So, 2016 is coming to a close and you may either be celebrating excitedly orrrr a bit indifferent to it. We’ve noticed a few things this year that are definitely unique to 2016 and couldn’t help but feel the need to reach out to our already-vulnerable trauma survivors as we witness the social landscape shift. By now you’ve already long heard this year referred to as a ‘dumpster fire’ and ‘the worst year ever’. You’ve heard people willing 2016 to just be over already, with pleas to 2017 to be a better year. These ideas pose about a million toxic pitfalls anyone can fall into if they aren’t paying attention or don’t know any better. But trauma survivors are especially vulnerable, and we want to prevent that in any way that we can. We also want to boost you up in the New Year, so hopefully we can tackle both at the same time!
Here are some of the things we’ve noticed and some of the ways you can avoid falling into a dangerous thought patterns this New Years:
Trauma survivors are unfortunately great at minimizing their pain and their struggles; they definitely don’t need aaaanyone else to help them do it. Yet, when everywhere we turn someone is telling us that 2016 was the “worst year ever” (and when asked why, the primary reason is the number of celebrities who passed away - or possibly the election as a distant second) - all kinds of pain and anguish gets invalidated in one fell swoop. ...both current anguish and tragedies of years gone by. When this is said so loudly and repeatedly, it puts the lives of celebrities above others' because it communicates “more important people died this year than in any other year". We do very much understand that celebrity has a massive influence that is profound and meaningful and enriching. We know that they shape lives through their art, and allow us to unite with one another over their talents. We build friendships from a common interest and then grieve together as a community when they pass. This is important and should absolutely be acknowledged and felt and expressed. Everyone should feel their feelings fully and honestly, and it’s wonderful to see people come together over something that is definitely experienced more universally. However, when the whole world - including living celebrities with just as wide a reach and just as great a societal impact - keep telling everyone that 2016 was the absolute worst because of these losses, it trivializes a LOT of suffering. It communicates that, even though you may have had a personally challenging and painful year independently - or in past years tons of remarkable people passed away but just weren’t as famous - these specific people were that much more important they alone could make an entire year unforgivable. It also says that despite unspeakable tragedies of the past - like genocide, trafficking, war, violence, natural disasters, etc - if this year could somehow still be the MOST terrible, it would have to be because these people were so much ‘more valuable' or 'more influential’ to lose. And that’s just not fair. It’s not true either. Yet, even so, that sentiment is getting laid on thick and can be really, really tempting for survivors to jump onto to negate their own suffering because it feels really familiar. It's easy to hear that and agree, "Oh, right, I didn't matter.". Which is so untrue. In reality, this year was no worse than many other years, and in some areas we’ve made great strides in saving lives and keeping more people here longer. To fail to acknowledge that, or to deem some people’s lives as more worthy than others, it trivializes just so. much. suffering. ….severe, excruciating kinds that may've happened in a different year or just weren't high-profile enough to get everyone's attention.
Your struggle and your fight is important. Your losses and grief are acknowledged. Your suffering and abuse 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 worst years ever are thought of and validated 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 out there is that the current atmosphere has a tendency to snowball pre-existing issues. There is this incredibly intense negative energy that has come with the disdain surrounding 2016. When everyone keeps mentioning it on social media, each headline has a nudge to it somewhere, every youtuber is making a video acknowledging how bad the year was (even if they decide to show the GOOD things that happened 'in contrast') — it has a way of projecting a kind of negativity that, once grabbed ahold of, grows legs. Maybe you weren’t thinking that 2016 was such a bad year for you. Maybe you even accomplished some super impressive things: got a degree, traveled, or beat a personal best in something. If not, maybe at the very least you know you've sure had worse years than this one. But when every year-in-review or online post is set out to remind you that “No, 2016 was, like, really really bad,” you start looking for more examples in your own life. That’s dangerous and toxic. …but that’s how negativity works. Suddenly you’re not just led to remember all the bad that happened in the world this year, but you begin reflecting on your own year with the same dark-colored lenses. ..which immediately begin hyperfocusing on all the black spots. Soon you start finding the aches and pains you’d forgotten all about just to validate that it really was a bad year for you, too. At this stage in the game, it would be foreign to hear anyone say “2016 was a GREAT year for me!” — even if it really and truly was. Everyone is looking for more reasons to validate the abomination that was supposedly 2016, and that’s dangerous. Maybe it wasn’t a fabulous year for you. Maybe you did have a really tragic thing happen, a bad mental health year, or lost someone really important to you. Maybe it was just a mess. But I can almost promise you that if everyone would stop telling you JUST how bad it was, you’d be finding less and less things that take your pain from manageable to egregiously unbearable. This find-all-the-reasons-it-was-bad mentality carves fresh wounds open so much further and draws our attention to scars that were just beginning to heal. It’s not healthy. For anyone. …but especially not trauma survivors.
Let yourself find the good things in 2016, 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 find 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 once more as it comes barreling down the hill, gathering momentum with each ache and pain you would have forgotten. It’s time to melt the snowball. ...or at least stop looking back at the mountain, and get out of the way!
#3 Black-and-White Thinking:
So, this happens every new year - 2016 is no exception. Each year we look back at alllllll that transpired and make a judgement about it. Was it good, was it bad, did it veer a hard left somewhere along the line? We then look ahead to the upcoming year and try to decide what kind of year it’s going to be -- then set resolutions to try and MAKE it that kind of year. Doing this really encourages such strong black-and-white thinking — a thought pattern that is noooo stranger to trauma survivors. (And trauma survivors with OCD or a personality disorder may fall prey to this in abundance.) Deciding that 2016 was “good” or “bad”, and that 2017 will be “good” or “bad”, is extremely black and white. No year is any one thing. Heck, there are 12 whole months! With 365+ individual days in them! How can 365+ days be any ONE thing? They aren’t. They are not black or 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 okay! 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 energy, 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 2017 is going to be either. Doing so gives you zero wiggle room - and, if you decide it's going to be white, at the first sign of trouble you may be far more likely to just throw in the towel. Because you know who black-and-white’s cousin is? It’s 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 colors, not just black and white.
