Reclaiming the Joy of Christmas Following Trauma

If you are struggling with the holiday season, you are not alone! Many trauma survivors find this time of year triggering and difficult. Dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares and pervasive loneliness are a real thing.

Over the years, I experienced a series of traumas around Christmas time that left me feeling triggered during the entire holiday season. It was tough. As a mom, I wanted my kids to enjoy the season, so I went through the motions of Christmas traditions but it was hard. Like, scary and miserable hard. It was hard even though I focused on Jesus, even though I knew God was near. My brain was simply in fight, flight, freeze, fawn mode and my decision making abilities were nil.

However, something has changed and the joy of Christmas has returned in a big, bold and authentic way! What an exciting relief for me and for my family. This week alone, I have danced and cleaned to Christmas music, baked Christmas cookies, shopped, planned and noticed a feeling of excited anticipation and overwhelming appreciation for just about everything.

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It’s not like this is due to perfect circumstances, either, because do those even really exist? This season (like any other season of life) has its challenging circumstances, yet here I am feeling incredible emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

However, it’s not like it just happened. It’s not like I just sat around doing nothing but hoping things would be different and then one day woke up wearing a glittery snowman headband, dancing to Christmas music and covered head to toe in gluten free flour. Nope!

Reclaiming the joy of Christmas following trauma has been a gradual process, some of which has taken place during the season of Christmas, but so much of which has taken place during the rest of the year.

Your journey to reclaiming the joy of Christmas is going to be as unique to you as mine has been to me. Only God knew the path this would take and I know this one thing: I am still a work in progress. So, I look forward to seeing what else makes it onto this list in the coming years.

Here are the things that I know have made a difference for me:

  • HeartMath: I am using the Inner Balance app to do “HeartMath” HRV biofeedback. As part of the coaching I am receiving from Shay at Carolinas Biofeedback Clinic, I have begun to focus on breathing in and out through my heart, and then bringing my attention to something I appreciate as I do that, and finally radiating that appreciation outward. It is such a SWEET feeling and I am learning to crave being in high coherence. I often focus my appreciation on the Holy Spirit, my service dog, a hike, my husband, my children or a friend. I do this three times a day for at least 10 minutes each time, but here’s the thing: the feeling of appreciation doesn’t stop when the session ends. All of a sudden, all I am seeing during the whole day is what I appreciate and am thankful for. I feel like it is Philippians 4:8 and Romans 12:2 in action and on steroids in a way I have never experienced before.
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  • Trauma Informed Therapy: I am so thankful to work with an incredible trauma informed therapist through Agape Christian Counseling. She uses a lot of Internal Family Systems (IFS) theory, which is incredible for trauma, plus she connected me with Carolinas Biofeedback and the two work hand in hand.
  • Neurofeedback: I have already written a three part series on neurofeedback (part 1, part 2, part 3), but I am really noticing the results this time of year because things that used to trigger me are now no longer on my radar or are even enjoyable, like Christmas baking, Christmas music and even people in stores doing last minute Christmas shopping. I feel happy and joyful to interact with them!
  • Friendships: I am extremely thankful to have some very healthy close friendships with women who I can jump on the phone with and share or listen. There are no words to describe how fun it is to just laugh and encourage one another, or to receive validation from someone else who focuses on keeping things healthy and growing in that. Accountability in some of these friendships is nice, too, and brings a level of loving trust and acceptance.
  • My Service Dog: Keiko looks like a big white santa dog and she’s the exact same breed as the dogs in the Santa Paws movies. I love Great Pyranees! She came home to live with us on December 22nd, 2016 and Christmas was forever different and better for me. There are no words for how much her tasks help me each day. These days, when we are out and about everyone goes nuts over her around Christmas time and I even enjoy dressing her up a bit with a Christmas bandanna or antlers.
  • New Experiences or Traditions: The year Christmas really began to change for me was 2016- I went to spend a week in the Bahamas serving with a dear missionary friend of mine who was serving at the Adventure Learning Centre and Camp. I got to help with the Christmas lights show, met some really incredible people and we also had a good bit of fun. When I flew back home, it was less than two weeks later that I brought my service dog (puppy at that time) home. My family also made the decision to switch from getting real trees to having a white tree with white lights, decorated with ornaments the kiddos made- it’s so bright and cheerful in our living room in the middle of winter.
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  • Alpha Stim: I use an alpha stim machine for anxiety, depression, insomnia and PTSD. Everyone is different, but it works way better for me than any medication ever could. I feel happy, alert and calm. All I do is put the ear clips on and wear it as I go about my normal daily activities. To an outside observer, it probably just looks like I am listening to music.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: I feel so much better each day, whether it’s Christmas or not, when I maintain a certain level of health in my lifestyle. Spiritual time in the morning and evening, prayer, intuitive eating, enjoyable movement and enough sleep feel incredible!
  • FUN: There’s no sense in being serious all the time! I like to have a bit of fun each day. Hiking feels incredible and is energizing. I love to write and journal. Baking gluten free goodies with the kids, creating a fun homeschool lesson, playing a round of Go Fish or popping in a funny movie are sure fire ways to get the giggles flowing. Let’s not forget date nights with my husband. We know how to have fun!
  • Priorities: My first priority is my spiritual life, second is my marriage, then kiddos, important friendships, work and everything else. Being clear on my purpose and priorities frees me up so I don’t feel like I have to do everything all the time and that removes a huge weight off of my shoulders.
  • Boundaries: I am responsible for my own actions, thoughts and reactions. I am responsible for my own healing and spiritual walk. I am empowered. I don’t have to rely on or wait for others when God’s got this and is guiding me. I am not responsible for other peoples’ actions, thoughts, reactions or emotions. It is not my job to fix it. I get to say no, honor my needs, and speak openly from my experience. This is freeing.
  • Supplements: A while back, I had some crazy mood stuff going on due to wonky hormones from perimenopause. I am not going to share what all I am taking- your body is probably different from mine. I will simply say that high quality supplements have made a huge difference for me.
  • Intentional Gratitude: When I start to feel down, one of the things I sometimes do is start a gratitude list in my journal. Or, I look at my celebration board and remember everywhere I have seen God’s fingerprints in my life. I remember the things I have already overcome and take time to celebrate.
  • Keep it Real: Not everyday is rainbows and unicorns! When I am struggling, it is important to name it and to share it with safe people instead of isolating it and wrapping up in a blanket of shame. Often times, once I name it and share it, the power of the struggle lessens and I have the immediate celebration of a friend or loved one who cares, loves, is present and understands. My ability to do this in a healthy way is in large part due to neurofeedback.
  • Slow Down and Reimagine: In the thickest part of wading through trauma around Christmas, we had a mini tabletop tree and didn’t wrap our presents. We didn’t bake or go to all the parties and gatherings. Often times, we didn’t even eat the traditional foods. We said no to a lot of things and I believe it really helped this journey begin when we allowed it to be stripped bare and replanted instead. What has grown in the place of trauma is joy and something everyone in my family can feel good about and celebrate.

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