Moving Through The Seasonal Hazards

My Canadian and U.S. readers have now made it through the first holiday hurdle. But there are more seasonal hazards to come. We need to work on avoiding them.

I remember the first Thanksgiving and Christmas after discovery.

No, actually I don’t.

I don’t remember them at all. I was wondering if I wrote down that I did, suddenly it would all come back to me. But it didn’t. A September 2009 dday rolled right on through our October Canadian Thanksgiving to December Christmas and New Year’s. I have no idea what happened.

I had just returned from a hard-earned 3-month sabbatical when the dday ambush unfolded. Any benefit of that sabbatical was ripped out of me by his welcome home porn festival discovery. So, I was suddenly in worse shape than when I left! But my congregation didn’t know I was a critical trauma casualty. They expected me to launch the September programming like a bright shiny penny, and serve up some well-rested and newly inspired worship services to carry them brilliantly through Thanksgiving, All Saints, Pledge Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, Reign of Christ Sunday, Advent, Christmas, New Year’s and every Sunday in between those ones. And I understood that. I couldn’t collapse. My job was not something with which I could be careless.

It was a terrible stretch of time.

While my then-husband’s most proficient skill was pretending he was someone he wasn’t, mine was and is definitely not. I can’t do ministry well when self-disclosure is constrained by a terrifying need for keeping something hidden about my own life. Others might have blurted it all out. But as noted in one of my early blogs, I found I had speech terror and couldn’t even get the story to come out my mouth in a private one-on-one setting. Blurting was not going to ever be an option!

I know that after that first post-dday Christmas we told our young adult sons we were separating. By then I knew that if I didn’t get away from his dark energy and accelerating abuse that went lockstep with his participation in his 12-step group and sex addiction therapy, I might have to leave this world.

He agreed to leave the house instead. Maybe he knew he couldn’t stop himself? Maybe he saw I was being ground down to nothing? Maybe he was afraid if he refused I would blow the whole thing up in the Presbytery? I don’t know, but I want to believe he did it for a good reason. I don’t understand why after so much cruelty I still give him that much credit, but old habits die hard.

The exit proved difficult because we were now supporting four households on two modest clergy incomes—two sons in post-secondary education and housing, my then-husband’s new place, and our house where I was rattling around by myself. We had hoped one of his snowbird parishioners would let him stay in their home while they stayed away in warmer climates for months. But the inquiries came up empty. In the end it was one of the church janitors who overhead my then-husband talking about the problem who ended up being the grace we needed. He offered the basement room in his rental house, and in the end that’s all we could afford.

You see how this all goes. I do remember stuff. But not the holidays, themselves. And I’m telling you that last bit because I was so deeply moved by the janitor, whose own life was quite a daily struggle, reaching out to help us. It was shocking to have been turned away by the congregants he served whose homes sat empty for months, and it was humbling to be so needy. But when the generosity came the way it did, I truly felt the presence of the Holy. I was deeply grateful.

So there’s the first idea I want to share with you. No, I don’t think the special holiday celebrations will be easy for anyone. And they may not generate that feeling inside of what transcends our troubles and differences and wraps its arms around us for another year. But if you pay attention, you may be surprised to experience a different kind of need, a different kind of provision, and a more unexpected provider. You just never know who has what you need, when others turn away. That much resonates pretty clearly in the Christmas story I celebrate in my tradition. But you have to listen carefully sometimes, so you don’t miss it being spoken in an  unfamiliar voice. All the sacred and transcendent gifts and meanings of the seasons we mark at particular times, are playing out all the time, and are available to us when our own holiday agendas are overrun with trauma.

Nevertheless, I grieve not remembering my sons at these celebrations. I have no picture in my head of Christmas Eve, morning, our tree, the gifts, or our dinner. I was busy hanging on to my job, cranking out the extra services, arrangements and pastoral visits, buying gifts and stocking stuffers, cooking food ahead and freezing it, shopping for the special food we would have, steeling myself for the falseness of good will, and not leaving this world. Even if you aren’t clergy, I’ll wager your holidays will feel a little bit like that—conflicted, distracted, and emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausting.

So, the second thing I want to tell you is that you need a holiday plan that may seem a little like a military operation. This is because the main piece of our trauma happens around our loss of control over basic aspects of our lives. Regaining control over small things as well as some of the larger things enables us to function more effectively and stay grounded longer. So, while pre-dday you may have been able to do a whole lot spontaneously or by the seat of your pants, you now need to plan and execute your plan in order to avoid trauma triggers and successfully manage the others that you can’t avoid.

This means you need a list. Some may prefer a spreadsheet. Everything that needs to be done should be on the list as well when you are going to do it. If you are unable to trust your husband or boyfriend with anything, then it’s going to be up to you or others you can enlist for help. Bear in mind that many of these men called sex addicts enjoy ruining things that matter to you. Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family members for some extra baking. They may be pleased to be able to help you.

Make sure you have a plan for every part of the season. Don’t leave anything to chance. Than means if you are stuck by yourself, then you plan your special food, your comfy clothes, your special shows to watch or books to read and music to play. I used to plan for walk outside all bundled up against the cold, enjoying the special quiet of the acoustical properties of a snow-covered neighbourhood, and then have some apple juice warmed on the stove with some mulling spices. I couldn’t afford the cider—but the apple juice tasted just as good! Looking after yourself (and your children, if they are with you) with special care that you planned ahead always feels better than leaving it to chance.

There also may be another option for you. If you are unsure that you will be able to put this holiday on in your home, then your plan is about finding someone to take you and your family in for some or all of the holiday celebration. It may be a friend, family, or member of your faith community. You need to ask for the help you need on this one. If people turn you away, they weren’t your friends to begin with.

The point of joining other friends or family is that when you don’t have to take all the responsibility for holiday success and you have witnesses to how your husband or boyfriend treats you (if he attends), things may be easier for you. That means the emotional and physical risk for you is mitigated. And that’s what you need.

Sometimes husbands and boyfriends really don’t get how ruined you are from discovery, and from his subsequent behaviours that exacerbate the situation for you. So, if you seek to join with others on a holiday he may quite stunned by your decision and not understand it at all. But changing up the routine also makes it a little harder for him to find the opportunities to torture you, since the well-known traditions of your own celebrations have been set aside. And, as I mentioned above, there are witnesses. In my experience these men are very concerned about what everyone else thinks about them. So, the self-regulation they say is impossible because of their “disease” is miraculously always possible when they need to make a good impression for others. They choose when to be assholes. Your plan can make that choice more difficult for them.

It’s good for you to take stalk of how you did with the seasonal holiday hazards so far. Then, start now to look after yourself and your children for what still lies ahead. Make the plan. In fact, make plan A and B, if you want. Just take control of whatever you can to avoid the holiday hazards for traumatized wives and partners of men called sex addicts.

I know it’s hard. I know. But it will work out better if you leave nothing or very little to chance. It’s an act of self-love to accept you need to plan for your holiday celebrations in ways that feel different. Please love yourself enough to give yourself what you need. In the end your children and other family will benefit as well.

Do you need a safe place to talk?  Maybe it’s time for a trial session: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/coaching/  If you have further questions, contact me: Diane@yourstoryissafehere.com

With you

Diane

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Diane Strickland