#4 All-or-Nothing and Lines in the Sand
Yup, you saw this one coming. But this is all just a part of New Year's Day 101. We all know that it’s time to make New Year’s Resolutions and decide if we met last year's (if we even remember them — probably not). And, resolutions can be downright maddening if you’re someone who really wants to make them. For others, they couldn't care less and just skip out on ‘em. That’s okay, too. We think a happy medium is good, though. :) Setting goals is GREAT! 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, our physical health, self-care, etc. These are great practices to have! But, they shouldn’t solely be about “The New Year”. You can set goals any time, any day. You don’t have to wait for January 1st to get started on them. 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 2016 from 2017. This is just a flaw in the way human minds work when it comes to keeping their traditions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And keeping it as such can antagonize the all-or-nothing thinking to a point that if you fail at one of your goals during the year, you just give up on them all. …as if they HAD to be done in 2017 and absolutely no other time. Or, if you fell off the wagon early in the year it just isn’t ever going to happen, so why even bother trying now? This just silly thinking, but thinking that tons of us take on nonetheless!
You can set goals any day, any time. They don’t have to be a resolution that only pertains to the New Year. Often times those are just blanket sentiments anyway and not so much the specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals we should be setting as is. The latter is far more likely to yield results anyway. 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 process, it doesn’t have to define your entire year. It’s also equally as permissible to NOT make a resolution at all. Nothing bad will happen to you, your upcoming year doesn’t lose focus because you don’t have a plan, 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 that whenever feels right to you. There are no lines in the sand when it comes to days on a calendar page or even between calendars, and you don’t have to wait to get started. Start midday, mid month, midyear for all anyone should care. Your life doesn’t have to wait for anyone or follow anyone else’s schedule. …not even the New Years’.
Another distant cousin of all-or-nothing is the idea of purity and 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. And that might even bring you tremendous comfort and excited anticipation. You might feel like you can breathe easier thinking about all the things to come and what you’re going to do with that fresh start -- that “stainless slate of porcelain”. 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 no one gets too caught up in this idea of an untouched surface that could “get stained” by one accident, mistake or misfortune. We’ve seen this already happen with 2016. People view it as if it has been sullied and tarnished and “bad”. They’re putting it into a box and deciding that’s all it is - dirty. We don’t want to see that happen with your 2017. A few missteps doesn’t ruin a painting. You just get a little more creative, that's all. And those accidents often lead you to a finished product you didn’t set out to make, but you know looks wayyy better than what you originally intended to do. You’re also far more proud of what you were able to create because it didn't go according to plan, yet you still rocked it out.
Feel the excitement of a new fresh start. Build yourself up to take on a new year. But also be mindful not to not 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 or 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 2017 to get started!)
#6 Wrapping Things Up
Unlike the first five, this one isn’t so much a “problem to remedy” so much as it is just a note for moving forward. We wanted to end on a better note anyway, so the slight context change is appropriate. So. Perhaps you had a really hard year - truly and honestly. Maybe you learned new memories, started with 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 alllll those things up into year 2016, seal it tight, and just move forward. We’re neutral on this one because it can be a great tool, but still be person-dependent. 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 allowed (so long as it’s through a safe means of course!). For many there really is a great comfort to mentally packing up the year in all its borders and keeping that traumatic content “in the past” as we turn our heads to the future. The reason this isn’t ill-advised is because when you contain something, you aren’t stuffing it down out of sight to try and ignore it forever - nor are you making a judgment about what kind of year (or other container) it is. You’re just mentally bundling it all together in some kind of organizational manner to temporarily set 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 that really appeals to the mind. And if that works for you, by all means use it. 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 the traumas so that when they come back around again in 2017, you’ll feel them as strong as the day it first happened. Only you know your mind and what’s most or least helpful to you. If this mental exercise is useful to you, we definitely encourage you to use it as you move forward.
An added thought: just know that as much as you try to put a year behind you, it may still follow you. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean this new year is ruined or that it’s going to be as tough as this one was. It just means things were having too hard of a time staying contained, and you might need to find a new way or to break it down into smaller pieces. For those of you who knew wrapping things up that way was too calendar/date-specific for your mind, reach out and ask for help with other ways you could contain some of the yuck 2016 dealt you. When done thoughtfully and carefully, putting this year away and looking ahead to the new one as a fresh start is still a healthy thing to do. And we want to help you do that. We just also wanted to make sure you wouldn’t fall into some of the traps thinking that way can easily foster if you go in blind. But you got this!
In closing, we know that this year may have been really tough for many of you. For others, it may have been a year of victories! No matter what your year was like, we still can’t help but wish you a happy and healthy and 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 paths or tripping over the darn boobytraps.
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 this year 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 Years”-type post as it pertains to the physical act of getting together, NYE parties and such. So, we just wanted to remind you that we have two articles that were written with the entire holiday season in mind and they may still be of great help to you as you tackle this last holiday! (Even if some of the themes feel a little more Christmas-y!) Those are here: “Surviving the Holidays with C-PTSD” and “Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays”. We also have a post on “101 Grounding Techniques” if you feel you’ll need those as the fireworks and loud bangs go off! We’re here for you!