I, for one, am glad it is all over. The hustle and bustle, the rushing, the stress, the pressure, the preparations and the nonsensical expectations placed on a single day. It’s not like it’s a once in a lifetime kind of day but rather the type that reoccurs as yearly as the seasons. It’s not just the recently passed Christmas and New Year’s but any other day of the year that qualifies as a holiday that often triggers survivors, and people struggling with a mental illness. Societal pressure to find the right gift, to spend the right amount of money, to visit the right people and act in the appropriate manner and to make the occasion perfect all add to the already heavy load we carry daily.
Society’s representation of the perfect family gathering for the perfect holiday occasion is shoved down our throats in T.V shows, movies and advertising. Take Christmas for example, the generations gathered happily around the extended dining room table, passing the stuffing and mashed potatoes with a smile, to be followed by an evening of family stories around the piano, filled with song, laughter and good times; the stereotypical storybook family. For survivors of trauma, just the very thought of the above scenario can send us into a downward spiral, as it is likely that for us, it is no more than a fantasy, since more than likely our fairytales were turned into nightmares long, long ago. It is more apt that our guards will be up and we will be walking on eggshells and protecting boundaries while the argument about the stuffing rages and Uncle Bob has already passed out on the couch. It is likely that the dysfunction will trigger our past traumas leaving us to revert to whatever coping mechanism we can grasp.
We hardly have time to open our gifts when the Christmas items are ripped down off the shelf and replaced with Valentines, then by the time we open our heart shaped box, the Easter Bunny has taken over, and this societal norm continues for every holiday, year after year. Marketing lures us into all the holiday hype when in fact, most of us have forgotten the actual meaning of the day. Does no one else wonder how a religious rebirth turned into chocolate bunnies? The entire premise of Valentine’s Day is to show your loved one how much you care on Feb 14th with flowers and chocolates, but what about the rest of the days? Why can’t love be shown in random ways on days we don’t have Hallmark cards for?
Many survivors feel as lonely as I do on holidays. It doesn’t seem to matter who we surround ourselves with, what festivities we attend or how distracted we try to keep ourselves. There is a perpetual, nagging sense of emptiness and loss that is carried daily and entirely enhanced on holidays. Perhaps we wish for just one page from that book of fairytales. Perhaps we still wish for all the things we lost and cannot reclaim. Maybe we want just one family gathering where we feel loved and can be true to ourselves, free of judgment and shame. Maybe we wish for one Valentine’s Day where we are the recipients of the tokens and acts of love that we have never received, or did so with strings and repercussions.
So surviving the actual day is one thing, but the emotional crash that often occurs after the holidays can be just as intense for a survivor as the actual holiday itself. I know for me, it takes an immense amount of emotional energy to deal with the both the holiday build up, and the end of buildup. The depression tends to set in quickly and heavily afterward and regardless of my attempts to keep my hopes and expectations lowered out of instinctual self-protection, there is always a sense of disappointment; a reminder of my loneliness on days when there is societal pressure for family, or outwardly expressed love.
So be good to yourself around any holiday. Surround yourself with the things or people that make you happy and bring you peace in the present moment, because no amount of hope will change the past. Remind yourself that despite the label, a holiday is just another day, another 24 hours, and that you have managed to get through all of them so far with strength and resilience, and the next one will be no different.