December Issue

Reframing Holiday Beliefs

Dear Wellness Readers: I wanted this article published before Christmas, but unfortunately, my website went down for a week. After several calls for technical assistance Nevergiveupinstitute.org is back. I apologize for the temporary shut-down (like all things government)! I hope this new year brings you exciting possibilities and healthy opportunities.

I wanted my Christmases to be just like a Norman Rockwell painting – but they were not. Mr. Rockwell captured the bliss and happiness of the holidays. I was in awe of the warm smiles on the faces of his characters and the love that seemed to emanate from his paintings. The painting of the Thanksgiving meal was the one I longed to have in my own life. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, and all our family members around the table filled with a roasted turkey and special dishes was a dream I wanted to come true. My mother created a perfect replica of the meal in the painting, but she could not, no matter how much she tried, to replicate the ambiance of love and peace.

The holiday season for many survivors of trauma is a time of sadness, depression, and anxiety. Holiday songs like, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and other holiday myths like “everyone should be happy,” “love and peace to all,” and “be merry” just do not fit in with a trauma survivor’s real-life experiences. During this stressful holiday – there were no breaks from trauma because of the promise of peace, love, and joy. Many survivors were abused at this time.

Christmases during my childhood were repeatedly chaotic. My father took the holiday cheer to the extreme. He started drinking when he got home from work on Christmas Eve and continued to drink and get drunk until he had to return to work the day after Christmas. His demeanor was sloppy, and he could never remember who gave him what gift. Christmas Eve would end when my mom would convince my dad to go to bed. Once this was accomplished, my siblings and I would sit in the living room and wonder when dad would get sober – or die.

To heal myself from these difficult memories, I stopped coming home for Christmas after I left for college. The family holiday was too toxic, and I always felt depressed about not having the ideal family Christmas that was perpetuated year after year. My goal was to survive the holidays without the stress and chaos.

To help me with the holidays as an adult, I learned to reframe. Instead of saying “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I reframe by saying, “it’s the most challenging time of the year.” And instead of saying “have yourself a merry little Christmas,” I reframe by saying, “have yourself a very peaceful season.” And, of course, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” to “Please Friends (Don’t Get Sad This Christmas).”

Reframing is a healing balm to my past holiday memories. I now can see the true beauty in the diamond-sparkling snow, and the smell of pine trees in the wind. I can sense the good in others because I can feel the good in myself through reframing my holiday beliefs. My holidays are now loving and peaceful, and I hold them in my heart.

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