Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
The holidays can bring a lot of family, love, and laughter. But if you’re grieving a lost loved one, it can also bring a lot of loneliness, rejection, and sorrow. I sincerely hope this Christmas that you’re experiencing the former. But if you’re not, I want you to read this post and take heart that this is only for a season; next holiday season will be better.
Not too long ago, I talked about allowing yourself to cry after a breakup:
My mother has always told me that when something difficult happens to you, you get a little bit of time to have a pity party. You are entitled to feel sorry for yourself. You’re experiencing trauma! We have to release these emotions at some point. We can do it immediately and kick off our grieving in a healthy manner. Or we can suppress it and complicate our grieving.
Similar to allowing yourself to cry to release these emotions, it's important to feel the emotions as they leave. Since crying is cathartic for me, I am often a little rushed to move on afterward. I think, “okay, I’ve cried out that sorrow. Now, I’m determining to be happy.” For minor things like setbacks at work, frustrations in business, anger with friends or family, that’s enough. I need that good and quick crying session to reset my mind. Afterward, I’m able to think of a new plan, approach, or solution.
With a situation as complex, comprehensive, and long-lasting as separation, crying and then immediately moving on is not a whole approach. You must cry if you’re a cryer. But moving forward as though everything is fine would be fake. Instead, I cried. A lot, and often. While it allowed me to release those immediate and overwhelming emotions of despair and fear, I was still left with great sorrow and uncertainty. I needed to feel them in order to honor and process them.
We all have heard that when we don’t acknowledge and process our feelings, they end up suppressed. Suppressed feelings never stay suppressed. They ooze out of us in different, and often unrecognizable, ways. These ways can include unprovoked anger, rash decisions, weight gain or loss, new or different behaviors, crying out of the blue and for odd reasons, etc.
It's understandable why we’d avoid sitting with our negative emotions. It is supremely uncomfortable, even scary. It’s hard to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge emotions that aren’t positive or happy. It's even harder to feel emotions that we aren’t always taught how to safely express. I mean, what do we do with sorrow? It tends to be frowned upon to roam around crying all day. How many of us have seen someone crying in a public place and wondered why they weren’t doing this in private? I know I have. Even harder, what do we do with fear? We aren’t exactly encouraged to walk around town freaking out to people about our bills, custody arrangements, or broken hearts. So we suppress them, or we isolate. I’m sure this is heightened for men, who are taught by societal norms to not be or show vulnerability.
I once heard that you have to let your heart break so that it can heal. I think that’s absolutely true. But how do we do that? Well, my strategy (provided by my therapist) was to sit in it. Sit in my sorrow. I didn’t rush it away. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t there. I didn’t try to force myself to feel something else. I thought, “Hello, sorrow. Nice to see you again. I get it. We’re alone. We’re unemployed. We’ve been rejected. We’re wholly responsible for a small person. They’ll be no more family vacations, or growing old together. Our life’s path has changed. What in the world are we going to do? I don’t know. I was hoping you did. But you don’t either.” Sure this regularly lead to more crying. Sometimes it lead to wanting to be alone. Other times, it lead to sitting in the dark, in the middle of the room, not saying a word. And other times it lead to forgetting to eat or answer my texts. And that was okay. Because I was giving my mind, heart, and body the time it needed to really feel those feelings, and process my situation.
By really feeling those feelings, we give them permission to pass on through us. We free ourselves from them taking over our minds and hearts. We don’t give them the power to put us in bondage. We encourage them to come and go, to be visitors and not permanent residents.
So, I encourage you to sit with the uncomfortable emotions. The next time you feel a wave of sorrow, anxiety, or fear: Take a deep breath. Try to name what emotion you’re feeling. Ask yourself why you’re feeling it. Tell yourself it’s okay to feel it. And sit, in silence, for a minute or two. Don’t pick up the phone to tell someone, busy yourself, or change your mind’s thoughts. Just sit.
And to help with this, I’m giving you my special “break up” playlist. I put this playlist together after my ex left. The songs in it are about love, loss, and/or loneliness. Listening to them would often put into words what I felt but couldn’t express. So I’d sit, in my car as I dropped my daughter off with her dad, or on the floor in my living room as I cleaned. I’d just howl while I sang along and cried. The concept sounds depressing, but it was a much-needed step in my healing process. So here you go!
Again, Merry Christmas! And happy (or sad) listening!