The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Holiday Coping for Survivors

In Part 1 I shared some of what I have done in the past in the area of holiday coping. I have been preparing for some time for the upcoming holidays. I have been working on my self-esteem, self-care and connectedness issues.

Family gatherings and holidays have always been a challenge to me. It is hard to be an adult around those who have always denigrated, abused, used, and humiliated you when  you were little. It has been for me. No one would care for me or protect me and so I would try to do that on my own.

I have never managed to be an adult in my family, empowered and strong. I have always been the rejected one, the scapegoat to be blamed for everything. I have finally come to a place in my healing where I know who I am.

I am someone who is loved and who has value. I love me and I see value in me. It took being loved and valued by many survivor friends before I could slowly let that reality into my life.  

I do believe that the stronger I feel about myself, the stronger my connection to myself and my soul, and the stronger that I am connected to significant things in my life the better I can take care of and protect myself from others. Even so, a plan is a good thing for coping with family of origin relatives around the holidays. I think it is great to develop your own plan. So here is my plan:

1. Don’t make a plan of things to do for the day.

I used to make a plan of things to do. It would include reading a book and watching certain shows on tape. It usually didn’t get done. And then I would feel inadequate.

Now I try to spend some time alone, just for me, during the day, but aside from that, I don’t have a plan. I might watch a show or movie, read some, talk to friends online, spend some time with others, have a good meal, post on a message board or my blog, listen to music, take a nap, take gentle care of myself.

If plans for the day of the holiday helps or works good for you, great. I really encourage you to do what works for you.

2 Do plan things to do on the days before the holiday.

I start a holiday much sooner than most people. I try to do things for many days that are about the holiday. One thing I did this year was discuss the food we would have at our gathering. I took part in several conversations about the food that was being bought and what I would be bringing.

I bought a couple of squash. I love squash and since it is easy to prepare and I have done it before, I wanted to make something special for myself. I bought Edy’s Pumpkin ice cream, gluten free. It tastes like pumpkin pie and it is wonderful.

For Christmas I start listening to the music and wathing tv specials more than a month in advance of the holiday. Since it is my favorite time of the year I want to pack as much joy into it as possible. I shop for used items and special deals for decorations.

3. Be gentle with yourself.

I have some great shower gel and lotion. They are so nice and smooth. Using them is a nice way for me to be gentle with myself.

Try to do a few things that help calm and relax you. I take a few deep breaths and blow the air out with my teeth together. Taking a small object or talisman with you to family gatherings is a great thing to help remind you who you are and connect you to something else. I used to take a small dollie and put it in my backpack.

A few days before try to figure out a few activities that you would love to do and allow yourself to enjoy the treat.

Exercise is good, but not too much or more than your current physical level can tolerate. Be gentle. Pain isn’t necessary to get the benefits, especially for relaxing your musles and sleeping better. You deserve it.

For a few days after the holiday, be extra gentle. Cut yourself some slack. Try not to blame yourself if things go bad. Try not to let others lay their shame and blame onto you. You did the best you could and that is to be celebrated.

I remember when I was in my early twenties, no one talked about how stressful seeing family was during the holidays and how sad this time of year could be. Now there is a lot of awareness about that out there. We all know how hard it is. Be extra gentle, you deserve it.

4. Reach out to those who are good to you. Allow yourself a method to do so during the holiday.

I have connected to some friends and family this week. They nuture and feed me in my soul. That is something that I like to do. It helps me feel more solid through the holiday.

5. Read some of the suggestions by survivors and others online and make a small list of suggestions for coping and do some of them:

Holiday Coping.

6. Days in advance, make a list of some of your good qualities, remind yourself of them. 

If you don’t know what to write down, look in your comments if you have a blog and what your friends have said to you. Write them down. Keep reminding yourself.

Some of mine are tenacious, courageous, intelligent, compassionate, empathetic. I also have some lovely comments other survivors have written to me. They mean so much and make me feel better each time I read them.

7. Embrace some humor during the holiday week.

I love to watch A Christmas Story. It reminds me that humor is a good thing and that being little can be a time of joy and wonder.

8. Try to get as much sleep as possible the week before the holiday.

I have been taking naps and trying to sleep as much as possible. I never feel as though I get enough sleep, so this is something that I don’t feel I am overdoing.

9. Have an exit strategy. Remind yourself it is okay to leave.

I have given myself permission to leave. I never walked out or asked for a ride or called a cab when I was at a family member’s home.

One holiday last year I just left the room and went to my own bedroom and laid down. It is so much easier when I am in my own homespace to do that. It might seem like such a small thing, but for me, it was huge. I also avoided someone that I did not want to interact with.

If you aren’t going to be in your own space, make an exit plan. Think about a walk outside, a private conversation with a safe person, or just going into the bathroom, locking the door, and staying in there for ten minutes.

10. Remind yourself you don’t owe them anything.

I don’t owe my family anything on holidays. You don’t have to go there and if you do you don’t have to be real and honest and with your feelings with unsafe people and those who are or have been abusive. You can stand back and detach.

It took me decades to get to this place. I tried to stay with my family on holidays and have a good time and be abuse-free. That was not possible. Now I tell myself that this is the second half of my life and I get to spend it with me.

If you are spending holidays with those who have abused and hurt you, know that you can get through it and you can make it out the other side of the holidays stronger and more healed. Once you were little, but even though you may feel little and powerless,  you aren’t. You are an adult and you have the power to take care of your life and to heal.

11. Reflect on what you are connected to and what gives your life meaning.

Here are my posts on connectedness:

Connectedness, Not Grounding.

I have discovered that I am connected to a great many things. They give me meaning in my daily life. They give me a way to know that I am not alone, a way of knowing that I am loved, cared about, and valued, a way of knowing that I am worthy of being loved, cared about, and valued.

I’m sure that I will be feeling and thinking about several of the things that I am strongly connected to on the holiday; my soul, my favorite library, my ancestors, my guides, my favorite things in all the world.

12. Make some new rituals and traditions that are validating and healing for you.

I make crafts. I love to do that. I imbue them with a lot of meaning and they bring me a lot of joy. I love to go see holiday lights and looking at lit up Christmas trees.

I love to have decorations that I pick out in my homespace. I love to have a tree, though artificial, it brings me a lot of joy. I love to watch all the holiday tv specials and movies.

I love to go to the downtown Macy’s to see their holiday show. This year is A Day in the Life of an Elf. I love to go to Macy’s Christmas department and looking at all the ornaments and decorations. I love to go downtown to see the Holidazzle Parade.

Good and healing thoughts to us all.

6 thoughts on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Holiday Coping for Survivors

  1. Thanks Kate. This is really good advice for survivors and people who have not been sexually abused. In my case, my husband’s family won’t let us visit because they don’t approve of our thirty year marriage. We spend most of holidays together, just the two of us. As we get older we do need to have some new rituals because the old ones no longer fit our beliefs or lifestyles. We can’t eat big meals anymore, we get sick and no longer like to shop.

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    • Hi,

      I’m sorry that you have that reaction from your husband’s family. They are so wrong about you. You are an incredible and wonderful woman.

      I understand what you are saying. I hope that you can find some new and great traditions to embrace and find joy in.

      Good and healing thoughts to you.

      Kate

      Like

  2. Kate,

    This is a wonderful list of tips for coping with the holidays. I really appreciate you sharing them. I hope that your holidays go by as smoothly as possible.

    Take good care,
    Brittany

    Like

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