A lot has happened…

The last time I posted here was December 2015. Wow. That’s a long time ago. A lot has happened.

The woman I was dating when I last wrote was a terrible human being. I was completely wrong about her. I was in the initial honeymoon of dating a very self-centred person. As I was writing, she was cheating on me. You might ask how someone can cheat when you are ethically non-monogamous in the first place, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Breaking your word and pursuing someone behind your partners back, and then concealing it, is pretty much always cheating. Continue reading A lot has happened…

Shitty first drafts

I’m listening to Brene Brown’s book ‘Rising Strong’ right now. I find her work to be very helpful. I could write more about that but I’m trying to get to a point here.

I’m in a relationship. A good one. With a woman I love and respect and am very attracted to, all of which appears to be mutual. So far so good, right?

My ex wife (who I am technically still married to, and still love, but we’re not a fit anymore) still lives in one half of my house and I live in the other. She’s moving out at the end of the month, and is deeply heartbroken, as was I for most of this past year. We would have celebrated our 15th anniversary a month ago. Continue reading Shitty first drafts

Love is not a prize

I am whole
I am holy
I was born from pain, raised in pain but I overcame

I deserve all the love this world can offer
I deserve a beautiful life
And I will live it

I told her of my fears
showed her all the things I was afraid
would scare her off
believing they would not
for I am whole
and now I am afraid
they will

Somewhere inside is the little girl
who knows, feels believes that
her story makes her damaged goods
Dirty and unwanted

Why do I tell people this truth
knowing it is only where I have come from
what I have fought to restore my sacred self
I show them the dragon, slain
with pride
but then fear they only smell the rotten meat long hauled away

I am still trying to win love with brave deeds
when love is not a prize
I am still trying to prove myself worthy
when I always was.

UPDATED My book – It Gets Better: What I learned from 20 years of healing childhood rape

So here it is, my book draft. The working title is “It Gets Better: What I learned from 20 years of healing childhood rape” I was sharing it as a google doc, but that unfortunately had some privacy issues, so I’ve uploaded a pdf below, which I will refresh every so often as I keep working on it.  I converted it from a word document to a google document which introduced some errors I’m going to pick away at.  I’m also going to add in some of the more recent information from my blog.

Keep in mind THIS IS A DRAFT – so don’t expect perfection. I’m still working on it. You can help though. Having input from other survivors is important. I realized reading it over, that there are some sections I still have to add, so it’s not complete, but I’m actively working on it.

You can give me feedback in the comments to this post. What I’m looking for is *not* spelling or grammar errors, but comments like: “you should have a section on this topic” or “I didn’t understand this bit on page 10” or “I think it would be good to add this in to your description on anxiety” etc… So basically about the content and organization not the grammar and punctuation. I can hire an editor for that. If you’d like to write me a review and put it in the comments, I’d love that too.

View or download the pdf version (updated Feb 2015) here: MayWeDanceonTheirGraves

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Meditation on Father’s Day from an incest survivor

I wrote several poems today after a meditation walk I do to clear my head. Here are two of them:
3.

 Father’s day
Sobs shake me in the silence
of the labyrinth
the creak of wood floor
He’s not dead yet.
But neither am I.

4.

Blessed be

all of us
strong and struggling

The single lesbian who
wheels a chair
overlooked

The self critical
semi-professional
performer
ashamed.

The daughter
of a psychopath
on Father’s day
grieving.

The alone.
the connected.

This is one of those father’s days when I’m feeling emotional. It isn’t always like this. I’ve been dating a new woman and am perhaps a bit more open hearted, or maybe it’s the Buddhist style meditation I’ve been doing. You connect with whatever feeling you are having, without getting too involved in what it is about, and then feel empathy and connection with all the other beings who are having that same emotion right now and try and send them (and yourself) support. An antidote to shame and isolation is connection, and knowing that we are not unique or alone. I get caught up in thinking I’m unique, but of course I’m not. There are unfortunately lots of people with a psychopath parent and a complicit other parent, and how I feel about all that, however it is, is completely normal. Even if I had a completely unique life circumstance, the feelings I have about it are not unique. Sadness, shame, anger, hopelessness, the feeling of not being understood, of being judged, or oppressed, or even isolated by having a unique tragedy, are all feelings that human beings have, and have often, around the world in this minute.

