We wrote this brief self-care guide for people who have experienced trauma, especially rape and sexual assault. It suggests a number of practical ways to cope with the day-to-day stresses of being a survivor. Please take it, share it, and tailor it to your own needs. We hope it is helpful to you on your journey towards healing.
1. Clear your space of the things that will trigger you. Toss their stuff out, Febreze rooms of their smell, delete pictures and emails and messages in your phone. Your trauma is real, and you don’t need external reminders of it.
2. Exercise. Walk, run, stretch, swim, move. Do whatever you need to get your body to breathe. Massage tight places to release tension. Energy can get stuck there and you may not notice it for years. Moving your body allows it to talk to you, tell you what it needs. Be sure to listen.
Eat right. Raw fruits and vegetables are your friends. Even if you don’t feel like eating, stay hydrated. Keeping physically healthy helps you hold on. You are precious, like water; the world cannot afford to lose even a single drop.
3. Get familiar with your coping mechanisms. Make connections between your experiences of stress and drinking, or stress and drugs, or smoking, shopping, eating or not eating. Rate your coping mechanisms from good-for-you! to “bad” and “worst”. Aim to do more of the good, less of the bad, and eliminate those in the “worst” by substituting in better things. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off, but have a plan in place for how to get back on.
4. Stop blaming yourself. The story of your transition from victim to survivor is your vehicle to this. It will take some work but remember you are the protagonist, whoever hurt you is a bad person, and now you are writing how the story will end. If this method seems to wear thin, watch Staceyann Chin videos as often as you like to remind yourself that what happened to you was not your fault.
5. You have already been through the war, but as in battle, it is good to know the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Strategies are long-range plans to reach an intended goal. First comes the goal. Make it a positive one in the present tense, for example, I love myself, so I take care of my body. The strategy might then be to practice loving yourself from one moment to the next.
Tactics are the baby steps you take to make your strategy happen. A variety is needed for the many roads you’ll encounter. For example: when I feel like throwing up, I will leave the bathroom, take 5 deep breaths, sip peppermint tea. Or: when I want to self-harm, I will put on my jacket and go for a walk. Or: when I can’t stop crying, I will write in my journal. I will do yoga. I will call a friend. Use your tactics to support the hard work of day-to-day survival.
6. Listen to yourself. You know more than you give yourself credit for: when to stop, when to seek help, when to steel yourself and push through the pain. Turn off the TV when the show starts to trigger you; leave the theatre when the film twists your insides into a knot. Speak your truth when a. you feel safe enough to do so, or b. when silence poses the greater danger. Force yourself to unplug from all digital devices when it is 3AM and you need to be up in the morning. Quiet the mind and open yourself to the sound of your inner voice. It is there to protect you, to keep you free, safe and out of harm’s way.
7. When you meet anyone who doesn’t believe you, won’t listen to you, or reminds you of what happened, walk away. Don’t look back. Boundaries exist for a reason – use them. Don’t feel guilty for deleting their texts, not answering their calls, or responding to their mail. You owe them nothing. The future is a gift you should give to yourself. The occasion is imminent, and the best time is now.
What are some of your top self-care tips, strategies and tactics?
Put them in the comments below.