December was very trying for those of us living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. We may have endured visiting relatives who lived up to our expectations of being highly triggering, which may have left us feeling exhausted.
We may have been quick to put away what decorations we felt obligated to erect, perhaps even stuffing the Christmas tree into its box or gleefully looking about afterward feeling happy the winter holidays are over.
However, we now face two prospects we will likely try to brush to the back of our minds.
Christmas will be back, and the new year 2019 is right around the corner. Therefore, the topics of this last article are ways we can begin planning for Christmas 2019 and being very intentional about how we can plan to improve 2019.
Learning to Reshape Our Reactions from Christmas 2018
Like many of you, I must force myself to rethink my attitudes toward Christmas every year. Annually, I try to make myself mentally ready for the onslaught of holiday movies, decorations, light displays, and other sights and sounds.
I’m sure the fact hasn’t passed by any of you that in the United States the stores begin putting up their holiday decorations to attract shoppers earlier and earlier each year. One store where I live had Christmas trees up and decorated at the end of September.
The only way to prepare for the yearly assault on our injured senses is to begin right after Christmas day looking for ways to prepare for Christmas 2019.
Taking time to sit down and write down the reactions we had to the sights and sounds of Christmas in 2018, can help us make appropriate changes for next year.
On your own piece of paper or in the notes app on your smart phone you may choose to write the following questions:
- What were the things I found triggering during Christmas 2018?
- How did I handle these triggers? Did I employ healthy coping mechanisms, or call my trauma-informed therapist?
- Was I able to say no to family or friends when I needed to? Or did I give in because I felt guilty?
- What can I do differently next year?
By taking inventory of our reactions to Christmas 2018, we can make plans for Christmas 2019.
Handling a Triggering Family
Once you have written down the things which bothered you and how you reacted to them, it’s time to strategize. Like any accomplishment in life, being aware of a problem is the first step in mitigating it. With some planning, you can propel yourself forward and have a better outcome.
If your family was a huge trigger for you this year, it is guaranteed they will be in 2019. So, what can you do to mitigate this problem next year?
Here are a few suggestions:
Plan a vacation. That’s right, make plans now to save the funds and take a vacation to visit someplace on your bucket list of places to go next Christmas. There is no need to offer any excuses or to feel obligated to explain your decision to anyone. Simply save up the funds to get to your destination and plenty of spending money – then, next December head out on a new adventure leaving your triggering family members far behind.
Plan to get a room. If you are like me and live on a fixed income, you don’t have the money to make elaborate plans to get away. Instead, make plans to save up enough funds to check into a hotel or an Airbnb in the next town. Make sure to save up enough money to fill up the refrigerator in your room and to eat out at least once.
Again, there is no reason to explain to anyone your decision to take a mini-vacation or a stay-cation.You are an adult. Rent your hotel room, or your Airbnb, take a nice long soaking bath, relax and enjoy the peace.
Plan now to say no. For many complex trauma survivors, saying no to our relatives when they ask us to join their craziness at Christmas is beyond difficult. However, if you make plans and work toward them all year, you stand a better chance of saying no in 2019. Pro tip: being involved in one of CPTSD Foundation’s groups can be very helpful. Safe community who understand family of origin dynamics helps us to make healthier choices for our own healing journey. The foundation offers free groups, as well as affordable Daily Calls where trauma survivors come to support one another in a safe group environment.
The very first step to take however, is to begin talking with your therapist. Together you can explore why you feel obligated to your family and how to take back the power you give away every year when you fee as though you can’t say no. With consistent work, by the time Christmas 2019 rolls around you will have a strategy that works for you. You will then feel empowered enough to lessen the guilt which comes from standing up to the pressures that come against you from the family members who want you to join in on their annual drama.
Making Your New Year’s Resolutions
Many of us make new year’s resolutions every year, but few of us follow through. The biggest reason for this failure is that we make promises to ourselves we cannot keep.
The secret answer to this problem is to make resolutions we can keep and this will help us in the year ahead. Here are four sample resolutions I came up with. You can do one, all four or any combination thereof, only be sure you make sure what you set as the promise(s) to yourself are realistic and reachable.
Resolution One: I will set and maintain healthy boundaries. Setting up immutable limits for other people can cause those of us who are living in the grips of complex post-traumatic stress disorder shiver. However, if we are to make 2019 a successful year, setting healthy boundaries with all toxic people is vital.
First, decide what behaviors you find intolerable in the people you know. Do they lie to you or steal from you? Do they use guilt or your past to keep you doing what they want you to do?
Second, decide when you want the behaviors you consider intolerable to end and when you will want them to stop. This may sound easy but making the decision to confront those who use you or lie to you is only the initial step, you then must carry out your choice.
The first suggestion I would give for setting these barriers to protect against intentional or unintentional harm by others is to practice first with someone you trust. This person may be your therapist, your kids or even your mailman. Anyone you feel comfortable with and will not retaliate makes a great choice.
Then, after you have practiced setting boundaries, set your first one with someone with whom there is a chance of retaliatory anger. Keep in mind their rage will not kill you and you are an adult now. You have the perfect right to hang up the phone, leave their home or order them to leave yours. This is not the past, this is now.
Resolution Two: I will get the help I need to improve my mental health. It is often tempting to walk away from trauma therapy. It is hard, heartbreaking and sometimes expensive work. Who would willingly desire to spend an hour or more a week looking at themselves in the uncompromising mirror of self-examination?
