Holiday Seasons are Hard for Adult Children With Painful Holiday Memories

Everyone who is or has been a part of a 12 step program knows that the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season is stressful for those of us who grew up in dysfunctional homes. A great way to deal with the drama of revisiting childhood memories and her families is to go to several 12 step meetings daily. Another way is to learn how others deal with the season’s emotions.

1.  From Susan Kingsley-Smith writing on A Journey: “I Had to Get Real About the Holidays That Were Not Often Happy and some Tips to Deal When You’d Rather Not”:

For years I’d tried to figure out how to survive the holidays with my dysfunctional family. In the end I realized that it wasn’t about surviving but learning how to live beyond it by creating a new tradition – for myself.

Holidays are one of those things that I did for years even though they were nevernot often anything to celebrate. My body would tell me it was that time of year again as my muscles tensed, I would start to shut down and be unable to function. I’d start feeling irritable, lashing out at those around me. Many days I’d not be able to get out of bed as the days on the calendar slipped from summer to fall and finally Halloween marked the beginning of the worst time of year for me.

I slipped further and further down as I knew what was waiting for me at our “family” get togethers. Finally I made a choice for myself to not go.

It was hard. But for me the only option as my family refused to respect my new boundaries and continued to shame me, make me the brunt of their jokes and cruelty. They would often tell me that I deserved to feel bad because I was such a worthless person and had not met their expectations, that I was the cause of their anger at me and if I was just somehow “different” – then they wouldn’t be mad and would love me.

I was constantly reminded that I was not “enough” and could never be “enough” to win their acceptance and love. I was often reminded throughout the year that I was not good enough for them to want a relationship with me. That I should be grateful they even spoke to me at all.

So for me – as over the years I noticed this same pattern in my life and my dread for what the world touted as a happy time – I decided to create some new traditions for myself.  I started declining invitations to these family get togethers.

I didn’t explain myself to them because that gave them power to again question my decisions and tell me something was wrong with me for not wanting to spend the holidays with them. And in the end they did that anyway – but I no longer felt the obligation to apologize and try to fix it.

This year will be my second year of my new Thanksgiving tradition where I volunteer at a local charity.

And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that making this decision for myself came easily – or quickly.

It in fact came at a very high price as I realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do to be good enough.

2. From Broken Brain-Brilliant Mind: “Where I get lost”:

So, despite starting the day feeling really good, I went to bed last night in a very emotional state. And I woke up this morning feeling just as emotional. What a change, from how I felt yesterday morning. It’s like something caught up with me, and it’s taking me down.

I think it’s the Thanksgiving time that kicks off the holiday season, which gets to me. All of a sudden, I have more to do, and less time to do it. I have things I have to finish before year-end, and at the same time, I have family and friends who all want to get together and do things. Meanwhile, I just want to crawl under a rock. I want to withdraw and remove myself from any and all interaction with others… just put my head down and work my way through the end of the year. I want my life to be simple, at a time when complication is the order of the day.

And the harder I try, the worse I seem to do. And I get lost. Very quickly. In the space of 12 hours, I can go from calm and collected, to a blubbering wreck who can’t stand thinking about yet another day of the usual screw-ups and confusions and try-agains and perpetual wondering if I really “got” what someone was saying to me, or if I really remembered what I was supposed to keep in my head. It can be very disconcerting, and I hate what happens to me, when it gets the better of me.

So, I have to track all this. Thinking about how things have been going for me — or not going for me — my pattern-seeking brain can see the places where stuff falls apart:

  • When I am overly fatigued
  • When I am stressed
  • When I am over-thinking things
  • When I am reacting, instead of being pro-active
  • When I am isolated
  • When I am feeling threatened

All these seem to come to a head during the holidays, and I really don’t want them to get the better of me. So, I’m taking a closer look at my life, and I’ve found some places where I think I have answers about what happens — and why. I think I know where I get lost.

3.From PTSD–Accepting, Coping, Thriving: “Holiday tips from Warrior’s Landing“:

If you are wondering why you have difficulty surrounding holidays and/or anniversaries of traumatic dates – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

These dates can creep up on us and without realizing it often weeks or more before, the trauma Injury side effects appear and intensified.
Our conscious minds do not necessarily assist us in connecting these dots given our subconscious most certainly does not want to remember. But cell memory wins…

Knowledge is power and setting a reminder alarm each day during the weeks leading up to the event can empower you to prepare.

Consider revising this event whenever possible into something that is not a flashback or trigger.

When it is not possible and or the event signifies one that you must participate in, try to stay in the moment practice breathing techniques and other modalities that you have found helpful.

Try to stay in the moment in any event : try not to think ahead, sometimes even the thought of being around people who don’t understand your state of mind, is enough to bring on a surge of anxiety. Know it is perfectly normal not to want to be around anyone at all.

Strategize ~ Decide in advance who you want to see if you do and who you don’t. what you will do and what you won’t. Plan out your activities so you spend the most time with people who are good for you and minimize contact with everyone else.

Have an escape plan ~ you can’t always anticipate how you’re going to feel and who’s going to say or do what affects you. Have a backup plan so that if you need to make a quick getaway you have an out.

Take Time out ~ It is important to plan in advance or be prepared to take down times to decompress. It’s best to decide in advance how that will work best.

Do What feels most comfortable ~ It’s ok for you to say “NO” pick and choose what you want to participate in and then draw the line. Setting boundaries in respect to others expectations is very important.

Pace yourself ~ If you feel overwhelmed , slow down. It’s better to break plans than to follow through with them when you feel you are walking into a situation you don’t want to be in. When you feel you are reaching your limit pull back and don’t feel guilty about it.

Maintain your privacy ~ Properly managing PTSD during anniversaries of traumatic events or holidays does not require you to explain this trauma injury or the cause or justify your feelings to everyone you know. It’s alright to decline an invitation without giving a full explanation as to why. Certainly share your reason with people you trust and love, but for others a simple, “NO” thank you,” is enough.

Do what feels right for you In every moment follow your intuition. Your own inner voice knows what you need, and how and when listen to it. Be kind to yourself and keep your own inner voice in check, healing takes time and this challenging warrior path you are on is not easy, we know this.

We are in this together so ~ You’re not alone we are here 24/7 Shine On Trauma Warrior !

Never let the fear of what other people think stop you from being yourself.

If at all possible do whatever you can to find a reason to laugh it is Incredible medicine, be kind to yourself and know you are loved. ~ Erin Paterson

I have used all of these strategies…..sometimes we try to find just one answer.  Different skills become useful for different situations.

Photo credit.

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