There are many issues surrounding holidays and childhood sexual abuse that have rarely if ever been addressed in our communities. One of those issues pertains directly to surviving Jewish holidays.
It’s not too surprising that many adult survivors of childhood abuse have difficult times during Passover, as this time of the year (as do the High Holidays) can bring up painful memories: Families get together, routines are changed, there is an added stress of cleaning, preparing, and “doing it right”. These issues alone can be extremely stress producing, let alone the probability that they had resulted in increased stress and many times abuse in the past. Parents who are already inclined to use their children as an outlet for emotions and urges, are even more likely to do so when under the pressure of increased anxiety. Many survivors of childhood abuse report that they were abused more around and over holidays, especially Pesach, which brings with in–on top of cooking and cleaning–an added financial burden.
This is written as a reminder to all survivors: you are not alone. It is not uncommon for symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to emrge after times of relative remission and/or intensify in those already struggling. You may experience an increase in disturbing thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks. Thoughts of self-harm, even suicide, may be an issue. The important thing to remember is these feelings are about the past, that the abuse is over, and that it is of utmost importance for you to be kind to and gentle with yourself.
Over the years we have spoken to make adult survivors who find it very painful to even consider going to a seder. This is OK. Someday you may feel different, but if the pain is too intense, it is important that you do things that can be healing, that you set boundaries to do what feels safe for you. One survivor shared that she felt uncomfortable not doing anything for Pesach, so she’d rent the “Ten Commandments” each year on Seder night and watch it, forming her own ritual of remembering the events that lead to the Seder night. Another survivor would invite other Jewish Survivors over to her home and they would use “The Survivors Haggadah” for their services. Another person used the time before Pesach for “spring cleaning” her relationships–reconnecting with friends with whom she feels safe, airing out the achievements of the last year and making resolutions for added liberation from her past for the coming year. The survivors above found a way to celebrate a “modified” Pesach, but there are many others for who just try to survive this time of year by pretending that there is no such thing as Pesach.
Whatever works for you–know that you are not alone, not wrong, not bad for having second and third and forth thoughts about how to celebrate and if to celebrate the holiday. Look into yourself and see what you need, then do what you can to do it, and be kind to yourself for needing to make this adjustments. And remember, when Bney-Israel left Egypt to walk toward a new era–they were walking from a place they knew, but was of pain, to a place unknown, but free. The essence of the Seder night is to remember, and ask why, and be expected to understand and participate only to the extent one can.
Have a gentle, safe holiday.
This article was originally published by The Awareness Center in 2003 and was co-authored by Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, APP