Not all anniversaries are good. In fact, some are downright Awful! People who experienced childhood abuse or neglect can struggle with Awful Anniversaries. Awful Anniversaries can take many forms.
Possible Awful Anniversaries
- Specific Date: This can be the date that the abuse happened, the date it started, when it became significantly worse, or even the date that it ended on.
- A Holiday: A holiday that most people experience as happy or fun can also be an Awful Anniversary. Just because others love the holiday, doesn’t mean you can’t hate it.
- Specific Month: For some people there is one particular month that just always sucks! May can be a hard month because it’s the time of school ending and summer break starting. Summer time can mean the loss of a dependable meal, more time with neglectful or abusive family, or vacations to an abusive relative or summer camp staff.
- A Season: A particular time of year can be an Awful Anniversary. Perhaps you dread the smell of wood fires in winter or the smell of pool chlorine in summer.
- Any day: Any day can be an Awful Anniversary. If that day is usually noticeably more difficult than a regular day every year, it’s probably an Awful Anniversary.
Why Would I Want to Know My Awful Anniversary?
Our natural inclination is often to avoid thinking about bad stuff until it has arrived. Why think about it if we can’t make it not be awful? Because, we can make it less awful. A really bad day that is well prepared for can be less bad. It can be very useful to be aware of your Awful Anniversaries. If you know the 4th of July is an Awful Anniversary you can put plans in place to make it less awful.
9 Ways to Deal with an Awful Anniversary
- Know What Works: What works for me will not necessarily work for you. Think back to what has been successful in the past. If you don’t have any healthy coping skills, learn some ahead of time.
- Plan Ahead: Know when your Awful Anniversaries are. Put them in your calendar, put in reminders ahead of time that will allow you time to get everything set up. Have back up plans. Have back up plans for your back up plans. Better too prepared than not prepared enough.
- Over Schedule: Make that day super busy. If staying busy helps you get through, then schedule every second of the day.
- Don’t Schedule: For others, it can be too much to try to accomplish anything on an Awful Anniversary. If this is you, then reduce your schedule as much as you possibly can.
- Alert Your Support: Tell your significant other, best friend, multiple friends, family and anyone else you believe would be helpful or understanding if they knew. Pick with care, if you have good reason to believe they will not be understanding or helpful – don’t share with them.
- Be Specific: If you ask people to be part of your Awful Anniversary make sure they know how to help. Tell them exactly what you want and what you don’t want. If you want them to come over, sit on the couch with you and binge watch your favorite show, then tell them. If you don’t want them to ask any questions or to touch you, then tell them. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to get help that is actually helpful.
- Avoid Harmful Coping: Many people with childhood abuse or neglect have developed both healthy and harmful ways of getting through. Know your Harmful coping tools: Alcohol, drugs, self-harm and risky/dangerous behaviors. Plan ahead to limit your likelihood of using these harmful options. Would it be helpful to not have any money? Maybe someone you trust can hold your cash and cards. Maybe a meeting would help, if you live in or near a city you can usually find an AA, NA, or SMART recovery meeting somewhere most days.
- Be Kind to Yourself: Don’t beat yourself up for what you need to get through. If the healthiest way you can cope is by burying yourself under blankets on the couch with all your favorite junk food and your TV or game remote – let yourself have that.
- Have Emergency Contact: If you believe your Awful Anniversary may be more than you can handle, have multiple steps you can take to keep yourself safe. Make a list of all the things that usually helps you through rough spots: Breathing techniques that help you calm, grounding techniques that help you stay in the present, any and all NON-harmful ways you can get through this day. List everyone who it would be helpful to talk to; only include those friends and family who actually can be helpful. Write their names and numbers down (that way if your phone gets broken or dies you still have the numbers). Call emergency hotlines (write those down too). Call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.
Despite how tempting it is to not think about our Awful Anniversaries, planning ahead can make a difference. Awful Anniversaries suck! But there are steps you can take to make them suck a lot less. Know your Awful Anniversaries. Know what works for you. Plan. Do the plan. Be kind to yourself. Healing from the events that cause the Awful Anniversary can also have a profound impact on how difficult theses times can be.
I am a therapist in Austin Texas. I specialize in helping adults heal from difficult childhoods, childhood trauma, CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse), sexual assault, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and cPTSD (complex PTSD).