How To Cope With Family and The Holidays (as a Sexual Abuse Survivor)

Although the Holidays are what people say should be a merry time spent with family, there are many children, adolescent, and adult survivors out there right now feeling overwhelmed, broken, lonely, or finding themselves saying “yes” to gatherings they really want to say “no” to. (Many of us would rather feel the resentment after saying yes, than the guilt after saying no, but that is another topic for another day.) There are so many messy family situations and dilemmas that survivors of sexual assault are going through right now. IF this is you, I want you to know, that even though it really may feel like you are alone, you are not. Maybe it’s been difficult for you to put your own needs before others, (been there, sometimes, I’m still there ha), but just this time I want you to go with yourself. Listen to what you want, and then go with that. You’ve been through enough and to go through another emotionally exhausting and possibly even dangerous situation is not worth it. If no one is telling you, I will: You deserve better than that.

Now this year, obviously many of us are not getting together because of Covid. But if there are still ways that family and the holidays are causing problems, here are options about what you can do. Unfortunately, none of them are perfect, and I wish they were, but these are what worked for me.

Strands Beach, it is a beautiful place to cry.

1.Don’t go. Ok, easier said than done. You could have a lot of texts, “Why aren’t you here?” or “That’s so inconsiderate…” Although hearing the sounds of those texts coming through can send your anxiety through the roof, your safety from emotional or physical abuse is worth all those texts. Depending on your situation, maybe send one simple text out, saying that you are not coming, and then leave it at that. Don’t give into the back and forth thing. It sucks being alone if you have nowhere else to go. I remember when my family moved back to California three years ago and my mother’s extended side of the family came over for Thanksgiving, (the side the abuser was on) and I left. I spent Thanksgiving driving up and down PCH until I parked at Strands Beach, called my friend from back in Philly, and then cried for an hour. Not a fun night, but it was better than having to deal with that situation back home, I’ll tell you that. Don’t go, find a safe, sacred, and special place if you have nowhere else to go. You are allowed to protect yourself and say no. **PS: try to come up with a plan if you do decide to stay alone. That Thanksgiving I just basically cried, but there were many other moments later on where I’d stay alone and drink, smoke, or other stuff that caused more anxiety in the long run. This time should be spent on healing, and being gentle with yourself, which is why it’s a good idea to come up with a plan before diving into any self-destructive options.

2. If you decide to go, make sure there is a relative around that knows and that supports you. You could even come up with a code word with them for when things get too intense, or a good exist strategy.

3. Grieve. “Yep, be alone and grieve, great advice Fiona.” It’s depressing, and not how you probably want to spend your holiday. But the thing is if you had to deal with having to see the abuser at family reunions as a kid, you know how much of a toll it takes on your body and mind. For years, you were not given an option to not go and out of self-protection, you’d avoid the feelings of grief and brokenness for years. Because, in a sense, you were still in the midst of it. You are finally free. This also means, it may be the calm after the storm, but you’re realizing the grief didn’t go away. Many of us haven’t grieved the loss of our childhood and innocence. If this is the case, I strongly suggest you read my post Grief and Loss. Once you grieve, it clears the way for new memories. This leads me to the last point…

4. Create new memories with new people. I started this blog, Breaking Agreements, to help aid survivors break free from fears, dynamics, beliefs, and other limitations that the abuse may have caused. When you learn and practice breaking free from those beliefs and cycles, it’s like you’re living in a new world. This is the time to create new memories. These new holidays can be 100% yours! If you decided to not go to your family gathering and don’t want to be alone, you’d be surprised at how many people would be more than happy to have you come to their family gathering (ok, maybe not this year, but you get the point). I’ve spent multiple holidays with my roommate’s parents who were very generous to have me over. It may take a few years, but I promise, you will find your tribe.

Guys, I know how hard it is. It’s scary. You don’t deserve, nor ever deserved, to have to see your abuser or even have to hear about them or their whereabouts. You deserve to be and feel respected. Your own company alone is more healing than being around someone that hurt you. I’m sending you so much love guys. Here is a short IGTV video I made where I talk about coping with anxiety, PTSD, and resorting back to your angsty 13 year old self during family gatherings. ha

-Fiona