Dealing with stressful holidays as abuse survivors.

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Let’s face it, really any day can be stressful for survivors. Random triggers, depression, anxiety at the drop of a hat, dissociating, it’s all part of the deal in recovery. So even though there are countless circumstances that can raise the anxiety level, one thing is a guarantee..Stressful Holidays.

Those pesky times when seemingly everyone around you is happy and enjoying life, and we are left with a flood of emotions. It’s all we can do to just put on a semi happy face and try to not draw too much attention to ourselves.

That’s not to say that sharing our emotions is bad, not at all! However, in public places or around those we deem to be unsafe, sometimes we have to just “suck it up and deal” as best we can.

For me, being around strangers isn’t quite as tough as being around family.

When I’m at a concert, or fireworks for example, I’m around tons of people that I don’t know and probably will never see again. I can use this as a time to try and have some fun and give my mind and body some much needed self-care.  At the very least since if I’m among strangers I can just blend in even when I don’t feel like having a good time, and nobody is any the wiser.

I would go as far as to say that I would likely prefer that setting to a family gathering. Perhaps you are that way too, if family causes your stress level to jump through the roof like me?

When I’m with family, I feel like I have to put on a happy face and entertain. I feel the need to talk to everyone about everything. “How’s your life going, what are you up too?” “Oh, so-and-so just got a new job, wow that’s great!” “This person might be stopping by; oh it will be nice to talk with them again”.  You know the drill, these are things many of us have felt and still feel today.

What is the real reason we feel this way though? Is it solely that one or more of our family members abused us in some way? Is it that they invalidated us as we grew up, or still to today? Those are definitely valid and I can relate to both.

However, holidays are also stressful because it’s a time when memories come rushing back with a vengeance.  So not only do we have to deal with the excitement surrounding the day and trying to do our best to just survive, but we also are dealing with a ton of emotions of what used to be.

For me, holidays and such aren’t just about family issues of abuse (although when it comes to my mother that’s definitely a big part of it).  It’s also a time that I reflect back on what I once had as a husband and father.

I’m still a father; my 3 kids are wonderful, amazing, and just plain awesome!  I love them more than they could ever know.

What I miss though are some of the fun experiences I had when I was married. Somehow even though stressful holidays are a given, I can usually leave each with some positive, lasting memories.

I can remember vividly staying up all night making the stuffing for the turkey on Thanksgiving, and then basting it every hour while it cooked in the wee hours of the night. For me it’s hard to match the feeling of waking up to the smell of turkey cooking.

What about Christmas morning; the anticipation of knowing the kids were going to wake up and come over to open their gifts. Watching the dogs tear into their Santa bones and running around throwing wrapping paper everywhere.  We would either go somewhere or just make our own Christmas dinner, and in the midst of it all we always managed to laugh even when things didn’t go as planned. Which was quite often.

Or better yet, finding a way to laugh because you KNOW things are going to go sideways at some point.

Another example is friends and family coming over for a cookout, and then going to go see fireworks.  Even if the day was shot and nobody had a good time, we all just stopped and gazed skyward to watch the flurry of colors and sounds.

Back to reality now,  and days like today just aren’t as fun as they used to be.

Please don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy these times with my kids so much.  I love to see them smile, laugh, and enjoy their time together. Part of me is broken inside though, and those wounds that try to heal just seem to reopen like clockwork.

Holidays are tough for us survivors, there is no doubt. We have every right to feel the way that we do. We were robbed of so many things as children, and maybe still are robbed of those things today.

For those whose abusive situations are still ongoing, it’s a struggle just to get through days like this. You know that inside the facade you may be putting on for everyone is so difficult to pull off. You realize that things are tough right now and it’s all you can do to keep going each day.

No matter what, don’t ever give up!

For those of us where our abuse happened in the past, as children or teenagers, it’s no walk in the park either.  We struggle to live life in the moment, all the while our traumatic past tugs at us as if to say, “hey I’m still here”.

There is easy fix, no band aid, no kiss on the boo-boo to make it all better. It takes hard work, determination, and a daily struggle to fight through the pain.

