Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Holiday Tips from a Survivor
by Teresia Smith

Several years ago, I shared this story. Many will be celebrating various holidays soon so I felt this was a good time to share again. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for adult domestic violence or sexual assault survivors, especially those who now have children. Everything’s supposed to be happy and rosy, with plenty of family and togetherness — but what if your family has caused you pain? Read on as one survivor shares a portion of his story and his tips from for getting through the season.
My stepfather’s violence and abuse created a life of intimidation, turmoil, fear, and depression for my siblings and me every single day. At school, everyone thought we were happy and rich. In reality, it was common for him to knock me or another child across the room. When we asked why, he’d say, “Just for drill.” He also sexually abused the female kids on a regular basis. Every day when he came home, the message would shoot through the house as we scrambled with fear: “He’s home. Run!”

Looking back, many of my memories of holidays as a kid are more about the feelings of conflict and depression. There was always the anticipation of violence. I didn’t understand how we could sustain such a horrible emotional environment in the household and still celebrate Christmas as if everything was fine. Then, I’d feel horribly guilty and ashamed because I was supposed to be happy, and I wasn’t.

As an adult survivor, even though I learned how to create a positive and healthy environment for my family, the holidays are still hard for me and for so many others like me. The happiest time of the year just isn’t. But I don’t have to repeat the cycle: Instead, I can try to create a sense of family for my own children—something I never knew. Here are some of my suggestions to help other adult survivors and their loved ones create and sustain family ties, allowing children to really absorb and appreciate their heritage.
Talk positively about your relatives when you can, but tell the truth about your history (and edit according to kids’ ages). It’s important to deal with the reality, but not dwell on it. This is better than sweeping it under the rug. Focus on the positive, the good, when you can.

Set up a family evening where you look at family pictures and home movies. This is a chance to share personal history. If painful memories arise, identify areas that need some work as well as family to support and validate one another.
Share family stories of grandparents and deceased relatives. Children need to know they’re connected.
Celebrate holidays with relatives that focus on a special tradition. Every Christmas Eve my wife cooks a special pasta dish, and everyone gets to open one present that night. This provides consistency and something positive to anticipate.

If possible, create opportunities for kids to spend a night with grandparents and cousins, provided those family members are safe. If that is not possible, cultivate close friendships where your children can experience the family you choose.
Start a “Family Notebook” where family members can contribute special items, pictures, and poems to document holiday occasions for the future. We have family photo albums that we pull out and look through. Sometimes we light a candle to remember loved ones who have passed, which sparks wonderful stories.

Network in the community as a family. Volunteer together for a food drive, or sing at a nursing home. Doing this can create a lasting memory of goodness and togetherness. Whenever you are able to give to others, you always come away with a bigger blessing than you give.
Remember, this shouldn’t end when the holidays are over. Build your family narrative all year long. Open the conversation so that your children know they can always come to you with any problems.

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.

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