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Top Tips for Managing the Holidays After an Affair

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Another post that’s not a letter today! I put a shout out on my instagram to ask what people would like to see on the blog and one of the things that people came back with was surviving the holidays. I decided to go with “managing” rather than “surviving” which felt a bit scary. Cause life, especially at times of celebration, shouldn’t be about surviving or getting through it, they should be enriching times. If you’re surviving something you have no say, no control, when you manage it,  you’re the one in charge.

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The holidays encompass so much, I think particularly in recent years and the boom of social media, we have a lot of pressure to make them the happiest, prettiest and tastiest time of the year, to the point where people find themselves in debt and under pressure from family to be everywhere at once. So when you’re in recovery from an affair and barely hanging on as it is then it can be an enormous undertaking to even consider doing things out of bed let alone put on the performance of a lifetime. Now I have a child, but my family are a way away. Both our families are aware of the affair and so understand this is a difficult time.

So here are my top tips for managing the holidays.

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There is literally no one holding a gun to your head to do anything. You don’t HAVE to have a tree. You don’t have to buy everyone the bestest pressies. You don’t have to deck the halls or be jolly. No one is going to end the world if you refuse to get the tinsel out or baubles. You don’t have to hang a single light if you don’t want to.

I’m going to say now, and give you permission, to just do what you need to do and not what other people think you should do. I’ve decided this year that we are in a good enough place that I could get a small tree, hang some cards, and pop some candles on the mantle. I’ve brought gifts for my parents, my husband and my child. I’ve written a few cards. It’s literally all I’ve done and all I plan to do. It’s OK. I have to work most of Christmas and normally I would go all out for Christmas Day if I had it off (which I do this year). I’m doing what I can this year.

I’ve shopped. I’ve ordered food. We will eat, my son will have gifts, my husband will have some too, I just want to try and enjoy the day and I can’t do that if I’ve wound myself in to a frenzy trying to do everything for everyone. It’s about emotional load, and my favourite analogy for this is the bucket theory. Everyone has  a bucket. The bucket already has day to day stuff in it, drops of water for bills, a slop of water for housework, a few cups for child worries, school reports, another slop for work stuff, you see how the water builds up in the bucket? Add a torrential downpour of water that an affair is providing then you’re overflowing. So I’ve emptied out some of the water. I’ve stopped worrying about the little things, my house being tidy to the molecule doesn’t help me or anyone for that matter, making Christmas the most spectacular day ever doesn’t either. It will be special because we are together and we are trying. That is what matters.

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Right after my husbands affair came to light, I couldn’t see the good in anything. I was in the darkest of places, filled with rage and hate and hurt. It destroyed all good for me and I couldn’t see through that fog. I’m not suggesting for those of you at that point that you can do this, but if you want to try, then try.

I wear a fitbit, I love it as much as I hate it some days but it has this little thing that tells me when there are 10 minutes left in an hour to make sure I hit my allocated steps. Instead of worrying about my steps (reducing my bucket fill) I use it as a reminder to think of something good. For a time it was prompting me to think something good about my husband and it was hard. So hard. I had to force myself to consider him in a different light to the one that was there all the time. He hurt me severely, I felt like I would rather die than face the feelings that he filled me with at that time, so trying to deliberately find reasons to think of him in a good light was tough. It did have an effect though. It started to remind me why I was staying, what it was about him that I loved, and it made me consider the things he was doing to repair us.

It’s not realistic to always be thinking about things that your husband did and didn’t do, sometimes you’re just not ready to do that, with the right work from your husband you should be some day, but you can look for the little things, we all have things to be grateful for and gratitude is key to your own good mental health. Here’s some questions to ask yourself each day:

– What has happened today to make me smile?
– What has benefited me today that I’ve worked hard for?
– What has benefited me today that my husband/partner worked hard for?
– What simple pleasures were there in today?
– Did I enjoy my meals today? What was great about them?
– Was I able to move freely today, play with my child, play with my animal?
– What did I do today to improve my mental health? My World? My Home?
– What do I love about my home?

