The holidays can bring a lot of stress for survivors of sexual trauma, for many reasons. People place all of these expectations on you to be okay and happy all the time, to complete a large amount of tasks, to get along with everyone – even someone who triggers you, to want to participate in all the festivities. And on and on the expectations pile into burdens.
If you’re like me, you may be faced with some painful decisions.
My decision was if I should celebrate or cancel the holidays completely with my family in which the abuse occurred.
The situation: My abusers are still immediately a part of my family. They are around for every holiday. I made a pact with myself to not have a relationship with them and to not be around when they were. They were first priority, so I missed a lot of family functions. During the holidays, though, my mother would make an exception and have my dad stay upstairs (and when my brothers didn’t know, under the pretense of not feeling well) while I went over the house and opened gifts with my brothers and mother. That was the little bit of the holidays I could hold onto.
But all of the pretending made it harder to hold onto the nostalgic version of the holidays from my childhood. I pretended with my mother who tried to have a “normal” mother-daughter relationship with me, even though her presence in my life in not believing my sexual trauma or ever talking about it (basically pretending it didn’t happen) brought me a lot of pain. I pretended with my brothers who lived their lives as if they never learned of my trauma. All with the exception of avoiding topics of my dad.
So I had to ask myself if I would put myself through the torment of pretending again. And if I didn’t want to keep pretending, what was the alternative? Not have a relationship with my family at all? Lose the concept of family I was holding on so tightly to?
I had to make a decision because my catastrophic way of thinking had to be reeled in.
That’s where my recently obtained knowledge (modified by me) of The Situation Card Exercise comes in handy.
What you need:
· Two sets of three different colored notecards (my example will use red, green, and yellow)
· A Pen
· 15 minutes of uninterrupted time
· A difficult, if painful, decision
Step 1. Think of what decision you need to make. For me, it was whether or not I should include my family in the celebration of the holidays, particularly Christmas. I discovered I had two options: I could or I could not. It’s good to have a comparison of two options to review instead of just reviewing the decision you think you want. (going in to this I thought I wanted to be able to celebrate the holidays with my family like “normal”. You’ll see where my decision goes)
Step 2. Now take the red notecard and on one side write out what the worst case scenario would be for you for the decision you’re trying to make. What is the worst thing that can happen? Go catastrophic in thinking. In my Worst Case Scenarios, I end up getting hit by a car and my mother in the hospital. This probably wouldn’t happen, I allowed my mind to be negatively catastrophic in thinking.
Complete the worst case for Situation A (To Be) and for Situation B (Not to Be).
Step 3. Now take the green notecard and on one side write out what the best case scenario would be for you for the decision you’re trying to make. What is the best or ideal thing that can happen? Go catastrophic in thinking. In my Best Case Scenarios, I end up getting having Obama and Emma Watson congratulate me. This probably wouldn’t happen, I allowed my mind to be positively catastrophic in thinking.
Complete the best case for Situation A (To Be) and for Situation B (Not to Be).
Step 4. Now take the yellow notecard and on one side write out what the most likely scenario would be for you for the decision you’re trying to make. What is the most realistic thing that would happen? This step recognizes that our minds can go to the polar edges of an outcome but helps reign that back in to realize there may be a middle ground. In my Most Likely Scenarios, I end up having a mix of good and the bad, sadness and happiness.
Complete the most likely case for Situation A (To Be) and for Situation B (Not to Be).
Both of the most likely scenarios involve pain. Choosing a pathway wasn't about avoiding pain, because it isn't something that can be avoided; no matter how much I wish it could be. I realized that every pathway before me would lead to pain. That wasn't in question. So then I thought maybe I should choose the path that feels like it has the least amount of pain. But that would be wrong, too. In completing this exercise and on my journey of healing from sexual trauma, it has all circled back to one notion that I've learned to accept...
I I left out one line from each of My Most Likely Scenarios:
To Be ~ I would feel trapped
Not To Be ~ I would feel free
And Not To Be ended up the option that would be best for me.
Because the pathway you should choose should not be about how much or little pain there is for you, but the type of pain you'll face. One choice will lead to a pain that keeps you trapped and feeling suffocated. The other will leave you empowered and free.
Make the right choice for you and choose freedom.