Merry Christmas

Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter you used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?

My world is changing,
I’m rearranging, 
Does that mean Christmas changes too?

Where are you Christmas?
Do you remember the one you used to know?
I’m not the same one
See what the time’s done
Is that why you have let me go?

Every year of my married life, as Christmas came around, “Where Are You Christmas?” would inevitably come on the radio, and it would break me. I would sink to the floor or stop the car and bawl. Christmas was full of magic and joy as a child, and I looked forward to it each year. It meant time with my family and friends, baking cookies, cooking a feast, waiting for Santa, and attending church to rejoice in what God had done. Now, I dreaded it and prayed for some way— any way— to just skip to December 26.

What changed? Where did the joy of Christmas go? 

Christmas and the holiday season can be a time of joy, but it’s the hardest time of the year for many. For some, just the pressure and expectations of the perfect Christmas, a perfect dinner, and lots of perfect gifts can wear a person out. Others might be grieving a loss or that their kids won’t be able to travel home for the holidays. Some might be facing health challenges. 

For me, what changed was the fact that abuse was involved. Many people don’t realize that Christmas and the holidays can be the absolute worst time of year for victims of abuse. Rates of domestic violence and abuse, in all forms, increase during the holidays. Most men and women who are in abusive relationships can struggle with depression and anxiety and feel absolutely crazy because of their spouse’s Jekyll and Hyde behavior. Most of us try to keep our heads down and just survive. But that’s no way to live; it can kill any joy we hope for at Christmas.

What Abuse Can Look Like at Christmas

Every year, my former spouse would rage about Christmas and how pagan and materialistic the holiday had become. He would refuse to decorate, no matter the circumstance, or watch holiday movies. He wouldn’t even shop for Christmas gifts. 

However, whenever I suggested that we not do presents, and simply enjoy time with our families, he would scream at me and tell me I was a horrible wife for suggesting we not show love to our families. “How did I ever marry someone so selfish?” 

When it came time to shop for those gifts, he would insist that I find the perfect gift for each person and would insist I spend a specific amount for each person. After I had come home with presents and spent to the penny what he instructed me to spend, he would corner me in a room and yell at me for an hour about how frivolous I’d been with spending. Sometimes, he would throw things. Then, on Christmas morning, as we exhausted ourselves traveling back and forth to four different houses (and then sometimes back again), he reveled in receiving the praise for being an excellent Santa Claus.

Those moments were just the tip of the iceberg every Christmas season for me. Abuse during the holidays can take many forms: Physical, emotional, mental, verbal, sexual, spiritual, or financial. The holiday season brings around new opportunities for an abusive person to manipulate and coerce their partner by continuing to undermine their worth and value and the traditions and beliefs important to them.

Domestic violence and abuse during the holidays may not always put a person in immediate physical danger (sometimes it does). Still, it can crush and kill the spirit. No matter what I did for almost two decades, my spirit was deflated every year. One year, I even planned a major surgery the day before Thanksgiving so that I could have some peace and not have to participate in the madness. Other years, I wondered if it would just be better if I weren’t around to feel this way. 

Lainey at ChristmasFinding Hope and Joy Again

The first Christmas after my husband’s suicide, I had moved across the country to protect myself from continued threats by his family. Still, as I put up the tree, I wanted to hide in the branches. I could still hear his voice, his criticisms, harsh in telling me that I hadn’t hung the garland correctly or that the casserole wasn’t cooked right. Fear still laid heavy in my heart, and a part of me believed that I would wake up on Christmas morning and he would be there. Or that there would be continued harassment from his family. I was terrified I’d be tossed back into the terror that was each holiday season yet again. 

The second Christmas was a little easier, but not much. Ghosts of Christmases past came to visit me, even as I tried to create a new future full of hope. The third Christmas continued to be easier, but there were still moments of inexplicable sadness. Still, I began to notice that I was dancing around the kitchen and singing Christmas tunes while baking cookies. Christmas lights and decorations took on a new wonder for me. I was laughing and exploring holiday markets, visiting new places, and watching my beautiful new niece experience her first Christmas. Parts of me that I thought were long gone were beginning to emerge. I was beginning to heal and find joy in the season again.

These things may sound small to some people, but to someone who has been in an abusive relationship and has struggled from PTSD, they can be huge.

Post-Separation Abuse

Some people are not able to leave their abusive spouse at this point in time or have chosen to stay. Others who have chosen to leave their situation may not be clear of the abuse. Survivors of abuse who have children with their abuser are often forced to continue contact and share custody with them. Often, abuse continues and worsens after a separation. The holidays are often a time when a survivor and their children can experience heightened abuse from their former partner. 

Even if children are not involved, there may be continued harassment, stalking, and threats from a former partner and their family that make the holidays challenging. However, there are still ways to cling to hope and find joy during the holiday season.

Ways to Show Love

This holiday season, let’s take care and be aware of these issues in our families and communities. Let’s reach out to each other and help find the joy of Christmas again.

If you are in an abusive relationship:

  • If you are in immediate danger, CALL 911.
  • Take some time to review the resources available to help you. (Remember, you may want to use a computer or cell phone that your partner cannot access.)
  • Document all instances of abuse through a written account of each incident, supplementing with photos and video/audio recordings if available.
  • Have a plan for leaving if you need to. Where will you go? What will you take?
  • Take care of your mental health as best as you can, and take some time each day for self-care.
  • Find one thing each day that brings you joy. It might be listening to a favorite Christmas song, making a Christmas craft, or writing a card. Spend time with friends or family if you can and do something together. Little things can help you make it through the holiday season.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship:

  • Check on your friends and loved ones who are in an abusive relationship. Call 911 if they are in immediate danger.
  • Help them to find good resources for help. 
  • Encourage them to have a plan in case they need to leave for their safety. Where will they go? What will they take?
  • Be a listening ear who believes what they are telling you. Sometimes, knowing that they are heard and believed is the biggest gift.
  • Send them a little care package, special treat, or card.
  • Spend time with them if you can and let them know they’re not alone. Go shopping, get Christmas pedicures, or bake cookies together. Do something that is relaxing and will help them find moments of joy. 

This Christmas season, let’s raise awareness that there are men and women in abusive relationships and that it can make this the most challenging time of year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are in relationships where physical abuse is present. 50% of people in relationships have experienced emotional abuse. 

Remember, no matter what happens, the joy of Christmas still lives inside of us. Jesus, the reason for the season, lives in our hearts and is present in our lives each and every day. No matter how dark the circumstances, nothing and no one can take away His joy. This Christmas, let’s reach out and encourage each other, love each other, and help each other to survive, overcome, and thrive.

I feel you, Christmas.
I know I’ve found you. 
You never fade away.
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us and
Fills each and every heart with love.

 

© 2023 Lainey La Shay
Lyrics to “Where Are You Christmas” are © 2000, James Horner, Will Jennings, Mariah Carey, and Faith Hill.

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