I wish to apologize ahead of time (or not) for the gifs you will see with this piece but I needed to lighten the subject a bit. Come on folks, let us make the holidays this year special. We all deserve it after the year we’ve had. Please, stay safe. Wear your masks, watch your social distancing, wash your hands often, and try to stay home if you can. We’re all in this together. Shirley
Thanksgiving and Christmas time have once again descended upon us, bringing unique challenges for those who have experienced trauma. It doesn’t matter whether the trauma happened yesterday or decades in the past; it has a habit of coloring how we see the holidays.
In this article, we shall explore how trauma affects the enjoyment of the holiday season and ways to alleviate the pain we are feeling.
Ho, Ho, Hell
Life after trauma is full of problems, many of which come from inside us. We struggle daily trying to overcome the after-effects the chaos that trauma has brought to our lives, meeting with some success in healing but exhausted by how it moves very slowly.
Add into that mix the holiday season with all its somewhat unrealistic expectations and stories of family get-togethers and joy, and you have a recipe for disappointment and bitterness. We feel disappointed because we do not have a Normal Rockwell Family and bitter that the traumatic experience happened to us. It is nearly impossible to feel all warm, fuzzy, and ho, ho, ho, in this state of mind.
Numerous negative effects can take place during the holiday season, including but not exclusively:
You may experience more sleep disturbances than average.
You might experience more headaches, anxiety, depression
You may have more panic attacks or flashbacks.
You might feel unsettled and jittery.
You may feel confused and experience time distortion.
You might find you are extra sensitive to odors, sounds, sights, and movements.
You may notice you are super sensitive to chaos and activity.
You may experience more negative self-talk.
You could experience more suicidal ideation and be more vulnerable to self-injury.
Fighting all these negative effects leaves us drained and downright anti-social, so it is no wonder we do not look forward to nor enjoy the holiday season.
Changing Our Outlook at Thanksgiving
It is enormously difficult to change how we respond to Thanksgiving because we get so caught up in our own misery that we can find no way out. Most of the negativity we experience during the holidays isn’t coming from the ‘here and now’ but from the past and not from outside forces but from inside us.
But how do we escape from the past and ourselves at Thanksgiving? One method is to make a gratitude list.
Now, we may object to making a gratitude list because we want to remain miserable. We may have decided, albeit subconsciously, that misery is our comfort zone and how dare I suggest you leave it. However, making a gratitude list can and will make facing Thanksgiving much more comfortable whether you are spending it alone, with friends, or with your family of origin who drives you insane.
It is simply impossible to be down in the dumps or wallowing in self-pity when you feel grateful because the two are not mutually inclusive. If you do not wish to be and remain miserable on Thanksgiving, then do the following today and keep adding to it until turkey day.
Take a piece of paper and write at the top: Things I am Grateful for This Year.
Then, on the paper, write all the things you can think of that make you feel thankful. If need be, you can start small such as, ‘I can see,’ ‘I can hear,’ ‘I have a roof over my head’ because many do not. Keep listing the things you are grateful for until your paper is covered and then review that list as you add to it every day until you are actually munching down on pumpkin pie on that special Thursday.
Changing How We Respond to Christmas
Changing how we survivors respond to Christmas is a tough one. All the movies and television specials, magazines, and stories passed down through families tell us we should be happy and jolly. Yet, as the days pass and Christmas grows ever closer, we find ourselves tied up in knots of dread.
For many of us, Christmas meant being home for several days from school and facing more time needing to survive abusers who took no holidays. For others, the holiday reminds us of people who are now dead, leaving us cold and lonely.
No matter your trauma, and there are many, Christmas can leave a slimy, metallic taste in your mouth.
One vital method to escape the trap of feeling depressed, icky, nasty, and overwhelmed
at Christmas time is to take it one day at a time and to slow down. You need time to adjust to the idea that Christmas is around the corner and you do not need to do a lot of shopping. Perhaps you may buy one or two presents but keep it to a minimum, thus keeping yourself from experiencing panic attacks.
Live in each day and each moment of every day. Try to remain focused on the ‘now’ and don’t project into the future. Tomorrow is not here, and yesterday is gone. Live in today; it is all we have.
Remind yourself every minute of every day that the trauma you experienced is in the past and not in the ‘now.’ You are free from the people who harmed you, and you never need to see them again.
If the thought of being without your family bothers you, call a friend and make arrangements to be with them on Christmas. No, they are not who you want, but the family you want does not exist. You need a family of choice to fill the painful gap.
The Holidays are What You Make Them
Trauma changes who we are as people changing our outlook on life, including the holidays. We lose perspective of what Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposed to represent and the joy that so many enjoy choosing instead to feel a nagging sense of bah-humbug.
Ultimately, how you experience Christmas this year will depend on you. Will you allow the demons of the past to haunt you and cause you misery? Or will you bravely put them back into the hell where they belong and enjoy your day?
Only we survivors have the power to choose how our Thanksgiving and Christmas will go this year. No one else can make us content and happy. No one else can make us grateful or aware of the things we have and not look at the things we do not have.
We, and only we, are the authors of the book of this year’s experiences. What will the pages of your book hold?
“Choose to be happy. That is the only way to find happiness.” ~Debasish Mridha
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou