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Originally, this post was going to be about curbing consumerism during Christmas and presenting activities for families to do together to enhance the love and light embodied in the season. But as I was browsing my Instagram account, I saw, “It’s hard to get excited about the festive season when it means gathering a number of your abusers together in the same place.” Sobering. Even though I have met with trauma survivors for decades, and am well aware that 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator and 68% are abused by a family member, this challenged me. How does it translate to singing Christmas carols by the piano, worshipping in church and receiving and giving gifts?

It translates with great difficulty for everyone but especially for trauma survivors. Remembering your childhood, you know you had little power or control over your life. That changes in adulthood. Be curious about how you interact with others. What limits or lofts you? You may repeat patterns and behaviors that hurt you or others, but it is possible to make different choices or imagine different choices. Here are some opportunities: the family dinner that“everyone attends” can be optional for you. Host a holiday meal in your home and invite friends that empower you, making you feel good and whole. Tell your therapist or a special friend about the disappointments or abuse you experienced during the holidays. Then write down some of your greatest holiday joys. Make specific and concrete plans to do things differently–take a trip, so that being at home does not trigger memories. If you can’t afford to travel, see if an acquaintance is interested in a house exchange. Decide not to give presents or give only homemade presents or cards that express your deepest feelings to those who truly value you. Ask your friends to donate to a reputable child abuse prevention group in lieu of presents. Write your story and tell it out loud to someone who believes you. Memorize a phrase that empowers you so that you are prepared when asked to do something that you don’t want to do, “Thank you for thinking of me, it means a lot but I can’t do that in December.” Eat less sugar. Drink less alcohol. Be comfortable in the spaces and people you are with by refusing to be in the presence of your abuser and silent observer, unless you have confronted them, they have admitted their behavior and you have family members that know and believe your story. No holiday, especially contrived commercially driven chaotic ones with artificial rituals, should dictate situations that make you feel violated and fearful. If you do go home for the holidays, have at least three“escape”plans such as taking a walk, calling a safe friend and creating quiet prayer or meditation times. 

Many thanks to Carolyn Springs at www.carolynspring.com/blog/christmas-is-optional for improving my sensitivity. Christmas is not optional but exposing yourself to hurt and pain is. Loving and immersing yourself in the light that is born in the darkest days of the year through the birth of Christ is one way to heal. Set boundaries and protect yourself from being in the presence of those who want to manipulate and hurt you during this season of love. Let light perpetual shine on you. Pray to the Christ child, lying in the manger. His promise is peace on earth and goodwill toward all humans. Surely this includes the pain created by sexual violence. 

In love and light with respect for you and your healing path, Julia W. Burns, MD

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