I had a survivor message me recently and ask, “Kel, do you like Christmas?”
I didn’t know how to respond except to say I have learnt to choose Joy even when it feels hard. Like life, our thoughts come in waves. Our memories come in waves and Christmas is one of those times that can be very lonely, difficult, and triggering. Sometimes it’s because we have lost loved ones, others because of painful memories and so much more.
In many ways I am grateful that I have made new memories. Water bomb fights, wrestles, camping, fishing… It seems to make the waves come less, my frown lines become laughter lines and I hold gratitude in my heart. I have worked stupidly hard on myself to find my smiles and joy, so when memories come that are tough, or people in my life make things hard, it feels personal, it feels lonely, it feels like we’re not seen.
So, I reset, take a deep breath, and choose to do the things I enjoy anyway. (Really, I just try not to have those people in my life) BUT we know that sometimes for the sake of family, and to keep the peace we keep those people around us.
SO… for survivors and their families, I have come up with 12 tips that might help through this time. I honestly believe no matter what you do, or where you are, Christmas is a time for gratitude. To be thankful for those we love, who care for us, and togetherness. Sometimes we don’t have those people and that is when we need to be brave, step out of our comfort zone and make new connections. It’s not easy, but no one said growth and healing was… but it sure is worth it. After all, we have had to survive for a long time… It really is your time now… time to connect, time to thrive… time to honour you!
My survival list for survivors and their families.
- Know your limitations and boundaries and stick to them. If you don’t like going to your uncle’s house, maybe choose somewhere else. If you know seeing certain family members is going to cause problems, trigger you or upset you (it is a sign you need to do some healing) set a time frame, go to a neutral space, or get away.
- Be kind to yourself. Christmas is hard enough. Show yourself grace and compassion. Enjoy the simple things.
- Choose your people. Spend time with people who bring you joy. Not people who are going to be negative, make negative comments and drain your energy. It is hard enough already without allowing those people to steal your joy. You don’t have to spend time with anyone you don’t choose to spend it with. If they don’t respect your boundaries, they are not your people.
- Learn to say what you need. If something is sitting wrong with you, you are uncomfortable, or don’t want to do something, be brave and speak up. Everyone wants to please everyone else at Christmas so we all go along with things. (note to the people pleasers) Sometimes that discomfort is a sign everyone needs a good chat, other times, it’s because there is a need and you need to address it.
- Don’t drink when you’re emotional. If you know that your family don’t do well with alcohol, or you’re likely to fly off the handle, drink another time with people you trust.
- Change your thinking. For many, Christmas is a time of triggering memories and flashbacks. (This requires healing) I encourage you to make a new memory. In your mind you may flash back to scenes. I challenge you when this happens remind yourself…1) I am safe. 2) I am making new memories. 3) (Name Perp) no longer holds power over me. Take a long deep breath… 4,3,2,1. DO SOMETHING ELSE. (Distraction) and focus on making that new memory- REALLY focus. Every time a though comes into your head. Refocus. LAUGH. Change what you are doing… BUT DO NOT LET THAT PERP HAVE ONE MORE SECOND OF YOUR JOY!
- Spend time with kids! Their joy is infectious and if you find yourself forgetting your innocence, your joy and happiness, I promise you, you will find in in their beautiful faces. If you don’t have kids or you’re missing them this Christmas- find joy in the little things. Borrow joy from elsewhere and know that you are loved…
For supporters of survivors.
- BE POSITIVE! It doesn’t matter if you are a survivor or not, Christmas is hard for everyone. Catch yourself out if your being negative. Christmas can be joyful… let it be.
- LISTEN AND HEAR. There is a big difference between listening and hearing. I pray you will do both. We get ideas in our head and one family wants this, and other that. Every survivor story is different but find out what they need and respect those needs. If they don’t want to see certain family members… DON’T MAKE THEM. (Better still if you have never received a disclosure, and kids especially are afraid to see certain relatives, I would be asking WHY?)
- Respect boundaries. If your loved one has set some boundaries (Kids and Adults alike) RESPECT THEM. Don’t make a survivor go back to the environment or place that hurt them. Don’t make them see people that hurt them. Don’t make them hug or speak to people who have hurt them… If your more interested in pleasing others in your family thinking “they’ll be right, it’s only a couple of hours… Just do it for the family… or “suck it up…”YOU are NOT a safe or supportive person. Respect the needs of your loved ones.
- Be the one who stands by your survivor. Make new, beautiful, and fun memories. Encourage laughter, connection and SEE your survivor. Being SEEN, means being HEARD. Choose Joy. Choose Connection. Choose LOVE!
- If it’s all too hard, try and have Christmas in May… or June… or July or whenever you want… really who said Christmas had to be in December?