WE have spent the year defining trauma and looking at how during our life spans each one of us may experience a traumatic experience. Being affected by trauma is not something that fits one type of person. The truth is that any of us can be affected by trauma and realistically many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lives. Having survived the trauma, we discussed the aftermath, how you feel, what you think, and how you have been affected. Understanding the physical ways your body has reacted to the trauma may help you to understand what has been happening since you experienced the trauma. It can also help you understand the psychological ways in which you have been affected. As we continue on in this article, please pay attention to what your body is telling you. Speaking about trauma may bring back memories of a trauma you lived through. You may experience flashbacks; images of the trauma, triggers; things that remind you of the trauma (a smell, a colour, a sound, etc.). You may experience trouble breathing, anxiety, hyper-awareness (overly aware of what is happening around you). You may experience a panic attack if the memories become too much to bare. I implore you to stop, pause, take a moment and then listen to what your body needs, what it is saying and then decide if you want/need to continue reading the article, whether you need to take a break, or whether at this time you are not ready to read the article at all. The articles will always be accessible to you. Learning to listen to what your body needs and what it is telling you is of prime importance.
PROSAF’s articles are here to educate you; they are also here to help you begin the healing journey. The articles are here to empower you; letting you know that you get to decide what happens and when it happens in your life. The articles are here to educate; helping you to understand better trauma in general but more specifically sexual trauma. You are understanding what happened, how you have been affected and how you can begin to heal. The articles are here to validate how you feel, what you have been through, and as a result how you are coping. As a survivor I understand the importance of knowing that you are not alone, that you are not crazy, that you are not selfish, that at some point choosing your happiness is not a bad thing, that you didn’t cause anyone to sexually violate you and that being a survivor/victim of sexual violence doesn’t mean that is where your life ends. The articles are here to be a voice of reason in a world that ignores crimes of this nature and justifies the actions of rapists, abusers, and molesters. The articles are here to provide support and hopefully leave you with hope for the future. They let you know that the way forward isn’t easy but it is rewarding. Many survivors spend their lives not sure how to deal with what happened. In the Caribbean, with limited resources, many don’t get professional help, and most don’t know how to actively begin talking about what they have been through. Many have created ways to deal with the effects of their trauma, which makes the prospect of beginning to address their trauma even more frightening. The fear of beginning to heal is now not only reliving the past and opening up the old wounds but also having to change the new constructs created to cope. In this week’s article I would like to focus on beginning to reflect on where you are, how you are coping and what you need to change to help you move from victim to survivor to thriving. I know reflecting on where you are can be scary – I am asking you to actively take a step back and look at your life, to dissect it and be honest with yourself about where you are. Once that is complete, I want you to work on planning what you need to do to move from victim to survivor to thriver.
Reflecting on our lives is never easy because it gives us a chance to acknowledge the truth. What have I been doing to cope, is it healthy or unhealthy? How are my boundaries, are they working to my benefit or against? Am I ready to begin the healing journey, and if not, do I know why I am not ready yet? Have I been hiding from everything and busying myself to hide from the trauma? Have I acknowledged/accepted/believed that I was/am a victim of sexual violence and that it is not my fault? Am I happy, sad, panicked, afraid, lonely, ashamed, etc.? Reflecting makes you come face to face with you. So take the time, I am not asking that this be done before the year ends, just that you think about starting. Reflection can help point out the ways in which you need to improve but it can also help you remember how far you have come and the progress you have made over the years. Reflecting is a very good way to decide on a path forward and a plan to get there. It will take time and it will not be easy so allow yourself time to decide how you go about your reflection. Pick time frames and always include you time after each session of reflection. Remember to always listen to your body and what it is telling you throughout this process. I am not asking that you start and push through if your body is saying no. Take your time, listen to what you need and proceed accordingly. It may take days, weeks, months or years… there is no time frame, and there is no rush. This is your path forward; you get to dictate the pace. Once the reflection phase is done, the next step is your plan of action for the future. Again, this isn’t something to rush; take your time deciding what is most important to you and what isn’t. Decide who gets to stay in your life and how, decide if the current career is fulfilling, whether the hobbies are interesting and speak to what excites you. Decide what you want for your life regardless. Drown out the voices telling you what they think is best, ultimately you decide. People may suggest things that may be good for you, but the question is whether you think it is. If you don’t think it is chances are you will either not listen or not enjoy doing what they said. That is counterproductive to your growth and development. I am not saying to disregard what everyone says but to decide what resonates with you, and what speaks to what you want for your life. Once you are not hurting yourself or others, the choices for how you move forward in life should be yours. Your plan will help you hopefully feel more in control of your life and it will hopefully empower you to start living life for you and not for anyone else. Survivors of sexual violence spend a great deal of their time living their lives for everyone else; at some point you get to pick you. You get to come first and not feel guilty for it.
As the year comes to a close I want you to work on reflecting on what you have survived and how strong you have been over the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years. I want you to work on acknowledging how you survived and have been coping; own the good and the bad, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember you did what you needed to survive. Let the reflection be your guide forward. Let the plan be the path to happiness and self-love. Let the plan be your guide to freedom. Let the plan give you a chance at controlling your life and living it on your terms. Decide to end 2019 with a plan to start reflecting and planning for your future. Know that no one truly understands what you have survived and what you need to heal. Know that the decisions you make for you are the first step to feeling empowered. Know that the path to healing is crowded with others on the same journey. You are not alone. Know we are here to listen and help. WE are all walking a similar path, not the same but we all understand on some level your pain. You are not alone; I know it often feels that way. But know you are not. We are here to listen. Call if you need to vent, if you need company to just be on the phone. We are here to help. Text, email, call, you are not alone. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, you were violated. You don’t have to keep secrets you don’t want to keep to protect anyone. You don’t have to let anyone into your life who doesn’t understand or support you. Should you want to discuss or ask a specific question don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Please don’t give up. You deserve to be happy, you deserve to enjoy the holidays, you deserve to decide who you let into your life and to what extent. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or visit www.prosaf.org.
Book: The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis.