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Growing Up With Adversity, Thanksgiving Reminds Us How Far We've Come

What others cherish about this holiday -- happy childhood memories of time spent with family -- is precisely what triggers so many of the lies we learned growing up, like guilt and shame, resentment, feeling alone or disconnected, and a sense of sadness.
11/25/2014 04:15pm ET | Updated January 25, 2015
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This Thanksgiving, I decided to be alone. I will not be with my children this year, and this will be the first "family holiday gathering" since my book, Invincible, came out. And since the book's subtitle is The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up With Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free, you can imagine my family may have a thought or two about that.

But it really goes far deeper.

Thanksgiving is a difficult holiday.

For those of us who grew up in a home where we faced adversity, Thanksgiving is a difficult holiday. Yes, we want to enjoy it as the movies say we should or like the stories our friends tell us of what their Thanksgiving holidays are like, but that so rarely happens.

What others cherish about this holiday -- happy childhood memories of time spent with family -- is precisely what triggers so many of the lies we learned growing up, like guilt and shame, resentment, feeling alone or disconnected, and a sense of sadness. All of these feel all too familiar on this day.

Conversation transforms the meaning.

I spoke with a friend of mine, whose story is in Invincible, about this last night and he told me: "It's what goes unsaid on a day like Thanksgiving that makes me feel like I'm walking on egg shells. I spend the whole day agonizing about what they are thinking -- what they are thinking of me."

But as is often the case, when someone shares and another listens, the truth becomes clear. And in this conversation, for the first time, I saw a truth that I had not seen before, which is: There is no other day when those of us who grew up in a home where we faced adversity can make more progress than on Thanksgiving! There is no single day when we can remind ourselves of the Truths of our lives and have them sink in deeper than on THIS day.

The more emotional the day in our minds, the more true the truths become.

Why can this day trigger so much progress? Because, now that we are adults, the more emotional the day in our minds, the more true the truths become, once learned.

Of course, as adults we can now clearly see, rationally, that we were never guilty, that there is nothing to fear anymore. And we now know that we are not alone -- that, truly, we never were.

Look at all you have already overcome! You overcame adversity in childhood. Think of how grateful you are today for being free to leave that house, if you choose to, when dinner has ended. On this Thanksgiving, you will be able to sleep in peace, to sleep through the night. You now know who you are -- and no matter who they told you you would never be, you now know the Truth. You control the meaning.

What will I do on this Thanksgiving Day?

So with these truths in mind, to quote John Maynard Keynes, "When the facts change, I reserve the right to change my mind." And so I have. I will be attending the family Thanksgiving gathering this year. And although I will be going alone, I will not be alone, because as I am driving there, I will be reminding myself of the truths I've learned from so many before me who faced adversity in childhood and overcame it.

I hope you can draw strength from these truths in the same way I will.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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