The Mighty Logo

Surviving the First Holiday Season After Treatment

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I never dreamt you would be gone — fading away from the life I lead. You were part of me for so long — an extension of myself, a home I hoped to leave behind but never failed to cling to. But it’s my first holiday season without you, and in your absence, I fear myself.

I felt myself deflate every year that you crept your way into a yearly array of festive lights and delectable feasts. As the nights grew darker and colder and the world around me grew cheerier, you seemed to siphon every ounce of joy from me. I believed there was no space for you in my life — a life I fought to convince myself was full and light and joyous.  I dreamt of every winter before I knew you, savoring the moments of freedom you stole from me.

But you knew me intimately — the tears I hid behind closed doors, the pain concealed in my bright smile, the days I wished I could leave everything behind. As sleigh bells chimed and carols rang out, you unmasked me bit by bit, forcing me to confront every harsh truth — the constant worries that raced through my mind, the tears that landed on bathroom floors, my desire to feel as light as the falling snow. You knew every secret I had yet to reveal — the terrifying heaping plates, the frequent missed doses, the sadness disguised as contentment. And you promised to free me from every ill, but as the world grew brighter and more joyous, I refused to take your hand because I believed you were destroying me.

I embraced the safety of your presence but despised the way you controlled my every decision. As the holidays drew nearer, I would wish for the simplicity of the past — the days before I knew you. I longed to erase the knowledge of my illness from my mind, to live as I pleased, to believe that my decisions were natural, to allow love to surround me as I denied my self-hatred. You forced me to grasp for an ever-waning sense of control that seemed to overtake me as the holidays drew nearer and nearer. So I pulled away from you, hoping every wintery celebration would distract from my choice to wane away until only my twisted mind remained.

But this first holiday season without you, I fear that your absence will send me spiraling. Day after day, I watch myself slip deeper and deeper into the same perspectives you forced me to change. I persuade myself that without you, I am truly living — then watch helplessly as I deny myself every simple pleasure that makes this season bright. Still, every time I’m tempted by forces that feel far beyond my control, the lessons you taught me ring out — and I fervently attempt to nurture more, enjoy more, live more than any holiday season before.

Despite every moment that left me battling you, during this first holiday season without you, I crave you more than ever before. Life without you is uncertain and terrifying, especially as the pressures of the holidays swell into a frenetic flurry. But thanks to you, I know I possess the strength and courage to confront my deepest fears — and truly enjoy the holiday season for the first time in years.

Getty image by miljko

Originally published: December 16, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home