Even as survivors, we are not alone. There are a lot of us, today, grieving, raging, ignoring or being numb in response to father’s day. There are survivors who are going through the motions, and spending time with their abusers this day and pretending to honour them, because they do not yet have the strength, validation and support to do otherwise, or because their abuser still has economic or social power over them. And we are together in this too.

To my survivor sisters and brothers: We are together in this. You are  understood. You are respected. We will outlive them all, and may we dance upon their graves, for we are alive and we have survived.

Reframing mother’s day for incest survivors

I am going to celebrate Mother’s day tomorrow, in honour of my inner mother – the part of myself that nurtures and cares for all of me, and in honour of Mother Earth. My two mothers, Mother Earth and my inner self-mother love, nurture, feed and protect me every day.  To all my incest survivor peeps, may you all be the best mothers to yourselves that you can and may you feel that self-love nourish you.

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The colour purple

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/5780128884/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/5780128884/

Last night my partner decided to watch the Color Purple, a screen adaptation of a book by Alice Walker. This is the 1985 epic movie that made the acting careers of Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. The main character is an incest survivor, having borne two children sired by her own father by the age of 13. Both of these children are sold by her abuser and taken from her arms shortly after their birth. Don’t watch this movie if you don’t want to be triggered. It’s full of lots of events that might seem extreme to civilians, but which survivors know happen all the time, and happened to us. I don’t know how people can watch these movies – they seem so numb to me to be able to enjoy watching people get tortured. Continue reading The colour purple

Benefits of being a sexual abuse survivor…

I’ve been feeling disheartened lately. I’ve been practicing tantric yoni massage (no endorsement implied in the link, but the description seems about right, and it even mentions survivors), both on my own and with my wife and my lover. I have the injured vulva which has been very sore, and I end up crying throughout the sessions, and crying hard. It feels like it’s clearing held energy out of my vagina and vulva. 

I’m not afraid of crying. I know that clearing emotions is just something that has to happen, like vomiting when you’re really nauseous, and that once it’s passed you feel a lot better. Eventually, it clears so much that acceptance happens and that piece of gunk is fully healed. So crying is a good thing.

Meanwhile, I’m giving my partners multiple long screaming orgasms.

This doesn’t feel the least bit fair.

Yesterday I had a good cry and rage about how unfair it is that 4o years later I’m still trying to heal my vulva, while psychopath father still hasn’t done a day in jail.

I’ve developed a chart and am tracking the state of my vulva plus the things I do to treat it.

I have a 5 point scale from ‘blood red and sore without touching’ at 5 to ‘pink and not sore or itchy’ at 1. My vulva has been at a 4 or 5 for several days now. I’m taking turmeric daily, applying vaseline daily, tracking how often I use the high powered cortisone cream, and basically just monitoring what seems to make it flare up or down rather than numbing out that part of my body. I suspect that learning to be more present in my vulva is making me more conscious of the discomfort that has always been there, not worsening it, but it still sucks.

This article about vulvar skin conditions was a source of some good insight and advice. However, it also lets me know that I probably need to do more medical advocacy on my own behalf, including another biopsy, if I can get a dermatopathologist to examine it and refine my diagnosis. Apparently regular pathologists aren’t good at reading vulvar biopsies because the moist skin shows skin diseases differently than regular dry skin.

Anyhow, as expected, the emotional and physical gunk is coming up to clear.  It’s not like I didn’t know it would.

I’m re-reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s ‘David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants‘, a book about the benefits of being an underdog, or how sometimes an advantage is not an advantage. He talks about how sometimes not being invested in the mainstream way of doing things can be a big advantage and how skills and attitudes people learn when they are the underdog can sometimes give them an advantage. It got me thinking. What about being an incest survivor gives me an advantage?

Now, let’s be clear, I do not subscribe to any victim-blaming philosophies of growth that says basically that we’ve attracted abuse or are asking for it to grow our souls or it’s karma for being complete assholes in a previous life whatever. Despite being wrong, blaming anyone but the abuser for the abuse has been shown to be associated with poorer emotional health. However, since the reality of what I’ve survived is clearly the reality, I might as well look for whatever silver linings I can, right?

