The chill of the cold winter morning along with the sweet smell of a roasting ham or turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day can be so comforting to some families as they look forward to a relaxing day in front of the TV, cuddling family and visiting with friends.

However, let's remember that for children who are survivors of sexual abuse, the holidays aren't always Jingle Bells, candy canes and joyful memories. It can be a time for triggers, anxiety and painful setbacks.

The reality is, 90% of sexual abuse victims know the person who has hurt them. The pain and anxiety survivors are feeling can cause other emotional and mental health issues that can take years, or even decades, to face.

Survivors can struggle to get a clear understanding of how to face the reality of their emotions and feelings, as well as find the courage to reach out. When they are ready to heal, their next step may be finding a therapist to help them cope with the lifelong struggles they are facing.

Sometimes the victims could be coming home to a supportive family who already have a safety or support plan in place for them. Other times they may be coming home to an unsupportive community, or worse yet, an unsupportive family or family members who are not so believing.

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We here at Support within Reach would like to remind everyone of the things you can do to help you or your loved ones during the holidays in hopes of making them more enjoyable for everyone.

Have a Safety Plan in place. Here are some examples:

  • If possible, get plenty of rest.
  • Have an escape plan.
  • Snuggle a pet.
  • Smudge, make a medicine bag (tobacco, sage, cedar in a red cloth with tie).
  • Say a morning prayer, offer tobacco to the creator.
  • Take time for yourself.
  • Find somewhere comfortable to sit and close your eyes and try 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in through your nose to the count of four; hold the breath to the count of seven; exhale through your mouth to the count of eight.
  • Find someone (maybe an elder you can trust) ahead of time that you can call for support. Store the number on your phone so you can call any time of the day.
  • Find a relaxing spot, a place you can sit by yourself to Un-focus. Maybe a staircase, your vehicle, an empty room, or even a bathroom.
  • Give subtle reminders to yourself. This is only temporary. Selfcare is very important.
  • Know when to say no. It is OK to tell someone no, set boundaries for yourself and others.
  • Pause before reacting. Acknowledge fears and strong emotions, don’t give into them.
  • Make sure this is somewhere you absolutely need to be and Trust your intuition. If your intuition says something isn't right, by all means, listen.
  • Eat well, know your limits. Limit alcohol and stimulants.
  • Exercise or stretch. Go for a walk.
  • Go for a drive. Listen to music.
  • Use essential oils to help with grounding yourself. Make yourself aware of the sights and smells around you.

Don't force yourself or the children around you to hug others if you or they don't feel comfortable. A simple smile or wave is greeting enough. Be safe and happy holidays! (Mino-gichtwaa-giizhigak)

Francis Kingbird is a Sexual Exploited Youth Coordinator and Victim Services at Support Within Reach.