Let’s face it, really any day can be stressful for survivors. Random triggers, depression, anxiety, dissociating can simply occur at the drop of a hat. it’s all part of the deal in recovery. So even though there are countless circumstances that can raise the anxiety level, one thing is a guarantee. The holidays are stressful.
Those pesky times when seemingly everyone around you is happy and enjoying life, and we are left with a flood of emotions. It’s all we can do to just put on a semi-happy face and try to not draw too much attention to ourselves.
That’s not to say that sharing our emotions is bad, not at all! However, in public places or around those we deem to be unsafe, sometimes we have to just “suck it up and deal” as best we can.
For me, being around strangers isn’t quite as tough as being around family.
When I’m at a concert, or fireworks, for example, I’m around tons of people who I don’t know and probably will never see again. I can use this as a time to try to have some fun and give my mind and body some much-needed self-care. At the very least since if I’m among strangers I can just blend in even when I don’t feel like having a good time, and nobody is any the wiser.
I would go as far as to say that I would likely prefer that setting to a family gathering. Perhaps you are that way too if family causes your stress level to jump through the roof like me?
When I’m with family, I feel like I have to put on a happy face and entertain. I feel the need to talk to everyone about everything. “How’s your life going, what are you up to?” “Oh, so-and-so just got a new job, wow that’s great!” “This person might be stopping by; oh it will be nice to talk with them again”. You know the drill, these are things many of us have felt and still feel today.
What is the real reason we feel this way though? Is it solely that one or more of our family members abused us in some way? Is it that they invalidated us as we grew up, or still to today? Those are definitely valid and I can relate to both.
However, holidays are also stressful because it’s a time when memories come rushing back with a vengeance. So not only do we have to deal with the excitement surrounding the day and try to do our best to just survive, but we also are dealing with a ton of emotions of what used to be.
For me, holidays and such aren’t just about family issues of abuse (although when it comes to my mother that’s definitely a big part of it). It’s also a time that I reflect back on what I once had as a husband and father.
I’m still a father; my 3 kids are wonderful, amazing, and just plain awesome! I love them more than they could ever know.
What I miss though are some of the fun experiences I had when I was married. Somehow even though stressful holidays are a given, I can usually leave each with some positive, lasting memories.
I can remember vividly staying up all night making the stuffing for the turkey on Thanksgiving, and then basting it every hour while it cooked in the wee hours of the night. For me, it’s hard to match the feeling of waking up to the smell of turkey cooking.
What about Christmas morning; the anticipation of knowing the kids were going to wake up and come over to open their gifts. Watching the dogs tear into their Santa bones and running around throwing wrapping paper everywhere. We would either go somewhere or just make our own Christmas dinner, and in the midst of it all, we always managed to laugh even when things didn’t go as planned. Which was quite often.
Or better yet, finding a way to laugh because you KNOW things are going to go sideways at some point.
Another example is friends and family coming over for a cookout, and then going to go see fireworks. Even if the day was shot and nobody had a good time, we all just stopped and gazed skyward to watch the flurry of colors and sounds.
Back to reality now, and days like today just aren’t as fun as they used to be.
Please don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy these times with my kids so much. I love to see them smile, laugh, and enjoy their time together. Part of me is broken inside though, and those wounds that try to heal just seem to reopen like clockwork.
Holidays are tough for us survivors, there is no doubt. We have every right to feel the way that we do. We were robbed of so many things as children, and maybe still are robbed of those things today.
For those whose abusive situations are still ongoing, it’s a struggle just to get through days like this. You know that inside the facade you may be putting on for everyone is so difficult to pull off. You realize that things are tough right now and it’s all you can do to keep going each day.
No matter what, don’t ever give up!
For those of us where our abuse happened in the past, as children or teenagers, it’s no walk in the park either. We struggle to live life in the moment, all the while our traumatic past tugs at us as if to say, “hey I’m still here”.
There is an easy fix, no band-aid, no kiss on the boo-boo to make it all better. It takes hard work, determination, and a daily struggle to fight through the pain.
Do I have all the answers and have it all together? Nope! However, I must have faith that one of the benefits of this healing journey I’m on, will be that I’ll have the ability to enjoy the holidays a bit more.
It may never be easy, but it can get easier to manage. You are validated for how you feel. I’m here on this journey with you.
This post originally appeared on Surviving My Past
Matt is a Certified Life Coach and NLP Master Practitioner at BeyondYourPast.com, as well as a Podcast Host and Survivor Advocate. He specializes in helping clients overcome the debilitating anxiety that holds them back, and working with trauma survivors as they navigate daily life. As a trauma informed coach and survivor himself, he is keenly aware of the unique struggles that survivors must work through in order to heal.
In addition to his own coaching business, he also is the co-host of the Daily Recovery Support Calls on CPTSDfoundation.org, which offers trauma informed support, 7 days a week
Matt believes that we all have the power inside of us to take our life back from anxiety and overcome what’s been holding us back from being the person we truly want to be.