Thursday, 20 December 2018

How I survived my first Christmas after a divorce


Divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag explains how she coped during her first Christmas alone

A few months ago I stumbled upon an old home video. It was from Christmas 1999, the era of fear over millennium bugs, of not talking about Fight Club and, as per my favourtie Cher song at the time, asking whether I believed in life after love.


Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews were singing But Baby It’s Cold Outsideand in the video I was dancing in my pyjamas with my two little boys, then four and two, around our Christmas tree, laughing, unwrapping presents, looking the picture of happiness.

But the reality was, it was one of the most sorrowful times of my life because I was in the middle of a divorce.

We’d had months of hideous to-ing and fro-ing of abortive reconciliation. We’d both got involved in other relationships to escape from the pain of breaking up with the person we had thought five years before was the love of our lives.

I’d messed my new thing up royally but perhaps even more distressingly for me, my ex’s new romance was going along nicely. We’d had an excruciating last family trip to the bleaks of Norfolk and a thoroughly weird attempt at making up involving a tryst in a nudist Lido in Moscow, which was pretty unexpected.

But that Christmas, our marriage was truly over. The lawyers were flexing their muscles, and I didn’t even know if the kids and I could stay in our home.

I used to sit in the dark in the garden after my little boys had gone to bed, chain-smoking, drowning my sorrows in red wine and crying whenever I heard Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Power of Love. I was so miserable and scared about the future that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Every morning I woke up with a gut-wrenching horror as the sense of loss flooded back in. Loss not only of the apparently great love that had turned, in ways I couldn’t fathom, so cold, angry and lonely, but also of all my dreams of a 'normal' family.


As the only child of a divorced single mother, I had desperately longed for a stable, conventional home. When my husband and I met we fell so madly in love that we got engaged five weeks from our first date. It was a dream come true. He was handsome and clever and funny, we were successful together and we had two beautiful sons.

But it didn't work out and I was so stuck on my desire to live out that dream of a lifelong love, of a two-parent family, that I hung onto it all long after I should have let it go. Hence I found myself in the garden, alone, surrounded by fag ends, singing along to My Heart Will Go On from Titanic.

Christmas puts all that under a microscope. There’s so much pressure to make it merry, fun and happy, especially for children. It meant that facing it that first year after my divorce, from my pit of despair, with an empty place at the table, was terrifying. How could I make a Christmas for the boys, when our family had collapsed around our ears?

My mother, away in the country, wanted us to come to her. It was so tempting. She offered warm Anglo-Scottish hospitality, great food and a whole infrastructure of Christmas cheer. The pull of going back to Oxfordshire, where I’d grown up, to familiarity and support, was so strong that I even thought of moving back there all together, London behind me. The whole package looked great.

But there was a little voice that told me I had to resist all that. Not only should I avoid the seduction of going back to live near my mother, which would feel for me, perhaps irrationally, like a regressive step - instead I should stick my neck out and make that first Christmas work completely on my own.

I’d toddle the boys up the road to help me drag back a tree, I’d go out and buy us traditional food and cook it, we’d curl up on the sofa and watch the Teletubbies and Some Like it Hot. I would prove to the boys and to myself that we were a family, the three of us; that we could have fun and be happy together even without anyone else.

Somehow, that push to make our first post-break-up Christmas great for the boys got me out of my damp chain-smoking hell of self-pity and back in the game. Even if you feel destroyed, even if you want to cry all the time, I challenge you to dance around your sitting room with two toddlers eating chocolate money and singing your heart out to Fairytale of New York without feeling instantly better. Looking at that video, we were all smiling, we were giggling, we were just so happy together.

That was the watershed for me – that was when I knew I was going to make it through the dark times. Just doing Christmas myself, making it work, made me feel so much stronger and so much less afraid of being alone. Forcing yourself out for those who love you and depend on you – and if it’s not children it’s whatever family you’ve made among your friends or community – making Christmas for them and not feeling you need to run away and hide; accepting that the family you have, even if it’s just you and a couple of babies or beloved friends, can be a fantastic family all on its own, that’s the key to survival.

I’m not going to tell you how to do it, if you’re going it alone for the first time. It might be a morning in the pub with friends, cocktails on a beach or hiking through the rainforest. You find the things that will work for you and yours. What matters is to grab that first Christmas on your own, don’t just get through it - really make it something you feel proud of.

I remember talking to the boys around the time they were first going to school, and telling them that yes, my heart had broken when I split up with their Dad, but that they, and they alone, had mended it with their love. They've always remembered that and have sometimes quoted it back to me, and, Polyanna-ish as it may be, it feels so, so true. And that Christmas morning was when it started.

Now, I’m getting ready for the bumper giant Christmas that, nearly 15 years on, my lovely (new) husband and I have planned for his two children and my three (having added a daughter in the meantime). We’re all enjoying the big, solid, family life edifice with which I've somehow been blessed.

But I still look back on that old video, where I was alone with my babies on Christmas day in the midst of devastation, and I remember it as a golden moment. One of my life’s most important moments. Because it was the day I realised that I was enough. Just me.

And that I could make new dreams, for myself and my loved ones. Just knowing that changed everything.


Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11310567/Divorce-How-I-survived-my-first-Christmas-afterwards.html

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