Dec. 26, 2022

Surviving Holiday Trauma: A Guide for C-PTSD and Healing

In this episode, I talk about how to deal with holiday trauma, particularly for those struggling with complex PTSD. The holidays can be a difficult time for many people, but...
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In this episode, I talk about how to deal with holiday trauma, particularly for those struggling with complex PTSD. The holidays can be a difficult time for many people, but they can be especially challenging for those who have experienced trauma. I will share valuable insights and strategies for surviving the holiday season and taking care of yourself while surrounded by triggers. If you or someone you know is struggling with holiday trauma, this episode is a must-listen. Tune in to learn how to navigate the holidays with grace and self-care.

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 My name is Michael Anthony and I am an author, international speaker and advocate for adult survivors of child abuse. And on my channel, I like to talk about things that are relative to me, my own experience and my own life. And today I wanna talk to you about how to survive the holiday season when you have been a survivor of child abuse and you're probably like, there's a lot of surviving going on. Well, there is, and I think we always are, and every day is just an effort we make to survive a little bit longer, it is just the human capacity.

If you're like me growing up, the holidays for you were always a nightmare. You probably dreaded them and were constantly in a place of like, why do I have to do this? Why do I have to be a part of the holiday? Why do I have to see my family? Why do I have to show up? Why, why, why? And that was most of my experience growing up. Why is it that I always have to be in these situations that I don't want to be in?

Most holidays are very volatile. People get drunk. Adults get mad at each other, they get mad at you, we're invisible as children, there's so many, and the list goes on and on. I'm sure that you can relate. Well, we are no longer children and thus it is our responsibility to take up our agency and our capacity to take up space, to be seen, to be heard or to not. This is the most amazing thing about being an adult that we often forget about, is that we don't have to do anything that we don't want to do.

And especially when it comes to family, and especially when it comes to the holiday season. You know, I will never forget the most insane Thanksgiving ever. There was a girl, I had a huge crush on my 17th year, and I had her come over to the house and I was really excited about it and my mother, who, as many of you know, who have listened to this and seen my videos before, knows that she was a drug addict and alcoholic, came barreling out of the bathroom shit-faced drunk and I'm standing there with this girl, I have a huge crush and witnessing her being mortified as my mother sits down at the kitchen table and then boom face first smashes right into the bowl mashed potatoes. I wish that I could make this up, but it is so true, and for years after that I was like, I don't want to go to Thanksgiving, I don't want to go to holidays. I don't want to be around my family.

And I think we live in a society where people are often triggered and that can mean a lot of different things and that's not what this is about, this is more about like, how do you deal with that? How do you deal with being around your family who might be, you know, overbearing, critical, crazy, triggering, whatever word that we want to use. And I think the first thing that we have to consider is, do we actually have to show up. There is no rule anywhere that I've ever read, that I've ever seen, that I've ever signed a contract for that says, oh yeah, it's Thanksgiving, it's Christmas, it's 4th of July, it's whatever holiday you must be there. That is our agency. It is our choice in our decision whether or not we want to go and show up and be a part of family events. If you know that you are going to go to grandpa or grandma's house, uncle or aunt's house, or your own parents' home, your brother's, your sister, it doesn't matter who, and you know that on the backside of that, you are going to be miserable, you are going to be upset, you are going to be in a situation where you get home and you go, why did I go? Why am I here? Why am I part of this? Then I would tell you the first thing that you can do is just not show up, that's okay. And like, here's what happens. People go, well, I have to show up through my family? You don't have to do that. There are no rules that say that you have to do that. If your family is loving and supporting and you're gonna have a good time and it's happy, and it's a place of joy that you want to be, then yes, absolutely. Please show up. Please go and be a part of community, be a part of family. Be a part of support systems, but don't show up because you think that you have to. That's one of the worst things that happens in society right now, and especially in Western culture and especially in America. Somehow, it's embedded on us that we have to show up to family gatherings and events when in reality we just don't. So, the first thing you have to ask yourself is, do I really want to?

The next thing that you have to ask yourself is, okay, if I am there, if I decide to show up, how do I manage being there? If you are in recovery, or if you are in a situation where people are getting drunk and you don't want to be around that, I don't think that if you show up, it's rude for you to excuse yourself. If you show up and everyone's drunk watching the football game and talking shit and doing all those things, and you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself, leave, like literally go, go somewhere where you feel like you have the capacity to continue to be on a journey of health.

So many people relapse this time of year, and it's not necessarily just because of the stress of being around your family or friends, but it's also because you are in these situations where you're right around the things that trigger you. And you know, the easy solution for so many people is to grab the bottle, to grab the pipe, and to settle back down into old behaviors because it feels good, right? And especially when you have the pressure of being around your family. So, think about this, if you do go, it's not rude to leave.

One of the other things that you can do is when you get to holiday events, take a couple of minutes, sit in your car, stand outside on the corner, wherever, just gather your thoughts.

