So, the year is coming to a close and you may either be celebrating excitedly or a bit indifferent. We’ve noticed a few things these past two years that are definitely unique, and were compelled to reach out to our already-vulnerable trauma survivors as we witness the social landscape shift. By now you’ve long heard these years referred to as ‘dumpster fires’, ‘the worst years ever’; 'end-times worthy'. You’ve heard people willing them to just be over already, with pleas for a better year to come. These ideas can pose countless toxic pitfalls, and any one of us can fall into them if we aren’t paying attention or don’t know any better. Trauma survivors, however, are especially vulnerable to some very challenging thought patterns and/or painful experiences around this time, so we wanted to help you prevent them any way we can. We also want to boost you up in the New Year, so hopefully we'll tackle both at the same time!
Here are some of the things we’ve noticed and some ways you can avoid falling into a tricky headspace this New Years (and many more to come):
#1 Black-and-White Thinking:
It happens every year, and this one's no exception. Most of us take the last few days and weeks of December to reflect back on alllllll that transpired over the past 12 months -- and then make a judgement about them as a whole. Was it good, was it bad, did it veer a hard left somewhere along the line? We look ahead to the upcoming year and try to decide what kind of year it's going to be -- and set resolutions to make it so. Doing this, however, can really encourage strong black-and-white thinking — a thought pattern that is no stranger to trauma survivors. (And, trauma survivors with OCD or other comorbid personality disorders can fall prey to this even stronger.) Deciding that this year was “good” or “bad”, and that the next will be “difficult” or “promising”, is extremely black-and-white. Because, no year is any one thing. Heck, there are 12 whole months! With 365+ individual days! How can 365+ days be any ONE thing? They aren’t. They're neither black nor white. They’re blue and green and six and square and magenta and shoe and twelve and circle! They’re all KINDS of things! And that’s awesome! That’s a GREAT thing!
You don’t have to decide what kind of year you had. It’s already over. Defining it with a pretty little label isn’t going to change anything about it - just how you look BACK on it. And with the current atmosphere, you could fall into calling it ‘black’ when it really might have only been more of a steely grey, or even silver. You don’t have to decide what next year is going to be either. Doing so leaves very little wiggle room. If you decide it's going to be white, at the first sign of trouble you may be far more likely to think it's ruined. ...because you know who Black-and-White’s cousin is? All-or-Nothing. And we don’t need to encourage her either. Let your years just be what they are. A year. One revolution around the sun. …and if you juuuust can’t help it and feel like you must label them, at least broaden your palette to some other colors, not just black and white. ;)
#2 drawing lines in the sand:
It's all just a part of New Year's Day 101. It’s the time to make New Year’s Resolutions and decide if we met last year's (if we even remember them — but probably not!). These can be downright maddening if you’re someone who really wants to set them. Others couldn't care less and just skip out altogether -- and, that’s okay, too. We think a happy medium can be great, though. Setting goals is honestly a GREAT thing. It’s a huge part of recovery and healing. We should always have long-term goals, short-term goals, daily goals. And we should have them on a variety of subjects: mental health, work, relationships, physical health, self-care, big life experiences, etc. It's a great practice to have! But, your aspirations shouldn’t solely revolve around “The New Year”. You can set goals any time, any day. You don’t have to wait for January 1st to get started. You could literally start on them the second you’re finished reading this. Unfortunately, for many, there seems to be this massive dividing line in the sand that separates December 31 from January 1. It's just a flaw in the way human minds work, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This rigidity can antagonize all-or-nothing thinking to the point that if you fail at one of your goals during the year, you may just give up on them all. …as if they HAD to be done in that year and absolutely no other time. Or! If you fell off the wagon early on, "Ugh, I couldn't even last two months, why would I ever think I could make it happen the next ten?" And, this just silly, but it's thinking that tons of us are guilty of nonetheless!
