gentle with each other. Maybe it's gratitude that you're not in jail for killing your husband. If you're watching for moments of grace, it will be easier to overlook the moments of disappointment, which will be there too.
At the risk of being a silver-linings thinker (though I'm guilty as charged!), the incredible pain of betrayal can also be an opening into another life, one in which we learn to be gentle with ourselves, to hold our hearts in high regard and to create space in our lives only for those who show us they deserve to be there, by treating us with honesty and dignity and respect.
And we can start reimagining that future today.