Friday, December 23, 2005

Surviving Hanukkah: Survivors of Childhood Abuse - Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse © (2005) The Awareness Center, Inc.

Hanukkah for many is a time of year filled with wonderful memories of rushing around to purchase gifts for loved ones, and of families and friends getting together.

Unfortunately, for survivors of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse), this can be a time for painful memories to reemerge. There may be decissions that need to be made if the survivor will feel safe enough to spend the holiday with family, or if alternative plans will be need to be made. Some survivors maybe mourning the loss of the loving family they never had. It can be a difficult time for those who no longer have contact with family members due to the degree of dysfunction that was in the family.

This is a time of year that a survivor may find it safer to retreat, then to participate in holiday functions. It is important for each individual survivors to find what works best for them to stay emotionally healthy. It is vitally important each person to be kind to themselves with what ever decisions you make regarding this time of year. We all need to respect their decisions, especially if they decide not to participate. It's important that if a survivor decides to be with their family, they have safe people to "debrief with" afterwards, or to call if things get tough while with family members.

If you know someone who is a survivor of childhood abuse, it might be a good idea to check up on them a few times over the holidays. Make sure survivors have invitations to meals. If they say no, it is important to let them know they can always change their mind and come at the last minute.

The holidays often mean that families get together, routines are changed, there is also the added stress of cleaning and preparing meals. These issues alone can be extremely stress producing.

Unfortunately the reality is that there are parents who are already inclined to use their children as an outlet for emotions and urges. They are even more likely to do so when under the pressure of increased anxiety.

If you know of parents who fit this category you may want to offer emotional support to them. Provide them with resources of parental stress lines in your community. Offer to their children on an outing, so the parent(s) who have difficulties managing their anger and stress can have some down time.

As you can guess many survivors of childhood abuse report that they were abuse became more intense around and over holidays.

If you are a survivor -- This is written as a reminder to all survivors: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

It is not uncommon for symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to emerge after times of relative remission and/or intensify in those already struggling. You may experience an increase in disturbing thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks. Thoughts of self-harm, even suicide, may be an issue. The important thing to remember is these feelings are about the past, that the abuse is over, and that it is of utmost importance for you to be kind to and gentle with yourself.

Over the years we have spoken to many adult survivors who find it very painful to even consider be around family members or in some cases being around friends. This is OK. Someday you may feel different, but if the pain is too intense, it is important that you do things that can be healing, that you set boundaries to do what feels safe for you.

One survivor shared that she felt uncomfortable not doing anything for Hanukkah, so she'd rent movies that had an empowering theme to them. Another survivor would invite other Jewish Survivors over to his home and they would create a ritual that seemed healing and empowering.

It's important to remember that whatever works for you is OK -- know that you are not alone, not wrong, not bad for having second and third and forth thoughts about how to celebrate and if to celebrate the holidays. Look into yourself and see what you need, then do what you can to do it, and be kind to yourself for needing to make these adjustments.

Todah Rabah for Surviving!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I'm having a tough time this year. All of my friends are talking about being with their families. I know for my sanity, I can't be with mine. It's such a tough decision to make, and I'm feeling very alone.

Yesterday when I was at work, I just nodded my head and smiled when people asked if I would be with my family. It was so difficult to hold back the tears.

December 24, 2005 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what you are saying. I hate this time of year. I always thought that someone should write a few holiday tunes for those of us from dysfunctional families.

When I get really down I just play the theme song from mash. I always end up smiling.

December 24, 2005 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holidays and thoughts of suicide used to be my norm. I never acted on my thoughts, but they also were pretty dominant in my life.

It's very difficult to keep a smile on your face when everyone is talking about the wonderful times they had growing up as kids, and also when they go on and on about the wonderful times they are currently having being with family.

I loved chanukah as a kid, but I also knew that when my parents would have the whole family over that the preparation time would be a time of hell for me and my brothers.

Our home would be filled with my mother screaming, and my father pulling out his belt, beating us up for not doing everything fast enough, or good enough.

Not sure if you are familiar with the suicide song by Queen? It was one of my favorite songs when it first came out. I couldn't find a sound bit for it, but here's the lyrics

December 24, 2005 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holidays are difficult, and I do understand about the joking about suicide, but it also scares me. I hope that anyone who is feeling suicidal calls someone they trust to let them know. I always try to be around people when things get to me.

I like the idea of writing holiday songs about dysfunctional families. Anyone got any ideas?

December 24, 2005 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Second Night and I'm still doing ok. I'm so glad this blog is here. Makes me remember that I am not alone.

December 26, 2005 5:41 PM  
Blogger Chavah5760 said...

As a survivor of rabbinic sexual misconduct - Hanukkah is always really hard for me. In a way, it's even harder than the High Holy Days to get through. My abuser used the service on the first night of Hanukkah in 1999 as a way to "show" me that he intended to seduce me. He touched and kissed me in a very inappropriate way - right in front of my 7 year old daugther - in the sanctuary before the service. This is the worst part about what he did - he involved my child. I can only wonder what sort of memories Hanukkah holds for her now that she is 13. I pray that she no longer thinks about the rabbi who shattered her trust at such a young age and nearly tore her family apart. I will never forget what he did and I will never forgive him either. I try to concentrate on positive thoughts this time of year - it's the only way I can get through it.

December 28, 2005 8:37 PM  

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