Trauma and Christmas

I posted this last year but I have about 1,000 new readers since then and I’ve been getting a lot of mail regarding the stress people are feeling regarding Christmas. I decided to post this again and I just rewrote a few things. Merry Christmas is almost here to you all.BallsWhile Christmas and other holidays can be hard for many people, I believe that those with trauma have some extra challenges. That said, I’ve always believed that when you understand something, that issue gets easier to deal with. It rarely takes it away but for me, knowing that something I am experiencing is common amongst trauma survivors helps take much of the pressure off of myself. I feel as though I am one sufferer amongst many and that we all coped the same way rather than it is just a “Heather thing”.

Here are a few things that you may be dealing with at this time of year.

Anger
Surviving trauma can have a negative impact on your outlook. Your life feels forever changed. Some survivors deal with anger on multiple levels. Anger at some of the lucky people who have been fortunate enough to have avoided trauma and tell us to just get over it, or it’s our own fault that we suffer. And, paradoxically, we may feel anger at ourselves for having these issues too. It is also not unusual to become angry at the fact that we are angry.

Guilt and Shame
Some trauma survivors can feel guilty or shameful because we survived while others did not. I feel this way about my sisters very keenly on holidays in particular. You may no longer feel worthy to enjoy the mundane giving of gifts and time with friends.
This is also a time of year where those who struggle with spirituality feel somewhat “force fed” the baby Jesus or other biblical things that happened at this time of year. God seems to be everywhere and not in a comforting sense for many.

Noise
Trauma survivors are often susceptible to noise.
Noises (and smells) can overwhelm us and often take us back to memories or places we would just as soon forget. I tend to choose the furthest chair away from the activity but even then, a cheerful gathering can often still feel very overwhelming.
There are times that I have tried to just take some time alone for a few minutes but there always has to be that one person (at least) that say “Where’s Heather?”. It is a kind gesture to show that they care for you but when you are trying to hide? It’s counterproductive. LOL

Memories and Triggers
As a trauma survivor, I really don’t want to remember Christmas past. Sitting around while other regale tales of childhood or “the good old days” just makes me want to jump out of my skin. I am truly happy for them. I really am. Hearing it all just reminds me of what I do not understand or have memories of. Add in the sounds, smells, people, the hustle and bustle, money stresses, time crunches, and folks that don’t tend to behave well at Christmas? Well? It all makes me want to hide. You?

Isolation
Major holidays and personal days of importance are days I want to avoid. They tend to heighten the trauma survivors penchant for isolation. Quite often, the people who matter to you are either dead or distant. Often those who you do love and who love you are kept at a “PTSD-Distance” almost against your will. You want to be more open, you want to be more feeling and receptive, but your trauma smothers you. Sometimes the best you can do is just be in the same room with your loved ones, not because you don’t like/love them but because your trauma has crushed your ability to interact the way you used to. If your loved ones tend towards selfishness or they just plain don’t get it, they can make this very hard on you.

Crowds
People thinking their shopping carts  need to be on to your heels or in your back, other people pushing their way through you or past you, kids crying, adults arguing, long lines, busy stores… you can’t even buy milk and bread without facing Christmas crowds. When your nerves already feel like they are on fire? This added pressure just makes me want to run away to a deserted island somewhere. Okay, I always feel that way but it is worse at Christmas. 😉

I know I have painted the holidays as very grim and if this is what they are for you? Please just know you are not alone. The day WILL pass and you won’t have to face it for another 365 days. I prefer to say 365 days rather than 1 year. it sounds longer.
You can do some things to help you through the season though. Find out when your local stores are at their least busy and shop then. Where I live that is 6-8pm. You could go bowling down the aisles. PERFECT!
Try to take some time to just relax. A day here or there that you do not have any plans will do you wonders. I try to follow busy days with a “do nothing” one. That way, when I start to feel pressured, I can remind myself that tomorrow is a day off.
Make life easier on yourself. If that means paper plates, pre-stuffed turkey, going out for a meal rather than cooking it, saying yes to only half of your usual yes events, saying no when you really don’t want to go, if you have a bit of extra cash, let someone else wrap your gifts… whatever it takes to make your holiday easier.
If certain traditions trigger you or just remind you of too many hard times, come up with new ones. I never do my celebrating on Christmas Day. That was when my birth family celebrated it. Now we have friends over before Christmas and do our Christmas dinner then. My husband’s family celebrates together several days after Christmas and we can do our visiting on any day. It really helps to switch things up a bit.

I think sometimes we all just need to accept that certain days will be hard but head towards them with the knowledge that we’ve lived through them before and will again. Lean on friends that understand and do your very best to have a happy holiday.

29 responses to “Trauma and Christmas

  1. Well done Heather!

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  2. Thank you for this Xmas gift of words Heather. You pretty much summed up exactly how I feel. I am consumed w all of those emotions. I can’t just “get over it” or just ” be happy”. I feel bad that my anger and sadness could affect others, so I isolate myself.

