In late November, SwanWaters hosted its first ever online gathering for the people we support within our organization. We called it The ‘How to Survive Christmas’ Christmas Party. Below is my write-up on the content of our conversations together.
Biological Orphan, Adopted Into A Family of Choice
‘You will be spending Christmas alone this year won’t you, Carrie?’ Mags Thomson asked me as the meeting began.
‘Yeah. With my pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree that I love!’ I showed my cheap, plastic 5-foot tree over the camera. ‘A pathetic Christmas tree is better than no Christmas tree!’ I laughed.
From here we got talking about the concept of aloneness. And how survivors of toxic families have experienced it many forms. It’s something that Mags calls ‘the orphan feeling.’ For many of us, as survivors of abuse, we may have Limited Contact or No Contact. I have a mixture of both with different members of my big family of 8, and Mags has solely the latter.
‘It’s that time of year,’ she began, ‘that there is so much emphasis on family and togetherness. And people are always posting about how lovely their parents are, or how much they miss their parents if they’ve passed away. It just kind of hits the sore spot sometimes. But we can make our own family if we so choose.’
This really hit home for me because, in many ways, my friends have been more of a family to me than my biological family. While I love them, I don’t trust them. And for the most part, I cannot have the emotional intimacy I crave with them. But I have trustworthy friends who I can truly connect with. And I’ve come to see them as my soul’s true family. I chose them to be around because they are good for me. This is what we call a Family of Choice.
‘There really needs to be space for that, doesn’t there?’ Mags said. ‘When my partner and I stepped away from my toxic family, it created space for a support network of truly loving people who will genuinely care about us and take care of us.’
Painful Acceptance Of The Truth, Leads To Freedom
B, a woman who was present for this get together, said something that really resonated with me, ‘Leaving [my toxic relationship] opened up so many paths of awareness for me. It was really mind boggling…It opened up my mind to what was really happening in my family. I had some painful acceptance of what I thought was, but wasn’t really.’
B’s words really hit close to home for me. Most of us who have come from abusive and toxic families understand the push and pull of emotions when it comes to those people who we love, but are toxic for us. We want to believe the best in them, we allow ourselves to be mistreated because of the misguided notion that they they’ll change—because we don’t want to have to imagine our lives without them, and we hope against hope that maybe we’re wrong about them.
Sadly, this pattern is very common among people who are enduring abuse. We put blinders on as a form of survival. Human beings are social creatures; we want to belong, we want to be accepted by the tribe we come from. But that hope is often not a reality. So the sooner we understand that, the sooner we can break free, heal, and forge forward creating the life and relationships that we long for.
Celebrating Christmas After Making The Exodus From Toxic Relationships
Mags shared that spending Christmas at her in-laws is so relaxing. And how vastly different it is compared to Christmases with her toxic biological family. And while she loves her in-laws—and is grateful that she gets to spend the season with them this year—she is still a big advocate for putting on some Christmas movies, and having a good cry to grieve the family that could have been. It’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of loss and sadness around this time of year, because it reminds us of what we wish we’d had.
Planning a time to allow ourselves to grieve is one of the key strategies that we discussed during this gathering. And so was the importance of releasing expectations and pressure around how Christmas “should” be. Mags referred to a friend that didn’t want to spend lots of time making pies so she just bought them. And suggested that if you don’t feel like cooking, order in! There’s no shame in making the Christmas season easier on yourself.
And for me, personally, I have decided to make Christmas easier on myself by applying some advice that Mags Thomson and Aubrey Cole wrote in the SwanWaters publication An Abuse Survivor’s Guide To Happy Holidays: to make new traditions for myself, in my new life, on my own terms. I have a plastic tree for my own home, I bought a bunch of pretty decorations that light me up for it, and a super cool Santa mug to drink chai from on Christmas day while I watch Santa Claus and Elf.
If you’d like more tips on how to survive Christmas as an abuse survivor, purchase your digital copy of An Abuse Survivor’s Guide To Happy Holidays from our Kindle store.
Between Dec 23 – Jan 1, we’ll be in the SwanWaters forum to support our members through loneliness and toxic families for the 10 Days of Christmas Writing Retreat. Be sure to purchase your $10 (12-month) membership! See you there!
Joining SwanWaters will also unlock the Party Goodie Bag on this page. It is full of freebies and special offers from us and some of our best friends