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Freedom from Sexual Violence

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Surviving the Holidays

By Kemi Chavez, CCASA Blogger

I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. My abusers were well known to me, as they were either relatives or close friends of my family. My experience with sexual abuse is common, as the statistics goes: 90% of sexually abused children are assaulted by someone they know (Source: Prevent Child Abuse America). For many people, sharing the holidays without family is heartbreaking; I have the exact opposite reaction.

Luckily, I am married and with the help of my husband have three small children who are “my family”. So my birth family is much less present in my life, then say 20 years ago. It’s been a positive change, for me; as I no longer have to mentally prepare for a delicious meal overshadowed by guilt, anxiety, hate, and animosity.

As a child, I thought the level of dysfunction within my family was acceptable. It was not until my husband, then boyfriend, spent his first (and luckily not last) Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ home. Let’s just say it was bad enough that my husband started piecing together the issues of my family. I find that abuse has a way of making itself known, be it through the tension or the silent insistence that there be no tension.

As survivors, we can sometimes compromise our own healing by minimizing the amount of mental and psychological pain we experience when being around people who trigger memories of our abuse.  Have you ever beaten yourself up for feeling less than fortunate to spend time with your family and loved ones during the holiday season?  These feelings only aggravate an uncomfortable situation.

Consider this. During the holiday season, give yourself permission to do what’s best for you. What if you turned down an offer to see extended family, and plan a get together with close friends? What would happen if you planned holidays at a location that feels safe for you?  Who would be offended you decided to bring a friend, someone who will “have your back” and help you avoid anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable?

If being around your family is emotionally exhausting for you, do what you can to either address the issue for resolution or minimize the amount of time you spend with your family.

Think about it this way: It’s your holiday season – you might as well own it.

Kemi Chavez is a CCASA Volunteer and founder of Protecting Childhood.

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3 Comments

  1. JoanneRN

    As a child, I was a victim of child abuse at the hands of my "mother". Of course I did not at the time view this as abuse but blamed myself. Part of the abuse was physical (resulting in a broken front tooth at age 9), most was emotional or neglectful. I stopped smiling the day my tooth was broken and pretty much stopped talking too. While not a verbal being, I found my ability to communicate was strengthened by the written word. I quietly became a good student. Now, nearly 50 years later and working in the field,I more fully understand the dynamics of this relationship. Christmas does not help. I am preparing for the day with some angst. My mother,now 86 is alone. I am the only relative close by and feel obligated. I do not want to share my Christmas with her. To me she is toxic but to others she is a sweet little old lady. I am filled with guilt because of my feelings or lack there of. My son, my only blood relative on the planet will be visiting from out of state for the holiday with his girlfriend. I want to enjoy the moment with them and not have it ruined by my mothers presence. But I do feel obligated to include her. I have not yet decided how to handle the situation. I appreciate the advice given here: "Give yourself permission to do what's best for you". This advice somewhat mitigates the guilt. I may need to read it again and again…

  2. Protecting Childhood

    Joanne, you deserve to enjoy the holidays. You are entitled to avoid situations and people that do not make your feel valued, loved, or appreciated. We can't enjoy situations when we constantly surround ourselves by people who have hurt us and have put us in harm's way. There is no part of forgiveness that requires you to remain in the presence of those that have offended you. Furthermore, the only anxiety you should willing submit yourself to, is awaiting your son's arrival :) Of course, this is just my opinion and how I cope.~ Kemi

  3. Skembel

    Kemi, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and encouragement..and Joanne, YOU enjoy your holiday…can you carve out a small amount of time with your mother and then a large chunk with your son? How thoughtful of you to worry about her but remember YOU need to take care of yourself and I personally agree that need to forgive and move forward but that doesn't mean that we keep walking back into harm's way when that is not good for us…good luck and take care of yourself and a Kemi said, own your OWN holiday season!

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