Holidays are a happy time of year. Christmas lights beam through windows, roaring fires warm the soul. It is a time for peace. A time for new beginnings.
For many, however, that isn’t the feeling they carry in their hearts. Stress levels often rise during this time of year. Worrying about money and time with family members who may not get along well combined with more traffic, longer wait times at stores and banks, and everything else contributes to irritability.
When stress levels climb, the abuser is more likely to feel provoked quicker. Even the calmest of people may have a quicker temper, but they can deal with it. They may be more irritable, such as is the case with me, get tired quicker, avoid stores at busy hours, or take long naps and block out the world for awhile. For others, they have not learned to do that and strike out.
Women and children who have been abused in the past are affected deeply during the holidays. Christmas and the new year are times to reminisce, regroup, and look ahead, but for so many of us, it brings back painful memories.
A dear friend of mine was a victim of physical abuse as a child. She recently admitted to me she hates the holidays, not because of the stress, crowds, or financial strains, but because of the memories of abuse that can not be stopped.
As a young girl, my friend spent Christmas Eve in fear. She was expected to be prim and proper, polite, and acting like an adult, even though she was only ten. Any defect from the qualities her father expected of her was met with a lashing across the legs, or worse. For her, it went above being thankful and using good manners, it was about perfection.
She remembers vividly the year she was nine years old. She received the exact baby doll she had been wanting for months as a gift from her grandmother. In her exuberance, she jumped up from the couch, ran to her grandmother, hugged her hard, and said thank you over and over. Her father glared at her with malice instead of being thrilled to see his little girl happy at Christmas. Nothing was said and the evening continued. She still remembers the tension in the air.
Later that night, after the rest of the family left, her father beat her.
Throughout the years my friend learned to control the memories and keep them hidden. Slowly she learned to look forward to Christmas with childlike wonder she never had been able to express. Six years ago she met the man of her dreams. After her father’s abuse, she moved slowly, afraid to commit and afraid of the future. Three years later she believed him to be a gentle and caring man who would never raise a hand at her in anger. She was wrong.
Their first Christmas together was everything she wanted. They hung lights, decorated the home, shopped arm in arm. It was perfect, until Christmas Eve when he opened his gift.
She had saved a portion of her income each week for six months to purchase him a set of golf clubs. He loved to play and had a old set his father had left them. After a golf outing, he would complain his score wasn’t up to par because of the clubs. She couldn’t wait to treat him to a new, top of the line set.
“How dare you spend this money! This is too much. If you were going to spend this much, you could have at least bought a decent set instead of this piece of ****.” Her heart was broken by his words and she began crying. Instead of apologizing or consoling her, he picked up a club and threw it at her, missing her head by a mere two inches. Christmas morning, a time she had planned on spending with her husband and family, she packed everything she owned and moved in with a friend.
This is just one story. Many more women and children deal with abuse each day. For many, even if the abuse is in the past, their memories live on to destroy hope, peace, and love. If you know someone who has been abused, reach out to them during the holidays. Give them an extra kind word, a helping hand, or an encouraging hug. Take them out to lunch. Listen to them talk. Be there for them. Show them good does still exist and they can heal. Help them build new, wonderful memories of a Merry Christmas.
With each of us linking arms and hearts, even if only virtually, we can build a strong foundation that will stand against the harsh storm of abuse. Remembering those who are no longer with us due to domestic violence keeps their voice strong. Together, we can make the holidays a better time and take the power away from the abusers. Who’s with me? Are you ready to take a stand? It doesn’t have to be huge, and doesn’t even have to be public. Remember, a kind word to others and to yourself is the first step in winning. Let’s make this a new year worth remembering!