An Adult Child Abuse Survivor's Guide to the Holidays
This is a post from 'State of Grace', a blog I maintained from 2004 to 2009. I wrote frequently and candidly about my perspectives and experiences as a survivor of child sexual, physical and psychological abuse and neglect. This was a piece with a list of how I manage the profound difficulties of celebrating holidays with abusive members of my family. For Christmas, 2013, I humbly present this to the BlogHer readership, most espcially for my sister and brother abuse survivors and their allies.
(Edited from original post, November 26, 2009)
This blog post is for adult abuse survivors who are looking for strategies in dealing with their abusive families during the holidays. Family gatherings are meant to be lovely and fortifying, but for those of us who have been abused by family and/or adults close to us when we were young, holidays are a nightmare. We need to remember that we made it this far and we can go further. The way to do that is to get some help. I'd like to think this list of my own coping mechanisms will be helpful.
First, and most importantly, this is the primary principle to follow when you're in the presence of perpetrators and their allies:
Remember this always -
DO NOT ABANDON YOURSELF.
I can't say this enough - do not abandon yourself.
You were abandoned as a child. You did not deserve this. No child deserves this. So, as adults, we take care of ourselves as if we are our own precious child. Imagine taking your child-self gently but firmly by their lovely, grubby little hand and getting them out of harm's way. There are many ways to do this whether you are in the presence of perpetrators and their allies (like your own dismissive and scornful siblings who get angry whenever you mention the legacy and source of your pain) or if you're in a place where you may be triggered.
The following suggestions are listed in no particular order of importance because it's all important. Some of these ideas may work for you, some may not. As long as you keep that one, all-encompassing guidance "Do not abandon yourself" in mind, you can take it from there.
Here we go:
Remember who you are TODAY. You are no longer a child. Indeed, there is a hurt child within you. But, now you're an adult who can make your own choices and have power over your life.
One of the choices you can make is not go to your abusive family's house. You don't have to go! Say you're sick rather than telling them the actual reason for your absence. It's okay to "lie" in this situation if fear and anxiety prevents you from telling the truth. It's not really a lie, though. The abuse is responsible for the illnesses that you may be suffering - depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders.
If you do "call in sick", don't answer the phone if you know your abusive family members are trying to call you. Thank you, technology, for caller ID! They may call incessantly or not at all. Take a break - don't answer the calls from your abusive family members for a week. Then, if you must, call and say you're feeling better. And, when I say "better", I mean that you're probably doing better because you didn't spend time with people who were not good to you and continue to be bad to you.
If you have to be with abusive family members, do whatever you need to do to stay centered as you cannot abandon yourself and you need to remember who you are today.
Here are some tips and tools:
Go to your abuser's house with your real family - your husband, your kids, your chosen family of dear friends. If you need support and active reminders of who you are now, take your supportive people with you. They are your true family members who love you, won't abandon you and remind you of who you are today.
This is a big one - STAY SOBER. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you get drunk or high, you will lose that centered spot. You will relax, that's true, but it's a false sense of ease leaving you vulnerable. Do take Xanax if prescribed by your doctor, but stick to your prescribed dose. Try not to drink at all. Be aware and alert.
Help in the kitchen. Be involved with the preparation. Participate in the cooking and cleaning only if such activities are not triggering. This is how I deal - I put my head down and set the table, do the dishes, cook, chop wood, carry water. I put my head down and work it like a mindful Zen monk in silent meditation.