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and think about the intention that you want to set to go in. And that might sound weird, like why would I set an intention for an holiday event, for a family event? Here's why. Because you know the way that you are going to present yourself in that scenario. You know how you are going to show up not only for yourself, which is prominent and the most important, but also, how are you gonna show up for the other people there? Do you want to be someone who is happy and jovial and is going to let silly jokes slide? Or are you going to get upset over every little thing that happens? And I'm not saying it's right or wrong, whichever way that you go, but think about what is most important to you as you're stepping into it. And the holidays are this place where we know people are gonna say stuff that pisses us off, it's just going to happen. Whether it's a political thing or a religious thing, or a what are you wearing thing? Or you gained too much weight or lost too much weight, or are you smoking again? Are you not smoking or this or that, whatever that thing is. Our family, they know how to push our buttons. Like I love my brothers so much, like I truly do, but they know how to push my buttons and I know how to push theirs, and that's just a part of it. And so in years that have passed, I've come to find that by taking this time to really think about my intention, to put myself in a calm state of mine, to breathe, to meditate, to concentrate the set intention. I can handle situations that used to make me upset. I can handle situations that used to trigger me in an easier fashion because I've just kind of set the precedent for what it is that I expect going forward. Right.

And I think the last point, and probably the most important thing is to set boundaries, right? A part of setting intention is also setting boundaries. How is it that we want other people to engage and interact with us? You know, there should be things that are off limit topics of conversation at the dinner table with your family. I don't think that you owe anyone anything when it comes to conversation, do you wanna be clear? Do you wanna be concise? Do you want to be in tune with who you are? Absolutely. I never will argue that, but I don't think that you have to get involved in conversations that you don't want to be in. And again, this is another option for you to exit, right? Exit stage, left. Your family is in a conversation about something that you know bothers you. Maybe it's a past behavior of yours. Maybe it's something that you're working on changing. Maybe it's the political landscape of America, 2019, heading into 2020. Whatever that thing is, you have the option to say, you know what guys? I don't wanna talk about this. And that is your agency. I want you to step up for yourself this holiday season and set boundaries and say No and no is a complete sentence. Look it up. I didn't make this up. No is a complete sentence. You don't owe anyone anything. You don't have to have these conversations if you don't want to have them. And if they continue and they nudge and they push and they go, oh, come on, let's talk about this or hey, this thing or that thing. Fucking leave, guys. I'm telling you right now, there is no role that says you have to stay because I want us to be in connection with our family. And I'm not just giving you outs, right, because your kind of uncomfortable about things, I don't necessarily think that's a reason to leave, but if you're getting pushed to the brink of being upset, of crying, of breakdown, of the things that you hate about being around your family, I think it's okay to bell, that's not a big deal, right?

Ultimately, I want to give you strength to go through the holiday season and say, this is how I feel about things. I'm okay with this. I'm not okay with this. I need to remove myself just for my own self because we have to put ourselves first. There's nothing wrong. I will always come back to the phrase oxygen mass, right? When I go and I look back at that story with the mashed potatoes of my mother almost 20 years ago. This was so long ago, I think about that. If I would've had set better boundaries that may not have happened. And given I was a child; I didn't know better. But now, as an adult, I do. And if I were in a situation even remotely close to that, where I know I'm going to be entertaining someone that I care about around my family, who my mother now is deceased, I don't have to worry about that, that's not gonna happen unless a ghost falls in the mashed potatoes. I want to make sure. Couple things happen. One, I prepare the person around me. I go, hey, look, my family is kind of like X and your family is gonna be like X. And so, like lay that out. Don't let them walk into a hurricane. I think that's one of the worst things that can happen when you're around friends, partners are in relationships and you get introduced into families and you're like, whoa, what is happening? So, prepare them and prepare yourself and prepare your family and say, these are the things that are acceptable and these are not. And if you cross these boundaries, I am leaving. The person with me is leaving. We are going and we're not coming back, and we're not going to Christmas, and we're not coming to New Year's, and we may never talk to you again because ultimately what this all comes down to at the end of the day is two things;

One, the agency that you have for yourself, for setting boundaries and the things that you want out of community, out of relation, out of being around your family, friends, neighbors, all these people at this time of year.

Two, putting yourself in a situation where you are not blatantly hurt, embarrassed, or stepped on, which happens all too often around the dinner table this time of year.

So, I hope that you have an amazing holiday season. I hope that your family is amazing. I hope that you call that aunt that you haven't called in a long time. I hope that you're Turkey, or you're tofurky, or you're stuffing, whatever it is that makes you happy, makes you happy this holiday season. And remember that at the end of the day, no matter what, the only thing that we're trying to do is just be happy is be content is set our boundaries and be seen and be heard and take up the space that we deserve to take up, and especially if you have been someone who's felt invisible over the course of your lives. Now's your time, and I believe that for you.

So, Until Next Time.

My Friend, Be Unbroken.

I'll see you soon.

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Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.