The Annual Post-Breakup Holidays Post

Dec 3, 2020 | 2020, abuse, abuser's remorse, Christmas, featured, Getting Past Your Breakup, gratitude, grief, holidays, New Years

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 


BACK STORY: This blog started on November 29, 2006 for a handful of my students from the Learning Annex in NYC. It was never meant to be read by anyone outside that class. Many of my first few posts received responses from thousands of people worldwide, including this one. 

This is the story of my first year from my separation from an abusive, unfaithful man in February to my first holiday alone after NEVER having once experienced any holidays alone. The first year was full of agony  and heartache as well as triumphs and joys. But going into Christmas, I experienced a devastation and a depression that grabbed me by the throat and threatened to not let go.  My world was shattering and I was falling apart. Then I figured out how to make the despair let go and it did. 

This is that story.

This was one of the posts that went viral and led to GPYB being more than just a 2 hour class at the Learning Annex. It led to the revival of the program I developed in the late 90s and the publication of Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009) and the books that followed.  

To find the books / workbooks or to listen to the podcast or see the GPYB videos on YouTube, click on the links below this article or on Resources above. 

12/3/2020 This year has been very tough due to the pandemic, but it is still possible to get through, to make it through and be OKAY when all is said and done.  Make plans to go to Meetups and support groups to build your life and live your life post-breakup.  By the spring we should all be vaccinated and in good shape to live our best lives again.  Please hang on and hang in and know there’s always a January 2nd.


I post it every year in its original – unedited form. Hope it helps.

From February Breakup to Nightmare Before Christmas 

My First Christmas Alone (EVER)

“I cannot believe I’m alone on Christmas Eve.” – me (first holidays post-separation)

We separated on February 1st. 4 months after I had wanted to.

The previous summer had been awful and by September, I had had it and was serious about walking out THIS TIME (as I had done before, but this time I MEANT IT).He could tell I was serious but he begged me to stay and, “Think about the holidays….” made me reconsider.

I tell everyone not to compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.  This is why. My childhood Christmases were awful and my marital Christmases, if I wanted to be honest, were a sham. Both in childhood and in my first marriage, we looked like the happiest, most holiday-loving-focused famdamilies. But we weren’t.  If anyone was jealous of us (and I’m sure some were), we had you ALL fooled.

BUT I had never been alone on Christmas. Ever and his mention of the holidays in September caused me to freeze and retreat. My exhusband and I had known each other since high school and we had children early and celebrated like crazy people. Which we were. My mother’s idea of Christmas was to decorate in order to be seen from another galaxy.  I dove into those decorations every year even though Christmas at Dysfunction Junction could possibly include a Christmas turkey being thrown, a Christmas tree being toppled and good ole Huckleberry Hound going straight to hell. [note: Dec 2020 – those stories are here on the blog]

We had always made a big deal of the holidays – we were the type to buy Christmas ornaments in July (yes, the very same people I hate now).  We had huge Christmases and we wanted that to continue for the kids.

So I held off…my anger in September, the gaslighting incident in August…[these are all chronicled on this blog] all went away as “stuff” I was holding onto as we moved into Halloween and Thanksgiving. BUT  a new set of suspicions came about in December….RIGHT before Christmas….he un-invited me to his job’s Christmas party – as his group of friends (all women and one gay man) decided spouses weren’t invited to this year’s Christmas party.  This is how it is when you’re married to a cheating liar – talk you into staying by saying “Think of the holidays and the kids…” (my youngest was still 3) and then starting a new affair right before Christmas and un-inviting you to the Christmas party.

We battled it out and I managed to get myself re-invited, but it was odd, uncomfortable and so different than other years I went to his party.

I went but knew something was up with one of the women in the group – but I couldn’t figure out who.  It’s the spidey sense of those spouses who have experienced infidelity.  You “knew” when it was raising its head AGAIN. In December and January, I felt like such a fool…such a damn fool. Why did I stay? Why couldn’t I just GO????

My job had layoffs mid-January and all hell broke loose leading us to very knock down, drag out fights that caused us to separate the beginning of February.  You can hear what happened to the kids and the dog in this post.  

The Grief Monster Cometh

So after that fight, I left. I could not allow the abuse to go to the kids and the dog. I was responsible and I would not allow that. With no job, no money and nowhere to go, I left.

