For the over 50% of marriages that end in divorce, Christmas can be a hugely trying time.
Since the season is one of the most stressful times of the year anyway, this onslaught of raw emotion to the divorcee can be overwhelming. This is reflected in the Christmas surge of suicide rates.
The feelings are that much more intense if there are kids involved.
I know for myself, nothing could have prepared for me for the crushing sadness I felt during my first post-divorce Christmas.
As a father of two young girls, it was like I was emotionally disconnected from everyone. The joy of the season was something I just switched on, for brief periods, when my little girls were at my house leading up the holidays. When they would leave until their next visit, the joyful glow of the Christmas lights and Christmas tree seemed to turn cruel and I would turn it all off.
It seemed I had an inverse reaction to the level of season joy around me: the higher it was, the worse I felt.
Going to the shopping malls, alone, just intensified the feelings of disconnect, as I watched parades of children that weren't mine, going through the usual excited frenzy.
I remember sitting on my couch, alone in the dark, watching movies on Christmas Eve, counting down the hours until the girls arrived on Christmas Day at Noon.
In the middle of the night of that first Christmas Eve, I reached my lowest of lowest and for the briefest of seconds, dark thoughts crossed my alcohol free mind about putting an end to the pain.
Mercifully, I did nothing except scare myself. In fact, because now I appreciated how intense all of the feelings were, I knew I needed a plan to get through the season the next time.
From that point on, I came up with the following five step plan.
Step 1 ? Do not be alone. You have to reach out and ask for support, from family, friends or whoever. The Crisis Line is always there to re-assure you (I know).
Step 2 ? Know you are not alone and connect with other people in your same circumstance. I met several people over the next year, male and female, who were in the same boat as I was. We actually had a house party on Christmas Eve the next year because no one had their kids. Everyone had a few laughs, cursed the Exs and yearned for their kids, together. It actually was a great feeling to be in that group.
Step 3 ? Do not feel guilty. Your kids are enjoying two Christmas celebrations instead of just one. What kid wouldn't love that?
Step 4 ? Give to charity or volunteer at the Food Bank. This really helped me appreciate that even in my sadness, I still had food and a home and there were people way worse off then I was.
Step 5 ? Don't be so hard on yourself. From the time we were kids, the Christmas season commercial frenzy creates a ton of expectations in all of us. During divorce, with your own kids jumping between houses, those expectations become very difficult if not impossible to maintain. This compounds the feeling of being a failure because you cannot emotionally keep pace with the joy you see around you.
That can be further complicated by the game of trying to keep up with whatever your Ex Spouse is able to provide for kids during the season. This one can be really hard too.
Over my 5 single Christmas seasons, I learned a whole new way of appreciating the season.
I started to celebrate the fact that I was surviving on my own, learning to live my life differently and being a fantastic father every 2nd week.
Christmas became less about gifts and more about patting myself on the back for keeping it all together.
That attitude shift made a world of difference.
I truly learned that the biggest gift you can give the people around you, especially your kids, is your own survival. That's what they'll always remember.
Drew Harris is now happily re-married and runs http://single-christians.net, a one-stop-shop relationship portal for Christians and like-minded people. It features hundreds of pages on dating, love and marriage. Start building your successful relationship today. http://tinyurl.com/44pc9