As a little girl, I loved this time of year, the beautiful lights, the music, the baking and time spent with loved ones. I was never really big on the gifts and saw the grown ups around me get stressed out about the shopping. As I’ve grown up and been working in the social service field for 15 years, I’ve come to see that while seasonal commercials and carols tell us to be jolly and light, the truth is for a lot of people, this time of year can be quite painful and feel heavy. Many people do not have a place to escape the bitter cold that often accompanies the holidays. Can you imagine not having your cozy bed to crawl into or your sturdy, warm house to keep you safe from winter’s wrath? Not everyone can afford turkey and all the trimmings. Can you imagine instead of sitting there complaining how stuffed you are after consuming a feast, going hungry to ensure your children had something to eat? Can you imagine the toll of starvation on your body, mind and spirit? This is the truth about this time of year.
For many abuse survivors, going “home” for the holidays is not a safe option. While these courageous people can work hard to create a “new family” of friends, holidays can be a sad reminder of the violations of long ago and the scars that still remain. Too afraid of imposing or being rejected, they can end up alone during an often very triggering time. If they do find the courage to put themselves out there and ask, the answer might not always be favourable leaving them with literally nowhere to turn. Some sadly will force themselves to be in the presence of their perpetrator or the family that failed to protect them or blames them out of obligation or desperation to belong.
Can you imagine trying to flee an abusive relationship; to take your children from the home they’ve always known and into a new place with strangers for the holidays? This is the reality for so many women in our community that despite a shortage of funding, a new shelter was built because the demand was just too great. We have also supported many women whose partners use the custody and access over the holidays as another way to abuse power and threaten safety even after separation. When will it end?
For people who have lost a loved one, staring at the empty seat at the table can feel unbearable. They can weigh themselves down with guilt as well as their sorrow swallows up their holiday spirit. I’ve often heard clients say, “I just don’t feel like celebrating this year. It doesn’t feel right without them but I don’t want to let others down.” I think it is important to respect that each of us grieves in our own unique ways and it is essential for healing that we honour whatever our needs are, giving ourselves permission to change our minds and do things differently for right now. When we try to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one.
For some of the clients we’ve supported, they have to face their first holiday without their children. The truth of their perceived failure can hit hard in the silence of an empty home. For others anxiety can heighten with the pressure of family gatherings while people with depression may feel forgotten. Maneuvering in winter can be extra strenuous for people with chronic pain. And as one client reminded me, what of the children who do not feel safe at home? This two week break from school, their safe haven, can feel like an eternity.
So the truth is, while we have much reason to celebrate and be grateful during this time of year, I am mindful that this is not an easy time for many of the brave women, men and children that have sought our support this year or are in desperate need. As you move into the swing of the season, please do not forget these people’s pain. Together we can make the world a little brighter. By volunteering, donating or buying a ticket for Jukebox Mania (May 26, 2017-stay tuned ), know that you are helping to ensure that people like I’ve described above don’t have to feel so alone. In a safe place they can begin to heal. The need is great but together we can make a difference.
Nicole, Dec 2016