I eventually landed at my mother’s…anxious and depressed and upset through most of February and March. He was being open about his relationship with a woman he worked with. In fact, he introduced our poor, confused children to her and her children less than six weeks after we’d parted.

The Separation

I was furious that he would introduce my kids to her. I could not believe that he had so little regard for them as to do that. It was a portent of things to come for the next 10 years when he put our children and their feelings last, after her, her kids, her family and just about anything else. But right after we separated, I still thought of him as someone who cared about his children. The things he did immediately after we separated gave me a clue that he would put her and her children before his children for all of the years to come but I tried very hard not to believe it.

Still, I was upset and feeling crazy for them and for me through most of March and April.

It was a time of great emotional upheaval. I was anxious, depressed, lonely, scared and broke. I paced the floors and wrung my hands.

What would become of me?

Could I REALLY take care of these kids?

Would anyone ever love me?

Why was I the one who hurt when he was the one so badly behaved?

How did he get to be ensconced in puppy love and happiness when I was aching and alone?

He was the bad guy, not me. How did this work???

It was so unfair. I pounded the floors at night – hoping that someone would hear me and bring me peace. I have no idea what I wanted or needed. All I knew was deep, searing pain. 

I had looked for work in February, March and April but was such a mess I am sure that the interviewers saw right through me. I was a complete and utter mess. I never felt so awful and alone.

At the beginning of May the weather got warmer and after 12 weeks of intense therapy and reading and a therapy group and various 12 step and support groups (including 6 weeks in an intense day treatment for depression program), I was starting to feel much better. I was exercising – cardio and weights, I lost weight, I got my hair cut and colored – a FIRST for me. When we were married, I hid my clothes at my job and cut my own hair.  I must have looked a mess.

I got a good job. A REALLY good job as a software engineer for a large high tech company. I bought new clothes – very stylish and they were very flattering on my new thin but firm frame. I got new glasses.  He had always loved me in glasses, but freaked out when we were married over how much I spent on a pair of glasses. I have needed glasses since I was a KID but suddenly, in the last few years of my marriage, I couldn’t get them. I was always saving for them, but then something would come up and my glass stash would fall by the wayside.  Now I bought my glasses and the first time I had them on when he came to get the kids, he did a double take. He didn’t keep me barefoot and pregnant, but blind and dressed like a hobo. 

And at the end of May I started to feel better, look better and things were looking up. Way up.

The “Reconciliation”

In July he wanted to come back home. We did an emotional crazy dance for about 4 weeks because I could not believe that I really didn’t want this. Where had my sadness gone? Where was the “please come back” that I pleaded to him in March. I had a lot of F that noise during our reconciliation. And it took me weeks to figure it out. 

For most of March and April I had walked the floors at night and cried and carried on. I had wanted him back and I had wanted our life and our family back. I had been threatened by the idea of someone else taking that.

But now in the summer I could see, after less than six months of intense therapy and support groups, that he was a controlling SOB and I wasn’t really open to a reconciliation. I was enjoying my new life after a few months of feeling on the emotional skids.

He hung around a long time and he wasn’t crazy about my new changes…the changes that I was crazy about. He questioned where I was going and who I was seeing and for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel the need to answer him.

I remember one day wearing white pants that hugged my hips and a purple silk body suit tucked in. I had bought about 20 pair of Reebok classic high tops in every color and for almost every look, my sneakers either matched my pants or my shirt. This day I had on a pair of white high tops with purple laces.  He was big into foot wear and always went crazy on laces when we were together, though he never let me purchase anything. I saw him look at the sneakers and then slowly move his eyes to my face, framed in very cool aviator tinted glasses the kind I wore before he stopped allowing me to buy glasses.

Anyway, I knew I looked fabulous. More like the 18 year old I was before we got serious than I ever looked when we were married.  In his typical narcissistic way he said, “Do you think it’s okay for a 30 year old mother of 3 to be wearing such tight clothing? ”  I looked at him with amusement, trying to keep my “ah ha” feeling down. I said, “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.”  He started in on me and I walked out of the room. Again, f that noise. 

He hung around and kept trying to trip me up with questions. I didn’t like being questioned. I had spent so many years with him explaining myself, defending myself against things I wasn’t thinking or hadn’t done, intentions I didn’t have. I had ALWAYS been explaining and justifying or denying things I was being accused of that I hadn’t done. He constantly berated me when we were married and accused me of doing things I wasn’t doing.

