How to Celebrate “The Season” Your Way (as published in The Friday Edition of HeartBalm Healing at https://heartbalm.substack.com)
As we roll into November, December, and the new year, it is inevitable that the holiday season will bring challenges, anxiety, fear, flashbacks, and other unjolly things. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t create celebrations and festivities that honor and support who we are, and how we manage holidays, and “the season.” I hope ease and love walk with you no matter what your plans are and how you face, accept or meet holiday invitations, family, friends, and others.
If I am honest, I abhor the term “holiday survival guide” thrown out to trauma survivors at this time of year. It is a banal idea that not only highlights differences and increases feelings of separateness. It makes it seem as if not being with family or choosing other options to celebrate is somehow less than or falls short of the norm. How you manage your life while enduring family or not during a “special date” on the calendar is for you to discover and honor. You are not different or less than any other or in need of surviving a date on a calendar. You are everything sweet one. You have the power to determine how you want to celebrate a “special day” with family, and friends, helping others or reveling by yourself. It is up to you how you greet and define a day or a season.
Make it yours sweet one. Make it special. Make it reflect your beautiful, loving, worthy, and deserving nature.
I love mimosas so I always have them ready for my mornings on special days but I just as easily make every Sunday morning a special day for “mimosas and me” because I find that I like this extra special addition to my week – and in exchange I am nurturing myself, healing and feeling my worthiness to be me. I love time for self-reflection, and having an entire holiday all to myself is the best feeling ever. I create it how I want and it generally contains, movies, puzzles, reading or writing, a bubble bath, talking to friends on the phone, napping, eating my favorite foods, with my favorite wines or scotches, good desserts, and maybe a walk in the woods or exercise on the treadmill or just more napping. It has become a fun project to find out what I want to do on these days when so many are with the family and the world is closed for the day. I have friends that will invite me to join in at their homes but I generally don’t go – I love that they ask and hold the gratitude of their invitation as a gift in and of itself. I pamper, love, and adore myself on these days. I make it as special as I want it to be and it has become a wonderful time to focus solely on my own healing and nurturing. How we each choose to celebrate a holiday or just a Tuesday is our business and only ever ours.
For those of us with CPTSD, we can get lost in the hazy chaos and emotions of the holidays as well as have to deal with flashbacks, dissociation, and other trauma responses. Allowing ourselves to breathe instead and come home to ourselves, to what we want and deserve, what gives us respite and nourishment, gives us joy, and fills our hearts with love and groundedness is a critical piece of healing and recovery. We have the right to take our power back and say no to attending a party or celebration that does not honor who we are or may enable others to lash out at us as part of a holiday cycle of abuse, or trigger us and push us back into the dark caverns of flashbacks and old stories.
Healing comes from letting there be room for all of “this” to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
For my part, I am a scrooge and can admit it. I was born on December 25th along with my twin. I grew up with a malignant narcissist mother and her army of enablers around her. She was a growing volcano of abuse and misery leading up to a holiday, and like clockwork exploded in rage, victimhood, blame, and whatever other emotion tickled her fancy on the “special day.” Add on a birthday for twins, and you have a recipe for disaster. There was always a sense of “how dare we arrive to be born on a holiday and do that to her.” Neither my twin nor I like the holidays to this day. But no one asks why they just point it out and make snide comments about it – placing blame and disdain squarely in our laps. This is nothing new for those of us who grew up with narcissists and the codependents and enabling fandom also in attendance. As an adult, and after I moved west my twin decided to celebrate his birthday in the summer without family, and left me alone on our birthday. In response to that, I defiantly chose to stop celebrating my birthday and “Benjamin Button” ma bon anniversaire instead – counting and aging backward. Ooh, la la! I am so much younger now than my twin and relish reminding him of that fact. Happy birthday indeed.
The only intelligent tactical response to life’s horror (or the holidays) is to laugh defiantly at it.
So, let’s get to it. You know your holiday experiences, past and present. You may already have invitations coming in, foreboding feelings and emotions arising that are already setting your teeth on edge, constricting your throat, and closing the door to your heart. Maybe you are thinking this year it will be different or you will try something new. Like Groundhog’s Day, trying a new approach, a different way of relating, or how we speak to an abuser or family member. We are always trying new ways to be received, be loved, and gain acceptance. And while it is not wrong, it can oftentimes backfire or be a setup for more abuse.
