Throughout this holiday season we have experienced many reasons to smile in celebration. Yet there have equally been as many moments that left us in tears. We have struggled to find the joy in the season when there is still so much heartache and pain inside. Instead of allowing ourselves to embrace the sadness, we paste a smile on our face and carry on with holiday cheer.
We scramble to address a stack of Christmas cards while getting dinner on the table. We stress over bringing the perfect appetizer to a holiday party that we really don’t want to go to in the first place. We spend too much on an outfit that looks “okay” and then fidget in it at a holiday social event because our self-esteem leaped out the window a long time ago. It is nearly impossible to feel comfortable in our own skin regardless of how many compliments our outfit may receive. We feel uncomfortable in the crowded stores that are everywhere we go when shopping for presents this time of year. Family gatherings create so much panic and anxiety within us because it may mean a chance encounter with our abuser. It is impossible to find the joy in seeing loved ones when coming in close proximity with our abuser stirs up PTSD feelings and flashbacks almost instantly.
Those of us who are parents race to provide our child with holiday memories that will be remembered for a lifetime. This is done in part because we don’t want our child to ever look back on childhood and feel the pain and emptiness that we do when we look back now. So we quietly sneak around the house creating elaborate elf on the shelf experiences simply for the squeal of excitement from our child in the morning upon waking to see what her elf has done. We scour the internet looking for the best deals on the items that fall on our child’s Christmas list. It is not because we want to spoil her but rather we want to give her every possible opportunity to believe in the magic and wonder of Christmas morning. We bake cookies and gingerbread houses and leave a big plate of cookies and milk for Santa. These are things we most likely didn’t get to experience as a child.
How on earth are we suppose to enjoy one moment of the holiday season with all of these feelings of anxiety, stress, panic and striving for perfectionism racing through our veins?
Start by taking a deep breath and remembering the word “boundaries.” We don’t have to do anything this holiday season that we don’t want to do. We can spend the holiday season on the couch, in our sweats, eating our weight in cookies and candy if we want. Let the family get together and share their own merriment without us. Staying home erases the anxiety of possibly facing our abuser. Our Facebook posts and Instagram pictures shared throughout the year can serve as our Christmas card this year. Christmas shopping can be done online from the comfort of home and our pajamas so we avoid the uncomfortable, crowded stores.
As abuse survivors we are programmed to be people pleasers. We feel pressured to meet the expectations others set for us because we don’t want to be the disappointment that our abuser always said we were. By racing to meet these expectations we sacrifice our happiness. Once the holidays are over we look back with regret over the memories we wanted to make yet didn’t because we were too busy making everyone else’s holiday season perfect.
It is time for us to spend the holidays doing only the things that make us happy! We can create a new tradition in our home. My house has the ‘Christmas Eve Bag’ where everyone receives a new comfy pair of Christmas pajamas and the family gets a new Christmas themed book for our collection. This is our third year with this tradition and my daughter looks forward to it every year! We can volunteer at a food shelter during the holidays as a reminder that there are always others who are less fortunate than us. Shop for a child or family in need. Give gift baskets to a local abuse shelter for residents who may be facing their first holiday with only the clothes on their back. We can politely decline a social gathering invitation choosing instead to spend the night watching Christmas shows by the glow of Christmas tree lights. Spend Christmas Day in pajamas, laughing and smiling with those we love the most. These are the individuals who are our biggest fans, love us and support us in our healing journey no questions asked.
Each of us will spend this holiday season differently than others and that’s okay. The main focus of this holiday season is to make each of us happy individually! We just need to ensure the things that we do, the celebrations we have and the memories we make will be things that make us have a happy little holiday this year!