After 10 years of explaining, defending, justifying and being driven mad by the gaslighting,  I wasn’t in the mood for it. I had changed the dance steps and he didn’t know how to respond. He would alternate between angry and upset when I wouldn’t answer his questions. As a true boundary crasher, he would “up the ante” trying to trick me into playing.  Not now, fool, not now.

For the first time in our relationship I cared more about my reaction to what he was doing than his reaction to what I was doing.  (for a full-blown version of “My Story” and how my abandonment and abuse history led me into this marriage click here to go to My Story on the GPYB YouTube channel)

Instead of feeling bad that I made him angry or upset, I was miffed about being questioned. I was taking a step back and was able to see how controlling and ridiculous he was. The “reconciliation” was a good thing in that I could see the dance steps we did and I no longer wanted to dance. My therapist had told me that the only way to win was not to play the game and here I was, not even WANTING to play the game. It wasn’t hard to do.  All those months of therapy, day treatment, support groups, 12 step programs and endless reading, had their effect on me and I LOVED IT.

I decided I liked my new life more than I liked him and he did not take it well. We had an argument because I was just not willing to go back to being told what to do. I knew it would be over if I didn’t make this reconciliation work but the truth was, I didn’t want it to work.

He disappeared in August, back with the other woman and so be it. I didn’t really care. I could not believe that my thoughts were “He’s her problem now. Let her have him. If she’s sick enough to want him and to wait for him after he attempts to come back to me, she can have him.” I was feeling so good about things and no longer cared about her having him. I still didn’t like the fact that he put her and her kids before mine, but I wasn’t willing to fight for him any longer. I didn’t even want him, let alone want to fight for him. Wow. Had I changed or what? 

The Restraining Order

I don’t think he liked my new attitude because one day in September he came over and assaulted me. He was outside in the pool with the kids. I came in – it had been a hot day and my commute was over an hour.  I looked out the kitchen window and saw him out there. My youngest were 4 and 5. They could not be in the pool unchaperoned.

Since it was a hot day, I went upstairs to change from my shoes to my sneakers. As I bent down to put on my sneakers I looked up and he was standing in the doorway. I looked at him, “Yes?” He said, “You don’t even say hello???” I thought okay this is crazy.  I think it was the array of sneakers he saw against my wall. Again, he was a BIG footwear guy and I was collecting them like a crazy person. He marched over to me and smacked me in the face.  I said, “Get out.”  He didn’t move and I yelled, “GET OUT!!!” and he shot out like a bottle rocket and I went out to the pool to keep my kids from drowning. 

The very next week, I filed for divorce and a restraining order and felt like jumping for joy through most of October and November. I was FREEEEEEEEEEEE. Things were coming together. I knew I had a lot of work to do but I was doing it, and the results were fabulous.

For the first time I had stuck up for myself and said “You can’t hit me.” and I was clear that no one would ever hit me again. I was done with that.  I testified against him at trial though he tried to avoid that by subpoening my mother and all my friends and anyone he could think of so that I had no one to talk to.  Being under subpoena from his attorney meant they couldn’t talk to me. My own mother. It was supposed to stop me but it didn’t. 

Post Subpoena Stress Disorder

Then it snuck up on me…the holidays…I didn’t have a boyfriend…he had a girlfriend…Thanksgiving was rough, very rough…rougher than I thought it would be… then it was Christmas and we were making plans…I didn’t have a lot to give my kids in the way of a “family” Christmas so I let him take them…my only Christmas without them…and it hurt like hell…he was bringing the kids to her house and they were going to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas while I sulked at home. Alone.

Even if they were all screwed up, they could still bedazzle the children with the trappings and wrappings of Christmas…despite the fact that I had been feeling strong and healthy for most of the fall, I began to unravel in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

By Christmas Eve I was an utter and complete mess. I went to a couple of get-togethers that people in my support groups were holding. I had a very negative view of this…

LOSERS…losers whose lives revolved around therapy and support groups and had no significant others and no lives.


And I was one of them. A big LOSER.

I felt anxious and depressed and thoughts of suicide did cross my mind. I felt myself slipping into a deep dark hole.

Ground Zero: Christmas Eve!

On Christmas Eve I went to a gathering where people were “sharing” (I thought that if I heard one more person SHARE I was going to hurl).

