In my former relationship, every special occasion was prefaced with a multi-day rage episode over whatever infractions my ex could dig up. I got in the shower first. I had too much cash in my wallet. I wanted to go for a walk (together!) instead of going immediately to her house. I had done X instead of Y, even though I had previously been maligned for doing Y instead of X. You know how it goes. You’ve been there.
But, now that you’re presumably out of the relationship, the holidays and special occasions in general should be fun, right? After all, she’s out of your life. You can do X, Y, and Z and not have to worry about it.
So why do you feel wary and how can you make that feeling go away?
If you’re out of the relationship and you’re dreading the holidays (and by “dread,” I mean full blown panic attacks and the like), it may be a result of PTSD; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD isn’t just for combat veterans, anymore. There is a growing pile of evidence that it can affect people who live in high-stress environments for extended periods of time. Sound familiar?
My own experience with PTSD has been varied. The intensity has lessened with time, and if you suffer from it as well, I would offer you that as a ray of hope.
Part of what comes into play is the amygdala, in the brain. The amygdala is activated when we are in danger, and records everything, to prepare us for the next time a dangerous situation arises. Sometimes it records too much. For example, several years ago, I was in a car accident. I can still visualize the breakfast burrito flying through the air from the passenger seat to the dashboard upon impact. It’s a useless, silly detail, but it’s there. The amygdala does this on the off-chance that that one random detail is what caused the event, and allows us to remember it so we can avoid it in the future.
Now, instead of breakfast burritos, think about your relationship with your ex. Non-stop fun, wasn’t it? All of this was recorded by your brain. And every reminder serves as a trigger to tell you to be on your guard. This occurs even when it has outlived its usefulness.
This, of course, brings us to the holidays, your wariness, and its root in having to endure your ex ruining yet another special occasion. And as Dr. T has pointed out, they love to ruin special occasions.
This year, you may no longer be with your abusive partner. So how do you let it all go, relax, and not spend your entire holidays waiting for a shoe to drop?
This is my third Christmas/New Years without her. Each year has gotten a little easier. Here’s what works for me:
- Spend time with loved ones – be they friends, family, whoever. That said, make it very clear that you may need some “me-time” and need to take some time away from the festivities periodically.
- Take the “me-time” that I mentioned above. Families and loved ones can be exhausting. Pay attention and listen to what you need. If things become overwhelming, take a time-out. Retreat. Go hide in the bathroom. Go back to the hotel or the guest room. Recharge your batteries, and rejoin the group when you’re ready to.
I am fortunate in that my family knows what I’ve been through I’ve communicated clearly to them what my needs are and that I may, from time to time, need to step away from the festivities. I urge you to do the same and to honor your own needs. You spent the entire relationship capitulating to her demands. Now is the time to reclaim yourself, your time, and your space.
This is a shorter post than my others, but mostly I wanted to wish everyone here a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season. The holidays can be enjoyable and you can rediscover this. For me, moderation and baby-steps have gotten me to the point where I look forward to them again. You can get there, too. Just remember to honor your needs, and act accordingly.
Best wishes to all, and I’ll see you in the New Year.
Want to Say Goodbye to Crazy? Buy it HERE.
Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.