Category Archives: holidays

Anniversaries – Honoring Strength and Courage

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.

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Thanksgiving in the Midst of Overwhelming Pain

By Pamela Roberts

They are all around us — the walking wounded. This year I join the ranks after two months of hell including legal separation, suicides, domestic violence, natural death, restraining orders, children recovering from past sexual abuse plus living with the “normal” stress of continuous sickness, finals, teenagers, and finances. Others might add things like sexual assault, divorce, debilitating accidents, terminal illness, chronic pain, homelessness, or death of a child. It is difficult to emotionally process any of these life events whether you are experiencing them directly or watching from a distance. Thanksgiving adds incredible pressure to the hurting when they are not offered loving and appropriate support.

I cannot think of anything worse (for me) than being around a group of people that know I am going through an incredibly difficult time but completely avoid any acknowledgement or discussion of my pain. Small talk is miserable for me regardless of the situation! Unfortunately, we all find ourselves feeling isolated by our troubles in a crowded room at some point. Those around us don’t know what to say or don’t want to upset us. We experience the same lack of words plus the added guilt of potentially “ruining” the celebration. The superficial conversations continue. I would guess that deep down we all crave to be known and heard. We certainly all have pain.

What is the point of gathering if this is how we live life together? I challenge you to be brave this Thanksgiving and start real conversations, ask deep questions, and be authentic with those around you. Leave all criticism at home and listen for the story behind the situation. Pay attention to the blessings that happen in the midst of tragedy and take time to celebrate them. Allow yourself to enter into the journey emotionally. I believe that we each have the opportunity to make this holiday life-changing for someone else and ultimately for ourselves. Thanksgiving started out as a celebration of community, let’s agree to make it authentic community.

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With Halloween Upon Us…

By Kathleen Ferrick

As Halloween time gets closer yet again, I have been thinking about the holiday in a different way than in years past. During my childhood I never gravitated towards the scarier costumes, always opting for something I thought was pretty (the very stereotypical bride or princess) or cute (kitty, teddy bear, etc.).

Even though my days of dressing up for trick-or-treating are behind me, the ways in which I continue to celebrate the holiday still remain very “unscary”. I cannot bear to sit through horror films and the thought of going to a haunted house is about the farthest thing imaginable from my idea of fun. I have many Halloween-enthused friends who view the holiday as their only opportunity to really embrace what they describe as the “darker side.”

I know it may be a bit of a stretch but these reflections make me consider the ways different people confront what frighten them.  When it comes to confronting our own demons, those demons that exist far beyond the scope of the Halloween holiday, we all engage/cope with them in countless unique ways. I’m the kind of person that has to wrestle with issues internally first. I cope with my demons, initially, by being with them by myself, then I’m able to lean forward and allow others in. But I have friends who want to put it all out there right away, whether by going to therapy immediately or processing out loud with friends, they begin by leaning forward.

What I think I’m getting at here is the relevance of cultivating a sense of appreciation for varying ways of working with and healing from pain and trauma. Again, to borrow from my admittedly corny/silly Halloween metaphor, some people experience greater comfort in diving in head first, so to speak, while others are more inclined to step back a bit.