The holiday season is upon us and hardly anyone is exempt from the added stressors it often brings. Holidays can be particularly difficult for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. For many survivors, the holiday season can be filled with anxiety and depression, and can even open old wounds. For survivors of clergy abuse, the holiday season itself can lead to triggers and unwanted memories. As many survivors of clergy abuse struggle with regaining or maintaining their faith into their adulthood, the constant symbols of Christmas everywhere they go may also serve as a reminder of the abuse. Whether it is Christmas songs on the radio, or colorful displays in nearly every retail store, these can be constant reminders of the church. Survivors may even feel obligated to participate in faith based traditions for their family members.
For other survivors, perhaps the holidays bring extended family members into their lives once again. Perhaps those family members are unsafe. Or perhaps the fear of being alone for the holidays leads to being around people that are harmful. For many survivors, the holiday season is not just about making it through, it is about avoiding being triggered and re-traumatized. Dinner table conversations sometimes lead with headlines and current events. This year, that may mean the recent rise in survivors of sexual abuse and sexual harassment coming forward publically since the popularity of the Me Too Movement. For survivors, this can also be triggering.
Because this time of year can be difficult, it is important for survivors to take care of themselves. If the holidays are difficult for you, make choices that feel right for you. It’s perfectly okay to decline invitations and limit time commitments that may set your healing back. Identifying the things that may have triggered you in the past can be beneficial in planning ahead should those situations arise again. Give yourself permission to be alone when you need it, sometimes being with your thoughts can revitalize and ground you.
Having a healthy support person or people is also very helpful. Whether it’s your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, your friend, your spouse, your therapist, or your local crisis line, have their contact information on hand. Know your limitations and honor them. Define and maintain your boundaries, you don’t have to participate in traditions simply because they are traditions. Maintain your boundaries throughout the holiday season and honor them. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to yourself.
Remember, you are not alone. Many survivors struggle through the holidays. If you are having a difficult time, reach out for help. Contact the National Sexual Violence Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.