It seems as though every cheesy holiday movie has the exact same plot.
Two attractive, yet hesitant, people meet. One is usually from a big city, and the other is from a small town. You know the second that they meet that they will end up together; however, there’s always some kind of conflict that creates a teeny bit of doubt. Miraculously, in the end, all is forgiven, and they kiss underneath a strategically placed mistletoe or the prettiest white snow that is falling oh-so-gently from the sky. Same storyline, hundreds of movies, and yet, we still watch them all.
For the survivor of domestic violence who is single at the holidays, or for the one who’s still in the relationship, and the fairy tale ending isn’t exactly what they got, their situation can feel less than Hallmark Channel-approved. In fact, it can be downright lonely.
I remember when I left my abusive ex-husband right after Thanksgiving in 2018. We didn’t even spend that holiday together. I found out later that he ditched the time with our children to go to another woman’s family event and that he would move in with her just days later. As a mother, I was already starting to get depressed that I wouldn’t be able to provide my children with what they needed for Christmas. I didn’t think about the effects of my breakup until it hit me in the face weeks later.
We ended up staying with a friend through December. She had a family that I didn’t want to disrupt, so I spent many nights alone in the room that I was using after putting my kids to bed. Those moments were incredibly emotional for me. It was nice to have some alone time after working and raising three young boys by myself for the most part, but on the flip side, it was a huge reality check that the silence indicated that I was all by myself.
Sadly enough, even after all the horrific things that my ex-husband put me through, I can be transparent and say that I missed him many of those nights. I was still reeling from the years of brainwashing and abuse that it felt like going cold turkey from the addiction of codependency. He seemed to be just fine with someone else, but I wasn’t. I now know that was because my love for him was genuine, but being a narcissist, he could only truly love himself. He was getting his “supply” from this other girl, so he didn’t need me at that moment.
And then there were those sappy holiday movies. Typically, I love a good, tacky, festive romantic comedy, but those nights made even these guilty pleasures feel more like torture. It honestly was very hard for me to see people in love and happy when I felt so miserable. That may sound selfish, but it was what I felt in the moment. I could be happy for others, but these movies centered around love, even if most of it was extremely unrealistic. It left me feeling even more empty.
Holiday parties were also very awkward for me. Everyone came with their spouse or significant other, and I was once again by myself. I also watched as everyone went to their family gatherings and took the most precious photos of the memories made. My parents passed away when I was 18 years old, so the holidays usually meant immediate family, and now, I didn’t have part of that in my life. I tried so hard not to be jealous of others and make it as fun for my children as possible. I don’t know how many times I wiped tears in a bathroom or my car before I had to act like I was as happy as could be. I think my children could sense my pain at times, but they were always so sweet and graceful through it all.
The holiday season only lasted so long. In the new year, I eventually got on my feet, got a place just for us, and met my now-husband who is wonderful to me and my boys. The next holiday season I was dating him, and we married the following year. It felt very different in a great way, but even married in this current season, there are still challenges that survivors like me face.
It’s not necessarily the presence of a healthy relationship that makes all the problems go away. It certainly helps with the feeling of loneliness, but many survivors are still triggered by the holidays. It can bring back a flood of memories of the abuse. Our hearts and minds can experience the exact emotions we felt in a moment of the past as if it was the present circumstance. Many of us can link years of holiday seasons with beautiful memories, but many can also remember times that left us broken.
If you are still in the abuse, you may feel extreme hypervigilance not knowing what this year will bring. “Will my partner make this season a happy one, or will they create chaos and turmoil through this time?” I don’t know how many years that I would let my hopes up that he would not cause pain, but he never failed to disappoint. I recall one year in particular when I told him that he was my Christmas miracle because it seemed as though he was a new man and that our marriage was better than ever. On December 22, he disappeared on a drug binge where he left me for hours in the night fearing that he was dead, and when he came down from the cocaine the next day, he mocked me and laughed about my miracle statement. I did all I could to hold it together for my boys, but I felt so betrayed and let down.
Also, if you are still in an abusive situation, you may want to get out but are in fear of leaving during the holidays. I urge you to never stay in these circumstances, although I completely understand how it feels. Maybe you are telling yourself to stay for the kids, or maybe you don’t want to feel alone. I can promise you, there is life on the other side of abuse, and you can get help no matter what time of the year it is. You deserve that.
If you are struggling this holiday season, please know that you are never truly alone. You may be a party of one at times, but there are many survivors who can come alongside you and lift you up. Research support groups in your area and be brave enough to reach out. Single mom groups helped me tremendously through that time, and I realized that we were a community of women who all needed each other. If you are feeling triggered by the holidays as a survivor no longer in the abuse, remember that you are safe and that your central nervous system may just need some extra reassurance of that. Use your senses to come back to that reality and ask yourself, “what can I currently see, smell, feel, taste, and hear?” It will help calm you when you can pinpoint these tangible things, allowing the past to stay where it belongs.
You may not have had the cheesy holiday fairy tale ending in your abusive situation, but that is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. You are a survivor who can help so many others in the same shoes when the time is right. You can take all that you learned and use it for good. If you are physically alone during the holidays, take solace in knowing other survivors, including at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, are cheering you on and are by your side.
You may feel lonely at times, but you are never alone.