The point of the exercise is to look at things commonly seen as disadvantages and figure out situations or conditions in which they offer an unseen advantage. This is not about minimizing or denying, this is about figuring out what I as a survivor or we all as survivors can find to compensate for*  this thing we’ve been handed to deal with. (*terrible wording, but I couldn’t find a better way to put it. Of course, nothing can actually compensate for childhood abuse.)

Let me think:

As a result of healing myself of childhood sexual assault I have the following advantages:

  1. I understand and surrender to grief, but am not overwhelmed by it. Strong feelings are familiar and manageable, and I have ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude.
  2. I see dysfunction a mile off.   I make good decisions about people.
  3. I have a lot of empathy. As part of figuring out my own gunk, I’m often able to figure out other people’s enough to have compassion for them. I can make a frame for people to be who they are and as they are.
  4. I don’t put up with shit from abusers. I can spot them, and I don’t engage.
  5. I am not afraid of other people’s feelings. I accept them and am not easily manipulated by them.
  6. I know I can handle it if bad things happen, so I’m not as worried about things I can’t control.
  7. I love myself, deep down. We’ve been through a lot together, me and I, and I trust myself. I am proud of myself and what I’ve achieved.
  8. I am willing to speak truth to power when necessary and do it effectively.
  9. I have well defined skills for coping with fear, pain, uncertainty and processes that feel mysterious and involve faith and self-trust.
  10. I have close to me people who are real and grounded and honourable. Everyone else has the lack of these qualities seemingly written in neon paint on their foreheads.
  11. I have a deep, engaged and mature faith, and a strong spiritual practice.
  12. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and am great at reframing things so I can turn it into a win.

As a result of experiencing childhood sexual assault (this is harder) I have the following advantages:

  1. I have only family of choice remaining to me. I don’t ever have to put up with the garden variety of annoying relatives or family drama. Anyone who isn’t good and loving is no longer in my life.
  2. I have very strong friendships with other survivors. Because we don’t have biological family, we make our friends into family, which makes for strong connections.
  3. I am a very sensitive and skilled lover. Because my own vulva is often sore and easily irritated, and I am not always able to receive touch on my vulva without discomfort, I have put a lot of my sexual energy into getting off on giving my partners pleasure. I have also developed skills to touch other vulvae well without irritating.
  4. Disclosing the experience of abuse to friends, family or lovers is a bit of a litmus test for people’s character. You can tell a lot about people by how well they handle it. It weeds out a lot of bad eggs that would otherwise take awhile to show their colours.

That’s all I have for now. I’d love to hear in the comments about what ‘earned benefits’ or silver lining items (no matter how ironic or backhanded) other survivors can think of about being a childhood sexual abuse or assault survivor.

Vulva – Healing the Physical Effects of Childhood Sexual Assault – Physical Self Care

This post is chock full of triggers. No descriptions of actual abuse, but lots about injured vaginas and what works to make them feel better.  A little bit of religious triggers if reading about Pagan stuff triggers you. Read at your own risk.

_________________________________________________________________________

I have one messed up vagina. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Actually spiritually it is probably healthier than most, after 20 years of being an active member of a religion where the vulva is literally a core sacred symbol. That was the most right and healing thing I’ve ever done as a survivor and a woman, to actively choose to align my spirituality with viewing my sexuality and my female body as sacred.

As you may know if you read this blog the physical effects are pretty severe. When I was raped as a very young child, my vagina tore badly. So badly that it still has scarring, which is unusual. Vulvae normally heal from even very severe wounds without scars, apparently, but mine was injured deep enough or repeatedly enough to scar and to have loose tags of torn tissue. Lucky me. Actually, seeing the scars a few years ago helped me prove that my mother was complicit in the abuse, literally an accessory after the fact, and gave me clear justification to disown her.

This, likewise is a drawing of an adult woman's vulva showing the names for all the parts and which ones usually get injured in sexual assault. Now you know what all your lady bits are are called.
This, likewise is a drawing of an adult woman’s vulva showing the names for all the parts and which ones usually get injured in sexual assault. Now you know what all your lady bits are are called.

