Friday, December 07, 2007

Surviving Hanukkah

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From Vicki Polin, Executive Director of The Awareness Center
Over the last seven years there has been a heightened awareness regarding sex crimes in the Jewish community. I believe that would explain why this year the volume of phone calls and e-mails The Awareness Center has been receiving since Hanukkah began has dramatically increased.

I want to apologize to all of the survivors who have called this week and I haven't been able to return their calls yet. I'm having trouble keeping up with the demand. My hope is that in the coming year we will be in a better financial situation so that we will be able to hire staff to help with the increasing demands. For that reason I am asking that you please keep The Awareness Center in mind when you are making your end of year donations. We really could use your help!

Because this is a time of year that many survivors of incest and other forms of sexual abuse have a difficult time I am sending out the article about Hanukkah once again. Considering the statistics state that one out of every 4 people in is a survivor of child sexual abuse, that basically means one out of every 4 people you know is most likely a survivor of child sexual abuse. Most of them may not have every told you, yet the odds are everyone who reads this e-mail knows several survivors. Another important fact is that according to statistics 46% of all survivors of child sexual abuse are incest survivors. This is a time of year that people tend to be with family, can you imagine what a difficult time it might be if you are an incest survivor? Please do what you can to help them through the holidays this year!

If you would like to make a donation to The Awareness Center you can do so
going on our web page and using paypal, or you can send a your check to:

The Awareness Center, Inc.
P.O. Box 65273
Baltimore, MD 21209

Surviving Hanukkah: Jewish Survivors of Child Abuse

(Incest, Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse)
© (2005, Revised 2006, The Awareness Center, Inc.)
Download PDF

Hanukkah is for many a time filled with wonderful memories of rushing around to purchase gifts and cards for loved ones; of families and friends getting together, lighting the Menorah, eating potato pancakes, and singing the traditional songs.

However, for survivors of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse), this festive time can be a time where painful memories reemerge. It is not unusual for survivors to need to make decisions about how to best keep themselves safe during the holiday: some may need to spend time with friends who understand their conflicted emotions toward the holiday, some may need to limit their time with their families, while others may not feel safe spending the holiday with family at all. Even for those who make alternate plans, there is often a sense of loss of the loving, healthy family they never had or the memories they wish they'd had. Hanukah--like other times where families traditionally get together--can be a difficult time for those who no longer have contact with family members due to the degree of dysfunction that was (and often still is) in their family.

This is a time of year when a survivor may find it safer to retreat than to participate in holiday functions--the associations and memories may be too painful, too emotions too close to the surface. This is not a failure or wrongdoing, but can be seen as yet another aspect of the aftermath of abuse in the family. It is important that each individual survivor finds what works best for him or her so that they can optimize their ability to stay emotionally healthy. If you decide to be with your family and are nervous about how you'd feel about it, it can be helpful for you to designate ahead of time a 'safe person' with home you can debrief afterwards or call if things get tough while with family. It is vitally important that each person be kind to themselves about the decisions they make for holiday plans. The rest of us need to respect the survivor's decisions, and to understand that they may decide not to participate in Hanukah events.

If you know someone who is a survivor of childhood abuse, maybe you can take upon yourself to check in with them over the eight-day holiday. Maybe invite the survivor to your house for lighting the menorah or a family meal, and if they say no let them know they can change their mind and come at the last minute. Remind them they are not alone, that you are there. That you understand.

Holidays are often times for families to get together. School may be out, vacation days may be taken; routines are changed. In many families there is--along with the excitement and happiness of getting together--an added stress of cleaning and preparing meals, sometimes financial issues over not being able to afford the kind of holiday celebration one might want.

It is a reality that some parents have difficulties managing their own stress and are already inclined to use their children as an outlet for emotions and urges. Such parents are often even more likely to do so when under the pressure of increased anxiety, close quarters with their own family of origin (and it's pressures), and holiday stress. Though clearly not all stressed-out parents abuse their children, many survivors of childhood abuse do report that their abuse became more intense around and during holidays.

If you know parents who struggle to manage stress, see if you can discretely and gently offer them your support: Maybe offer to take care of the children for a bit, to take them on an outing or host a meal; maybe provide the parents with information about resources available in their community (such as parental hotlines in your community). Be a friend. By allowing the parents some time for themselves and offering venues for relief, you can greatly assist in the parents in managing their anger and stress.

If you are a survivor, remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

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

Over the years we've spoken to many adult survivors who admitted that they find it very painful to even think of being around family members, even around friends. This is sad, but it is OK. Someday you may feel different--many survivors do with time--but if the pain right now is too intense, you need to do what is healing for YOU and set boundaries to what feels safe for you.

One survivor shared that she felt uncomfortable not doing anything for Hanukkah, so she'd rent movies that she found carried an empowering theme for her. Another survivor invited other Jewish Survivors over to his home and together they created their own 'tradition' that felt healing and empowering.

Whatever works for you is OK. 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!

Helpful links:
  • Suicide Prevention - The National Hopeline Network, 1-800-SUICIDE
  • National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (24 Hours a Day)
  • National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-621-4000


Anonymous Saph said...

I've been frequenting your blog for sometime... Just silently because you see... I'm not Jewish.

But I've found so much information here.

It's also very different and nice the way the Jewish pose it. I'm agnostic, as in I believe there's a G-d (in respect to you guys), just don't know in which religion he is, so I hope that G-d is good, and therefore if I do what feels in my soul is good, He will accept it.

I like the way that you give answers religiously without making religion the answer. In which I mean, in Christian blogs I've been to they go like, "G-d is with you, He will make everything ok, get on with your life".

All the Xmas blogs basically told me to pray or such... (though I do not judge them, this is simply the ones I've found).

Here I listen to someone giving a more physical answer, with "Good" behind it, not being the answer itself.

This way I don't have to have faith to feel better, I feel better and therefore have faith.

This time of year is my most depressing one, and the time of year that I always feel like killing myself. My birthday is the 19th, and usually when I was reminded one more time of all the time I was being abused, and how long that noone would help me, when everyone around me was their happiest.

This year my brother died, train, possibly a suicide, and it's as strong as ever.

But little things like seeing all these men in power doing wrong, and support from places like this, is what makes me go on strongly, because I know if I die I will only have helped stuff like this happen by doing nothing. I'd rather stay and help.

December 07, 2007 4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Saph,
Thank you for writing what you did. I know this time of year is very difficult for survivors of all faiths and non-faiths. There's been times I've also thought about suicide. I also have relatives who killed themselves.

I understand the pain, anger and frustration. I also understand the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It has been a struggle on and off throughout my life ever since I as abused. Some how I finally got to the point that I realized if I killed myself then all of the offenders in the world win.

When I was being molested I felt as if my abuser was trying to take my inner soul away from me. I never had the vocabulary to explain what I went through and on some levels still go through. Yet if I die at my own hands then I feel as if my offender won. He tried to take something very sacred away from me -- my soul. I refuse to let him have it. I refuse to commit suicide.

I don't know if my perspective will be helpful to you, yet I hope it will. Please call a friend and let them know what you are going through. If you don't feel comfortable doing that call suicide prevention hot-line. I think it will help!

December 07, 2007 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! It doen't matter what religion you are. Us survivors have to stick together. Don't kill yourself. The world needs you. Instead start talking about what happened to you with everyone you know.

I hope you live to be 120!

December 07, 2007 10:09 AM  

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