However, people who are living with the effects of complex trauma and its causes are incapable of dealing with and recovering from it without help from an unbiased, well-trained, preferably trauma-informed mental health professional.
I will give you a promise about this you can bank on. If you go to trauma therapy, stick with it and work hard, I guarantee it will be worth it in the end. One day the clouds of hurt from the trauma which hurt you so severely will part, and the sunshine will pour down on you.
I know because this is what has happened to me. The effects the adverse childhood experiences I survived on my life have been profound and left me with a severe mental health issue which will likely never completely heal. However, this does not mean I can’t find ways to live with the mental condition and have a long, satisfying, and peaceful life.
But, I had to work for it. I have spent three decades in therapy gaining a life after severe childhood trauma. Let me tell you, it has been well worth it. I now am more self-aware and well-adjusted than many I have met who do not have a severe mental health problem.
Resolution Three: I will be kind to myself. Many of us know how to be kind to other people. We spend a lot of time telling others they are special and how much we love them. We also openly accept others with unconditional warm regard; with their flaws and imperfections, we even let them off the hook when they make mistakes.
However, how many of us do these things for ourselves?
For instance, when was the last time you looked in the mirror and either thought or better yet, said out loud that you are special and that you love you?
Yet, it is these self-affirmations which can launch us forward in the new year and help us gain new understanding and self-respect; unconditional warm regard for self—this is a great goal for all complex trauma survivors.
Resolution Four: I will resist negative thinking. Yes, you are correct, resisting thoughts about ourselves and our circumstances in negative terms is horrendously difficult for us.
In our families or origin, we witnessed the adults of the house putting each other down and making negative comments about our bodies or personalities. The pessimism oozed out of their mouths and actions leaving us with a picture of life immersed in negativity.
After reaching adulthood, we find ourselves caught up in the behaviors of those who raised us. We worry and fret over the future and say and feel disapprovingly about ourselves.
In 2019, I challenge you to change those stinking thinking processes into something beautiful instead. One place to start is in the mirror each morning. Instead of quickly brushing your teeth and combing your hair, take a moment to look at yourself. Because of the harmful messages we received as kids, we might at first only see what we were told in childhood. We may see ourselves as too fat, too skinny, ugly or any number of undesirable descriptions.
Now it is time to see the real you.
You are not a monster. You are a remarkably kind man or woman, nothing else. While looking at your reflection, realize you may have physical flaws, but remind yourself that so does every other human on the planet. Find the good things you see in the mirror and dwell on them. It’s okay. It’s not vanity, it’s the growth of self-awareness.
Think about any flaws you have in your character. Are they changeable? Do they even exist at all?
Many times, we see things in our behaviors and actions we do not like which either can be changed or do not exist. Why not try to allow yourself to be falliable and love yourself anyway.
If this is initially difficult for you, please remember these words Athena Moberg says to each and every one of our trauma survivor community members, “YOU are an unrepeatable miracle. You are valuable. There has never been, nor will there ever be another you. You are uniquely gifted and have talents you were born with which no one else has. I am glad you were born. I am grateful for your life.”
Did You Know that Sometimes You are Powerless?
I have spent many years of my life living in apprehension of the future. I feared the future and dreaded what it may contain.
I know many of our readers feel the same, so I wish to share some words of wisdom my therapist Paula implanted in my soul during our fifteen plus years of working together. The following section and the one that comes after are full of her words which have helped me gain a grip on my fears and on life.
Yes, It is true, any number of horrible experiences may await you in 2019.
Someone you love may die, you may face a major illness, a disaster may strike your home, or you could spend time in the hospital. However, it is vital to understand that some things are not in your control.
While all those things are possible, you can take steps to prevent illness by taking better care of yourself and lessen the loss to your home by fire by owning insurance. However, some things are not in your ability to stop. Death is an inevitable truth which escapes no one. Not only that, but there might be a myriad of other nasty surprises in your future over which you have no sway.
So, what is a person to do?
Paula’s Parting Words of Wisdom
The last day I saw Paula before she retired, she reminded me of all she had taught me. Now I’m am passing her wisdom on to you. Like with anything else, you can take what you like and leave the rest. However, I wouldn’t ignore what I’m about to impart to you, because these words of wisdom can help you change your life.
Do not dread death. Death is an inevitable fact of life. Instead, tell those you cherish that you love them loudly and often while they are still living. Give them hugs, send them flowers, and call them telling them how important they are to you.
Do not fear the future. Time will pass and the future will be here whether you plan for it or not. Instead, embrace the future while enjoying the present. Make good memories today for yourself and your family that will last. Have a picnic in your living room, fly kites in the spring, and camp out in your backyard.
Spend time enjoying your life. Life is short and there will be time for sickness and death later. For now, look up at the stars at night. Visit someone with a new baby and look into the baby’s eyes feeling awed by the miracle before you. Go out into the woods and listen to the sounds of nature. Allow yourself the thrill of the feeling of the bark of a tree against your hands and cheeks.
Finally, Life is an experience to relish, not dread. We are privileged to be part of life, There is only one way to end the effects of the past and build a better 2019, we must spend quality time enjoying life today.
Like Paula told me, you might as well live well and enjoy the ride because you’re just like everyone else, no one gets out of life alive.
We here at the CPTSD Foundation wish you a blessed and fruitful new year ahead full of much joy, health, and love.