Eight years ago, my mother-in-law and I had a huge Thanksgiving feud. She said some things, and for the first time ever, I said some things back. The argument escalated. I called her a name, and she slapped me. She no longer threatens me, but Thanksgiving triggers this memory. I use these four tools to enjoy the holiday and keep the toxic Thanksgivings of the past in the past.
Triggers Turn Into Reactions
Unfortunately, these feuds with my mother-in-law weren’t isolated incidents; they were only two of many scenes from a 20-year manipulative and toxic relationship.
Researchers at the University of Iowa found that memories associated with acute stress and trauma get stored in the part of your brain responsible for survival where they serve as a defense mechanism against future trauma.
Ergo, some of these triggers have been hard-wired into my brain, and my first response is to react protectively even when the danger is no longer present. So, how do I come to terms with the holidays without eradicating fall related traditions? Fortunately, in the rooms of recovery, I found some tools to help handle my past hurts:
- The Serenity Prayer helps me find peace in accepting my past as something I cannot change.
- I'm aware of triggers like pumpkin pie and slow-roasted turkeys. I can accept that those items are things here in the present, and then take a healthy action – like reminding myself I am safe and she is gone.
- I am not my story. The things she did to me did nothing to change my eye color, my love for cheesecake, or my ability to solve quadratic equations. She didn't change me.
- One day at a time – Living in these 12 hours of today let me focus on the good things in my life now, like my wonderful family.
New Traditions Also Help
Everyone in my house loves pumpkin pie, and we eat it year-round. I love that it’s actually a vegetable posing as dessert, and my son loves it for breakfast. I, however, associate the pie with that dreadful night. Because I refuse to let pumpkin pie be a casualty of war, I created a new recipe, which you can find here. New traditions are an excellent way to continue celebrating without reliving the toxic past.