We’re taught and encouraged to feel and honor a single emotion when the holiday season is upon us. That emotion is joy. Joy at all costs regardless of the wear and tear it has on our well-being. We should be happy. We should be grateful. We should be giving. We should be cheerful and cozy.
But we’re sure you recognize how hindering this expectation is and can be. Whether this time of year digs up trauma from the past or you are in the midst of a difficult chapter right now as you read these words, there can and should be room for it to exist—without shame. So as we acknowledge these things, our hope is to invite you to cultivate compassion and acceptance for the realities that don’t revolve around this “joyful season.”
Recovery is ongoing.
It ebbs and flows but it never truly stops. It doesn’t pause for family gatherings, Thanksgiving dinner, or holiday cheer. With recovery comes boundaries. Boundaries that are put in place for our emotional and physical well-being. Maintaining or establishing boundaries often feels harsh or selfish. People may push back against and discourage them. But those reactions are theirs and we hope you can release the thought that they are your responsibility.
You do not need to “earn” or explain anything.
With this season comes food, and along with it: eating together at the dinner table, full plates of food, and sometimes comments about our choices. If any of this is difficult or triggering for you, know that it is OK to step away. Go outside to take a breath and reset. Reach out to someone you trust for encouragement or a safe space to share. Your choices are yours to make. The voices, internal or external, criticizing those choices, do not define you.
Grief doesn’t run on a schedule.
It’s been said often, but it’s worth mentioning again and again. Grief has no timeline. There is no moment in time or space where you are expected to be “over something.” This could be a recent loss, or one that happened many years ago but continues to impact your heart on a daily basis or find its way to the surface due to the holidays. This understanding must extend outside ourselves as well. And fortunately, there is room for it all.
Your discomfort isn’t a burden.
While some people might bask in returning home or reconnecting with family and friends, it is completely normal to experience feelings like isolation, anxiety, and discomfort around these anticipated moments. Although a “new normal” seems to be in the works for many, the pandemic has yet to end. Or perhaps your emotions don’t stem from the pandemic but rather from discrimination, judgment, and not being accepted for who you are. Regardless, you are not irrational or broken if anxiety around social interaction arises. If you make a decision to spend or simply are spending the holidays alone, remind yourself that you are still loved. These moments can be wonderful, however, they are not everything.
Whatever your situation, whatever it entails, please know that it is valid. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, or even you. And while we would love nothing more than for you to find and feel joy, we don’t value you any less without it.
My daddy passed away from covid Dec 23, 2020. I lost the rest of my family when I attempted suicide and also started drinking heavy. Right now I see an AODA counselor and a trauma therapist, a psychiatrist, and I get put under antisthesia twice a week for ECT. I hope this will flip some switch in me. I do still have 3 out of 4 children that come around every weekend and I have a steady guy who has put up with a lot. With the drinking it caused me to go through rape, sexual assault, physical assault, and domestic (which started everything). My ex husband won over a 12 person jury trial just last month, which I had 3 witnesses and cops that saw damage he created along with the guns hidden throughout the house because he was going to KILL my children and me in August 2020 sometime. He always told us, “August is the END!” I have a 4 year restraining order and I live in a safe at home address. I still feel unsafe.
We are incredibly sorry to learn of the hardship and trauma you have faced. You deserve to feel safe, especially in your own home. We too hope the professional help you are currently receiving brings you the healing you deserve. Please know your willing to be honest about your struggles and your courage to ask up for help are inspiring to us. Thank you so very much for sharing and for reaching out.
