How did your holiday go this year?
Are you feeling rejuvenated or exhausted?
If you are feeling exhausted you are not alone. Many of my clients have reported feeling this same way. And I can join the group as well.
The holidays can be a beautiful time of the year, depending on what is going on in your life during that time. For those of us who have experienced hardship, grief, or loss and trauma over the holidays, the celebration can feel like a slap in the face.
Sadly, some people feel deceived, angered, and frustrated after the holiday because hours of family fun, joyous singing and engaging in the artistic beauty of the holiday or sharing many conversations with family did not happen. For these individuals, the holidays is a “rip-off.”
In this article, I will discuss the feeling of grief and loss after the holidays and use the 5 stages of grief to help you understand what you may be going through right now.
As a trauma therapist, I have counseled many who struggle with the concept of loss and grief. Who wants to accept the loss of something desired? Most people struggle with this. Those who claim they don’t, probably do and perhaps struggle more.
One exploration activity I often engage in with clients when they feel loss and grief is the topic of acceptance. It’s difficult sometimes for them to fully conceptualize how to “accept” their grief and the loss they have experienced. One of my previous clients asked me a good question at the end of a “heavy” session. She stated, “how am I supposed to accept what has happened to me when I can’t get it out of my mind? The pain. The sorrow. The betrayal.”
She was referring to the inter-generational trauma experienced in her family for centuries. But for the purposes of our discussion of holiday grief and loss, we will focus on these feelings as it relates to the previous holiday season.
Since Monday night, New Year’s Eve, I have received over 50 emails and messages through Twitter and Youtube about the difficulty in accepting that 2018 is over or in accepting that Christmas wasn’t as great as they had hoped. I also received messages about grieving the loss of 2018 in the WAY it ended (i.e., with unfettered racism still circulating in the media, political battles left and right, inequality for women and those with lower income, healthcare challenges and upcoming tax changes, presidential wars that are embarrassing to say the least, and an abandoning of traditional family values, etc). I can’t deny that I feel the same way.
The grief and loss associated with the “loss” of 2018 is powerful for those who have followed the news, followed personal stories of defeat, and who have experienced first hand the stress of being an American at this time. I’m not so sure all Americans are “proud to be an American” at this point. While it is wise to count blessings, it is also wise to take a step back and question what kind of a world we are all living in right now. And it would also be wise to consider why we are where we are at and how to find (if we can) our way back home.
As a result of these feelings across the board, I began to explain (in the messages I responded to) the importance of conceptualizing 2018 through the lens of the 5 stages of grief. If you don’t properly affix meaning to the depressive feelings, you can begin to question your own sanity and your ability to cope. The real issue isn’t your inability to cope. The real issue is the state of our world.
Below I discuss each stage a bit more in-depth:
- Denial: When we lose something close to us our world changes. We can become very complacent with what we have and rarely (if ever) consider how we would cope with the loss of that person or thing we love. But when some people think about losing their positive and healthy view of the world, depression and denial is likely to occur. I have received many messages from people who say things such as “2018 wasn’t all that bad” or “although the leadership in this country is bad, it isn’t all that bad.” Their coping mechanism is denial
- Anger: Anger is a natural reaction to loss, especially unexpected loss. Some people seem to stay in this stage for a very long time. Anger can manifest in sarcasm, frequent laughing and joking around, emotional distancing, isolation, frequent irritability, homicidal or suicidal threats and gestures, and behavioral problems such as opposition and defiance (i.e., feeling a personal loss of control in society due to a perceived loss of control in leadership).
- Bargaining: Have you ever heard a child’s prayer? It is one of the most heart-wrenching things I have ever heard. Before starting my career in counseling and psychotherapy a little less than 11 years ago, I worked in a child development center. One 5 year old told me, as we played outside, that she had said this prayer: “God, please listen to me. I want mommy and daddy to stop fighting. I love Che Che (her aunt) but don’t want to live with her. If you do this God I will never cry again.” Bargaining says “if you do this…I will do that.” Some people bargain with God, leadership, etc. just to feel there is still hope for a better society.
- Depression: We all know what depression looks like. It is a form of deep sadness which can sometimes result in suicidal thoughts. If you feel you have lost a certain positivity about your country or the state of our leadership, depression is likely to occur.
- Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean that you have to forgive, ignore, go into denial, or excuse what has happened. Acceptance means that you are at a place where you can recognize what has happened, process it without denying what has happened, and are at a stronger place than before. “Acceptance” is a process in and of itself. It’s a process of saying to yourself “I understand that this is where I am in life right now but this doesn’t have to completely define me. I am struggling with my reality but I am working on finding greater purpose and meaning.”
How are you feeling about 2019? Are you ready for some positive change? Or do you see nothing but a dark tunnel ahead?
As always, I wish you well.
Some contents of this article were published in another article on 9/26/2018 but has been used here to reflect updated and comprehensive knowledge.