You can set goals any day, any time. They don’t have to be resolutions that only pertain to the New Year. Oftentimes, those are just blanket sentiments anyway and not so much the specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals we should be setting! The latter is far more likely to yield results. You don’t have to decide anything by a certain day, and your year isn’t ruined if you don’t get it right the first time, or even at all. Setting goals should be a daily or weekly practice, they don’t define your entire year. It’s also equally as permissible to NOT make resolutions at all. Nothing bad will happen to you, your upcoming year doesn’t lose focus just because you don’t have an outline, and you aren’t obligated to resolve to something just because other people are. We do think setting goals is important, though; but, you can do it however and whenever it feels right to you. There are no lines in the sand when it comes to days on a calendar page, or between calendars, and you don’t have to wait until midnight to get started. Start midday, mid-month, mid-year for all anyone should care! Your life doesn’t have to wait for anyone or follow anyone else’s schedule. ..including the calendar's.
#3 Purity and Perfectionism:
Another distant cousin of All-or-Nothing - and a concept that many trauma survivors especially can bump into a lot - is the idea of purity, perfection and/or 'cleanliness'. Lots of people are talking about the new year as if it’s a blank canvas, an untouched masterpiece, a glistening white sheet of purity and possibilities! And, in a way, sure, it is. It may even bring you tremendous comfort and excited anticipation to see it that way. You might feel like you can breathe easier thinking of all that's to come and what you’re going to do with that fresh start. And, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of excitement or sense of “breathability”. In fact, it’s great that you’re invigorated by it! We just want to be sure that no one gets too caught up in the idea of an untouched surface that the possibility it could “get stained” by one accident, mistake or misfortune seems reasonable, too. We see this happen quite often, actually. Many can believe their year has been sullied, tarnished or has become “bad” after one misfortune or strong hardship. They may put the whole year into a box and decide that’s all it is going to be until its end -- dirty, awful, terrible. We don’t want to see that happen with your new year. A few missteps doesn't ruin a painting. You just have to get a little more creative, that's all. And those accidents actually very frequently lead to finished products that we maybe didn’t set out to make, but now look wayyy better than we originally intended them. Also, you are usually significantly more proud of what you were able to create when it didn't go according to plan, because you still found a way to rock it out despite all that!
Feel the excitement of a new fresh start. Build yourself up to take on a new year. But also be mindful not to put it on too high a pedestal, or consider it so pure and innocent that the slightest imperfection could “stain” or “tarnish” it. It’s a new canvas, but it isn’t glowing. You don’t have to be afraid to handle it, touch it or fingerprint it. Get in there and mess it up and create something remarkable. ..accidents and mistakes, the whole nine yards! (And, don’t forget, each and every new DAY offers the same blank canvas to start something new. You don’t have to wait until the following year to get excited by that!)
Trauma survivors are unfortunately great at minimizing their pain and hardship; they definitely don’t need anyone else to help them do it. Yet, when everywhere we turn someone is telling us that this was the “worst year ever” (and when asked why, the primary reason is politics, #MeToo and/or celebrity deaths) - all kinds of other pain and anguish can get invalidated in one fell swoop. ...both current anguish, other ongoing tragedies elsewhere in the world, as well as catastrophes of years long past. When this was said so loudly and repeatedly in 2016, it put the lives of celebrities above others' because it communicated that “more important people died this year than in any other year". While we know each celebrity can have massive influence in profound, meaningful and enriching ways -- they can shape lives through their art and allow us to unite with one another in appreciation of their talents -- no one life is more important than another. Yet, we again see their pain being prioritized in 2017. When the whole world, especially people of influence, keep repeating that these have been the absolute worst years ever, particularly when citing deaths or the sexual assault revelations of this year as evidence, it manages to invalidate a LOT of other suffering. It communicated before, and continues to do so this year, that - even though you may've had personally challenging, painful years independently (or great ones!) - these specific people were so much more important that they alone had the power to make an entire year unforgivable to us all. And, that's wholly untrue.
