Remembering at the Holidays

So many people struggle this time of year, for so many reasons. In the last few weeks I have talked with a number of people that struggle because of events around the holidays. The holiday time, whether you celebrate the holidays or not, carries strong events that help secure things in your memory.  If you do celebrate the holidays, activities around the holidays help you mark time, cementing things in your memory, which can be good or bad.  When you connect events it makes the easier to remember, harder to manage, and all you want to do is forget, or feel better.  No matter what your connection is around the holidays, if you are struggling there is support.

So many people and families I have seen over the years associate the holidays with loss.  They mark time with celebrating Christmas, New Year’s, or other events around the holidays.  They think about lost relationships or the death of family members who passed around the holidays.  Because the loss or events are associated with a calendar event, it comes back every year with the calendar.  Tying things together can make things harder, but it can also be helpful to acknowledge the connection, but disconnect the two. 

The disconnection is easier said than done, but separating the events can help change the meaning of the holiday.  Make no mistake, this is likely one of the hardest things to do in treatment.  Similar to working on healthy attachment, as we have talked about before, sorting out memories and working toward resolution can be a goal.  For families that have deaths around the holidays, the season becomes the trigger to feel sad.  This conditioning can be changed and treatment and counseling can help do that.  I won’t ever say that it’s easy, but it can be done. 

I don’t know about you but part of what makes the holidays special to me is being with family.  For those families that have a loss associated with their holiday, a cloud falls over the day if that is what the family allows.  Other families celebrate the lives of those they lost, and the clouds begin to clear and sunshine breaks through.  Everyone has their own way to grieve, and there is no right or wrong answer, but most of the patients that I have worked with wanted their families to move on an enjoy life, without them.  They wanted to give their spouse permission to be happy, and find love.  They wanted their loved ones to honor their memory by continuing their legacy of caring.  So how will you honor your loved ones and yourself?

For those that have other memories associated with a holiday event, the idea is the same.  Separate the event, such as a trauma event or other issue, from the calendar or holiday activity if possible.  It’s not easy but you can develop new traditions.  Change your style.  Change your venue, or add new traditions.  Acknowledge the event, but don’t let it take over. 

The holidays can be very difficult, but it can be different, if you want it to be different.  You have the power to enjoy the holiday time again if you choose.  You may not be able to change the past but you can change the future.  Change your future and learn to enjoy events and activities again.  It’s part of being happy for life.