    I do feel like no one understands how painful this time of year is when I don’t get to spend it with my children or someone I love. Telling me to “suck it up” and invalidating me all together. It sucks. And I can’t pretend it doesn’t suck. So I am alone w my own suckiness so I don’t bring anyone else down. I am all about making new memories and doing activities that make me happy, but without the ones you love around you, even those activities lose their meaning. Looking forward to surviving one more year – merry Christmas Heather and thank you again, I needed that 🙂

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    • Oh Heather, first off, you are very welcome. 🙂
      I write about how I feel and have come to realize that I am not at all alone which means you are not either.
      I know that it feels so overwhelming and like you have to put on the “happy mask” performance of a lifetime. It is so hard.
      This year I won’t see either of my daughters and it breaks my heart so I understand how you feel there. Will you get to see your children this year?
      If you need to chat over Christmas or anytime at all, feel free to contact me privately at heathershelpers at mail.com
      I’ll be thinking about you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Heather. I can’t put the ‘happy mask’ on anymore. I’d rather just wear the mask that is real no matter what the expression 🙂 My youngest son comes home next week. My xmas eve and morning alone turned out to be a wonderful gift and I truly was happy – no mask needed. I shared dinner with some new friends who also would have been alone. Hope your time with your family was dear and glad you have such a loving and supportive husband when your children can’t be there. You are so sweet, I appreciate you and your kindness. Genuine kindness seems hard to find these days.

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      • I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Thank you.

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  3. Sadly, Christmas seems to be a time of stress, trauma, anger and guilt for many people – even those without PTSD and those who are fit and healthy. There just seems to be so many unrealistic expectations – most of which we impose on ourselves! I know I have done for many years. This year I said “no”, and you know what? No one is upset, no one is offended, no one’s Christmas is ruined because I finally accepted that FOR NOW I have limitations. Many thanks Heather for making me realise that being kind to yourself is a positive thing and not at all selfish. Merry Christmas!

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  4. Christmas is an interesting time of year. This year I have dedicated myself to making new memories with my husband. We are simply celebrating our love this holiday but we celebrate it every day as well. To me Christmas is simply about loving. I have a beautiful warm, kind and loving home in which to grow into my fullest potential. That is what I am celebrating this holiday. I have been waiting for it for a life time. Here’s to creating new memories.

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  5. i am bursting into tears reading this. i am experiencing this trauma year after year! 😦

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    • Hi Chrissie.
      I am sorry that you deal with this too. It is important that you realize that you are not at all alone.
      Something I am learning and doing a lot of this year is making new memories. Start a new tradition, go to a movie on Christmas, make plans to spend the day with friends… anything AT ALL that works for you. I have some friends that have a funny horror (the really bad horror films) day. They do it like a movie marathon with special treats to eat and all these movies. You could watch comedies, cheerful musicals… just shake up the day.
      IF you are still spending it with the people that hurt you? This is the year to stop. Your healing matters more. A sudden bout of the flu is always a good enough excuse.
      Many hugs to you! Know that I am thinking about you.

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  6. Heather, you nailed this. Thank you. I have no family and no special someone and have isolated myself increasingly since Thanksgiving when it starts for me every year as the grey cloud descends upon my normally good spirits . I don’t want to be around others and bring them down, they don’t get it. I don’t even have memories of why it is so upsetting and can’t handle being around my friends with happy families, it makes me feel more like an outsider. Every year I would put on the happy face, buy a lot of gifts, make cards and send them to everyone. This year I said “No more, I don’t do Christmas. I quit. I find it depressing as Hell and don’t like what it has become. And, I have no happy memories of it.” So, I steer clear of malls, the music, everything. It is still depressing but not participating I find nobody really cares, which is good. It is just an unbearable time that gets worse and worse with each day as I sink into the grey cloud. But oddly, I LOVE Christmas day! It’s finally over! I do what I want and I make it a special day of celebration that I have made it through another holiday season with a better understanding of who I am and by the grace of God, not the fear of God. I hope you have a pleasant season, you are so fortunate to have understanding people who love you and let you be who you are this time of year.

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    • I understand totally and my “family and friends” are no one related by blood to me. I built a new family from the ground up.
      If you ever need someone to talk to, I am always here. Seriously. There is no need to be alone. Hugs.

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      • Thank you Heather, that is so sweet of you. I am working on assembling a bloodless family but I can see it’s going to take a while. Enjoy your many hard earned blessings!

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  7. Thank you Heather for sharing. This was a helpful and an encouraging reading.

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  8. Pingback: Trauma and Christmas | Fifty Shades of Truth and BS

  9. Reblogged this on cathyfox blog and commented:
    Some sound advice for what for many is a difficult time of year

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  10. Pingback: Trauma and Christmas | meggiemom342

  11. Thanks, Heather. I appreciate your sharing. Oddly enough this is the first Christmas where I’ve had a hard time getting excited about the season. Been trying to figure it out and it hit me finally. I miss not having a large family to celebrate Christmas with.

    This may seem contrary to some of the points you share but I’m adding it to say for trauma victims, loneliness is also another extreme when we look at trauma. When I saw what was happening I decided to invite my god-children over for Christmas Eve breakfast, giving me my sense of family.

    Another way to cope is not to wallow in the circumstance but to change it.

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    • Good for you!
      Loneliness is certainly another extreme and I feel that keenly at this time of year. I am so blessed to be so surrounded these days but I really miss my children and my biological family (for no good reason) at Christmas. That is something I just deal with but it does feel lonely.
      I love that you made plans to help yourself. 🙂
      I agree with your quote “Another way to cope is not to wallow in the circumstance but to change it.” but if some people can’t change it (not strong enough yet), I’d encourage them to reach out. ❤

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  12. Pingback: » Merry ChristmasMairiVoice

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