For a trauma survivor, there is no greater time for struggle and disappointment than the holidays. All the promises of hope, love, togetherness, and peace are empty echoes of the things we always wanted but could never have. When families and relationships are a nest of manipulation and emotional triggers, they do not make the holidays enjoyable. Wishing that things were different won’t help either, and responding the same way to the same triggers only gets us the same result; another holiday season filled with dread, hurt, and misery.

How do we change this dynamic? By preparing for it. And I don’t mean having all the shopping done and the decorations up early. The kind of preparation I’m talking about occurs in the heart. When we are filled with dread, depression, and obligation, there isn’t room for anything else. No wonder we go numb until it’s all over. Preparation of the heart is the most important piece to taking back your holiday. Have you ever asked yourself the question why do I keep subjecting myself to this abuse holiday after holiday?

As a little child, I once stood by the side of the road watching a road crew scrape a dead skunk from the asphalt. The entrails were spilled out and the cute little head was squashed flat. A pungent skunk smell mixed with the scent of death wafted under my nose. The workmen gave me a wave, then scooped the little animal into the back of their truck with the rest of the trash. With a puff of black smoke and a grinding of gears, I watched as the truck disappeared. I felt just as disgusting as that dead skunk—destroyed, rotting, and not even worth a decent burial. Trauma had done that to me and the effects clung to my heart long after childhood was over.

I believed everything was my fault. Why I was so bad? What did I do to make all these terrible things happen to me? I came to one simple conclusion: It was me. Deep down, at the very core of my being, there was something black about my soul. I was something to be hated. I did not deserve to exist. When I grew up, that belief stayed with me. And that belief was why I put up with abusive and dysfunctional behavior during the holidays as an adult. 

Heart belief drives everything we do, even when we don’t realize it. The hope that someday, I can figure out how to make them love me, and the hope that I will finally belong and be safe are both examples of heart beliefs that can stink up the holidays. For me, neither of those things ever occurred and one miserable holiday after the other dragged by.

Heart beliefs are slippery and sometimes hard to pin down. Later in life, I decided to endure the holidays by staying busy. Work, work, work. I used that behavior to keep my broken heart quiet. All that ever got me was burnout and exhaustion. 

What if this year, I went on a quest for peace and rest? What if I listened to myself? What if this year, I took time to be still; to sit in the quiet of a dark Christmas night and look at the lights, thinking about the life I want to have and the ways I want to celebrate the holidays? What if this year, I honored all I had been through and chose holiday celebrations that delighted the heart of the child inside? Inner preparation equals transformation; one little step at a time. Defy trauma, and embrace joy.


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