So how can you celebrate your way? Most importantly, get clear about what you want. If you could arrange your favorite things or do something you’ve always wanted to do what would that be? Go to Hawaii or a warm spot on the beach for Christmas or the New Year? Give yourself the day off and stay at home with your favorite holiday foods, drinks, and games. Spend holidays with friends – Thanksgiving with a friend near you, Christmas with friends in another part of the country, and New Year at home – sleeping in late, watching your favorite movies, putting together puzzles, taking a nap, a favorite cinnamon roll for breakfast with great coffee, turkey, stuffing, dinner rolls, and a favorite bottle of wine for dinner along with a favorite dessert? And you can text or call others wishing them whatever holiday cheer to spread love and merriment while putting yourself first during these times of the year. If there is still confusion ask yourself the question, “what would someone who loved themselves do?” Begin there and keep adding to that which fits your budget, and brings you relief, joy, happiness, a flush of love in your heart, and calm.
Over the years I have shaped many holiday rituals and norms for myself. I have created a way to celebrate “special dates” that are on the master calendar but have no real meaning for me. It gives me the chance to think about what I want and need. This is a critical piece of redefining your worth and building the list of things that are important to you and for you. Growing up in abusive and neglectful families strips away the ability to decipher what we are passionate about, what we want in the moment or out of life, what brings us joy, what self-care habits and rituals nourish our minds and bodies, and what about the everyday things, nature, love, and life itself resonate and moves our soul. Using traditional holidays can be the catalyst to break free from family trauma which is oftentimes intensified during the holidays and can instead, empower us and allow us to think again. It can be the opportunity to emerge from the dungeons of trauma and the anchored, recurring feelings, thoughts, and stories of past family holidays that did not account for your needs or wants. Celebrating your way can be the new chapter of your life that releases you from the past and allows you to rewrite your life today.
If trauma can be passed down throughout generations then so can healing. That’s what you are doing! Embrace every day as a special day and create a healing and loving space for yourself in your world, and with others.
Whether you are single or have a family or a great group of friends it is always possible to begin to carve out your own unique way of harvesting and celebrating holidays or the season in a way that feels right for you and honors your worthiness to do what you want and be who you want while feeling the joy, gratitude, and love of the holidays. You are allowed to love yourself, honor, and give yourself that which speaks to your heart and soul. You are asked to understand your wants and needs so that you can expand on those things, ask for more and hold them high in your heart so that the Universe can bring you more of what you want. It is your responsibility to honor yourself in a way that represents who you are, affirms your worthiness and love for your uniqueness, and brings love to your heart, mind, and soul even when you don’t feel that from external sources. Your life is in your hands and giving back to yourself with gentle, loving, and grateful reminders of your worth, deserving, and loved presence is the most generous thing you could do for yourself and for the world. Living your truth as love and authenticity is your gift to the world, and this begins and ends with you sweet one.
My favorite thing to say when people ask “what are you doing for the holiday (or the weekend)?” My smiling reply “whatever I want.”
If you think you want to be around family during the holidays – even knowing that you may be targeted in some way – create a “list of your rights for the day” or “an honor code” that reflects your love for yourself and how you want to be treated:
- get grounded fully before you go (see my Recharging & Grounding Meditation for help)
- release expectations of how others will or should act
- hold yourself as worthy and deserving of being wherever you are
- remind yourself of how much you are loved, how loveable and loving you are
- honor the feelings arising in each moment; and take steps to notice, hold and love yourself in your experience
- stay present and in the moment
- stand your ground and do your best not to take things personally; other’s actions are a direct reflection of them not you
- know your limits and if you feel yourself getting triggered or having a trauma response know when and how you need to leave
- nourish, hydrate, and take care of yourself before, during, and after an event
- have something ready at home to soothe you or allow you to decompress after your event (lay out your comfy clothes to change into, ready a bubble bath, turn up the heat, or ready candles, a blanket, a book, or a movie to curl up with…)
- know your red lines – those lines that no one has a right to cross – NO ONE!
- have an exit strategy; excuse yourself to go to another party or meet up with a friend even if it isn’t true – you don’t have to justify or explain yourself
- do not budge on any of your terms
- when in doubt just say “no” or “enough” or “goodbye” or smile and just say nothing
Create, customize, or add to the list above for yourself and really get clear about what you want, need, and how you want to be treated. Holidays cycle through every year and you can keep changing or adding to your rituals of how you meet, accept, and regard yourself; how you love, nourish, and cherish yourself, as well as how you celebrate your life and your days – because they are all yours to do with what you want, how you want and love yourself wholly in each and every moment. Cheers!
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Sunny Lynn, OMC is a spiritual counselor, writer, poet, photographer, meditator, and nature lover on a mission of transmuting complex trauma through self-love, healing, and bringing balm to hearts everywhere. She has a blog and podcast – HeartBalm at heartbalm.substack.com that speaks on the topic of self-care and self-love, mindfulness and healing while living with CPTSD.