About a year ago, I got a diagnosis for the chronic pain and itching I’ve been experiencing my whole life around my vagina opening and my vulva. The gynecologist did a biopsy and found that the tissue to the posterior side of my vaginal opening is chronically inflamed. The words “It’s definitely not in your head” were used, always a good thing for a survivor to hear, especially when I’d been told basically that by another practitioner.  She prescribed me really strong cortisone ointment and sent me on my way. While the ointment does bring down the inflammation, I haven’t quite figured out how to manage it so that it stays gone.

Here’s what I’ve researched so far and what seems to be worth doing for me:

  1. Using a mirror daily (when I remember) to check my vulva for redness and take action if necessary. I’ve gotten so used to ignoring the discomfort, that a visual check is helpful. When not inflamed, my vulva simmers down to a dark pink instead of a dark red. The area in the image on this page that is red is where the worst of my inflammation and torn tags is, which  makes sense because that’s where the worst of the tearing usually is in a rape.
  2. Taking turmeric capsules. I get empty gel capsules and fill them with the spice turmeric, which has scientifically verified anti-inflammatory properties. There are no side effects. It’s food. I take 1-3 a day.
  3. Putting petroleum jelly (vaseline) on my vulva daily to keep it moist and keep it from getting irritated by rubbing on clothes and stuff.  I’ve also used coconut oil, which is nice, but it apparently is ‘comodogenic’ which means it causes pimples. I don’t want a pimple on my vulva, thanks. Cocoa butter would probably also work. The problem with all of these is that they break down latex gloves or condoms, so make sure you gently wipe off the jelly or oil with a soft damp cloth before using any of these.
  4. Ice packs. Those gel packs you put in the freezer are wonderful for an inflamed vulva. I wrap them in a tea towel and put one in my panties or sit on it. Really helps when the pain is bad.
  5. A squeeze bottle of water to rinse after peeing. Especially in the morning, when urine is concentrated, the urine can burn the sensitive sore skin. The vaseline seems to help with this.
  6. Boric acid capsules. Using the same empty gel capsules, fill them with pharmaceutical grade powdered boric acid from a drug store, the kind that might be sold as eyewash. Put one in your vagina every day for a few weeks if you have a chronic vaginal infection. Shorter if you rarely have infections or it seems to clear it up faster. This is also science based and works for both yeast infections and other types of vaginal infections by changing the pH of your vagina to make it acidic and unfriendly to the bad bacteria.
  7. The ‘legs up the wall’ yoga pose which increases blood flow to the pelvis. This seems to help with the pain sometimes.
  8. Sexual positions for penetrative sex that don’t irritate the red area are purportedly the ‘woman on top’ position and ‘from behind’ position. I have had sex in these positions (no, I’m not going to explain how this works for lesbians 😉 ) and I do seem to recall it being better.

The above  is all very important on a physical level, but there’s a whole other level of healing I’m embarking on now. I’m doing Tantric yoni (vulva/vagina) massage, on myself and with my wife. This is basically massaging the inside and outside of the vagina/vulva in a structured way while being very present and breathing in a special way that opens you up.  I know this will sound terrifying to lots of survivors. It’s probably a good way to bring up an unmanageable amount of flashbacks, but that hasn’t happened for at least a decade, and if it does, I am ready. So far as a recipient it’s been about crying my heart out and releasing a lot of pain and stored gunk. No night terrors or new memories thank the Goddess. I’m good with crying, and I can feel it clearing already. I’m ready for it and I’m glad to be doing it. For those of you who have female partners who are not survivors, they will like it a lot. You should try it.

My wife is being a good sport about performing the yoni massage on me, because it’s certainly not sexy with me emoting hard the whole time. I am grateful to have someone who loves me helping me heal this. It’s not something I could go to a massage therapist with. My hope/plan is that doing this regularly will clear out the emotional trauma gunk from the assaults stored in my vagina and vulva which may help it be less inflamed, or at least help me have more sensation and comfort in the relatively undamaged areas of my vulva. I enjoy sex, but it’s a pain (no pun intended) that my injury makes it complicated.  I will keep you posted on whether this works, and if so, will post a primer for survivors on how to do it and what I learned.

If you have a vaginal/vulval injury and have tried these or any other things that work, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

Help for Partners of Childhood Sexual Assault Survivors

I had a comment just now asking for resources for partners. I am a survivor and have been involved with women who are survivors. I think that most of this will be applicable to partners of survivors of all genders.

