12 Reminders for Sexual Assault Survivors
Before you read this, remember you are worthy of practicing self-care. You may be numb or you may be feeling so many feelings that you want to implode. That is OK. These are things to remember to get your mind off of what you’re feeling.
1. You are not alone.
There are 7.4 billion people on earth. With those odds, there has to be at least one other person who cares about what you are going through and how you feel. We are mosaics of experiences, each ceramic coming from larger original pieces that were once whole. There is at least one other person who has been through at least a similar experience as you. In today’s world of social media, there are endless ways to find people who understand you.
2. You are not at fault.
You may often fall into this trap. It may be because you always want to think you are in control. Unfortunately there are times in your life when you are not in control and that can be heartwrenching. Regardless, it was not your fault. It wasn’t your fault that a perpetrator stalked you. It wasn’t your fault that you were raped. It isn’t your fault if you have an eating disorder, depression or any other mental illness. You did what you had to do to survive. You are resourceful.
3. You are beautiful.
Genetics aside, your soul is absolutely beautiful. You are kind and you are full of love, even if you don’t feel like it right now. You are worthy of love and belonging. You are deserving of friendship. You don’t have to fight this fight alone, because there are always people in this world who will have your back. Allow your soul to shine bright and lead you through the darkness. You will be amazed by the path you will create for yourself.
4. It’s OK to cry.
Sometimes crying can be the most difficult thing to do. That’s OK. If you do have tears that are welling up, allow them to continue past your heart and up through your throat. The release that can come from crying is a miraculous one. You are worthy of the relief that crying can bring, even if you are afraid that you won’t be able to stop once you start. The emotions won’t kill you. You will not drown in your sadness if you allow yourself to experience it, and you will be able to keep your head above water if you can reach out a hand to someone in your life.
5. It can help to punch a pillow.
Anger is a very real emotion and by experiencing it, you are accepting part of the human condition. Holding in anger can make you wither away. Hit a pillow. Buy a pool noodle and slap it against your furniture. Throw ice against a brick wall. Swear at the top of your lungs. Move your body and release the energy and tension associated with this anger. If anger feels like a series of rubber bands in your muscles that need to be released, practice progressive muscle relaxation by squeezing each part of your body as hard as you can, starting with your toes until reaching your neck and jaw.
6. You are believed.
Being believed is one of the most validating things that can happen for a survivor. Not everybody will believe your experience, but it’s your own self-validation that counts. It will hurt when somebody calls you a liar, but when you are able to validate your story, it hurts a little less. You have been through hell, and what you went through should never have happened. You are not at fault. Remember that you are not the only person on Earth who has experienced this. Remember how there are 7.4 billion people here? There’s no doubt that at least one other person believes you.
7. It’s OK to be scared.
Being scared is a primary emotion of being human, and yes, you are human. It can be hard to believe when you are so emotionally detached, but if you are reading this, you are likely not a dog or a parakeet. With being human comes being worthy of feeling the full range of emotions that life has to offer, including fear. It’s OK to feel this way. Sometimes it may even feel right to sit in this fear for a little bit of time. Other times it may make more sense to distract yourself by reading, taking a bubble bath or taking a walk. There is no right or wrong way to cope with fear, only what works best for you. With feeling fear comes being brave. As Helen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming it.” It would be impossible to be brave if fear didn’t exist. Being brave means you have the capacity to stand up and face each and every day. You deserve the support and love from those around you.
8. Reach out.
Reaching out for support is simultaneously one of the hardest but most rewarding things you can do for yourself. When reaching out, it may make sense to only engage certain people in your life. For example, some people are just not capable of giving you what you need in a given moment, and that is OK. Know there are people you can reach out to when you are sad, and they may be different than the people you reach out to when you are scared, happy or feeling accomplished. Remember that everybody has a different reservoir with different ways to aid you.
9. Have you showered or eaten today?
Take a hot shower or bubble bath to calm your nerves. The steam will help clear any congestion you may have building up from crying (or not crying). Remember you can participate in self-care even when it feels impossible. You are also worthy of nourishment. Feeding yourself is a fact of being human, and nothing that has been done to you can make you less of a human. Fuel your body.
10. Take a deep breath.
Sometimes it can feel impossible to get a full breath of air, especially when you’re in full-on panic mode. Slow down your breathing. Inhale, count to four, hold for four and exhale for four seconds. Gradually slow it so it is slower than a second. It’s OK if you yawn, that is a frequent occurrence in a deep breathing practice. Try to connect to the world around you. Listen: what do you hear? Find all the things in the room that are the color red, then go through the whole rainbow. Sometimes it may feel that you are in sensory overload, and it may seem counterintuitive to focus on your senses, but this usually helps calm down your nervous system.
11. Remember you are strong and peaceful.
Breathe in, “I am strong,” and out, “I am peaceful.” It gives your mind something to be preoccupied with when it can’t seem to focus on anything in particular. Repeat these words when you feel disconnected.
12. Thank your mind, body and soul.
Life is hard right now, but have faith that you will get through the day. You are loved. You are cared for. You are so, so special. There are many ways to thank your mind and body, including practicing self-care. Thank the universe for all it has given you. Allow it to remind you the world is not against you. Believe in yourself because the Universe does too. The Universe is proud of you for surviving.
Getty Images photo via OGri