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During my husbands affair he was a horrible person to be around, his mental health was unravelling, his life falling apart gradually around him, and he took it out on me. Picked fights, propagated this image of me in his head and to her that I was a bully and he was a victim of me. It made him hostile to me, to our home and our family. When I found out so much fell into place in my head and I realised how much I had lost myself to it. I wrote about it more here.  I realised that I had to look after myself (and my child) above and beyond anything else, before work, before family and friends, and certainly before him or my marriage. You can’t pour from an empty cup. I was empty. Haemorrhaging pain all over the place. I had to find a way to plug the holes and so I just started to care for myself.

I’m going to do a whole post on self care ideas to follow this one up [you can find it here] but self care is anything you can do to empty the bucket a little bit or just give you a clear break just for yourself, from having a face mask to just taking 5 minutes to be alone in the bathroom. Anything counts if it gives you a breather from anything and everything for a moment to help your mental load. I often will run a bath and sit in it for a while. It takes some time where I can be alone either in silence or with a podcast on. It’s privacy, time and a chance to sit with my thoughts or just block the thoughts out for a bit. Self care is about whatever helps with what is causing you to feel overwhelmed, it’s about knowing that caring for yourself helps make your bucket bigger.

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There was a time when the holidays may have been happy for you. It may have been as a child, or early in your relationship, or when your child first understood the magic but most people are hard pressed not to have any good memories of it at all. I’m sorry if you are that person. I really am.

Memories are powerful things, I’ve learnt this to my detriment during my recovery, memories can take me back to a moment and take my breath away, make me break down or experience extreme anxiety attacks which leave me frozen and my heart rate over 100 BPM.  All from a thought in my head. I realised though that if that memory could be so powerful then so could good memories. If bad memories can harness that power over us then maybe good ones could to. One day I was doing some mindfulness practice and I started to think of happy memories, memories of times when I truly felt happy and relaxed in my marriage. I was sad that I realised they were quite some time ago, but also a feeling of warmth came over me, for my little family and my husband. I felt positively towards them.

It’s taken some practice to do this and I’ve not yet mastered it when I’m in severely anxious times but I’m getting there. First step is being able to blank out my mind completely, and that takes practice when your mind is so very busy, then about letting it flood with happy memories. If negative ones creep in dismissing them as not right now and going back to mindful happy memories.

Make New

The biggest thing that I really had to get my head around in recovery was that it wasn’t about recapturing my marriage as it was pre affair. You can’t recapture something that wasn’t good because it will continue to have those same hidden bodies, the same problems, and the same bullshit that led to the affair. For me I know, now, that without this affair we probably would have split up anyway. I was burnt out by the relationship.

This year for us is going to be a blend of old traditions and new ones. We will go to the cinema just like we always have on Christmas Eve, but also we will be going to the Christmas market which we haven’t done before on that day. We plan to have party food and a relaxing evening.

Recovery is about building anew from the bottom up. Starting fresh, mixing what you know is good with new ideas. Work together on doing something fun, planning a new idea, having a new order of the day on Christmas Day or just mix it up. Mix it up so you don’t feel like you’re trying to recreate something and paint a smile on it. It’ll feel false and you’ll end up flooded with negative feelings and memories.

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It may be the holidays but sitting on your feelings will mean they come up again and again and probably take over your thoughts. By processing them, talking them through you get to rid your brain of them.

Reality is whatever time of year when you’re trying to recover from a betrayal this big then you’re going to experience the emotions regardless of what day it is, at times when we are supposed to be happy are sometimes the hardest times. Maybe have the conversation with your significant other ahead of time. Plan for when you’re flooding, have a safe word or phrase to use around family and kids, something that means you need space, or time away, or to leave. Explain that he needs to be a healer for you during this time, start filling  the cracks he caused with some proper filler, thats flexible, strong and forgets himself to focus on your needs now. He used up his selfish points. Now he has to step up for you.

If you need to cry cry. If you need to scream scream in to a pillow. If you need to be away just be away. Whatever you need just communicate it and do it. Let him support you and be clear when you need time to yourself. Communication should underpin all recoveries, however you need to do it, do it, whatever you need to do do it, you’re important in this.

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