The holidays are an extremely tough time for many of us; even those who have been blessed with healthy family dynamics can find it challenging. For sex workers, many of us are either estranged from our family’s of origin or have to lead double lives where we can’t be honest about who we really are. If you’re nervous about having to see family for the holidays, there are some things you can do to make the time easier for yourself that might be good to have in your holiday holster.
Taking a walk can be a simple diversion in high tension family situations. It sounds easy enough, and it is. Go outside and walk. And there’s multiple ways exercise can be helpful in these situations, including just the pure physiological benefits of moving our bodies, but additionally, you could even invite a family member or two to come with you. Getting out of the house is beneficial for your relationship with your family because you are removing yourself from the scene of the tension and there’s always loads of pleasant distractions outdoors to be had, like birds and other wild animals, the feel of the breeze, the smell of the air, the sun or the rain and the beauty of plants and trees. These are innate mood lifters, making walking with or without a family member an awesome tension-taming idea for the holidays. Also, even if you just duck out for twenty minutes to take a walk around the block alone, this could give you the time and space to process feelings as they come up and mull over strategies for family interaction when things get especially hairy.
Another piece of advice I’ve learned over the years is to have a trigger plan, an emergency exit plan and a recovery plan. If you have a complicated relationship with your family, and most people do to some degree or another, then you’re probably going to want to plan for the inevitable moment when someone triggers you. To be clear with the vast overuse of the word trigger, by trigger I mean a true negative response that plays on one’s individual or collective trauma history or diagnosed PTSD. It is not “someone said something I don’t like or don’t agree with.” So it’s good to have a plan in one’s mind for when that happenes. I was a case manager for victims of domestic violence for years, and in that work we would regularly do something called safety planning. This is essentially what it sounds - creating a highly individualized and specific plan for how the individual or family in question can stay physically and emotionally safe as possible, especially when leaving one’s abuser is not feasable or desired at the time. It’s basically a kind of harm reduction.
Come up with a safety plan for how you will respond to a trigger when it happens and how you will leave in case of emergency (emotional emergencies are totally valid.) To identify a safety plan for triggers, it can be helpful to think A) What is most likely to happen or be said? B) how do you want to react and how do you want to take care of yourself emotionally, when you can? It’s important to have an acute plan and a recovery plan for when you leave the family gathering. Some great ways to take care of oneself afterwards are to have a trusted friend on standby, ideally one who knows about and understands your family dynamics. This could even be a sibling, cousin, etc. You’re going to want to debrief and have the opportunity to process what happened. If you don’t have anyone you really trust, you can do what I do and write about it in a journal or notebook. It may sound nutty, but sometimes I debrief with my trusted old dog (he’s a great listener haha).
Whatever happens, know that you are worth protecting. You are good enough to be treated with respect and dignity, because we are all born being automatically worthy and deserving of these things. You are fine just the way you are. You are worthy NOW. Not when you lose weight, not when you get out of street based work, not when you make more money or get more clients - NOW. Love you, family and take care of yourselves out there.
(Remember too that if you need additional support of any kind, SWOP Behind Bars has a text line on their website at www.swopbehindbars.org or call 1-877-776-2004)