Mariah Carey season, I mean, the holiday season, is upon us! While many of us find happiness in all things gingerbread-scented, there are also many for whom this time of year can be difficult.
It’s hard to be surrounded by joy when you’re healing from trauma, and for survivors of domestic violence, that can mean a lot of things. You may have just left an abuser, or still be trying to untangle yourself from one. It may be your first holiday sharing custody of children. It may be your first holiday all on your own. You might feel like you’re all alone in this new and difficult journey, but trust us, you’re not. Plenty of survivors have been in your winter boots and they’ve made it out on the other side.
So, for this guide, we went right to the source—survivors who’ve survived the holidays—and asked them, how did they find their joy again? What new traditions did they start to make this time of year feel special? Here’s what a few survivors shared with us on our online support group.
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Some Just Simply Relaxed
One survivor responded she and her kids did, well, nothing.
“I didn’t have to do anything special after escaping. Holidays instantly felt better. There was nobody there to start a ridiculous fight … no walking on eggshells or holding our breath hoping he’d be in a good mood.”
Sometimes simply taking a moment of gratitude for the peace the holidays now have is enough to find joy again. Another survivor seconded this idea.
“After I left, I made sure my kids knew how important celebrating the holidays were and to be around family who loves us and supports us. I made sure holidays were fun and no stress.”
Try This: Can’t seem to find your Zen? A trauma-sensitive yoga class or a relaxing at-home meditation session might do the trick. You may also want to begin a tradition of voicing or writing down what you’re grateful for each day this month (and perhaps beyond).
Some Chose to Help Others
One survivor wrote, “I volunteered by delivering meals with the Salvation Army. It was a great reminder to both myself and my children that helping others can be very healing. We created new traditions of volunteering to fill our memory banks with positive things.”
Volunteering is a great way to feel those warm and fuzzy feelings again. Whether it’s lending your cooking skills to a local soup kitchen, helping organize a holiday party for kids at a nearby shelter, or collecting blankets for cats and dogs at the local animal rescue, there’s always a way to give a little of your time and talents to others.
Some Focused on the Food
There’s nothing quite as comforting as holiday cooking. But some survivors may have felt controlled or restricted when it came to making a holiday meal or treat.
This year, create a new tradition all your own that centers around your favorite food. In our family, this means we all chip in making Christmas morning cinnamon rolls from scratch. If you’re not sure what your favorites are anymore, one survivor told us she and her kids started doing “Christmas around the world” and incorporated food and other traditions from different heritages into their celebration.
Try This: Read “Creating a Safe Space at The Dinner Table” for tips on how your family can reconnect over a favorite meal. And if money’s tight this year, don’t be afraid to reach out to a food bank—anyone can. There’s also a great grassroots program called Lasagna Love—anyone for any reason can request a home-cooked lasagna from a volunteer chef in their area.
Some Started Fresh
“I bought all new decorations with my two girls and let them choose what they wanted,” wrote a survivor mom. A new start might mean a new look, and getting rid of the things that remind you of the past. If money’s tight, you can make your own holiday decorations out of construction paper (paper snowflakes anyone?), leftover wrapping paper and bows, or inexpensive thrift store finds. Don’t discount places like the Dollar Store, either, for a fun and inexpensive holiday decorating. You may also want to post something on your neighborhood social media page and ask if anyone has holiday decorations they’re looking to donate or discard—after all, it is the season of generosity.
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Try This: It’s OK to give your kids a few extras after escaping trauma—and we don’t mean new toys, specifically. Read “Spoiling Your Kids the Right Way” to learn more.
Some Stepped Outside the Box
One survivor shared with us that her first holiday after escaping abuse was spent jumping out of a perfectly good airplane! Aka, she went skydiving. Don’t feel limited to traditional holiday things during a holiday, especially a holiday directly following trauma. It’s OK to take the day to do something that doesn’t remind you of the past, whether it’s skydiving or taking a solo trip to a new country or ordering Chinese takeout and watching scary movies. If it feels empowering and exciting and fun to you, we say go for it.
Try This: If you’re itching to travel but budget is a concern, check out our tips in “6 Ways to Get Away for Cheap.” And find inspiration for new ways to step outside your comfort zone in “What Did You Do For Yourself After Leaving?”
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