Staying Sane During The Holidays
Staying Sane During The Holidays
EmpowerSurvivors is a 501(C)(3). All Rights Reserved. © 2022
****Trigger Warning *****
Holidays can be a hard time for survivors of childhood sexual trauma and abuse. For many, it may mean reminders of past childhood abuse or knowing that the person that perpetrated them will be gathered alongside family members. This may leave you feeling a sense of loss and thoughts of why, why would my family still include the person that hurt me, took my innocence, and caused so much pain.
Many survivors feel forced to attend holiday events simply because the people asking are “family”. Survivors may be asked by family members why they are still holding on to something that happened years ago or guilt-tripped and told “ you need to forgive, let it go” or other statements that only make the survivor feel betrayed, abandoned, unloved, and unsupported.
As survivors, we know that sexual trauma and abuse are not something you just “ get over” but rather something that needs to be processed in a loving and supportive environment. Each survivor is unique so healing can look different depending on the situation. All survivors deserve support and that includes everyone reading this.
How To Stay Sane:
1) Love yourself
Give yourself the grace and love that you truly deserve. Go easy on yourself and know that whatever you are feeling is okay. You matter and so do your feelings and experiences. Take time to rest, buy yourself a present, and invest in yourself.
2) Surround yourself with positive and healthy supporters
Building a strong support system around yourself is very important.
This could include trauma therapists, fellow survivors, peer groups, or those in your life that have supported you on your healing journey. Have a code word for your partner that gives your partner the notice that it may be time to leave a situation or get together that is toxic.
3) Get enough rest, drink water, and watch what you are eating.
Sleep is an important factor in life. Without adequate rest, our systems tend to break down. Getting enough sleep can help you handle the stresses of the holidays easier. Stress wears us thin, so healthy eating habits and drinking water can help us regulate our systems and stay healthy. Good nutrition can lead to less depression and an overall healthier lifestyle.
4) Learn or enforce healthy boundaries
Think of boundaries as your property line. Boundaries help you to stay safe, is a form of self-care, create realistic expectations, and create safety. If someone crosses your boundary let them know what your expectations are, how they broke your boundaries, and help you advocate for yourself.
5) Know you are not obligated to attend functions simply because they're family.
How many times have you been to a gathering that you felt obligated to
attend simply because of “ family”? Give yourself permission to decline invitations where your perpetrator is attending or those that have not been supportive.
6) Learn that saying No is okay
Many people struggle with saying, "No." Many people have a knee-jerk reaction to say “yes” when they're asked to do someone a favor. Keep in mind, you are never required to say "Yes." It's actually okay to say "No" sometimes. Accept this as you prepare to say "No" to someone. This will help you say "No" with ease. When saying “yes” make sure you are not saying no to yourself.
7) Fight the negative messages
Watch your stinkin thinkin! So many times we have negative messages telling ourselves we are being selfish, not worthy, not deserving of love, etc. These are all lies and many times have been put there by our perpetrators or those in our family unit or well-intended friends. Every time you get a negative thought, notice it but kick it out quickly with a positive affirmation. Instead of saying “I am not worthy” replace it with “ I am fearfully and wonderfully made and worthy of much”. Become the person you needed as a child.
8) Create New Traditions
Sometimes the abuse we suffered at the hands of others has found us all alone. Creating new traditions can help bring joy back into your life. Have your own party, celebration, or holiday tradition that is only attended by healthy individuals and those that support your healing journey. Volunteer at a food shelf, local school, or soup kitchen, visit the elderly in a nursing home, aid in others' healing, and get creative. You have the power within you to begin new traditions.
No matter your situation please know you are not alone, there are many of us out here that celebrate you and your healing. If you are in need of more support please feel free to join one of our Facebook groups that support those that were sexually traumatized and abused in childhood. Together we can find healing and once again find joy. If in immediate danger please call 911 or your local crisis center.
Written by: Elizabeth Sullivan, Founder & CEO of the EmpowerSurvivors 501c3 nonprofit.
EmpowerSurvivors wishes you and your families much peace and love during this holiday season.
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In relation to trauma, a trigger is something that calls to mind a previous traumatic situation and may provoke a flashback of the event. Therapists suggest that triggers can vary person to person, and are dependent on an individual’s personal, and often private, experiences. It may be hard to predict what may be a trigger for you or a loved one, however, the more attention you pay to identifying triggers, the easier it may become to predict, control, or manage their effects.
Types of triggersTriggers can be divided into different categories, including those based on our senses. Common categories of triggers may include:
Managing TriggersThere are various approaches to managing triggers. Although everyone’s triggers may be different, there are common tips that can be used to deal with them in a healthy manner. These include, but are not limited to:
Getting Triggered by the News
By Evey Krammer-Carlson
I make a conscious effort to be careful about what I read and listen to on the news. It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know what’s happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my own opinions and have thoughtful conversations.
When my symptoms were at their worst, and I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule,” meaning I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens. That “rule” helped me minimize being triggered at a time when most of my days were spent experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and fear.
I stayed away from intense news and was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. Most of the time, I watched lots of comedy. Admittedly, there were times when I broke the rule. I sometimes sought out programs with violence that in some way mirrored my own abuse. Or I would pay attention to sensationalized cases in the media that were hard to avoid. Inevitably I would get triggered.
As I began to manage my symptoms and felt some sense of safety the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.
Recently, there was a news story that I had done my best to avoid. When it first came out, people were outraged, and then the news cycle changed. I understand why that happens. There is so much out there every day, and each event is shocking and sad, and sometimes incomprehensible. But because my trauma is sort-of similar to the aforementioned news story, I was on high alert when I scrolled past it. I had a definite curiosity about the details but hadn’t read anything besides the headlines.
Until the other day!
The other day the headline changed and I knew that the very thing I feared when I first heard the story did, in fact, come true. I knew this person would never be convicted. I felt sick that even with awareness, this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist.
Then I got triggered.
I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was far enough along in my healing journey that I would be okay. But PTSD doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this person had absolutely nothing to do with me. I had never heard of him. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is altered because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.
After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear, and shame. I closed the computer, went to yoga, had lunch with a friend, and remembered that today is a day when I’m fighting the tiger. Any shame over being triggered dissipated as I repeated my metaphorical mantra of support to myself.
Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of see? I’m not making this up! When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma seems so “out of the ordinary” that it’s extremely rare that I felt validation.
But, my job on my healing journey is knowing that my truth is validation enough.
I suspect there will be other times when I get triggered by the news. The intensity of my response will probably vary depending on what the triggers are, the time of year, and the present stressors in my life. I know what to do when the skeleton hands of the past pull at me, and I’m confident that I’ll remember that I will fight the tiger and win.