The Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays

by Joyelle Brandt

Thanksgiving is coming up, and for childhood abuse survivors, the holidays can be a really hard time of year. So let’s talk strategy.

The situation: Seeing all the pictures of happy families around the holidays brings on a wave of depression and anger.

The strategy: Avoid social media as much as possible, and TV shows with commercials as well. Reach out to people in your life who you feel safe with, and let them know that you are being triggered right now. Talk about it, don’t pretend everything is OK. And remember that no one posts a photo of their relatives getting in a screaming match over the turkey, but it happens all the time. Being a survivor can feel very isolating, but remember that you are not alone, and there are so many others who are going through the same thing. Know the number for your local crisis line and have it saved on your phone. If at any point during the holidays you are having thoughts of self harm or suicide, call.

permission to feel

The situation: Because much of your childhood abuse happened during the holidays, every year at this time you experience a resurgence of flashbacks, physical symptoms, and depression.

The strategy: To start, lower any expectations you have about creating the perfect family holiday to make up for your shitty childhood. Because let’s be honest, there is no making up for that. Let’s make the goal more realistic: just getting through it is fantastic. With that in mind, let your support people know that this is a hard time of year for you, and ask for help whenever you can. If you have a therapist who you see, make an appointment for just after the holiday to work through anything that came up for you. Most importantly, practice self compassion. Make a space for your inner child, and let him/her know that you are here and you will keep him/her safe through this time. Know the number for your local crisis line and have it saved on your phone. If at any point during the holidays you are having thoughts of self harm or suicide, call.

permission to say no

The situation: Your abuser will be present at your family Thanksgiving gathering, which you are attending.

The strategy: Have a support person outside of the family with you, to ensure that you and your children are never left alone with the abuser. Arrange ahead of time a safe word with your support person which means “get us out of here!” and plan in advance how that exit will go. Choose a mantra and/or soothing action to calm yourself. This could simply be a countdown clock to when you know you will be leaving the event. See above advice as well about making an appointment with a therapist for after the event if possible. If you don’t have a therapist, just book a meeting with a compassionate friend who can provide a listening ear, or participate in an online chat for abuse survivors. Talking with someone who understands can make a huge difference. Know the number for your local crisis line and have it saved on your phone. If at any point during the holidays you are having thoughts of self harm or suicide, call.

 

Managing PTSD from childhood trauma is always challenging, but especially so during the holidays. Instead of hoping that this year will be better, make a plan. Just like we plan out the emergency exits in case of fire, we need to plan out our emergency exits in case of a mental health crisis.

My wish for you this holiday season is that you allow all the feelings that come with this time of year to be, without judgment. That you hold a place in your heart for joy to happen in the most surprising ways, and that you remember that you are so very worthy of love.

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