THE holiday season is supposed to be a cheerful and enjoyable time for most. So many look forward to the break from work, the gifts, the festivities, the food, the coming together of family and friends. For many survivors of sexual violence, this is not the case.
Unlike most people, survivors hate the holidays, they dread having their abuser/s around, they dread having to put their feelings of pain and betrayal aside for those who failed to protect them. So much has been asked of them previously and during every holiday session the wounds are reopened. They are once again exposed to how little those around them care, to how much they are called on to continuously sacrifice and put the wellbeing of the “Family” first. Funny how that word family fails to mean anything when survivors begin to recognize that its merely used to guilt them into behaving in a way that pleases everyone else, but when it really matters, family was not, is not present. The words that have been uttered when they first told are uttered again before every holiday family gathering; don’t have an attitude, don’t make it uncomfortable for everyone, this is water under the bridge, it’s happened so long ago; it’s time to let it go, and the list goes on. It seems that during the holiday season survivors are expected to sacrifice their happiness and sanity; they are expected to pretend, to be silent, to suffer through it all for the comfort of everyone else. And so they do just that, they sit silently staring ahead counting down the days, hours, minutes to their escape.
So many of us go numb, the pain of feeling is to overwhelming, the pain of facing over and over again that your pain and suffering seems not to matter to anyone becomes too much to bear. Some of us are able to escape, we are able to plan it so that the holidays are spent away from the family, but not all are so lucky. We lie until we feel strong enough to stand up and say I am not coming; I don’t want to be around my abuser or those that supported him during the holiday time. But getting there isn’t easy, it can’t be forced or rushed. I know that it’s not something you want to hear but I wouldn’t want to lie to you either. We cope as best as we can until we are able to speak out. For some of us, alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, over eating, throwing up, excessive exercise, etc help us make it through. I am not here to judge anyone for their coping mechanism, I just ask that you be careful. You may notice that you’re more moody as the time gets closer, that you are more numb, that you are afraid of feeling anything, you may notice that you are sleeping less or more, that you are having nightmares, that you are feeling more anxious. You may be overeating or not eating at all, you may be compulsively shopping or engaging in risky behaviour. I know to an extent what you’re going through. I say to an extent but because while our stories all have some similarities, we all process, cope and heal differently. I know that you’re dreading the next few weeks; you toy with the idea of cancelling, of putting your needs and wants above those of the family; but breaking the conditioning to please them is difficult. For so long it’s all you’ve done that doing something differently is scary. Please don’t be hard on yourself, don’t think that you are weak because you have decided to be around those who continuously hurt you; on the contrary, you are being exceptionally brave and strong; facing your abuser/s and family. Don’t let this break you..
I would like to suggest some ways to cope during the holiday season; (1) If you are able to decide not to be around them; your life is yours and you owe them nothing, you get to decide how you want to spend it and who you want to be around. Sometimes family isn’t who you share blood or a last name with but those who have been there for you through and through. You get to pick your family. (2) if you are unable to get away from spending the holidays with family then maybe decide how many days you will be with them- maybe just Christmas day or only Christmas Eve. Part of healing is setting boundaries and doing what is right for you. You get to put you first and no it’s not selfish, it’s self-care. (3) If you are unable to do any of the above-surround yourself with things that you can get lost in and take your mind off the fact that you’re with people you don’t want to be around. Try books, drawing, painting, music, baking, cooking, etc. Do things that make you happy but allow you to work singularly. Maybe ask to have the kitchen to yourself if you’re baking or cooking. Allow yourself to get lost in whatever activity you decide. (4) This one may be harder, especially because holidays are usually when all friends are with their families; but if you have friends who you like being around invite her/him around as much as possible, having them there will help you feel safe and happier. (5) Try a little meditation to keep you calm and make you feel more in control. Maybe if you don’t want to be silent try listening to music that soothes you or music that you enjoy. You may want to listen to music to get you up and dancing. (6) Do what you need to feel safe; if that means locking your door at night, staying in a hotel, sharing your room with another family member. (7) If there is a specific person that you don’t want to be around try to limit your interaction with them – I don’t mean to place extra pressure on you but maybe this will help you get through the holidays, (8) Be safe – as I mentioned above we will all cope with the impending and actual holiday gathering differently but please be careful.
Our pain and suffering wasn’t ever something that our families want to understand and sadly they never cared, which is why we are dreading being around them again. We hope that with every year they will see our pain and do/say something to make us feel loved, secure and important. But the truth is that if they haven’t already, then they probably will never. So don’t continue to put them first at your expense. I often say the healing journey may feel selfish but it’s not, it’s self-care, it’s your decision to surround yourself with people who care about you, who support and validate you. They won’t change, they won’t put you first, they won’t validate your pain. But you can decide to put you first, you can decide the rest of your life. Don’t let the abuse you suffered define you. Don’t let the lack of care, love and support from the family dictate how you love and how you build your circle. There are those who care about you, who love and support you. There are those who will be there to wipe the tears and help you see the real you. We have been wearing these masks for so long that many of us don’t know who we are. We are afraid to love, afraid to live and afraid to fail. We are survivors and we are strong, stronger than those in our families. Don’t let anyone dictate how you turn out; we couldn’t stop what was done to us, we can’t change our past but we get to control the path our future takes.
We are always here to listen and if you are not ready to join a support group but need a listening ear feel free to contact us. Sexual assault is something that happened to you, it does not define you. You are a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman/child/man who has suffered a trauma through no fault of your own. You are not guilty of any crime, something was done to you against your will. Always remember that you are not alone, that you have nothing to be ashamed of. We are taking the baby steps necessary to make it better for all. KNOW YOU HAVE A SAFE SPACE IN PROSAF.
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