Do I have all the answers and have it all together? Nope! However, I have to have faith that one of the benefits of this healing journey I’m on, will be that I’ll have the ability to enjoy the holidays a bit more.

It may never be easy, but it can get easier to manage.  You are validated for how you feel. I’m here on this journey with you.

-Matt

 

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Blogger-Podcaster-Advocate for Mental Health.

Matt is survivor of childhood sexual abuse & narcissistic abuse, living with Dissociation, Anxiety, & PTSD.

This blog exists to inspire all who have survived the trauma of abuse. All posts, podcasts, and videos are my life as a survivor shared openly and honestly to help inspire as many as possible to speak up, speak out, and not be ashamed.

4 Responses to " Dealing with stressful holidays as abuse survivors. "

  1. Don says:

    Some holidays are okay for me and some aren’t. Father’s day – its best to stay clear of me. Mother’s Day – I miss my mom. I love Thanksgiving and Christmas but they essentially wipe me out and normally from mid Dec until early Jan I’m struggling with a deep depression. Memorial day, Independence Day and Labor Day are just kind of “blah” days for me. Valentines is okay since I”m in a relationship. They days we tend to celebrate the most are birthdays. Of course we don’t go all out and spend a lot of money on any holiday.

    I’ve had times when people invited me over and while I went so I wasn’t alone, I often felt like the 5th tire on a car. I had some that were genuine and some that I just didn’t feel comfortable with. It was as difficult for me to stay home on those days because the loneliness would about do me in. When it gets to the thanksgiving and christmas holidays, I just hope that it will be over soon. I get so triggered and sometimes I try to do stuff during those times to help. Other times, I’m just too exhausted from it happening.

    At one time when I was single, I would take off for the mountains and go where I loved to be. The more removed I could be from people, the better I was.

    There’s far too much hype on holidays I think. Its a reason to get people to spend money and I don’t think that does anyone much good. But that’s me.

    As a kid, I’d get so excited about Christmas for like a month that I could barely sleep. My mom did make it special and it was the one time of year where the abuse probably slowed down. Christmas day was generally a day when my dad didn’t make us go out and do some type of work outside. We got to be kids for a day, but that was about the only day of the year.

    Its mixed for me. Its gotten better, but I still struggle with the major holidays. I’m not a big fan of crowds, so i tend to shy away from those things. Each year it seems like it shifts and changes for me, so who knows what this year will be.

  2. I couldn’t relate to this post as a survivor, but I could relate to it as someone who is separated/divorce pending. Tonight is July 4th (well actually it’s past midnight so it’s July 5th) and I remember just getting home from the hospital from my brain surgery on this day nine years ago and sitting in the driveway in the arms of my fiance (now husband) and watching the fireworks, high on life (and hydrocodone). It is such a great memory but now I feel like it’s ruined, and that is how I feel about all my memories of holidays now. I ask myself, why can’t I just cherish those happy memories despite what my current situation is? I want to keep the happy and the sad separate in my mind and heart but the colors are blending and everything is brown now. The same goes for other holidays, Valentine’s Day was the day of our first date and it has been so many years since we celebrated that- and every time I get together for a holiday with my family my husband is not there and there is a huge void in the gatherings and it’s awkward because I know what everyone’s thinking- my husband has left me and I’m alone. Poor Joy. But the weddings! Those are the WORST for me. Being in my sister Kelly’s wedding was hard because at the time her marriage was beginning mine was ending, and then at my sister Victoria’s wedding he was long gone, and all the family and friends who were at MY wedding were at hers, and again…I know what they’re thinking. Of course I was happy for them, I just was not happy for me! Anyway to summarize this book I’ve just written, holidays or any kind of celebration as a divorcee are extremely painful for me.

    • Matt says:

      I find it so difficult to remember the good parts of holidays as well. It’s like they are overshadowed by all of the negative memories that seem to always be so much more active and willing to show themselves. If I really, really try and I recall the good ones but it takes a lot of out of me unfortunately.

      You are brave and strong Joy, never forget that. You are here for a reason even though I know sometimes you feel otherwise. Never stop being the awesome person that you are.

  3. […] Holidays and Birthdays don’t normally hold very many fond memories, and often stir up a world of emotions that cause us to melt down. […]

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