In 2017, we've seen that even with the handful of unspeakable tragedies, along with all the egregious events of the past -- genocide, trafficking, war, violence, natural disasters, etc -- many are still quick to point out other things that made this year horrid first. ...only to eventually get to all the innocent lives lost to mass shootings, hurricanes, fires, war and more. Even when many include #MeToo in their negative review of the year, the pain of powerful, adult women in Hollywood is immediately called to mind. Survivors who are not famous, who were hurt as children, who've shared their stories but were not believed, who are still not safe to tell their stories, or who are men are almost wholly left out of the conversation. Every single year that they were abused, neglected and denied treatment or justice, was their "worst year ever". Having the movement gain traction may've even been a bright spot for some of them, not a damper. And, for those who did find it to be a dark cloud, it was more than likely because it was triggering or their trauma was overlooked in favor of Hollywood's -- not because it wasn't necessary, positive momentum. It's nuanced. It's complicated. These stories were most assuredly heartbreaking, but most of the abuses themselves didn't happen this year, outing the perpetrators did. And, that in no way made the year bad. That was a great, great thing. To suggest otherwise just says that having to finally be forced to hear about it was a problem. ...not so much that it happened awhile back. What a harmful message.
Since the sentiment of "our worst year ever" is getting laid on so thick, it can be really, really tempting for survivors to go along with it and negate their own trials. It's easy to hear others collectively decide what makes life hard or unbearable and then question if the rest of what you've endured for so long is maybe somehow unimportant. (Which, is so untrue.) In reality, the last couple of years weren't inherently 'worse' than many other years, just hard in different ways. In some areas we as a collective have even made great strides -- things like decreased infant mortality, increased global literacy, near-eradication of several debilitating diseases, increased charitable giving, more marginalized voices being heard, teen pregnancy at an all-time low, decreased world hunger, etc etc etc. Yes, these years have been very hard and we've taken big steps backward in some places; yes, things may feel chaotic and upside-down. But, it's also important to acknowledge the gains we've made in other areas, to not paint things with such broad strokes. Ultimately, we mustn't deem some events, or individual experiences, as any more catastrophic than that of others' worldwide or those over the course of decades. It can trivialize so much anguish. That isn't helpful to anyone, and certainly not those already hurting.
Your struggle and your fight is important. Your losses and grief are acknowledged. Your suffering and trauma as a child during YOUR worst years ever is not overlooked or ignored by us. You know some of the deepest depths that pain can reach. While we wish you never had to know it, we don’t want you to feel as if it doesn’t matter just because it wasn’t known by the whole world. Your hardest years ever are thought of and cared about by us. We are wrapping them up in comfort now since we didn't get to when they were happening. Your hurt is not trivial. Not now and not ever.
The flip-side to trivializing a lot of suffering is that the current atmosphere has a tendency to snowball existing issues until they're out of control. There's an intense fiery energy, filled with so much disdain, toward 2016 and 2017. When everyone keeps mentioning it on social media, each headline has a nudge to it, and every YouTuber is making videos about all the things they hate and are "leaving in 2017" — it has a way of projecting a kind of negativity that, once grabbed ahold of, grows legs. Maybe you weren’t thinking that this was such a bad year for you. Maybe you even accomplished some super impressive things: got a degree, traveled, started therapy, stopped self-harming or made new personal bests in something. At the very least, even if it was a bit rough, you may know you've surely had worse years than this one. But when every year-in-review or online post is set out to remind you that “No, this year was, like, the literal worst thing that's ever existed in this universe,” you start looking for more examples of that in your own life. It’s a really dangerous flame to fan. Suddenly you’re not just recalling all the bad that happened in the world, but seeing your own year through the same morose lenses. And quickly, the aches and pains you may've forgotten begin to resurface, and they now hold more weight. Yet, at this point, it'd be alien to hear anyone say “This was a GREAT year for me!” — even if it really and truly was. Everyone's too busy looking for more ways to validate the 2017 abomination, and that’s a slippery slope. Maybe it wasn’t a fabulous year for you. Maybe you had really tragic things happen, a bad mental health year, or lost someone really important to you. But I can almost guarantee that if everyone would stop reminding you JUST how bad it was, you’d find fewer and fewer things that take your pain from manageable to egregiously unbearable. This approach takes fresh wounds and pours salt in them, draws our attention to scars that were just beginning to heal, and occludes our vision from any of the beauty that also existed to comfort us. That's not healthy. For anyone. …but especially not for survivors.