Thinking back on our wonderful Christmas Eves wrapping gifts and stuffing stockings, this room of lonely, sharing people seemed stark and cold.  I remember going to support meetings and 12-step meetings and therapy groups in the beginning of our separation. I was in excruciating emotional pain and I would sit in the back and pull my over-sized coat around me.  But the sharing in the room is what drew me in many months before. 

It was in a similar room I heard the words, “The truth shall ring true.”  It was one of the light bulb moments I had that drew me in and kept me coming back.  I heard those words and I knew my ex was a pathological liar. To me, those bite-sized “wisdom nuggets” is what kept me coming back to meetings, groups, therapy….  I was an empty vessel who had not ever known “the way…”   For 10 months I had done nothing but learn, learn, learn and absorb, absorb, absorb….

And in those days I thought of the power of “widsom nuggets.”  That is why GPYB is so full of sayings and things that are easy to remember.  When I was in emotional pain and barely able to spell my own name, let alone figure out my LIFE, those nuggets stayed with me…and I’ve tried, over the years, to impart wisdom nuggets to my clients.

But here I was, 10 months after welcoming the warmth and wisdom of rooms like these and I felt it was stark and cold and held NO wisdom.  I was a fool to think it once did.  Where was the wisdom in being this alone on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was the one guaranteed day of the year with no arguments with my ex.  I was ignoring – in my “I just want it BACK” frame of mind – the misery of the other 364 days a year.

But here, tonight, I didn’t want someone to SHARE their feelings with me, I didn’t want wisdom in nuggets or any other form. I wanted someone to share their life with me, with presents and a tree and the glowing faces of my three little kids…instead my kids were at HIS house with HER wrapping presents, drinking eggnog, caroling for all I knew (my imagination had it pegged as THE perfect Christmas anyone had ever had EVER)

and I was alone on Christmas Eve.

I left the gathering and called a friend of mine and said I was sick of hearing people SHARE, sick of “support groups”, sick of all of it…I didn’t want it to be this way, I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want my children with the ex and his girlfriend and her kids….I didn’t want the holidays…I didn’t want any of this. I wanted this all to go away and I wanted to do something else.

He said, “Okay so what else are you going to do?”


There was NOTHING else to do but trudge back to the gathering.

I plopped down next to a guy I had never seen before…he was wearing a motorcycle jacket and had tattoos everywhere including one of barbed wire around his neck (long before anyone tatt’d their neck). Oh good, a dangerous guy…just my speed. He had flaming long red hair and I thought of one of my favorite books, Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. The guy was a real life Woodpecker. Wow. I loved him instantly – but not in a romantic way – in a “He drives a Harley in December and has long red hair” kind of way. 

Another friend of mine, David, sat on the other side of me and the three of us started talking.

The guy, Billy, was in town for his friend’s funeral. Another motorcycle guy who killed himself because he was depressed at Christmas. Billy was angry and thought that was the coward’s way out. He could not get right with it. He loved his friend and missed him but he was so ANGRY at him.

I wondered if my family would be angry if I killed myself? I hadn’t even thought of that.

Billy hadn’t touched drugs or alcohol for 3 years and was sticking close to people, even people he didn’t know, to avoid it while he was in town for the funeral and the holidays.

The Island of Misfit Toys

The three of us went out to breakfast and then met again on Christmas night for dinner. The three of us were hurting units but we kept talking (yes, SHARING). I SHARED about my ex and his new woman and Billy said, “What he does with you, he’ll do TO you…she’ll get her turn.” That has become a saying I’ve held onto all these years. It helped me avoid the serial cheaters all these years (well, the one time I ignored it, it bit me as it should have.)

With David and Billy, I felt like we had known each other all of our lives. There was a synergy that just worked and worked well.

Hanging out with Billy and David was nice in a very depressing kind of way…we were like the toys of misfit island–Billy was small – I’m 5’1 and about 110 lbs and he was not much bigger than me… but wore a constant gruff scowl and looked like he could kill someone as soon as look at them (did I mention he had a barbed wire tattoo on his NECK???  yes, all around his NECK was a tattoo of barbed wire…who does that???)

