Heading off Holiday Season SadnessPublished December 19, 2012 , By Laura
Here we all were, right-smack in the middle of the joyous, magical holiday season. Facebook streams were filled with $50 Santa photos, elf dolls on the toilet with candy cane droppings, and demonstrations of excessive shopping/partying/dancing/drinking updates.
Then … Wham! Sadness, tragedy, violence, death. Worst of all for the families of the victims who have to begin to figure out how to cope. Unimaginable.
We all want to know: Why did he do it? How did this happen? We want explanations, solutions. Some want gun control, others increased access to mental health. I’ve been told to pray, to breathe, to hug my children.
I don’t have advice, and I don’t have answers. So today, I’m just going to tell my own little Christmas Story, and how I cope.
Holiday Sadness Triggers
Earlier this month we were talking about adoption triggers over at the Lost Daughters Roundtable. The term, “triggers,” as I define it, refers to those wholly irrational emotional responses to seemingly normal events.
Growing up, Christmas and Easter were big in our house. As Jesus’s birthday, Christmas was a “toys-for-gifts” holiday. As the day Jesus died on the cross for our sins, Easter was obviously a “clothes-for-gifts” holiday.
Makes perfect sense.
I loved the holiday season as a child, and spent hours with the Sears Catalog, dreaming of fabulous doll houses and Barbie fashion clothes. But, I struggled with sadness, too—especially once Christmas was over.
Crazy-busy Christmas = Huge post-holiday letdown
We always had a huge live tree which we trekked into some wintry forest to cut down ourselves. There were tons of decorations, ornaments, the works. We did church bazaars, we did the pageant, we crafted, we baked, we carolled. You name it, we did it.
We did Mass on Christmas Eve, replete with the children’s nativity story pageant. I never was chosen to be Mary, which I chalked up to not being pretty enough. Turns out, the virgin mother role was political, as the girl’s mom was always that year’s most popular church lady.
Each Christmas morning after presents, we’d play games, and gorge ourselves on TV and turkey. By bedtime, I would be devastated: Christmas. was. over.
Even though Mom left the tree up well into February, I would sit next to my beloved ornaments under the twinkling lights and cry, inconsolably. Christmas night triggered a deep sadness that I more easily kept buried the rest of the year.
I can see now that the inchoate, primal sadness was really grief—for the not-knowing. Christmas is family time, and I was mourning. For having been given away, for losing my first mom, for the different life I might have had. (It was also likely an early sign of the depression side of bipolar after the mania of Christmas preparations, but that’s a whole other psychological issue.) **
A gift to myself: my very own holiday coping mechanism …
Fast forward to adulthood, and here’s how I deal with this “adoption trigger” and “end-of-the-season sadness.”
I stretch out Christmas for several days. Christian Christmas Eve and Day, and in early January, Serbian Orthodox Christmas. I married a non-religious Serbian man, and I live in Belgrade, and Serbs celebrate the New Year with gifts on Dec. 31st/Jan. 1st (a celebration left-over from communism). Then you have the Orthodox calendar’s New Year’s Eve ten days later.
All of this celebrating helps me keep the “let-down sadness” in check. Added bonus: the gifts get spread out, so my little kids can actually enjoy them. By the time we recover, it’s time their birthdays in February.
One of my best coping mechanisms is making a plan for the future. Having something to look forward to, to take my mind off of any encroaching sadness may be denial, but it works for me.
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** Christmas story adapted from Adopted Reality, A Memoir.
Image from freedigitalphotos.net