Navigating Christmas with trauma-sensitivity
Seattle Christian Counseling therapist, Lisa Velin, states, "The holiday season can remind people of difficulties in their childhood and of what they missed while they were growing up. Sometimes a sad or stressful event becomes associated with this time of year, such as the death of a loved one or a diagnosis of cancer. As a result, people can experience intense feelings of dread and anxiety at this time."
Rita's birthday is November 28 (1948). After a short leukemia battle, she died on December 8, 1953 when I was eight and our brother, Michael, was twelve. Rita's death followed our parents' divorce, when the three of us moved from Washington D.C. to join our mother in Las Vegas. Within two years, she returned us to dad and his new family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Those experiences often cast a lingering shadow over Christmas. tmas. mas. as. s. .
Memories of wispy blond hair, a winsome smile, and curiosity are what I remember most. But those memories of Rita aren't my own - they come from photos like this one or stories shared by adult relatives. I often wonder.... Was I kind to my younger sister? Did we giggle together as little girls do?
Rita's birthday is November 28 (1948). After a short leukemia battle, she died on December 8, 1953 when I was eight and our brother, Michael, was twelve. Rita's death followed our parents' divorce, when the three of us moved from Washington D.C. to join our mother in Las Vegas. Within two years, she returned us to dad and his new family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Those experiences cast a lingering shadow over Christmas.
My story also reflects a peer facilitator principle
Regardless of a group’s purpose, peer facilitators understand group members will bring all their life’s experience to group. And, a high percentage of our stories include traumatic events. This understanding helps peer facilitators guide the group experience, which can be challenging in any season. Celebrating the holidays adds another layer for partners.
After discovering a partner’s sexual betrayal, “family” as previously experienced vanishes. Especially early on, there are few in our relational circles (family, friends, work, or church) who know what's happening - or understand how to help if they do. No one feels safe, and that often includes God.
In describing Christmas post-discovery, partners describe "feeling saddened by the loss of family connections and celebrations due to my husband's addiction", and "the Christmas season is a challenge for me because I'll see and hear about everyone's 'happy' family gatherings."
Feeling joyful or engaging in familiar Christmas celebrations feels far beyond our capacity. Add previous traumatic experiences (like my sister's death) and Christmas can be anything but merry. Peer facilitators leading groups leading into the holiday season bring that understanding to guiding the process while also remembering to practice 'soul-care' to avoid compassion fatigue.
Describing what helped her move through her Christmas challenge, a partner said, "Creating new traditions and creating community with others who are struggling helps me get through Christmas." I heard her strength, resilience, and courage. Creating new traditions means letting go of the familiar and cherished. Creating new community requires courage, vulnerability, and hope, and experiencing all three can feel insurmountable.
New traditions and supportive community can look like
Hope Redefined: Navigating the holidays in the middle of separation and divorce comes with so many complexities. In this webinar we hope to offer support, hope, and encouragement for navigating this season with God’s goodness still in our focus."
Register now by clicking for their FREE Separation and Divorce Plus the Holidays live webinar on December 16, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm EST
Untethered Therapy: Create a Wholehearted Holiday
Starting in November through the end of December, Untethered Therapy group are releasing a weekly blog, video, or webinar with various tips and supports to help manage the stress, triggers, or challenges. (Not a partner? Much of their resources can be helpful for anyone struggling with the holiday season.)
Highlighting practices to navigate the holidays
In December 2020, Lisa Taylor (Beyond Betrayal author and founder) ran an excellent two-part series highlighting practices to help partners get through the season: The 12 (self-care) Days of Christmas. She began part one, “As you continue on through the Christmas season and into the New Year I hope you will all be practicing extremely good self-care. Lisa continues with more tips and resources in part two.
(Not a partner? Lisa's 12 tips can be helpful for anyone struggling with the holiday season.)
My always anticipated and favorite "navigating the holidays" practice:
In his 2019 blog,
Pastor/Therapist/Author Chuck DeGroat shared his response to a woman experiencing the struggle.
"The trauma of abuse, the ongoing pain of a divorce, and the seasonal expectation of all things joyful and triumphant were conspiring against her, manifesting in some desperation, even despair. In the prior two years, God had not magically broken through her loneliness and depression at Christmas. No star had appeared to guide her to the newborn Christ. No new and glorious morn. Just more aching, more longing.