Let yourself find the good things in the year, no matter how unpopular that makes you. If you find yourself going through your year with a fine-toothed comb to spot all the bad things, we encourage you to step away or use all that mental energy to focus on all the ways you came THROUGH those really dark and hurtful times. Your pain is already validated, what happened has already happened. We don’t need the weight of it to crush you again as it comes barreling down the hill, gathering momentum with each heartache you would've forgotten. It’s time to halt the snowball. ...or, at the very least, quit looking back and get outta the way! ;)
#6 Wrapping Things Up (literally):
Unlike the first five, this one isn’t so much a “problem to remedy” so much as it is a note for moving forward. We wanted to end on a positive idea anyway, so the slight tone change is appropriate. So. Perhaps you had a really hard year - wholly and honestly. Maybe you learned of new memories, couldn't find a new therapist, had a bunch of medical health complications, or lost someone truly important to you. For you, it might feel like a nice exercise in containment to wrap all those things up into Year 2017, seal it tight, and just move forward. This can be a great tool (but will still be very person-dependent and not for everyone).
Traumatic material is hard, and anything we can do to keep it from revisiting our present when we don’t want it to should be encouraged (so long as it’s through a safe means of course!). For many, there really is great comfort in mentally packing the year up in all its borders and keeping that difficult content “in the past” as you turn your head to the future. The reason this isn’t ill-advised is because when you contain something, you aren’t stuffing it down, forcing it out of sight or trying to ignore it forever - nor are you making a judgment about what it is you're putting away. You’re just mentally gathering it all together in some type of organizational manner and temporarily setting aside until you’re ready to revisit it again in therapy. Key word: temporarily. For some, using the end of the year as a bookend is a kind of containment all its own that really appeals to the mind. And if that works for you, by all means use it. But, if you feel that your mind puts too much stock in dates and times and years and numbers, this might not be your best method. For you, you may find that it reemphasizes the dates of traumas/life challenges and that when they come back around in the upcoming year(s), they feel much more loaded - almost as if they were set with a timer, spring-loaded to find you the moment that bell dings. But, only you know your mind and what’s most/least helpful to you. If this mental exercise is useful to you, we definitely encourage you to use it as you move forward. (And, there are other means of containment that don't involve calendars/time if that way's not for you! Don't worry!)
An added thought: Just know that as much as you may try to put a year away or the symptoms you wrestled with behind you, it may still follow you. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the upcoming year is ruined or that it’s going to be as tough as this one. It just means that the events of this one were sincerely difficult and are finding it hard to be put on pause; you may need to find new ways to address those struggles or break them down into smaller pieces to contain. When done thoughtfully and carefully, putting a troubling season away so that you can look ahead to the new one with fresher eyes and a stronger heart can still be a very healthy thing to do. We just wanted to make sure you'd be less likely to fall into some of the troubling snags that it can come with if you aren't prepared or mindful of them! You got this!
In closing, we know that this year may've hard. For others, it may've been a year of victories! In truth, it was probably a bit of both for most of us. No matter what yours was like, we still can’t help but wish you a happy, healthy, SAFE and WELL-BALANCED new one. Hopefully, picking out some of these little “thought pitfalls” will help you navigate the upcoming days a little easier and help you catch yourself if your mind is going down one of those messy paths.
This has been a wonderful year for Beauty After Bruises and we want to share that with you. We met so many of you, heard your stories of strength, had a bunch of absolutely moving fundraisers, and got to interact with you individually in such a meaningful way. We hope that the future years together with you are just as bright, and that you feel our unending amounts of support going out to you with each photo we post, article we write, fundraiser we host, and dollar we put toward your treatment. Thank you for all that you’ve brought to us individually and to our community. You are changing the world in such a beautiful way that you need to be proud of yourselves. Hopefully you can pat yourself on the back knowing you’ve been a part of something great. May you have the safest of holidays and always know that you’re on our hearts and minds.
P.S. We know that we didn’t make a specific “getting through New Year's Day” post as it pertains to the physical act of getting together, NYE parties and such. However, not only might our 2 articles on Surviving the Holidays with C-PTSD and Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families still be helpful to you, if you feel like the fireworks and loud bangs going off during New Year's celebrations will be a lot for you, our Grounding 101 article may be just what you need to get through! We’re here for you!