Trick or treat bags have been filled and spooky ghouls have returned to their graves until next year, another Halloween has passed. The next holiday is upon us and it is one that symbolizes gratitude for many, a time to give thanks for what and who we have. Many of us will take time out from our busy stressful lives, hit the pause button on our daily complaints, get together with loved ones, and allow ourselves to shift our focus to a place of gratitude. But what if you have nothing to be thankful for this year?
Experiencing a trauma or a tragedy can hijack one's ability to participate in normal holiday traditions, especially if it occurred in the past year. Even if you've been able to cope with your despair and enjoy good moments since, it doesn't mean you'll feel ready to partake in a traditional activity centered around shared feelings of happiness and gratitude. Sometimes the thought of participating in a holiday tradition can make it feel like your loss/trauma/tragedy did not happen, and this can actually strengthen anxiety about feelings of being able to cope, as you may fear becoming emotional in contrast to your loved ones who are in the spirit of the holiday. Is it ok to sit this one out? To opt out of a holiday get together that symbolizes gratitude? I think you have to ask yourself some important questions:
- Will missing a holiday get together make me feel so upset that I will become unsafe? (Engage in reckless behaviors, experience thoughts of harming yourself, relapse, etc)
- If I decide to skip the holiday function then change my mind, will I still be able to go?
- Could being around my loved ones this year actually be more helpful than staying away?
- Will I regret missing out on this holiday tradition this year?
If you feel confident that skipping a holiday function is best for you, then be mindful of how you'd like to spend that time. Will it be curled up with a good book or a classic movie at home? Will it be shopping at the mall or doing some overdue reorganizing around the home? While it is important to do work to process your trauma and strengthen your coping tools, it is not recommended to actually do any of that work on the day you'd normally be spending time with loved ones. For example, avoid engaging in activities that might be triggering for you, or may test the limits of your coping skills (looking at old pictures of a lost loved one, replaying music you heard on a day something tragic happened, etc). Save that work for a different day. The day you decide to opt out on a holiday function should be spent doing something soothing or distracting, even self indulgent as long as it is safe (Ex: binge watch Netflix reality TV shows, play old CDs/tapes from your favorite adolescent artists, etc). It is also recommended that you communicate openly and honestly to your loved ones about your decision to opt out of the tradition this year. It may take being vulnerable and disclosing a bit more than you may have liked, but people really respond well to honesty, and will be more likely to support your decision if they have a transparent reason to why you have decided to skip on the event for the year. Remember, that it's ok to feel as though you have nothing to be thankful for this year. If you've had a bad year and that is the case, it is important to be true to your feelings and express yourself genuinely, repression can lead to dysfunctional behaviors. Healing from tragedy is painful and you're brave if you're willing to admit you're not grateful this year. That same bravery will also be what helps you grow strong again, to feel gratitude in following years while surrounded by the people you love.