Holidays were a crap shoot in my family and the memories of the bad ones make up a number of abuse anniversaries for me which seems to be true for many, many sexual abuse survivors.
The holidays of my early childhood were wonderful. I loved everything about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both holidays were filled with relatives, games, reminiscing, and the best dinners ever.
Over time though, aunts, uncles, and cousins visited less often and we went to see them less too. Nobody wanted to be around my abusive mother anymore. She had survived abuse herself but never sought help and as an adult had gradually slipped into alternating roles as narcissistic victim and perpetrator of physical and emotional abuse.
As older siblings left the house, my mother’s abuse of my remaining brother and myself became more violent, and it was compounded by the abuse we inflicted on each other as we directed our inner pain and anger outward.
The happiness of any holiday at that point in my life revolved around my mother and the wild card of whether or not she would become emotionally and physically abusive. The excitement and happiness were still there, but the question was, would it last the day? Sometimes it did and that was wonderful, but many times it didn’t.
On one of those bad holidays, my brother was subjected to especially violent abuse. It was Christmas 1988, and it certainly was an awful one. My brother had been having serious behavioral problems and was strange and less himself that fall. He had attempted to sexually assault me but I fought him off and I didn’t say a word out of fear of my mother and what she would do to him, and what he would do to me in return.
On the day after Christmas that year, my life changed forever when my brother sexually terrorized and abused me while he was in the midst of an acute psychotic episode. My mother’s abuse had broken his mind and through that breaking I was set on my own path of self destruction, fragmenting of self, and mental illness.
I used to mark December 26th with tears and anger, or drugs and other self destruction. Then, I started marking it by releasing those feelings in a symbolic way. Now, I notice the day and remember what happened to me and the things that followed, but I also remember the inner strength I developed in order to survive that childhood and come out the other side to a place where I am on a path of healing, surrounded by people who love me and help me on my way.
I have been fortunate to be able to work through a lot of my abuse and make a certain amount of peace with it. Through that work, my holidays have become about new traditions that reflect my true self both past and present, and of honoring the precious, strong and lovable person I have always been. Whether my holidays are good or bad, that truth about myself will always be there.