Practical Holiday Survival Tips

During the holidays it’s smart to have a practical plan for self-care and for spiritual growth.

Because holidays are tough for anyone who is grieving because they bring into stark focus what has been lost.

The plans that work for us help manage when and how we focus on the grief during this tender time. Even when we don’t follow the plan exactly, it can be very helpful as a guide.

Having a plan helps get the most out of the holidays to help us heal emotionally, psychologically and spiritually – even physically. So, here are just a few suggestions for you from the editors.

Denial is the first obstacle.

There’s no reason to deny the dark side of the holidays, or of Christmas.

Don’t hesitate to acknowledge those heavy emotions. Make room for them. Build some kind of place where they can be in your life and in your home. Give them a loved and safe space all season long. For example:

  • Offer a prayer before the holiday dinner about healing and reconciliation in your relationships – and in the Church.
  • Light a candle for the season, to offer a tribute to your resilience in solidarity with those who are also healing and who are still hoping to heal. Stand near your candle and offer a prayer every evening.
  • Create an online tribute to survivors, including saints, stories, images, wisdom and art you love. Share it online. share it with those you love. Send it to us. We’ll post it online, too.
  • Share a favorite story at a holiday evening with caring friends about someone who really helped you find recovery or deepen your faith.
  • Write and send a heart-felt note to someone about how much they mean to you, and be sure to list all the wonderful characteristics they have that have helped you all your life.

Be flexible about plans, too.

Clarify your personal boundaries. Many people struggle with holidays, not just survivors of abuse. Try not to personalize if someone else is acting strangely this season when you need them the most. Try not to absorb other people’s shame about their own failures at this time. Be aware. Grief is all around us, and often people have no idea what it is that is driving them. Don’t pick up other people’s shame and grief – or anger.

Adjust your own patterns. Maybe go some places less often for the season — or seek out some other friends and places more. In fact, you don’t need to go anywhere, no matter how much pressure is put on you. Ask yourself if this is a safe setting, a compassionate dynamic, a respectful group of people? We all know how family can be the best support network – or the cruelest of judges and enablers of the abusers. Know where you are safe. Only go there. No excuses necessary.

Keep a close tab on your level of sensitivity. It’s always important to be aware of when feelings begin to roil or create an interior tumult. During this season, they may be more reactive. For example, if you’ve managed to negotiate some kind of truce or working connections with relationships that have been broken by abuse, don’t expect yourself to make those work as well during holidays. Does being in this setting or with this person help you? Does it hurt? Could it help or hurt them? Moving more slowly so you can assess situations with more peace is a great goal.

Know who the real anchors are, because you do need the core friend or friends. These are the ones who can help you be careful not to isolate even if you must decline some invitations. A therapist or pastoral counselor can help here, too.

Have options. Create options. For example, whenever you agree to join a gathering, have an emergency backup option. If suddenly something doesn’t feel right, know what your fallback is; e.g., a movie, or a walk, or another friend’s house. Imagine before you arrive what you will say if you need to leave without blaming anyone or engaging old wounds. Just be poised to leave quietly and follow the backup plan. Give yourself permission to leave if it hurts to be there.

Whatever you do, keep it simple.

Don’t exhaust yourself trying to force a merry season on yourself or anyone else; that’s a great way to end up exhausted and resentful.

Do let other people help you. Take the time to examine what would help – a little gesture, a visit, an evening out – and specifically ask the friend who understands what surviving holiday grief as a survivor of child abuse is like.

Don’t try to tackle the past at this point. Choose where you focus your energies – and what you ask your heart to manage! The truth of our past cannot be changed. Not in therapy. Not in prayer. Not during the holidays.

And, focus on the Truth.

The losses we have suffered are something we all must grieve, and that grief may always appear during holidays. Many people struggle with different but similar grieving. Yet for all of us there is another and much bigger truth.

It is the Truth that our Savior is born into darkness as the Light of the World and the Light of our lives. To focus on His arrival in our own hearts is a powerful step in healing.

The Spirit of Christmas is a presence. We are never alone, no matter how alone we feel or seem.

Christmas is a holiday which, the more you read and study, can deepen your relationship with God – and that’s what the season is really all about.

Don’t hesitate to make holidays more about God than about relationships when you need to lean on someone who hasn’t even failed you.

And never will.

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