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If I were to ask you the question: "Are you taking care of yourself during the holidays?" I'm sure I'd get a mixed bag of responses. During this time of year, we are all very busy, stressed, and pressed for time. It seems like self-care is the last thing on many women's lists.
Today, I want my message to be that self-care should not take a break during the holidays. In fact, you probably need it now more than ever.
While you are juggling your relationship, your kids, your job, your extended family, and your extraordinary to-do list, don't forget about you. Because the truth is, only you truly know what you need. I am urging you to listen to that voice.
Since I work with partners of sex and porn addicts, I am going to assume that you are reading this because you and your spouse have had some difficult roads to travel this year. Now that we are approaching the holidays, you may be feeling especially vulnerable and sensitive right now.
Everyone around you seems joyful, but you are not. Everyone is gathering together with loved ones, but you aren't sure where you stand with your partner right now. Maybe your children will be spending time away from you this holiday season, and that's very difficult too.
All of these concerns are valid. I am not here to hand wave them away. I am here to redirect you back to the essential question: what are you doing to take care of yourself right now?
When you examine this question, I want you to start with the absolute basics. Are you sleeping? Are you getting enough nutrition? (No, this is not me telling you to skip the Christmas cookies.) Do you have a safe space where you can vent your feelings?
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," you can throw the whole stylized idea of self-care right out the window. A spa day, while lovely, will not address the deeper issues in your life. Again, you know what you need. Listen to what your body and mind are saying.
Maybe you are sitting in your home, looking at your situation, your relationship, or your children, and you are beginning to beat yourself up. “Why couldn't I have just stuck it out with him until the holidays were over?" Sound familiar?
Or perhaps you are more upset about "letting" your relationship fall apart. Perhaps if you tried harder, addressed his problems sooner, or even kept silent, you wouldn't be in this situation right now.
That's guilt lying to you.
Again, if your relationship is on the rocks right now due to your partner's addictive behavior, that is in no way your fault. You did not cause his addiction, and you are not responsible for curing it. Distancing yourself from an addict can actually be a very important aspect of your own self-care.
Now, I could sit here all day and tell you not to feel guilty about any of this, knowing full well that you will. Guilt is a complicated emotion, and it takes up a lot of real estate in your mind during the holidays. If, while looking ahead, you foresee a holiday that is more chaotic, sad, or lonely then it's "supposed to be," it's very easy to put the blame for that situation back on yourself. That's the reality of guilt.
Instead, I want you to have a safe space where you can discuss, analyze, and begin to unpack this guilt. Maybe that happens with a professional, a good friend, or even through journaling. What I don't want is for this guilt to stay inside you, slowly turning to poison.
During the holidays, you are more likely to come face-to-face with extended relatives. A woman who is in the midst of an unsettled relationship spends a lot of time dreading the dinner table conversation that will inevitably arise. Your great aunt from Tennessee might make a tsk tsk noise, and remind you that your estranged partner is such a "nice guy." Your sister-in-law with the perfect marriage might make a comment insinuating that the breakup was your fault.
People can't help but chime in to your personal business during the holidays, so it's completely understandable that you might be devoting a lot of mental energy to this anxiety. This is where self-care comes into play. Give yourself space, give yourself permission to skip these upsetting encounters, and give yourself a whole lot of forgiveness.
And then there are the kids. When a relationship splits up, things can get very tense and dramatic. Kids feel this, they get scared, and they act out. Add the stress and anticipation of the holidays into this mix, and things can get pretty volatile.
Here's the big secret: you are the number one role model for your children. I am not discounting the role of your co-parent, nor stepparents, but I am saying that they are closely watching how you handle the situation. You do not have to hide your hurt, but you do have to deal with it.
The more well-equipped you are to handle the stress of the situation, the more that will translate to the children. Also, when you allow them to see you taking time for yourself, and tending to your emotional well-being, they are more likely to do the same for themselves when they grow up.
You have a laundry list of anxieties, and the reality is that you cannot possibly control them or address them all. That would be impossible, and nobody should expect you to do the impossible, including you.
Don't put undue stress on yourself by trying to pretend that none of this bad stuff is happening. You can go ahead and put it out of your mind for a while, and in fact it may be healthy to do so, just so long as you keep coming back to the truth: you know what you need.
You can't fix everything that is happening around you, but you can fix you. The way you do that is through self-care, not through denial and overcompensation. You might not be able to address all of your anxieties or concerns, and that's okay. When you make the effort to include meaningful self-care in your life, you are creating a healthier environment for yourself and your family.
An important part of self-care is having someone to talk to. If you feel that you are struggling more than usual this time of year, I urge you to pick up the phone and call us. We can help walk you through these complicated feelings, and help you care for yourself so that you may better care for others. That's what's going to make this a happy holiday for you.
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