Escaping the Thanksgiving table in despair and slipping away to be alone and find this on my phone helped me to feel better. Thank you. 💛
omg, ur program is insane : 😉
Hello Iam a 58 year old man who lives in Guelph Ontario Canada and I’ve suffered from severe PTSD since I was 9 years growing up in Belfast Northern Ireland during the most violent and deadly period of The Troubles. I’ve been diagnosed with severe depression, PTSD and Bi-Polar disorder. Iam under the care of a great psychiatrist Dr Kasbia here in Guelph. I can’t take public transport because of terrible panic attacks being around groups of people. I didn’t tell anyone not even my family about all of my Traumas until last year 2020. I’ve been in The Homewood 4 times in a year and a couple of years ago I just about succeeded in ending my own life and I was disappointed that I didn’t succeed. Iam in the process of writing a book about my life and the one thing I love to do more than anything is help others who have also suffered from Mental Health issues, and relate to each other and help anyone I can.
We are inspired by your courage to finally share your experiences and story. We know that isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when stigma is still attached to mental health challenges. We’re also grateful that you are still here, still living and breathing. May the book that you are writing be a therapeutic endeavor that brings you healing and encourages others who might relate. Thank you so much for sharing, and please know you can always email our team at [email protected].
The holidays are rough, especially when the people who trigger you most are inescapable. When you finally got away from them on a day by day basis, but there will be consequences if you do a no show on the holidays. i’ve earned some independence, but when the show is run by a controlling, narcissistic bully who tramples any boundary that conflicts with his worldview and who lights extended olive branches on fire, i feel guilty to say that i cannot ever know peace as long as he in in my life. But yet i can’t see any alternative. i feel jealous when i hear people say “I have the best parents ever” when i felt many times that i would rather have an absent male parent than the one i have. it’s bad enough that i have a hard time reconciling the idea of a loving heavenly father when the word father is poison to my soul. i hear the Kelly Clarkson song Because of You and it feels autobiographical.
We know and understand how difficult the holidays can be when they sometimes “require” us to spend time with people who have caused pain or trauma. We hope for you to be able to place boundaries that maintain your well-being, but if that is not possible, we hope you know that you are not alone in this and these uncomfortable, frustrating interactions will pass and do not define your worth. Please stay safe and care for yourself during this season. Know that it’s OK to take a break or step away (if possible).
I found out on January 10th this year that my wife was having an affair, and on top of finding that out I found out she was also cheating on me periodically for almost the extent of our entire marriage (4 years). I don’t have the proof, but I also believed she was also cheating on me while we were just dating. We were together 7 years total. We finalized our divorce on April 1st. It was quick. It was sudden. And it was shattering. We bought a house last year and only lived in it for 7 months. She kept two of our dogs, and I kept one. I miss the other two so much. I miss her parents. I miss everything else I lost besides her. My grandpa passed away a few months later, and two days after my birthday this year my parents separated and I don’t have the highest hopes that they will rekindle things. The holidays look so much differently this year for me, and I do not have the holiday joy. I do not have much joy right now regardless and it’s hard. I’ve always been affected by seasonal affective disorder on top of my on going depression, and this year it is so much heavier. I’m struggling, I’m tired and I’m losing so much motivation. Times are hard, but I know they won’t be forever. But the getting through it is getting harder and harder everyday. I love this organization for everything it does to encourage hope for the hopeless. Because right now I’m feeling so hopeless.
We are incredibly sorry for what you have experienced and endured. Your pain, loss, and heartbreak are real and valid, and all of these things need room to be grieved. Thank you so much for finding the courage and vulnerability to share this heavy part of your story with us, we know it couldn’t have been easy. And yes, hope can be the hardest thing to find when we are feeling hopeless, but we promise it’s still there. In the small moments and the big ones. It’s there, as are we to remind you when the dark seems stronger than anything else.
Thank you. My plans include random trips to the bathroom if needed to avoid a hard situation. I’m also have my devotions in my room after I get dressed instead of at the table with breakfast as I bother the chatter in the room and I don’t want to be on electronics with kids/adults here!
I hope you have the weekend you need to have. ♥
This is so what I needed to read now. Perfect. The pandemic has taken a toll on social interaction, compounded by stresses and grief of life, it can be too much to ask for feeling joy. This is a wonderful article.