Survivor Voices: When Holiday Gifts Are More Than Just Presents


Now that Domestic Violence Awareness Month is over, attention in the REACH office turns to our annual Holiday Gift Program.  To explain why this program is so important, we thought we’d let you hear straight from a survivor what receiving gifts at holiday time meant to her.

I had been urged by an advocate with REACH to do a Holiday Gift list. I reluctantly fell for the line, “do it for the children.”  I was encouraged to be specific and detailed. So despite my shame, I wrote down on what page my daughter had circled her gifts on the Toy-R-Us catalog. I even wrote down hard to find specialty items for my child with complex medical needs. Therapy toys you could only get on the internet. Only then did I write my own detailed list.

It felt frivolous and scary. Frivolous because I lived in scarcity, where I could not justify the purchase of slippers and toys or sweetly scented candles. Scary because I feared the judgment by others. How did people justify giving people gifts? Would people judge me for my list? Come to conclusions based on what I was asking for? “Why does she want earrings, is she planning on getting into another abusive relationship? Who does she think she is asking for Yoga classes? I can barely afford this myself, why should she have it?  She is a selfish woman. And why all these toys for her children? Don’t they have anything, has this woman ever provided for her kids?”

Despite all these imaginary charges against me, my children and I did receive gifts. All requested items from our wish list had been provided. ALL OF THEM.

As I picked up the presents from REACH, I felt tightness in my chest, clearly seeing the exact doll stroller my daughter asked for. I felt dizzy and hot, eyeing the impossible to find specialty toy for my son. I couldn’t breathe as the aroma of a fruity candle drifted up to me. The final straw was being handed wrapping paper and TAPE. This crushed me.  How attentive! I just crumbled. TAPE: I have needed tape for so long.  Just to hang my children’s treasured colorings and homework on the kitchen wall. I had to pull over into the next parking lot, I could not see clearly enough to drive.

I understand now why I burst into tears when I picked up the gifts. They were picked with thought and care.  And you hadn’t even known me. Did you know that I stumbled through my words, barely audible, that I looked at the floor when I spoke? Had you known I have gone most of my life not getting my needs met?  Being denied by explanations such as that I had not asked or had failed to ask correctly, that I had used the wrong tone of voice, that it had been a stupid thing to ask for anyway? Did you know I was accustomed to this?

Did you know I needed my faith restored in myself and others? Did you know I needed to be reassured that I mattered? Did you I was holding my breath, cringing…waiting, to receive the shame and hurtful proclamations, and instead I received generosity? You gave graciously and generously.

My children were thrilled Christmas morning, and you can be assured as readily as I thank you now, I gave you no credit that day. I took it all for myself. My children were so happy. It was normal again.

I am able to savor mine as well. I was given running sneakers, the kind that propel you forward, the heels are slightly lifted, the toes are rounded, they are designed to move you forward, with less friction, so you that actually feel forward movement as you put them on. Almost held up, pushed forward, driven on. When I put those sneakers on I am propelled forward by your gift. This gift was designed to keep me moving forward in life with ease, being held up by a something bigger than myself.

These gifts, not just the sneakers, are bigger than ourselves. They far outweigh their monetary value. They gave me the sense that people do care, that I am important, that people value other people. That I may be valued. That I have value. These gifts gave me the confidence to make a request, to speak up again.

I am not afraid of speaking anymore, I have the strength to speak up and be heard.

REACH has given me the ability to stop mumbling and looking at the floor and instead to stand up straight and look people in the eye again. And with that I personally thank you all for my gifts. Mine and my children’s.


To learn more about how you can brighten the holidays for a family affected by domestic violence, click here.