Self-Care Guide for Survivors

16 May

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. 

Reminder: Take Care of Myself

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.

6 Responses to “Self-Care Guide for Survivors”

  1. Andy May 16, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Great article on responses to post-traumatic stress. A lot of the problems discussed here, have particular reasons which make sense of them as well. Very often your story isn’t integrated into your memory yet, and you’re still looking for what the good ending could or should have been. Rewriting the story is useful in taking it out of emotional parts of the body and making it more manageable.

    I’ve found visualisation exercises particularly useful, where I’ll focus on particular areas of the body, or particular impulses, imagine what they feel, think or want, ask them why, and try to negotiate with them and nurture them. Initially guided by a therapist, but then by myself. Also dreamwork with recurring nightmares, identifying the sources in my inner life of particular antagonists and problems.

    For me, one of the big challenges has always been understanding what’s happened to me. Why would somebody treat me so badly? Is something wrong with me, that made them do this? (I think we all ask this one) Or on the other hand, are they just incomprehensibly evil – and how do I live in a world where this kind of evil exists? (like one of those Lovecraft characters who has seen the “thing that should not be”) It’s here that social theory, psychology, and revolutionary theory come in handy – to understand about narcissistic abusers, or hypermasculinity and its relationship to patriarchy, flak, sanctioned ignorance, unmarked terms and so on. And to situate personal experiences in social patterns and exclusion and violence. “Consciousness raising” as it’s sometimes called. This makes it a lot easier to start rewriting these stories on a social scale.

    • Sista Resista May 16, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Thank you, Andy, for your comments and especially for the reminder that it is important to put what has happened to us in a wider social context. Consciousness raising is one of the most important ways we can help to explain our experiences and those of others in the world around us. These explanations are very useful to help us frame and process our feelings, as well as understand the social patterns you mention.

      Your suggestions of visualizations sounds like a great way to start to break down and redirect our physical responses to trauma, and exploring our dreams would be useful for bringing to the surface what might be going on subconsiously so we are aware of it and can begin to sort it out.

      Let’s continue sharing ways to help each other heal🙂


  2. Sin City Siren May 21, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren and commented:
    Very helpful and important advice for anyone who has experienced trauma. Take care of yourselves. You are precious.

  3. raybena May 31, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    I really loved this article. I gather that one of determiners of the levels of damage post abuse is what was DONE about the abuse. In my case nothing at the time…but as an adult I redressed the balance to some extent by going to the authorities. For me this was an important way of standing up for my younger self in a way that nobody was able to at the time. So I would say that no matter how long ago something happened, it is never to late to acknowledge it. The person you were then deserves the person you are now to step up for them…I found it healing anyway🙂 I also had the sense that I may be able to help anyone else who had experienced abuse from the same person, so that was a bonus. Anything that makes me feel good about myself – however small or large – gets added to the armory🙂

    • Sista Resista June 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      Hi Raybena,

      Thanks for your input. Glad to hear you were able to take action against the person who abused you, and hopefully helped to protect others by doing so. Really liked the point you made about the person you were in the past deserving the support of the person you have become – this is a major point for survivors. We need to reflect on who we are now and how far we have come from the time of the abuse. Definitely agree that anything that helps you on the journey to recovery is a good thing.

      Thanks also for your email, I’ve received it and will reply as soon as I am able.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: