How to manage expectations during the holiday season when your life is full of pain.
It is impossible to be in shopping malls and restaurants at this time of year without hearing Andy Williams crooning about, how the holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year” But that doesn’t exactly ring true when we carry a silent scream inside because our husband just died, or we are in the process of getting a divorce, or our family, for whatever reason, is far away.
Our heart might be “glowing,” but it is from a burning sense of agony.
The “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago” might be ever-present in our minds, but these memories bring a sense of sadness. And the only thing that rings true about the song is that Williams insists that everyone is “telling you to be of good cheer.” That expectation of having to be Mrs. Claus personified: Round, cheery, and filled with cinnamon-scented goodness only makes us feel dead inside. We dread the expectations of having to put on a brave face, so others won’t be uncomfortable around us.
The holidays are often steeped in expectations. And if we pretend that we are fine when we aren’t, we often end up making the sense of isolation we feel worse.
We cannot control the pain that follows in the wake of death, divorce, or dissonance.
It is not possible to re-create the past. Every time a thought pops into our head that starts with: “if only,” “I wish,” “I long for,” or “it was much better when,” it might be our subconscious telling us that we are in pain. And it is important to acknowledge it. Life includes pain. And right now we feel it. It cannot be rationalized away. It cannot be ignored. It is a current part of our life right now.
We are taught that pain is our enemy. But no one gets through life without feeling it. It is how we are birthed, and it is part of many transitional phases that happen throughout our lives. There are times when the anguish is so intense that it is hard to imagine how we will even take our next breath.
But it might help to know that the acute phase of this difficult, wretched time is temporary.
Pain is a portal that refines us like metal that becomes more valuable and useful by being forged by fire.
And so it is. We are right now at a time in our lives that includes this intermediate phase. The pain will not always be as intense as it is now. It will not always be all-consuming. But right now it is. We are like hot-glowing metal that seems to be dissolving and melting in the fire of the blacksmith’s workshop. It is a process of painful destruction. We are beaten by heavy hammers of circumstance on anvils of destiny. It hurts. But once the metal of our being cools; it is possible to find new purpose and new strength.
When in pain, dealing with the expectations around Christmas becomes even harder than usual.
It is important to reduce the expectations we have to self and to others. It is important, above all, to let go of the sense of not being good enough because of our current situation.
Feeling pain is not defeat. It is an honest and authentic response to a transitory phase of simply being human.
No matter what your role is this holiday season, don’t just battle the grief, sorrow, sadness, or the sense of isolation. It is not an enemy. It is part of a transition in your life. Give yourself a pat on the back for being courageous enough to acknowledge it. Depending on how safe you feel where you are, you might be able to share the burden with a trusted friend or family member. Or you might need to remove yourself temporarily and just let it pass through you.
Rest in the knowledge that although the scars might last a lifetime—as a part of the constant forging of your being—the open wound will heal: This too shall pass.
Marie Trout’s passion is writing, blogging, a 25-year career in artist management, wisdom studies and a heart for making our time on earth count. Visit Marie on her website.