Once we get to Labor Day weekend, it often marks the end of Summer for us all. The day after, we begin to see signs of the upcoming holiday season as merchants rush to the starting line as if they can get a head start on seasonal revenues. After all, that is what the season has become relegated to. Store shelves are cleared to make way for Halloween decorations, but also to make way for Christmas decorations as preparations get well under way. But nowadays, it also marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season for big box retailers as they try to capitalize on the upcoming season. The 2018 holiday shopping season yielded $1Billion in consumer spending (well, it was just shy of that number and projections, but so close, it may as well have been). Projections this year are set to be between 3.5 – 5% higher. This tends to add more stress to, for what many people view, an already immensely stressful time of year.

This is very difficult for anyone in a relationship crisis, a core meltdown, or separation whether temporary or permanent. You start to begin to watch things unfold around you that you covet and envy because you so long for it. Before Halloween even arrives, Starbucks begins serving up pumpkin spice anything. And fall festivals go into full swing. The Hallmark Channel begins to air their first Christmas movies (something they also do in the summer mind you) beginning with A Merry Christmas Match on October 25th and continues the marathon rounding out their season on December 28th of this year according to their website.

These movies often revolve around an endless barrage of obstacles, that develops into a crisis, that evolves into a romance, that erodes into heartbreak and despair, and ultimately a revelation that we do actually love and care for one another and don’t want to live without each other all with happy endings. It’s almost as if all of them follow the same script, change the names of the characters, the setting, and the circumstances, but the plot remains the same. Those who see it as unrealistic make fun of it while those whose relationships are torn apart struggle with it as it reminds them that their own relationships destroyed. What was once an otherwise “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” suddenly becomes this reminder that life isn’t so wonderful after all. 

We can almost set our calendar by it. I suppose there are very different views for what constitutes a holiday season. Mine, I think begins the weekend before Thanksgiving and ends just after the first of January or about six weeks. 

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG

As we were growing up, our holiday experiences probably differ much more greatly than they do now. There was something very magical and innocent about it. They also differ greatly between families, and even more so between extended families. For Thanksgiving, we usually had Thanksgiving Dinner (which is actually lunch) at either my grandparents, parents, or one of my parent’s siblings. This was the tradition as I knew it then. Then we would have a very similar experience on Christmas Day. Others experience different holidays such as Hannakah, Kwanzaa, and Yule just to name a few. Regardless, the premise is the same; to celebrate the holiday season in whatever form you grew up with, knew, and love.

WHEN WE GREW UP

After we became teenagers, there began to be a shift in holiday dynamics. As first one sibling, and then another, left the home, to go off to college, to get married, or to go off on military deployment, it became different. It wasn’t the same anymore. If your parent’s siblings were married, spent their holidays with their in-laws, and your parents began to seize it as an opportunity to get away on their own, you’d find yourself alone for the first time in your life during the holidays. If you had never spent a holiday away from loved ones, away from home, it’s a very homesick feeling to endure regardless of whether you were at home or not.

As we got into long term committed relationships of our own, we found that we created our own holiday traditions. For us, immediately after Thanksgiving Dinner, and a well earned nap, we would go to a Christmas Tree farm and find and cut down our own Christmas Tree. It was a fun filled event for us all. Eventually, we transitioned it into making it an all day trip up to the mountains to cut down a Fraser Fir at a beloved Christmas Tree farm that had been in the same family for generations. We would make the drive, cut down our tree, and enjoy a warm cozy dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the small town community.

We started a tradition out of going to visit Santa Claus well before any of our children were ever born. We had no real motive other than to sit in his lap, and get our picture taken; the idea being that one day we could show our own children that we too went to see Santa Claus. We created a story for them. Maybe it was kind of quirky, but it was something we relished and enjoyed doing. And we always visited Santa Claus on Christmas Eve first in line first thing in the morning. And year after year, we found that we were in line with the same families and their children who also made it a tradition out of doing the same thing. Then we would spend the rest of the day, Christmas Eve, having already bought all of our Christmas presents previously, seeking and finding a very special Christmas ornament to hang on our tree. The criteria was it had to be relevant to something significant that year, and it had to have the year on it. We collected them year after year.

Having children changes everything in the whole holiday dynamic. This is a very fun filled time for them; and for us too. Playing Santa Claus, you almost feel like a child again. There is so much more joy watching the expression on their faces when they open a gift from you and the excitement they exude. But more importantly, it isn’t about the gifts at all, but the tremendous joy and love shared amongst one another and the gift of time with one another. Even more important, for those who are religious, the holiday has much more religious meaning than anything else. 

