So, the holidays are here. You may be thinking this is a little early, but I include Halloween in my definition of the holidays. I call it the holiday trifecta. And they come every year. And every year, I brace myself. I actually attempt to store up energy, but of course, that never works out.
Each holiday affects me for different reasons. Halloween is stressful because of the spooky factor. I have just about had it with things that go bump in the night. And surprises? Well. I have had my fill of those too. I make it an early night every year. And that has worked out so far because my kids are young.
Thanksgiving is the big family holiday. I have always managed to spend Thanksgiving with friends and I am exceedingly grateful. But the societal bombardment of family dinners, even dysfunctional family dinners, can be overwhelming.
And then there is Christmas. It is supposed to be the ultimate happy day according to the messages we receive in the media. So why do I feel like I just need to get through it? It reminds me of the happiness I have not been capable of finding. It makes me feel inadequate. And I don’t need that. I can make myself feel inadequate without additional help.
But this holiday trifecta also brings some themes that aren’t specific to one holiday. These themes make this time difficult for survivors of complex trauma.
1) There is so much more to do.
Survivors can struggle with daily life. It can be hard to wake up every morning and go through the daily activities when trauma is in need of processing. Trauma hits us holistically. It affects us physically, emotionally and mentally to name a few. Some days, I am lucky to make it through the obligatory tasks required by parenting like transportation and cooking. By the end of the day, I am sitting on the couch staring at the wall. I am completely fried.
Now, add in the costumes, baking, parties, decorating and general over-excitement of two small children. That is enough to drive any parent crazy. But when a parent struggles with trauma, it can take things too far. It is a recipe for negative coping mechanisms. Drinking and suicide go up this time of year for a reason. The need for awareness and self-care jumps up substantially when this time of year rolls around. And that need can be missed until it is too late.
2) Others (in this case, society) are still telling me what to do.
Autonomy is confusing for survivors. In our world, the pendulum swings in opposite directions. When I am overwhelmed and don’t know my next step, I want people to tell me what to do. But it won’t be long before I will be rebelling against the same person who once was saving me with their personal direction. Of course, this most often happens in a workplace, but it can happen throughout daily life too.
So, here is society telling me to do certain activities on certain days in certain ways. And I just want to make obscene gestures in its general direction. Then I couple that with the guilt of being “that parent” who doesn’t do the holidays well enough. So, I spend most of these months in a conflicted state.
Explanation might not be needed here, but for the sake of full disclosure, I will expound. Anniversaries are hard for trauma survivors. It could be an abuser’s birthday or a date of a death. It could be a court date. Those days are just hard. And it comes whether we know it or not. I have forgotten an anniversary until the end of the day, only to realize why that day was miserable after the fact. And for trauma survivors, the holidays are full of anniversaries.
In my case, because I was a victim of familial abuse, the holidays are full of memories with abusers. And those memories leave me conflicted. At the holidays, my family put up a great front. They worked hard to act like a real family, especially when we had guests. I loved having guests because my family would be on their best behavior (unless they were abusive guests). And my family was so riddled with internal guilt they would over-compensate for the abuse with excessive holiday spending. I was inundated with gifts and candy and stuff. And since I had equated love with stuff, it was a good experience for me. Hence, the conflicted state.
So, the holidays are here. And I will muddle through. I will deal with the depression which will make some days unbearable. As always, I will revel in the manic state which will get me through the extra tasks at hand. And January will be here soon enough. And that is ok with me.