Joy, peace, love, and family. Tables laden with delicious and carefully prepared food. Gifts wrapped in shiny paper with big bows on top. Menorahs and Christmas trees, Thanksgiving turkeys, the champagne toast at midnight on New Year’s, laughter, gratitude, and festive decorations. This is the cultural script we all here every year as late November and December roll around.
For survivors of sexual abuse, this season is not always as joyful and carefree. For some, going home to family means seeing the very people that abused you or covered up your abuse. For others who have ‘come out’ about their abuse while at college, going home means putting on a fake smile again. For some who are healing, the stress of so many social obligations can be daunting. And for the many survivors of sexual abuse who are struggling with an eating disorder, the good-centered holiday celebrations can be upsetting, frightening, and nearly unmanageable.
It is possible to get through the holidays in one piece, and we want to help you do that. There are many tools, services, and methods you can use to ease the stress of the holidays. Here are our top five tips for getting through the holidays:
5. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This sentence is one of our go-to phrases. When dealing with difficult or manipulative family members or friends, it can be easy to be overwhelmed and struggle to come up with a response. This simple phrase is honest, direct, and often surprisingly effective at shutting difficult conversations down.
4. Carve out alone time, wherever you find it. A few years ago when I really needed to talk to my fiancé while he was spending time with his family at the holidays, he came up with a clever way to both honor his time commitment to his family and find time to talk with me: he volunteered to walk to the local store for eggnog. During his walk to and from the store, we were able to talk. Volunteer to run errands, walk the family dog, switch the laundry — whatever. Take advantage of bathroom breaks to take a few deep breaths, stretch, text a friend, or recite a comforting poem or song lyric to yourself.
3. Find ways to contribute that you are comfortable with. Maybe the big block party is too much for you and all the crowds and noises are about to send you over the edge. Can you sneak into the kitchen to help with dishes, or monitor the kiddos while they watch a Christmas movie? Maybe you can spend the evening whipping up your homemade cocoa and pouring it into mugs. Perhaps sweet old Mrs.Smith needs a quiet companion to converse with while she sits in her armchair. If you find ways to be involved that fit your comfort level, you will feel better and be less likely to catch flack from others.
2. Know your support team and help them help you. Before leaving for the holidays, ask a few friends if they can be your texting buddies in tense situations. Find out if any of your good friends will be home, and keep them on speed-dial. A good friend can always call and say they “need you” to help them babysit their little cousin or give their car a jump, providing you with an easy exit from any uncomfortable situations. If the annual New Year’s party will include someone from your past who you can’t handle seeing, find out if a few of your friends want to get together for a safe, trigger-free holiday night.
1. Reach out for help. You are not the only one struggling this time of year, and there are lots of services that can help you get through the holidays. Follow these links for information about contacting the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network phone & online hotline; the National Eating Disorders Helpline; and the national suicide hotline.