I watched him zip up that beat up old green backpack, remembering it bouncing with the weight of our snacks on his back as we hiked up Monument Mountain in the Berkshires four years before. Back then, he looked back at me with eyes shining proud, reaching out his hand with that smile as he lifted me to that last step to the top. Now I focused on the drumsticks he attempted to jam into the side pocket that was packed too tight. He instinctively looked at me to help him like I’d done so many times before. His eyes, bloodshot red from rage tears, met mine, and he looked away quickly. He gave up, shoved the drumsticks into his back pocket, picked up his bags, and walked out the door. I watched it close behind him.
It was November 2, 2015. My live-in boyfriend waited for our Halloween celebration and All Souls Day of recovery to be complete before letting me know that our relationship was over. He actually told me he wanted to break up to get it over with before the holidays so he could enjoy them fresh.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time a man had decided to break up with me between October 31 and November 15 so that he could enjoy the holidays without me. I’ve had 10 relationships end right before and during the holiday season and I’m not alone. It’s not unusual for couples to break up during the holiday season. But I not only survived each breakup, I thrived. Here’s my favorite 10 tips to handle breaking up during the holidays.
10. Give yourself permission to feel all the feels.
We don’t have to deny our feelings. It is okay to feel them. I know it sucks not to feel good when everyone around you seems to be decking the halls with joy. Know that feelings are like clouds, impermanent. When you get all up in your feelings after a breakup, it’s okay to pause and just feel your feelings.
9. Find practices to let go of guilt, shame, and rumination.
Giving in to guilt, shame, and rumination are the trifecta that will send you down the rabbit hole of post-breakup depression. In his book Emotional First Aid, Guy Winch, PH.D talks about guilt being like “a fight club for one.” That mental battle opens the door of shame and ruminating about what you could have done just makes everything worse. Journaling was my go-to tool for dealing with these emotions. In my journal, I unapologetically said all the things I was afraid to say. The act of writing provides a physical activity and a visual representation that clears out the clutter in our mind.
8. Connect to your “heart brain” for intuitive wisdom through meditation.
Chapter 4 of Michelle Cassandra Johnson’s book, Finding Refuge: Heart work for Healing Collective Grief, talks about acknowledging the intelligence of the heart. When we are able to slow down and listen to our heart’s intuition, we achieve a self-knowing that enables us to process difficult experiences from a grounded space.
7. Move your body to the point of sweaty exhaustion once a day.
Dance, spin class, swimming, yoga, weight lifting, run, and HITT workouts are all physical activities that force us to focus on the present moment. If you feel comfortable joining a gym, really challenging fitness classes are great ways to make new friends and community.
6. Eat real food made with love.
It’s okay to slouch around in your soft flannel robe and snack on sweet and salty treats, but please get some actual nutrition in your body as well. Eat real food that consists of complete proteins, green leafy veggies, and fruit, and get as much rest as you can.
5. Hydrate and read fiction.
Drinking water is the ultimate cleanse. Hydration makes my mind/body feel nourished. From that space my mind is more available. The holidays are a time where you may be able to have days off, take the time to pick up fiction, and transport yourself into someone else’s universe for some time. It feels really good to disconnect from the present moment and just get lost in a story.
4. Procrastinate while traveling solo.
You’re single; take a trip without an agenda. Whether it’s a staycation at a sweet local B&B for a few days or a trip to a distant beach or city you’ve always wanted to visit, the act of traveling places our minds in a different state. Learn the positive aspects of procrastinating, not having a plan, sleeping late, and being indecisive. I particularly love exploring cities alone. There’s a delicious freedom to being able to just live at your own pace.
3. Listen to music that you love.
Whether you want to lament in your sorrow to Cassandra Wilson or dance your moneymaker off to Beyoncé, music is medicine that takes our minds to another state of being. Turn off the world and lose yourselves in the melody.
2. Binge-watch whatever you want.
After my ex with the backpack was gone, I proceeded to snot cry prostrate on the floor for 4 hours. It was bad. I was spent, but I couldn’t sleep. I curled up in a blanket and turned on Netflix. For whatever reason, Grey’s Anatomy popped up on my screen. I’d never seen the series so I watched the pilot. It made me feel better. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, I stayed in my studio apartment in Park Slope Brooklyn and binge-watched 12 seasons of Grey’s nonstop. That show was a total catharsis of healing. I raged, laughed, cried, and danced it out with the crew over at Seattle Grace. During the holidays when all my friends were occupied with family and relationships, I unapologetically connected with the people onscreen and transformed the deep loneliness of being single during the holidays to a self-care retreat grounded in unconditional love for myself. To this day I love Grey’s Anatomy because of that experience.
1. Talk to a therapist, social worker, or counselor.
It’s easy for single people to feel isolated during the holiday season. We live in a culture that treats being single as if it’s some sort of terminal illness. If you are going through a breakup and visiting family for the holidays, there’s the added pressure of having to explain the whys and endure well-meaning relatives’ advice. Do yourself a huge favor and find a therapist who will listen. If you are experiencing financial insecurity, there are organizations out there like The Loveland Foundation that help low-wealth Black women find therapists to work with on a sliding scale.
Breaking up in the holiday season can be an opportunity to let go and lean in to loving yourself better and connecting to the authentic joy of being free of a relationship that was, most likely, holding you back.
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.