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Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays

Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays by Audrey, Domestic Violence Advocate

If you have been part of a support group or learning exchange, you may have heard the term “ground rules” or “group agreements.” We love groups and we love group agreements at the Advocacy Center. Groups offer an opportunity to support each other and build community. On the first day of a group, right after we introduce ourselves, we come up with group agreements that include confidentiality, respect, and how we will communicate with each other during our time. Those group agreements hang on the wall from that first group forward to remind us what we have agreed on.

Sometimes it feels like the world would benefit from sitting down and going over some group agreements. Imagine a holiday where everyone knew the group agreements and followed them! Unfortunately, we do not have control over that, but we can bring the spirit of group agreements into the holiday season.

At our December Survivor Circle Group, a space for survivors of past domestic violence to build community and explore long-term healing, participants discussed coping with the holidays. As the group talked about the memories, the traditions, and the sense of loss, we came up with a few tips that might be helpful to keep in mind this holiday season for survivors of abuse, especially abuse that involved family.

  1. Go Ahead, Take a Break.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, emotional, or just tired, it is ok and necessary to give yourself some quiet space or leave a little early.

  1. Step Up, Step Back.

There may be times when it feels good to be in the center of the conversations, stories, games, or gifts and that is fantastic, join in! It is also ok to step out of those spaces, without guilt or shame if it feels most helpful.

  1. Oops, Ouch. 

If you say something hurtful and want to acknowledge it, this can be an ‘oops’ and then move forward. Or, in a similar sentiment, if you’re feeling hurt, ‘ouch’ is an okay message to communicate.

  1. Neutral Expectations.

It may not be a Hallmark holiday and that is ok. In fact, it is ok to not be ok.

  1. Slow Down. 

Allow yourself to let go of the agenda. If there are things that you really want to do, make a plan and then take things one step at a time, at your own pace.

  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

Grief and loss may be a new part of the holiday season. Make room for that and know that it is ok to feel those feelings.

  1. Trust That You Know What’s Best For You
  1. Maintain Boundaries

It is ok to say “No.” It’s ok to choose not to attend spaces with people who have hurt you and to engage only in the physical shows of affection (hugs, kisses, etc.) that feel safe to you.

  1. Despite the Nostalgia, Resist Amnesia.

This time of year feels like nostalgia is in the air. The past seems a little more glittery and shiny than normal. It may be helpful to write down the circumstances and actions of others that brought you to this place in your life. Remember, in the most basic of terms, why you are where you are. Then be kind to yourself.

  1. Take Back the Moments You Can. 

Find empowerment in who you are and what you value. That relationship may be over, but you are still inherently you. Foster what you value, remember what you love, and find empowerment.

  1. Reach Out For Support.

Decide who the safe support people are in your life and reach out. Also, remember that the Advocacy Center 24-hour Hotline is available at 607-277-5000, including through the holidays, where a kind and compassionate ear if there to listen when you need it.

Do these agreements ring true? As a group, we realized there are many similarities with our group agreements and our list of holiday survival tips. Maybe that is because we believe that during the holidays and year round, everyone deserves the right to be safe. Consider borrowing some tips from above and make your own holiday agreements. If you are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, or child sexual abuse, or are interested in a support group, please call our 24-hour Hotline, at 607-277-5000, to speak to an advocate.