Partners will find these posts particularly useful:

Coming out as a survivor part 3 – Intimate Relationships with Bystanders and Civilians

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Source: US Army http://flic.kr/p/5FHaHE

The story I wrote about in my last post, where I’d come out to a potential lover as having an injured vagina and she’d reacted in an odd way, has been puzzling me. What was it about that which was so triggering?

I figured it out when I was trying to write her an email to explain why I couldn’t be her lover, despite some flirting and making out we’d done. Continue reading Coming out as a survivor part 3 – Intimate Relationships with Bystanders and Civilians

Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

http://flic.kr/p/d9a74Y
Source: http://flic.kr/p/d9a74Y

In my previous post on this topic, I covered coming out to yourself, your therapist and your support or therapy community. The final two really difficult steps are coming out to friends and lovers (level one and two) and coming out to or confronting your family. The family piece might come before the friend piece, so these are not necessarily the order in which they are done, but perhaps are the order of complexity and potential for pain.

Continue reading Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

New Year Resolution

Stag on Hillside Photocredit: Kev747 via Flickr
Stag on Hillside Photocredit: Kev747 via Flickr

So last Saturday I saw my ex girlfriend (Kitten) and her new girlfriend at the bar. It was no big deal. For those who don’t know the back story, she was my partner for 5 months and we broke up mid September. She reminded me a lot of my father / abuser, thankfully not in the sociopath rapist ways. She’s the first person I’ve dated who had so many profound superficial and deep similarities with him that I saw and recognized it as a gift, since it could not possibly be coincidence.

Okay, I’m going to get all Wiccan and spiritual on you here. If that’s not your thing, I won’t be offended. Continue reading New Year Resolution

What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

#ds450 - Closet SpaceI’m trying to write a chapter on coming out as an incest or child sexual assault survivor for the book.

There are a lot of reasons to come out, and a lot of reasons not to. I’m not going to say one is always better than the other. You need to decide for yourself what you’re up for and what you need. What I believe is that the situation, persons involved, purpose and your own tolerance for social isolation all have bearing on when and to whom you should disclose you are an abuse survivor. Continue reading What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

New Year – Releasing, Banishing and Blessing


Yesterday I did a ritual of blessing and letting go with one of my friends. We both practice the same religion but hadn’t done any ceremony together before. It was her idea to burn things we wanted to let go of before we go into the new year, and to eat a dinner of black eyed peas and greens ( a southern US prosperity blessing practice).

I burnt three things. The first was a shield I’d made of paper, early into my healing journey. At the time, I was living alone and having night fears and flashbacks almost nightly. At the time I called them monsters. Come evening time, it was like I was haunted by anxiety and the sense that something was stalking me over my shoulder. I would be afraid to look around or to focus much attention on it, for fear the ‘monster’ would come closer.  Because most of my abuse happened at night in my bedroom, going to bed was particularly hard for me, and, although I didn’t know it, I was having memory fragments of the fear I experienced as a child and teen, waiting to see if my abuser would come down the hall to my bedroom and enter to abuse me or if he would pass my room by and go to bed. Since before he would abuse me he would usually use the bathroom across the hall from my room, I had come to associate bathrooms with bad things happening as well. However, I hadn’t had enough time and support to put all this together yet at that point, so all I knew was the fear.

I had created the shield with all of the sacred elements pictured on it, and posted it on my door as a warding to keep the monsters out. That, combined with some other ritual I did at the time, like writing down my fears in bed before sleeping, keeping a jar by my bed in case I was too scared to get up and go into the bathroom at night, and bringing a candle with me to bed so I didn’t have to walk across a dark bedroom, helped keep the monsters manageable until I could process more of the memory fragments. When I moved, that shield came down and didn’t go back up again in my new place, but I’ve kept if for the 20 some years since.

I burned it yesterday because there are no longer monsters waiting for me outside my bedroom door, and if fear fragments from my past emerge, I can name them and deal with them directly. I thanked the shield for protecting me and let that energy go.

The second thing I  burned was a journal from 2003. At that time, I was living with a roommate who bullied me. She had been asked to leave the house, but in the two weeks before she would actually leave, I stayed with a friend because I no longer felt safe at home. This woman, I’ve realized recently, was very similar to both my father and my recent other partner, so it felt fitting to burn my account of freeing myself of her at the same time I am freeing my self of my ex. I do not have to be connected with people who enjoy hurting others.

