BEAT THE HOLIDAY BLUES

 

In the U.S. and other Western countries, major holidays begin in the fall and carry into the New Year.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year celebrations go on for months.  Holiday music blares in every store.  An air of rushed excitement prevails, commercialism abounds.  “Happy Holidays” greetings come through mail and email, phone calls and visits.

But are the holidays happy?  For many straight spouses, this time of year brings an eruption of unwanted memories, regrets, and melancholy. What used to be, isn’t.  What might have been, didn’t happen.  How many possibilities were lost?  What plans were dashed?  What bitterness lingers?  Recurring thoughts like these can plague men and women whose families were fragmented when a spouse came out as gay.  Depression is common. 

How can we overcome the sadness that accompanies this formerly joyous season?  Here are some recommendations from The Mayo Clinic, adapted for the special needs of straight spouses

1.   Acknowledge your feelings. The future you’d hoped for has evaporated.  You’ve suffered a huge loss and grief is normal.  Give yourself time to cry and express your sadness.  Be gentle with yourself and don’t force fake cheerfulness. 

2.   Reach out.  Phone a friend when you feel lonely.  When you tend to isolate yourself, seek out companionship.  Attend religious or social events.  Look for ways to help others in need.  Volunteer for a worthy cause to meet new friends and renew your sense of purpose. 

3.   Be realistic.  Holidays through the first year after a separation are the most trying, dredging up old memories of family traditions that no longer apply.  Clearly, the holidays won’t be perfect or even similar to previous years.  Rituals change and we have to create new traditions for a new life.  After my divorce, I celebrated my first solo Thanksgiving in Jamaica, drinking rum and eating jerk turkey on a barefoot beach.  It was a way to draw a line in the sand—that was then, this is now. 

4.   Understand that everyone won’t be on your side.  After a coming-out event or a divorce, some family members and old friends may feel awkward and even turn against you.  Try to accept what you can’t change and give everyone time to adjust to the new reality.  Set aside grievances until a more favorable time for discussion.

5.   Plan ahead and stay on budget.  Decide which of your holiday traditions you’ll continue and set aside specific times to shop and be with friends.  Participate in the activities that you really enjoy and eliminate those that evoke bad feelings or painful memories.  If gift-giving is part of your tradition, stay on your budget.  You can’t buy happiness with piles of gifts.

6.   Take a breather. Spend time relaxing alone.  Even a few quiet minutes without distraction can reduce stress. If you are a meditator, try taking five-minute breaks spaced through the day.  Relax and let go of the chatter in your mind.  Nap, or listen to music.  Or go for a walk.  These moments of peace can change the tenor of the whole day and give you strength to keep going. 

7.   Learn to say no. Decide which activities feel right and fulfilling to you and say no to all the rest.  Forcing yourself into extraneous or unpleasant social situations can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. True friends will understand your absence. 

8.   Maintain healthy habits. Overindulgence leads to stress and guilt. Have a healthful snack before holiday parties so that you don't overdo sweets, fatty foods, or drinks. Get sufficient sleep and don’t neglect physical exercise.

9.   Seek professional help for signs of depression.  These symptoms may include persistent sadness or anxiety, unusual physical complaints, insomnia, irritability, and hopelessness.  Inability to face routine chores is another red flag. If these feelings last, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Remember that time heals.  Regrets soften and wounds close through time.  Each successive holiday season can confirm progress on your personal journey.

Holidays are markers of your changing world.  It is impossible to recover the past, but a wider future is open to straight spouses.  You can reinvent yourself and reconfigure your life.  It isn’t easy, but it is certainly possible.  John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Therein lies the secret of a wholesome future.  Change your mind and you can change your life.

A few months after my former husband told me he’s gay, we went shopping together for Christmas gifts for the family.  In a small gallery, I stumbled onto a pen and ink drawing by Kathy Wolff.  I was captivated by her meticulous image of a graceful tiger, stepping out of the ruins of a root-bound building, one paw firmly on solid ground.  Strong and sure, she was emerging, not from a door, but through a window—an unlikely exit.  She had escaped, free of  confinement, confident and quiet, ready to take the next step. 

That tigress changed my way of thinking about my former life and my life to be.  I bought the drawing and it has hung over my meditation shrine ever since, calling me to keep walking forward with courage and assurance that the next step will be the right one.

May your holidays be bright with hope and good will. 

 

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4 Responses to “BEAT THE HOLIDAY BLUES”

  1. Louella C. Komuves says:

    Thank you, thank you, Carol...... for taking time to post blogs. How I wish I had seen these caring, meaningful, excellent comments (yours and from the Mayo Clinic)"before" --especially that first Christmas after my husband and I separated and then divorced in 1994. That summer I had moved from CA to NE (my home state where I had wonderful parents - elderly - and lots of in-law relatives, who still loved me). I purposefully decided not to return to CA that first Christmas (my sons were grown and two oldest were married) because I knew our "traditions" could never be the same and it was time for all of us to make new ones. It worked (but not without pain and conscious effort)! In 1994, I had a 6PM Christmas dinner with church friends, known for 30 years; but from early morning on Christmas Day I worked at Walgreen's Store until 5PM. Already I was changing "traditions." Yet even now I remember that first Christmas Eve when I attended worship on the NE Wesleyan Univ. (where I was a sorority housemom). When a soloist sang, "O Holy Night" I thought my heart would break even further! Could that be even possible? My husband was a soloist and sang that song on Christmas Eve throughout our 29 years of marriage. Tears streamed down my face like they had never done before! In retrospect, it was sort of a cleansing moment... and guided me to a Comfort and Source of Strength much higher than any friends/family could possibly have done. I had survived and through time, prayer, and patience (taking every day with an open attitude of gratefulness for all I had) I eventually moved on. Others can, too.... we're all here for each other!

  2. Carol Grever says:

    Louella, I appreciate your following my blog, particularly since you are an "experienced" straight spouse and author of a book about your own journey, "Silent Sagas: Unsung Sorrows." Your comments are always helpful and very welcome here.
    Carol Grever

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Carol,
    I just found your blog a few days ago and have already read many posts. I found out on Nov 20 that my husband of 31 years was cheating on me with men found on gay websites and on Nov 30, I found out he was in love with one of those men. He left that night and my life changed overnight. Our dreams for the future evaporated and all the memories of our life together became suspect. I could not stop thinking about him with other men and focusing on the lies and deception of the past years. Your posts full of hope and forgiveness are giving me the courage to face my future and I've ordered your book to help me cope with what is ahead of me. I don't want to live life with a heart full of hate and your blog is showing me that I don't have to. It's in me to make a better future for myself and I will try my best to do so. Thank you so much for this blog. I know I will come back to it again and again.

  4. Louella C. Komuves says:

    I wish I had known this 20 years ago when I experienced Thanksgiving and Christmas far removed from our 29 years of Family Traditions with three sons (and then their families, too) in California. I believe "Time" truly does help "heal" our wounds, but not time without our conscious efforts to accept what we cannot change. When feelings of sadness “strike” you, decide how long you want to be in that frame of mind and then take action to do something in a different manner. We all have choices and chances to decide how to change things for the better. Above all, whether male or female, remember that straight spouses are no longer alone. We are here for each other. Reach out, risk, and be renewed in your efforts to be you!

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