Two of the most prevalent issues in my practice are people considering if and when to divorce and people considering if and when to quit drinking. While these two major life changes seem to have little in common, when it comes to the holidays both reach a stumbling block.

The unhappy spouse will say, “I can’t bear another minute in this relationship, I want to file for divorce and move out as soon as possible.” The individual struggling with their drinking, will often express just opposite, “I know I need to quit, but I can’t possibly do it until after the holidays.”

Both the person giving up their marriage and the person giving up alcohol have a list of reasons for their decision regarding timing. I ask both to reconsider.

Once someone has made the difficult decision to leave a marriage, they are eager to put the decision into motion. This decision is never easy-many struggle for years. They may argue that staying “even one more day” they are being untrue to themselves and that it will be difficult to “fake it” and that they cannot bear another moment in this relationship. However, if there are children involved, even adult children, I ask them to consider the impact of this decision on the family, not only for this holiday season, but for holidays to come. (The one major exception is the presence violence-physical or emotional, NOW is always the best time to leave. Safety comes first!)

All of us remember when we received bad news- the death of a loved one, for example, is permanently printed in our brain. In slow motion we can relive the scene, often down to the details of what we were wearing, or where we were, or who else was there. When bad news comes on or near a holiday, the two may become inextricably linked. Waiting until January, to announce your decision may feel challenging for you- but when you consider your family’s feelings, you can see that the gift of waiting may be the best gift of all.  The pain of divorce can soften over the years without the holidays being tinged with the memory of that one difficult event.

Paradoxically, the person struggling with giving up drinking will insist that they wait until after the holidays-that quitting is too hard, that the holidays without a drink will not be any fun, and that they have a ton of parties to attend. Unlike divorce, there is never a bad time to quit drinking (or to give up any bad habit or addiction) and there will never be a time that feels convenient. There will always be another holiday, another funeral, another party, another thing to celebrate or another thing to mourn. Furthermore, while the holidays without alcohol may feel challenging for you, most likely your family will feel it is the best gift you could have given them and their support and encouragement fill you with a different kind of high feeling!

Choosing our timing is sometimes challenging, but in years to come, you will look back at this choice with pride. However, both decisions are not easy; find help to support and encourage your brave choice. A therapist, a self-help group, or even a spiritual leader can provide solace and comfort as your forge your new path.

Finally consider this ironic connection; by giving up drinking (or any other bad habit) prior to the holidays, you may avoid the surprise of divorce papers in January!


© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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