Is it the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
by Teresia Smith
During the holiday season, everywhere we turn, we’re reminded that it is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” While for many that may be true, for those who have experienced a dysfunctional family, the holiday season is filled with triggers such as songs, scents and family gatherings that bring back painful memories. These memories may be of domestic violence between parents, being abused or neglected as a child or even experiencing sexual assault. The holidays may serve as a reminder of what does not exist for them, a safe, happy family with which they can celebrate, cook, decorate and relax.
Loss, loneliness, sadness and shame are powerful emotions that are often felt by those who have been hurt by family violence.
There is often a great yearning for what might have been. Many times survivors feel pressured to conform to social expectations and more interactions with family and friends than they would normally choose. It’s hard to explain, without sharing personal details, that you choose solitude during the holidays in order to avoid pain inflicted upon you by your own family.
There are so many situations in which the holidays leave us feeling lonely and disconnected. Often, we put so much expectation into the holidays because we want so badly to reflect what we perceive as a happy family and this leaves us ruminating more on what we don’t have instead of what we do. Gretchen Schmelzer says, “The very nature of any holiday is the strong connection to ritual and tradition—to connect the past to the present and have a bridge to the future—all through the repetition of the things we do, what we eat, the songs we sing, the way we spend our days. If our holidays were happy ones, we can instantly tap into that happiness from the past and draw on it like a deep well. But if holidays were deeply unhappy, violent, or grim—then the reminders can bring us right back—even if our current situation is more peaceful. The power of holiday and tradition—to create a time-warp event of ‘once upon a time’ can mean that at the holidays—it can feel impossible to unhook from past traumas even if they have receded at other times of the year.” So what can we do to save the holidays?
For many people, embracing the holidays in a way that feels genuine is vital. That could mean establishing healthy boundaries, removing toxic people from your life or transforming your holiday celebrations entirely. All traditions started somewhere so why not start your own? Creating new rituals can aid in your healing. Take some time to incorporate positive and personal traditions into your celebrations. Take time to reclaim your childlike joy and look forward to the magic of the season, focusing on joy, wonder and playfulness.
Gather friends to bake cookies and decorate a tree. Include your pets by filling a stocking with treats for them. Consider starting a tradition of taking a trip to a play or a movie, the zoo or aquarium or to the beach or mountains. Embracing fresh rituals and establishing your own traditions will give you a new foundation.
When you catch yourself thinking about all that you don’t have or dredging up painful memories, redirect your thoughts. Ask yourself what you do have. Who loves me and cares for me? Am I safe and comfortable? What do I have to be grateful for? During this time, you can acknowledge your feelings and know they are valid while also working toward self-love and healing. Self-care is an important step. Start by spending time doing things for yourself. Maybe try writing a poem, listening to uplifting music, working on a craft, lighting candles, dancing, working with the less fortunate – whatever it is that makes you truly happy.
Here at Crisis Services of North Alabama Jackson County Office, we know the holidays can be more stressful than normal for someone who has experienced the trauma of domestic violence or sexual assault. We are here to help. You may contact our local office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.