IN my last article, I discussed the Emergency Stage. I wanted to follow up this week looking at different avenues for reducing how much you are affected while navigating the Emergency Stage. While it is important and necessary to go through the healing journey, it is also important that one try to keep the level of re-traumatization to a minimum (easier said than done I know). For that reason, it is worth exploring outlets for reducing or channeling anxiety, fear, trauma, sadness, etc. I would also like to discuss what our options are when our memories, thoughts, emotions or healing process becomes too intense. Remember, the path to healing can be difficult but you get to decide what your pace is. You are in control of how your healing progresses.
Inspired by the book, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis, when the memories become too much and the trauma of starting the healing journey becomes overwhelming, I want you to know that:
1. You are not crazy, your actions or behaviours are not crazy or irrational. What you are going through, what you are uncovering, remembering and acknowledging may make you feel like you are psychologically unbalanced but it is part of the journey. You are taking on a lot; you are facing a lot, uncovering a lot all while trying your best to navigate it while in many cases, pretending that everything is fine. So give yourself some credit and be gentle with yourself.
2. It is important to build a support team and create that safe space; find people that you can confide in, who will listen and support you. You need a healthy support team so ensure (as best as you can) that those in that safe space, those you choose to share your story with aren’t going to further traumatize you. Should that occur don’t hesitate to rethink that individual’s place in your life.
3. I know that you may not be aware of it but you, at the very least, know at least one survivor. If possible find a fellow survivor, whether in person or online who can help as you continue your healing journey. While no two individuals go through their journey in the same way, there is comfort and support in knowing you are not alone; that the person on the other end has some sort of an understanding about what you are dealing with. The times when you feel unbalanced, when you feel like no one understands, that person more than likely will.
4. It is important that while you try tackling your healing personally that you also acknowledge that a time may come when professional help will be necessary. There is much you can accomplish on your own but there are times when you need to be honest with yourself and take it a step further to get professional help. Don’t be ashamed, there is nothing wrong in seeking professional psychological help. It is no different from seeking professional help when we are physically ailing.
5. I want you to work on picking a space in your home that is a safe space; a space where you can retreat to when things become too overwhelming. This will help with your healing process.
6. It is important to admit where you are right now. Being attentive to your needs and what you can tackle is vital as it helps you not overwhelm yourself. Plan to do periodic checks to remind yourself where you are on the journey. Being self-aware and self-attuned will help you be more in control and honest with yourself. It will make accepting the growth you’ve made easier, but also make accepting the pitfalls easier as well.
7. The Emergency Stage is difficult; you may want to bail at times, you may want choose flight over fight. Be honest with yourself about where you are and what you can handle, and try to sit it through. Try not to run or give up. Take a pause if it is necessary. Part of this is always being gentle and honest with yourself, but not giving up.
8. As you continue on you will begin to see things in your life more clearly. You may begin to see that you have found yourself in situations and relationships that are/were abusive and counterproductive to your continued growth and development. Walk away from situations and relationships that will further hurt you.
9. Learn to let go of the things that aren’t important in your life, things that will further hurt you or impede your healing. Learn to choose you first (again easier said than done, I know). It is all part of the journey to healing).
10.Be mindful of how much prescribed (or non-prescribed) drugs or alcohol you take in and when you choose to take it in. There is a numbing effect that comes from drugs and alcohol that may be very attractive when things get tough. Know that it won’t help but only has the potential to make things worse. If you feel that you need to get a prescription for medication to help, seek out a professional opinion.
11. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if need be. Survivors can be self-contained and want to do everything on their own, not wanting to rely on others. There are times when you need help, don’t be ashamed, it doesn’t make you weak, only human. We all need help at some point. We have all needed help in one way or another throughout our journey and there is no doubt there are times to come when we will need more help.
12. Remember you are worthy, beautiful and smart and that you did nothing to cause your sexual assault. You have been traumatized because someone chose to force themselves on you, or manipulate you. When the journey becomes too intense, when it all becomes too much to carry, remember that you deserve to live, that there is hope and that there are people who love you and will miss you. Try not to hurt yourself. I know that it may be a difficult request especially when the tunnel seems dark and with no light at the end or with no end in sight, but please Don’t Give Up. Reach out to someone if you feel like the only way out is death or pain.
13. Remember how brave you are, how strong and resilient you are. I know there are times when what you survived doesn’t make you feel strong, resilient or brave but you are. You are strong because surviving sexual assault is not easy; it isn’t something you just get over or forget. You are strong because you battle the memories every day and still show up. You are brave and resilient because so many survivors continue on knowing that those around them never supported or believed them. Many are faced with their abusers on a daily basis. Resiliency got you to get up every day; it got you to stand in the face of those who claimed you caused this to happen. You are a survivor and you are strong and brave and resilient. Remember that you have survived and that you may be broken by the trauma you suffered but the pieces can be put back together again to create something even more beautiful.
14. Lastly, find what works for you; spirituality doesn’t look the same for us all, find what works for you and hold on to it. I know this journey is difficult, trust me I know, but don’t give up on yourself. It gets worse before it gets better, but there is hope. You have to put in the work but once you do, you will come out healthier and happier. You will learn your boundaries; you will identify the people that you can depend on. You will begin to feel more in control of your life and your happiness. It is important that you go through the healing journey for you because you deserve it.
To my fellow survivors please don’t give up. I know you live in a constant state of surviving, going through the processes but not actually living because you are scared and trying to heal in a place that makes that very difficult. I know that you don’t sleep well, don’t interact well, and don’t feel well. I know that many of you are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of your assault. I want you to continue to fight but to continue fighting for you and what you deserve. Your happiness, your health, your chance at living life fully, are all important. Remember that you are not alone, that you have done nothing to be ashamed of. If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact PROSAF. We are here to listen and help; don’t hesitate to reach out. If you have questions or topics you want discussed reach out and we can write articles on them. If you have a piece you would like to submit through us please also reach out.