THE BETRAYAL

Once a betrayal is either discovered or disclosed, everything changes dramatically. The entire dynamic surrounding holidays has shifted to a painful one. Thanksgiving no longer holds the same meaning anymore because it serves as a reminder of what once was. But what both failed to realize was that it was already marred by betrayal. Happiness was built upon a lie. 

Any of the other holidays for the rest of the season bear the same semblance and serve as a constant reminder of the betrayal. If there is a birthday, it is a reminder. If there is an anniversary, it is a reminder. You find yourself going through the motions as if you are watching it all unfold in an out of body experience. And in the very worst case scenario, it can have very deadly consequences.

THE AFTERMATH

In the aftermath of a D’Day (Day of Discovery), holidays invoke very mixed emotions. It becomes difficult to experience joy when so much anxiety exists, consists, and persists. If this situation is new to you, prepare yourself. This is sure to be a difficult holiday season for you. If you’ve experienced it before, perhaps this will become helpful to you.

For the betrayed

The Betrayed Partner is so distraught over their reality, they find themselves in a rather precarious situation. They have to wear two faces. One face is that of the loving, doting, smiling, accommodating, personality everyone knows and loves them for pre-discovery. That is their defensive mechanism taking charge in the “freeze” response over the other two responses of the hindbrain; “fight” or “flight”. They can’t move forward. They can’t move backwards. So they “freeze” and put on a front for all of those they come in contact with until they can internally process it. And it reeks havoc with their brain chemistry.

Interestingly, all the while, internally, they are about to implode. They are a pressure cooker in the making, and their regulator has been compromised. Their entire world between their perception and their reality has just had a major cataclysmic collision. In the wake lies a very fragile traumatized victim that must come to terms and reconcile the pain they haven’t even yet been able to adequately identify. This facade of a persona they exhibit is all self-preservation. This, they will have to figure out a way out of so that they may heal from it. Just getting through the holidays is survival mode.

For the addicted

If you wanted or needed alone time to engage in your inappropriate action(s) & behavior(s), look no further. You’ve found it. It goes in that category of “be careful what you wish for”. When you no longer have the option to spend that time with your Partner, your children, or perhaps other family members, it gets real rather quickly. You could be seated in a stadium filled with 70,000 people and feel like the most alone person on the planet. You feel dirty. You feel shame. You feel guilt. You feel embarrassment. And you feel like everyone is there watching you. But they aren’t. Nonetheless, you feel it. 

For the children (or anyone else)

For the children, they certainly know something is up. Yet they can’t quite put their finger on it. Dissension amongst the parents is most noticeable, and our children quickly and easily pick up on that. This is a time to be very loving and understanding to our children because they will very highly likely exhibit signs and symptoms to compensate for the anxiety they are feeling inside as a result. They feel unsafe, insecure, and somewhat insane for lack of a better way to put it. This is something they have never experienced before. This doesn’t give them a free pass to act & behave inappropriately, but it certainly does give you an explanation as to why. Just as the betrayed partner needs empathy, understanding, and validation, so too do our children.

BEST PRACTICE

What we fear, we create. Practice love, compassion, and gratitude. It’s been lacking for a very long time. Set aside your own self-serving interests, and invest in the interests of others for a change. As a betrayer, this was all your own doing. As a betrayed, we know where the betrayal originates, and it is not with anyone else except our Partner; at least in most cases. It’s highly unlikely there were multiple individuals complicit in it.

As this is our new normal, we have to learn to be at peace with it. This is so easily exemplified by the Serenity Prayer which is paraphrased below:

“We accept the things we cannot change,

We have the courage to change the things that we can,

And we have the wisdom to know the difference.”

While it has religious origins, it remains relevant to everyone. We can always foster and implement change within ourselves, and we are powerless to make others change. If we can implement change, we must have the courage to do so. That is so much harder than we think. And we must evaluate our change on the merits of the change to determine if it’s the right fit for a change.

What do the Holidays mean to you? Let’s rephrase the question. What did the holidays mean to you, and now, today, how has that changed for you?

Go out and love and hug and enjoy your families this holiday season. One of these days, we will not have the opportunity to do so, for we all have a finite amount of time bestowed upon us as we all have our fate with destiny. Make the best of your time with your loved ones together and have a Happy Holiday Season. Utilize whichever holiday greeting most appropriately applies to you. As for me, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.