Also in the journal at the time my father/abuser was in the hospital after a serious car accident, and while there he had been diagnosed with cancer, which they were treating. My family rallied around to nurse him back to help, which felt like such a betrayal, and lessened my ability to deal with the abusive roommate. I now have no contact with my family and have many more people in my life who know my story.

Flipping through the pages, I came across a description I wrote after waking at 5 am to cry over the fact that my girlfriend (now wife), who I had been with three years at this point, was losing her sex driving in menopause, something she thought was only temporary and I should be patient with. Ten years later, we’ve resolved this issue, although in a completely unexpected way, by me having additional partners, something that has completely transformed and blessed our relationship.

I wrote at the time about feeling politically alienated from the queer community, because as a survivor of misogynist violence, my needs are different, and the most  important (only) gender issue for me is expanding power and equality for women for the purpose of protecting ourselves and children from misogynous sociopaths like my father.  When people wish to do away with the concept of ‘woman’ completely, it feels like they are trying not to create equality, but to make women and our struggles invisible.  This issue had come up for me that day in a queer poly group I have been dipping my toe into, that I was concerned would have a rigidly lockstep political stance on these issues.  Instead of being silenced, I spoke out, and got reassurance that my perspective would not be shut down from one of the moderators. Afterward, I re-read yesterday on my blog  a post where I had a wonderful comment exchange with Michelliana ( a woman of trans experience) about the conflict of trans needs and survivor needs. I realized how healing this simple, thoughtful, vulnerable exchange had been for me. All of these things have been ongoing issues in my life, and in the past ten years, all have transformed. It’s good to let that energy burn off and be released.

The last thing I have some mixed feelings about. I burned a bunch of nitrile gloves. As a Pagan, doing something so polluting was a dumb idea in sacred space (or anywhere) and I thought afterward that I could have just cut them to bits with scissors and put them in the garbage. The gloves had been purchased as safe sex supplies by an ex-girlfriend, and barely used. I had requested that she wear gloves, which provide a smoother surface and prevent fingernails and rough hands from irritating my skin, and so make it less likely that I’ll have a flare-up of the inflammatory skin condition I have around my vulva resulting from the assaults. She didn’t like the gloves that I preferred for this purpose and had bought her own, in a rough material and size so large it was wrinkly, causing more discomfort than the ungloved hand would have. They represented that selfishness and lack of empathy and caring that I don’t want to see again in a partner. This was the only thing I burned that was a true banishing, a releasing of something that disgusted me to see and which  I was glad to see the back of. The smoke clung to me afterward, and today I find myself with a headache. I would like to find a way to think about that toxic smoke amid my relief to have them truly gone, to have her truly gone from inside me as well. Perhaps it is reminding me that getting rid of something toxic leaves a residue, and it’s best to avoid those things completely in future, and not rely on my strength to withstand and clean up the damage later. When we are very hungry, it is tempting to take the food that is offered, despite the toxins in contains. It is important to ensure I never get that hungry again.

I think today, I will focus on blessing myself, my life and the people I love, on nourishing myself. Going forward, I will pay attention to my hunger, and figure out a strategy for meeting my needs without accepting toxic people into my life or at least removing them immediately.

May your 2014 be blessed. As my friend Kate says, “Good and Healing Thoughts to You.”

Holidays for Incest Survivors

Yule CandlesTonight is Christmas Eve. I am grateful to be spending it with my spouse and  my dog, in a warm, safe house full of light and love. I am happy. I’d like to share some holiday coping tips and recommendations as I’ve learned them over the past 20+ years for myself and from other survivors of incest I know. May your winter and new year be blessed and full of love, peace and gentle healing.

The first recommendation is to stop spending holidays with your abusive or complicit family members. Make up an excuse if you have to. If you haven’t confronted them about the abuse or don’t plan to, then tell them you can’t make it this year and unplug your phone. Go on a road trip somewhere, anywhere if they live in your town. To paraphrase an old pop song, there are 50 ways to leave your abuser.