Not only was Billy the first person I ever saw with a neck tattoo, but it would be years before I saw that again

…David was big…6 feet tall…and he worked construction so he was big and brawny, but had a sweet, gentle baby face and blonde, almost white, hair…if not for his size you’d think he was about 12…he had the sweetest, cutest baby face and a personality to match…even though he would take someone out for trying to hurt me or his mom or anyone he was close to…he was, toward most people….gentle as a lamb and looked like a big, huggable bear…and then there was me in the middle…dressed to the nines with nowhere to go…we were a semi-motley, completely mismatched crew…but that was what it was and there wasn’t much I could do about it. As my other friend had asked, “What else was I going to do?”

Here I was on the island of misfit toys with David and Billy.

We saw each other every night that week between Christmas and New Years Eve. On New Year’s Eve one of my support groups asked me to be the New Year’s speaker at a big gathering they were having. Billy and David went with me. We had a great time then we went out for breakfast at 1 am and then drove to the mountains, to a place Billy knew. We parked on a ridge overlooking the pine trees and the rivers.

We had driven up from the city where we met-Providence–and we sat and talked very quietly…sitting there and watching the sunrise. It was absolutely gorgeous. One of the most gorgeous sunrises I have ever seen. The sun shining on a new year…on a new life.

I felt a peace I TRULY had never known before. I had NO IDEA you could feel that serene.

We stayed a while and then drove back to Providence. I dropped David off and I dropped Billy off next to his motorcycle…several people driving by looked at us. We both found that funny. Was it me – dressed to the nines in a long, white cashmere coat hugging the little red-headed guy in the motorcycle jacket…or that he was riding a bike in the Northeast on a cold New Year’s Day. We giggled and hugged.  Then we laughed out loud and hugged some more.

I went home and slept most of the day and night.

The next morning I got up and went out to scrape the ice off my windshield on a very cold morning.

January 2nd

There on my windshield was 1 long stemmed red rose with a note.

The note said, “It’s January 2nd. The holidays are over. No matter what, there will always be a January 2nd. Take care of yourself and think of me often, Love Billy”

And I never saw him again…not ever…I sometimes wonder what life would be if there was social media or email then…

It seemed he was like an angel who came and went. His appearance in my life seemed magical. I’m not even sure if that kind of occurrence CAN happen in the age of technology.  I’m sure if there was a Facebook, we would have kept in touch, but honestly, it would not be the same.  The way he came and went was perfect. Absolutely perfect. 

I never ever saw him again, but I do think of him every holiday season.

David and I remained close for a couple of years but we drifted apart,. The last time I saw him I was speaking at a large self-help recovery conference and there, in one of the front rows, was David. When I came off the stage, he was waiting.  He picked me up and swung me around. He kissed me and hugged me like 20 times and said, “I love you, I miss you, I love you, I miss you.”  But we never did really rekindle our friendship.  I was riding high. I was involved in so many things and I was speaking here there and another place. My life was moving so fast. 

David seemed very lost and wanted me to save him. I was working very hard on my codependency and I just couldn’t do it. So I spoke to his uncle, a good friend of mine and told him. His uncle, too, was giving him space. I said to him, “I can’t….” and his uncle said, “I know….” But David called me a bunch of times and one message said he  thought my distancing wasn’t okay and he got angry and said “Don’t call me back.” Okay.  It made me sad, but David had been doing things that would have been triggers for me if we were close. He was mucking around with an ex and he wasn’t going to meetings and he was just in this crazy frame of mind. I tried to explain, but he was having none off it. 

A few years later he died a very premature death due to an undiagnosed heart condition. I think of him every holiday season as well as many thoughts of him and how sweet he was – throughout the year. I wish we had stayed close. I really do. 

I’ve had a few rough holidays since but I managed to build traditions with my kids and even when it was the four of us, we had a holiday and I made it the best I could, even when I had no money and no other people to share it with.

How did I do it?

I always told myself, there is a January 2nd. Just wait for it.

I have no idea what actually happened on that first Christmas but my kids never wanted to go back there for Christmas and they never did.

I don’t think I will ever love the holidays,


through great pain wisdom is born


I am so grateful for the wisdom I received during that first year.

There is always a January 2nd.

If you are broken up and broken-hearted on Christmas Eve, and taunted by everyone’s “Norman Rockwell” holidays, know that they are probably not having a good a time as they seem and that there is always a January 2nd.

Hold on, hang tight, and find friends who will share their joy and their pain with you. You can’t ask for more. Here’s to wishing you all a January 2nd.

Susan J. Elliott 12/21/06

Copyright 2006-2020 © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a Link Back To The Original Content



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