How to Survive the New Order
A primer for sexual abuse survivors.
Posted Jan 24, 2017
A rainy day at home typically prompts me to cook something interesting, curl up with a good book, settle into some writing, or all of the above. But Sunday, the day after the Women’s March in Washington DC, I was restless and preoccupied. Though we experienced intermittent torrential rains from morning ‘til night, it felt qualitatively different—more like holy water, washing away not only the muck that had accumulated on our roof but also the hopeless attitude about our society that I had developed as a result of the election. I’m grateful for that release. Throughout the day, as I participated in a Solidarity March in a nearby town, and witnessed on TV huge numbers of people marching for women’s rights in Washington DC, in cities throughout the rest of the country and around the world, I embraced a deeper appreciation for the power of women, a commitment to participate more fully in our democracy, and a sense of hope.
Amy Welch has an excellent article online—cbsnews/sexual-assault-survivors—that describes the struggles many survivors are experiencing as a result of Trump’s election. She notes how events related to his behavior can trigger powerful emotions—even flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Lux Alptraum, author of the 11/10/16 online article, How Sexual Assault Survivors Can Cope in Donald Trump's America (fusion.net), describes Trump as the personification of sexual abuse and assault. I understand that because of this, for many survivors, the sound of his voice or the sight of him on TV, newspapers, or other media can be a powerful trigger of traumatic memories, of pain, and of shame. Furthermore, the fact that he could even admit to sexual assault and still be elected, is typical of far too many abusers in that they get away with it and are never held accountable, while their victims suffer, often for years or a lifetime. How does that affect a woman’s or a teenager’s willingness to tell officials what was done to them? What does that portend for their futures? And what does it say about the state of the rape culture in our country? The answers to these questions can be overwhelmingly painful to think about, but they are also calling each one of us to do precisely that and then to do something about it.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault the following is a list of suggestions for how to do the most important thing you can do about it, which is to take care of yourself. I have compiled this list by pulling from the two articles mentioned above and from my own ideas, gleaned from my experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and 30 years of clinical experience as a marriage and family therapist. I hope you find it to be useful.
It’s important for you to have support and to not feel isolated. Spend time with your friends and with family members you feel understand you, respect you, are interested in your well-being and love you. Talk with those who share your values and your political perspective. If you’re in therapy be sure to be honest with your therapist about how you’re doing. If you’re not in therapy, perhaps it’s time to consider making an appointment with a competent one. Read books that help you, go to good movies, listen to music you like. Watch your favorite TV shows. Keep on hand the number of the 24/7 helpline at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE and use it if you need to.
Practice Self Care
Self care is critical. Get to the basics: exercise regularly, eat right, get the right amount of sleep, pray or meditate. Put yourself on a media fast for a period of time—no TV, internet, newspapers. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much better you feel without being bombarded by all the triggers and reminders that come with media.
Find Ways in Your Everyday Life to Resist Violence and Hatred
Be kind to yourself. Make choices during the day that are life-giving choices. Deepak Chopra’s book, Peace is the Way is packed with kindness and good ideas. Find ways to contribute actions that contribute to peace in your community, whether that be at work or at home.
Share the Lessons with Children
There are innumerable opportunities to teach children about what behaviors are and are not acceptable, whether that be how to protect themselves re: good touch/bad touch or the daily routine of disciplining them. Because your example is one of the most powerful influences refrain from calling names, yelling, and spanking. Peace needs to be the way to relate at home too.
Get Involved on a Larger Scale
Share your story, if you’re ready. I felt compelled to do that with my memoir, Never Tell: the True Story of Overcoming a Terrifying Childhood,and with contributing my story at events through the RAINN Speakers Bureau, but “going public” by doing similar things isn’t for everyone. Explore volunteering with a local advocacy organization, or taking calls at a rape crisis line. Work with organizations related to elections, or perhaps getting involved with local politics is what you’d like to do. Go for it! (A website you might appreciate: voterunlead) Organize toward a vision you have for contributing to our society the values you hold dear. (An example here in Georgia: counterpositive)
Engage in Expressive Arts
My husband laughs that I have a high need for self-expression. I suppose that’s true for all writers. But I learned the value of the expressive arts in childhood. Music was a healthy part of my family and I was a singer in my youth. Oh, the memories I have of singing Barbra Streisand songs at the top of my lungs! As a teenager who was being incested, those songs were a godsend. Decades later, while in the intensive part of my therapy I found that drawing, working with clay, writing poetry, and keeping journals were invaluable. Don’t hold back if you need to give expression to your pain. Expressing it helps to get the poison out; helps you to heal and live in peace. Peace? Yes, peace is possible.
Seek Assistance from the Justice System
Press criminal charges. Obtain protective orders. File lawsuits. Pursue restorative justice. Hold offenders accountable.
"What really matters is what you do about what really matters."
- Cheryl Richardson
Books that might help you:
Secret Survivors by E.Sue Blume
Invisible Girls: the Truth About Sexual Abuse by Patti Feuereisen
Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church by Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea
The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Malz
Incest and Sexuality by Wendy Malz
Childhood Sexual Trauma by Sheri Oz & Sarah-jane Ogiers
Cries of the Spirit: A Celebration of Women's Spirituality ed. by Marilyn Sewell
For readers who need a refresher on the history of Donald Trump’s connection to sexual assault, see Lindsay Kimble’s article in People Magazine: Everything You Need to Know About the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Donald Trump Before Election Day people/every-sexual-assault