The step of putting yourself first, of expressing loyalty and demonstrating solidarity with the child inside you that was assaulted, by taking her needs seriously, is one of the most healing things you can do. I know it’s tempting to say to yourself that your abuser won’t be there, or will be easy to avoid and you’re an adult now, and that you can handle it. This is of course probably true, but it’s kind of like hanging out in a smoky bar or breathing exhaust fumes for hours, it’s not good for you and you’ll pay for it in toxic aftereffects.

I realize often survivors get manipulated by their families to be silent through financial or other types of blackmail, or through bribes. I encourage you to live simply if you have to, but get free of their control. It will give you space you never realized was there to heal.

I don’t have this but several of my survivor friends have triggers around specific holidays. I know that avoidance just reinforces triggers, but that has to be done under the survivors control and at her/his own pace. Reducing exposure can make space to gradually unpack and desensitize.  If you are new to healing, then going on vacation (if you can afford it) to somewhere they don’t celebrate that particular holiday can be very restful. For example, Canadians don’t celebrate American thanksgiving and vice versa, Buddhist countries don’t celebrate Christmas, and even places that celebrate familiar holidays in unfamiliar ways might be enough of a difference to be a rest.

Create holiday rituals for yourself. When I first decided I was never going home for Christmas again, I started holding Winter Solstice candle-making parties for my friends. I bought wax and wicking (at a craft store) and used old candle ends for colour, and then melted the wax in jars in a water bath and spent an enjoyable time making candles with nice people, friends, sometimes other survivors.

Organize or attend ‘orphan Christmas’ or ‘orphan Thanksgiving’ parties or dinners or organize celebrations with your heart-family or family of choice – friends and other people who love you and have nothing to do with your abusers.

Cultivate friendships with people who are also estranged from their families or have difficult relationships with them, who won’t pressure you to ‘forgive for the holidays‘ .

Cultivate ways to state the situation succinctly. Some of my favourites are:

  • “I spend [insert holiday here] at home.” or “I prefer to spend the holidays here with my spouse.”
  • “I don’t have family to spend the holidays with.” (Strictly true, even if they are still alive. Real family doesn’t abuse you and protects you from abuse.) Generally people will think they are dead and not question you further.
  • “My family doesn’t get together for the holidays.”
  • “I am estranged from my family.  I’m happy right here.” – With people you think may get it, or who you don’t care if they don’t, this is a good way to open your life to allies. I’ve often had people disclose difficult family relationships here, and then we all feel a lot more genuine. However, it does run the risk of someone saying something stupid. I had someone respond “Why, you seem like a nice person.” when I told them this. I told them I am a nice person…
  • “I’d rather not talk about that.” or “Let’s talk about something else.” – Clear, to the point and avoids lying.
  • “I lost my family in a tragedy. Let’s change the subject.” – Also true, and effective, if a bit heavy handed, but good for the clueless or insensitive.

 If for some reason you really have to be around complicit family members or worse, your abuser, if at all possible sleep somewhere that is completely under your control, like a hotel room. You could claim allergies, erratic sleeping habits, or offer no excuse at all. It will make a difference to have a place where you can be an adult and can escape from any drama to. Your inner child will appreciate having a place to get away to where she/he/they are safe. In addition, bring a friend or spouse. Having a  non-family member present will do a lot to shift abusive, intrusive or complicit behaviour and force your relatives to treat you like an adult. Make sure this is someone who knows about the abuse and is supportive, and is willing to leave or go for a walk with you if things get rough. 

If the abuser is still potentially active, document any access he/she has to potential victims, and any abuse you witness. Report it to the child protection authorities, or if you can’t do that, report it to your therapist (with names and locations) who will have to report it to the authorities. Report even if you think nothing will be done. It provides a paper trail in case things are investigated later. You can report anonymously.

Prepare  a list of safe conversation topics you can pull out to change the subject. Re-read this information on forgiveness and why it’s not necessary that you forgive your abuser or complicit relatives.

What are your holiday coping strategies? I’d love to hear them in the comments…

Dating your parents (no not literally, thankfully!)

I subscribe to the theory that what we are attracted to in a mate is often a reflection of both the ways we’ve learned to accept love as children and the unfinished business we have with people who were close to us as children.

And of course, by ‘we’ I mean me. Continue reading Dating your parents (no not literally, thankfully!)