My emotional safety during the holidays

I will spend most of this holiday alone by choice. I have a loving spouse and two loving teenage children. And I will neither drive the few miles to my spouse’s or my birth families’ homes nor host a gathering. I don’t feel strong enough yet.

I would be safe from physical danger. I am old enough and strong enough to defend myself. There are no imminent physical threats.

I am vulnerable emotionally. I am trying to befriend shame–not battle it. That language is very important to me.

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Three or four years ago when we were addressing OCD in therapy, my therapist told me she didn’t like the combative rhetoric in the literature I was reading regarding OCD. She said my body, mind, and spirit have weathered enough violence. So we turned our attention more to specific obsessions and rituals and put down the language of fight back, combat, defeat, tame, etc.

Last week while we were working on shame, my therapist talked about battling shame, and we decided I still deserve non-violence. So now I am trying to befriend shame. Shame is a teacher, maybe the strongest teacher alongside fear. If I can curate a curiosity, a gratefulness to all my emotions, if I can be a student to their teachings, I can learn about myself. While that process is its own reward, my therapists tell me I am likely to learn that I am safe right now.

I have parts of me stuck in the traumas, and they are not at all convinced they are safe. That is why I will spend Thanksgiving in the safety of my loneliness. I will have fewer upsets, less turbulence, and–yes–less living, while I am alone. I realize that if life is an ever-winding roller coaster of emotions, I am presently choosing the broken car rooted to its rusted tracks.

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I may not always choose this way. And I may. I don’t have to plan that now. I need to be true to the me’s right now who need nurturing.

Additional shame at this moment could harm me. I am off-balance. I am having trouble seeing my resourcefulness, my coping skills. I am having trouble remembering which are the helpful rules and which rules were the ones we used to ensure the punishment and pain we experienced came from us.

I used plural pronouns again. No judgment. Many me’s are stirred up because we know people want to see us, and we cannot risk seeing them. They mean well, probably. It is probably also a good thing to be wanted. My concern is that people desire my physical appearance to satisfy their personal need, not my need. That doesn’t make them selfish; it makes it harder for everyone to get what they need.

I need emotional safety. They need what they need.

The sexual abuse wasn’t directly the fault of my family. They neither abused me nor knew I needed protecting. This wasn’t on parents’ minds forty years ago. It may not be on parents’ minds today. It has certainly been imprinted on my mind since long before I became a parent.

For the eight or ten years that I laid awake, waiting in terror for one of my perpetrators to come kill me, my parents could have parented more effectively. They did not meet my needs. They didn’t know what it was I feared, and they knew I was in terror nightly. I got an older brother as a roommate until he outgrew me (no judgment); that was effective. Then I got a television to watch over me. That was not effective. Little me just wanted to feel safe, and angry father just wanted enough sleep to go to work. Since he and passive mother prioritized themselves, I did not get my needs met.

That is probably how I perfected dissociation, perfected numbness, perfected survival. And it worked for decades. Until it stopped working.


I so revile television to this day that as our family approaches the one-year anniversary of our streaming television service, I can still feel pride at having forestalled television’s ubiquity for sixteen years of my children’s lives. They are probably better for it, too.

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I have anger at the parents for not meeting my needs. And I know they didn’t act in order to harm me. Even if I hadn’t been sexually abused and was simply terrified of the dark, I deserved to be safe. I deserved to have my needs met. I get that some parents, maybe many, would try tough love: “Toughen up, weak, little child.” When that didn’t work after X years, then it’s time to meet the child’s needs, no?


They didn’t.

So now it’s time to parent myself. To provide my many Littles with the love, understanding, and safety they never received.

I’m not even openly hostile toward the sexual predators. It’s not necessarily Stockholm Syndrome. It’s that they were probably sexual abuse victims themselves. I have to believe they were victims themselves in order to feel safe today. If they were victims, that explains somewhat their behavior. They started abusing me before their pre-frontal cortices were fully formed–even if they were older teenagers or legal adults.

If they were repeating the shame and power cycles they suffered as abuse victims, I can understand why it happened to me. Where I would need more understanding is if I could trace the cycle back generations to someone who abused kids without having been abused. It’s harder to stem anger there.

I read an interview with a sexual predator of children. His claim from prison was that the child didn’t protest, didn’t say no, and so the perpetrator assumed the child either wanted the abuse or at least consented to it.

No child can consent. Not legally. Not emotionally. Not ethically. No. No. No. No. No.

i could no consent. i could not consent. i could not consent.

I am tired of anger. It takes a lot of energy, and it leaves me leveled and hollow like the crash after a day of sugar binging.

One of my wishes during metta meditation is, “May I be gentle.”

To me. To you. To them.

Because I stopped the cycle, because I am not a perpetrator, my longtime therapist would say, “You are gentle. You are.”

2 thoughts on “My emotional safety during the holidays

  1. On Thanksgiving we made ourselves dinner with all the trimmings. And baked a pumpkin pie 🙂
    We are trying to be gentle to us too. It’s good practice. Hard to do sometimes but I like how you talk about noticing emotions without shame. We 💖 you!

    Liked by 1 person

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