Whether we have closed the door on our abusive relationship, or are still trying to kick it open – for most of us, the first riffs of Jingle Bells sound like Bono’s ‘clanging chimes of doom’. Sound familiar? Then check out my tips for reclaiming Christmas and staying safe.
If we are still with our abuser, the forthcoming festivities are something we just aim to get through with as little suffering as possible. We know that any Christmas plans we make depend totally on his willingness to behave like a decent human being. We are perhaps even more vulnerable now than at any other time: intimate partner violence spikes during holidays – often fueled by increased alcohol, social duties, and financial pressures.
If we have made the life-changing step of escaping the Grinch That Killed Christmas, we face miseries of an admittedly less severe – but still soul-sapping – nature. These include pasting on a happy face for family and friends that expect you to be deliriously happy with an abuse-free Christmas. Of course, we are happy not to have to worry about him smashing up the kids’ presents in a fit of rage, blowing his top over-cooked turkey, or embarrassing us with humiliating put-downs at the family dinner. We are delighted that we are able to spend the money we’ve saved on gifts for the children, instead of having it squandered on drink or drugs or whichever other illicit high-risk activity he feels is more important. But, we also have to deal with conflicted feelings as the Ghost of Christmas Past collides with our present, and make sure our children have a special time that helps heal, rather than re-open, the wounds our abuser made.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
My abusive ex is now in prison for violating the court order designed to keep him away from me. It seems likely that he will remain there over the festive season. I’m finding that hard, and not just because I’m imagining that he’ll be having to fight other inmates for the last roast potato.
Sure, he was never that bothered about Christmas, but I always loved this season as a special time for family, friends, warmth and joy. Knowing that he is inside makes the line between reality and the cheerful Hollywood Christmases even more stark. I usually watch the classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in the run-up to festivities, but this year I feel a special empathy for poor old Ebeneezer.
It’s difficult not to reflect back on past years. Some yuletide celebrations with my ex were wonderful. One year, he made a beautiful window display, with our initials entwined in a tinsel heart (yes, really). We kicked about in the snow, cuddled up in front of the television – cocoa in hand – and made an outing of the big Christmas Shop.
But, last year’s was tough. It was our baby’s first Christmas and it marked the end of the year he began using cannabis and abusing me.
He didn’t buy any gifts for Baby. He actually came shopping with me and helped choose them – but, as was usual by then, he had no money. So, I bought everything. He wanted to buy me a present, he said, but as he was short on cash – could I buy something for myself and he’d pay me back? I would have laughed were it not so depressing and pointless. I bought myself the first thing I saw just to keep the peace. He didn’t offer to wrap the manicure set. I put it straight into the bathroom cabinet.
He told me he didn’t want a gift this year, and that suited me just fine. For the first year ever, I didn’t give him anything – not even a card. I was so hurt and angry with him, and somehow the fact that he didn’t even notice the missing Christmas card made it worse. Maybe, if I had known then that this would be our first and last Christmas together as a family, I would have given him that card.
Truth was, by then he was focussed pretty-much entirely on himself, his need for weed, his delusional jealousy, and paranoia that some group in our village were planning to kill him. Christmas itself passed in a blur – we travelled to my parent’s for the celebrations, he kept mostly to himself – avoiding my family as much as he could, and spending most of the time locked away on the internet. I woke up for night-feeds while he slumbered next to me. A couple of times he promised to take the night-shift, but that never happened. I was exhausted and resentful, so I wasn’t too unhappy when he started disappearing. He’d get up early afternoon, throw on his clothes, maybe grab something to eat and then he’d be gone until evening. I suspected he was going out to get stoned somewhere, but he told me I was crazy – he had stopped for good, this time – and I never had any proof.
In the New Year though, this changed. I discovered his stash and threw him out for the first time. I was devastated. What would happen to him? How would he cope without me? Surely, in cutting him off from his support (me), I was throwing him to the lions. And what about Baby? How would I ever explain to our child that I had let that happen? Oh, how I wish I’d known then, that the voices in my head were those of emotional blackmail – a tactic he used pitilessly until I came back.
It would take several more cycles of emotional blackmail, promises, abuse and capitulation until I left him for the last time.
So, this Christmas looks very different from the last. I won’t be treading on eggshells. I won’t be looking after an adult child as well as my baby. I like being able to go alone to bed and read until I’m tired enough to sleep undisturbed. I like not waiting for his next crisis or demand. It’s great to be able to concentrate fully on my beautiful child. But, still… I mourn what might have been. The Christmas we should have had, if he had been a better man. And, I have to keep very quiet about that – because my loving family really can’t understand why I’m not ‘ho ho hoing’ around my sumptuously decorated tree.
4 tips for LIVING with an abuser at Christmas
- Watch your alcohol intake. It is tempting to go with the flow, or to try to drown your anxieties in a glass (or three!) of wine – but trust me, whilst you cannot control his behaviour or alcohol consumption, you can control yours. Alcohol will cloud your judgement and expose you to more risk.
- Set up a secret bank or checking account. Likely, your partner practices financial abuse. He keeps you short of cash, he spends your savings, he demands you spend on things you can’t really afford… if you are able to squirrel away even a small amount of money, this can serve as your emergency Christmas fund. If you need to escape in a hurry, or replace the bicycle he pawned while you were out – you’ll be glad you did.
- Reach out to family and friends however is safe. Don’t put yourself at risk, but put use the yuletide to nurture the relationships that you need, or re-establish contact – even if it’s just a greetings card.
- Make a safety plan. Keep your mobile phone with you at all times. Pack a bag with the documents and basic items you may need, and hide it somewhere safe. Make sure you have a small amount of cash in your purse. If you are steeling yourself for an attack and can’t get out of the house, then go to a lower risk room (ie. away from knives and other weapons, or small rooms in which you may be trapped) at once. Find out more about making a safety plan with the Women’s Aid Survivor’s Handbook.
4 tips for ENJOYING an abuse-free Christmas:
- The best Christmas present you can give yourself is to stick to No Contact. Watching too many sickly-sweet festive movies may make you think a friendly text to the ex, wishing him a merry Christmas, is a good idea. It’s really not. It will give him a gift-wrapped ‘in’ which he will ruthlessly exploit to wheedle or bulldoze his way back into your life. Don’t – I repeat, don’t -give him the power you have fought so hard to achieve. Put down the phone, and come out with your head held high!
- Treat yourself. Whether its festive drinks with colleagues (which you were never previously allowed to enjoy), or a naff Christmas jumper – give yourself something special that’s just for you. When we are with an abuser, our world revolves around his needs and desires. We lose sight of ourselves, and forget to do things that make us happy. Now is the time to make a little investment in your own wellbeing, for once!
- Surround yourself with those that matter the most. Whether it’s your children, your best friends, or the family he tried to cut you off from – gather the people you love most around you, even if this means reaching out to people you have lost touch with since the abuser got his claws into you.
- Count your blessings. You are free. You are safe. You are – though it may not always feel like it – happier than you were before. Remember that Christmas with him meant fear, anxiety, and chaos. Carey Grant, he was not.
Wishing you all a happy, merry, and safe Christmas.
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WATCH OUT for more tips in my Twelve Days of Christmas posts!
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14 https://avalancheofthesoul.wordpress.com