If you have left the abuse, and possibly have cut contact, you may worry about the holidays. What are you going to do, now that you have chucked your traditions out of the window? The answer to that question is of course: whatever you want!
SwanWaters team member Aubrey Cole once put it like this:
“It took me a couple of years to redefine what I expected of myself and with the help of my therapist and some great friends, I developed some fool-proof ways to let myself enjoy the holidays without guilt or expectations. Each year is a little bit different but that’s the beauty! I no longer have cookie-cutter ideas of what the holidays “should” look like. Making some changes helps you shed the expectations of ritual and conformity that can stifle your happiness.”
Here are some suggestions from the whole team to help you cope with these particular stresses.
Every single one of us has embraced this important point: we have started creating our own Christmas traditions. My husband and I now celebrate with our dear friends, we have a lazy brunch, and start planning a lovely meal, months in advance (the planning is half the fun!). One thing Aubrey incorporated a couple of years ago was an annual visit to the National Gingerbread House Competition. This is held near where she lived and she had loads of fun. She and her girls spend a day seeing the houses, drinking cocoa by the huge fireplace in the hotel, and meandering through the shops.
The key to creating new traditions is to let go of the notion that there is only one way a holiday should look.– Aubrey Cole
So, what will be your new holiday tradition? Want to be in your neighbourhood’s Tacky Lights competition? Have fun! Want to go see something you haven’t seen before? Make it happen! Want to try a winter sport, Christmas Karaoke, some fancy new recipes, or making your own ornaments? Do it!
Another great suggestion Aubrey adds: if you have children, ask them for ideas of things they think would be fun to do, then let them take the lead. Even if their idea is to make dyed macaroni necklaces for Santa’s reindeer or make a chocolate-covered oat snack and call it “reindeer poop,” you will likely have the time of your life. You will feel like a kid again, no longer constrained by adult expectations, and it will likely make some of the best memories you will ever have.
And creating a new tradition doesn’t just have to be about picking new activities. You can also try a whole new way of decorating the house or decide not to decorate at all. You could try some new dishes, or have a Christmas around the globe approach to the menu. Maybe you can find fulfilment in doing volunteer work during the holidays, instead of (over-)indulging in your own home? The options are truly endless.
Make time for your family of choice, or ask them to spend time with you. Often we feel guilty for taking up time in our friends’ busy holiday schedule, but it is totally fine to let them know you need some TLC from your nearest and dearest to help you through The Season.
If there is no time on the actual dates, then make an appointment on the days between Christmas and New Year’s for example. Do something relaxing and fun. Shoot the breeze, have some lunch, watch a rom-com together… whatever! Just lean into the connection, and feel loved and supported.
I have never used this one for Christmas, but I have on other occasions, and it always makes me feel joyfully naughty. Do something you weren’t allowed when under the influence of your abuser. Sleep until noon, have a second serving or create a whole Christmas dinner only out of deserts.
This one comes from Aubrey again, and I think she makes a great point. If you took away the tree, the boxes, the bows, the dinner, the decorations, and the rituals, would Christmas still come? Yes. Yes, it would. Now define what you find joyful about the holidays, no matter which one(s) you celebrate, and laser focus on those parts. But a word of caution in this regard… don’t just laser focus on what you feel makes you happy if it isn’t enjoyed by all. In other words, if you like building that gingerbread house but your kids really couldn’t care less, then don’t force it. Let them decorate and eat cookies while you construct your masterpiece! If you love going to a Christmas choir but everybody else hates it, get a sitter and go alone if you can.
Christmas can bring out stress in even the most peaceful people. There are gifts to buy and overcrowded shops. An elaborate meal must be cooked for family and friends. The house is to be made to look festive. The list goes on and on. Add a toxic family dynamic to the mix and the stress can be overwhelming. So let’s talk about some ideas for how to survive the holidays without losing your mind.