Valentine’s Day is one of those times when it can seem like the whole world has something you don’t. Any festive holiday that occurs when you are feeling sad, lonely, confused, dealing with loss, disappointment, grief… it can seem like everyone else is living in a Norman Rockwell painting and you are on the outside looking in. Even if you feel safe and content in the current moment, past unpleasant experiences of that particular holiday can overshadow the present. And when the holiday taps into personal fears such as, “I’ll always be alone,” or “No one loves me,” the emotional blow can be intensified. In cultures like ours where troubling feelings are not easily or openly shared, the temptation to use unproductive behaviors – eating, drinking, dieting, drugs – can be overwhelming.
Why is the temptation to use these escape tactics so strong? Because they work. Eating, not eating, exercise, drugs, gambling, alcohol, self-harm… these are all mood-altering substances or behaviors. But like all inappropriate compensatory measures, the relief they provide is short-lived and ultimately leaves you feeling worse than you did before you started. Not only do you feel the same feelings you initially tried to escape, but you also have the guilt and shame that addiction requires.
If Valentine’s day is one of these triggers for you, know that you are not alone. This holiday is extremely painful for many of us who have lost a loved one, experience feelings of loneliness more deeply than others, and who believe that we are not deserving of love. Some alternatives to destructive behavior exist, but they require more effort and take longer to work. Nevertheless their effects last longer and create a base upon which you can continue to change.
Write a Letter or Valentine Card to Yourself as a Child
Write a letter or Valentine card to yourself as a child, expressing sadness for all that you have gone through in your life, forgiving yourself for all your flaws (real or imagined) and expressing your absolute, undeniable, unconditional love. You do not have to write about your good qualities, because this love does not depend on you having any, but if they come to mind, share with yourself some of the things you are proud of, grateful for, or happy with in your life. If it is too challenging to write this letter to yourself, write it to a child you know and then write in your own name after the fact, or write the letter as if you are a screenwriter writing a script for a movie in which God, an angel, or a special friend is speaking to a character with the same name as you. Tuck this letter in your journal or a safe place so that you can refer to it when you are feeling unworthy. Read and re-read this letter to remind yourself that you are never truly alone as long as you are alive, and that you are deserving of forgiveness and peace no matter what you have been through.
Purchase or Make a Valentine for a Loved One You Have Lost
Purchase or make a Valentine’s card for a loved one you have lost, whether through death, the end of a relationship, or any other kind of loss. Spend time browsing through greeting cards or with your craft supplies until you have found or created a card that expresses your feelings as exactly as you can. Write a personal message if you wish, and seal it with a kiss or whatever expression of love is meaningful to you. Share your creation with a trusted support person, counselor, or support group, keep it with your sentimental items, or place it in a mailbox addressed to Heaven, God, or The Broken Hearts Club.
Send a Valentine/Letter to Someone Who Might be Feeling Lonely
Send a Valentine or a friendly letter to someone (or more than one person) you know who may also be feeling lonely at this time of year. It doesn’t matter if it arrives in time for Valentine’s Day, and it doesn’t even have to mention Valentine’s Day or loneliness – there is never a time when an expression of love or friendship is unwelcome. If you prefer to write to someone you do not know, send a letter to a soldier or a veteran. Start the letter “Dear Hero,” “Dear Service Member,” or “Dear Veteran,” and share a Valentine’s Day greeting or other friendly thoughts. Mail your letter or letters to OPERATION GRATITUDE, 17330 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA 91406, who will deliver them. Or look up your local Meals on Wheels program at http://tinyurl.com/mzwdheo and bring one or more handmade Valentines there. They will deliver them to their homebound clients. And don’t worry if they don’t respond or send a Valentine to you. Send it as a way to remember that you have the amazing power to lift a spirit, even if you are not feeling particularly spirited at the moment.
Write a Love Letter to Food or to Your Addiction in General
Write a love letter to food, a particular food, or to your addiction in general. Write about what you cherish and appreciate about that food, and how it has supported you, provided escape, and any other benefits you have received. Write a poem or song, or draw a picture if that is how you prefer to express yourself. Take your time and elaborate as much as you can. Recognize that you would not have found and used this food, substance or behavior unless you had good reason (or what seemed like good reason at the time) and that you are neither a bad person nor a failure for having done so. Then write a “Dear John” letter to this food or addiction as if it were a relationship with another person that you are ending. Describe how your addiction has hurt you and why you would like to break up with it. Write about past breakups if you wish, with sadness that they didn’t last. Detail your goal of loving yourself enough to leave instead of settling for a substance that cannot return your feelings. Even if you do not yet believe that you will be strong enough to follow through with your plans, write them out, explaining why you have found it so tempting to stay together with your addiction, and why you want out. Share your letter with someone who can help you take steps to follow through with your plan. If you do not have an individual or group to support you, or if you find that what you have written feels frightening or upsetting, call Casa Palmera or your local crisis hotline and share what you have written.
Above all, know that no matter what this holiday brings, even if you have no one to call your Valentine, and even if you practice your addiction this Valentine’s Day, there is always hope, always a potential to change. Casa Palmera is here to help you take that step. Our phones are answered 24 hours a day.