Friday, October 2, 2015

Survivors' Self Care

A Loved Ones' Guide

First, I would like to say a huge thank you to the amazing women who reached out to help me with this blog. I am just some stranger on the internet and you shared a part of your heart with me. I hope I shared your thoughts adequately and that I represented your stories well.

Secondly, I would like to open my blog up to any survivors. If you have a story that you want to share, but would like to remain anonymous (or not) - I would be honored to share it with my readers. You can "guest blog" at any time. I will always be on your side.

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When someone we love has been sexually abused/assaulted/raped we as loved ones can struggle with how to help them. Sometimes not knowing what to do or how to act can cause rifts and people can grow apart. Of course, this has the opposite effect of love and support that the survivor needs. As someone who has never been a target of this kind of violence it can be hard to understand what our loved one is going through. We might have a lot of questions or advice that we think would help.

I reached out on social media for survivors' input.

Everyone's recovery is different. One woman told me "It's so important to know that however long you deal with it, however long it takes - it's ALL okay. No one should be giving you a time frame."  Recovery is so much more than turning in your abuser, if you wish, and getting "justice" or going to a therapist or just "getting over it". There's no getting over it. This is a loss. A death of personal safety, security, and freedom over your body. No one can decide what your grieving process entails.

"What people need to understand is, everyone's situation is different, and something that seems so tiny to some people can be a huge trigger to those suffering. There are certain books I can't read, DVDs that I can't watch, songs that I can't listen to. I really wish that everything came with a trigger warning." Listen to your friend, be kind, shield them when you can. If you share a video or a story that you know how aggressive sexual tones or something that may be triggering, provide a warning on your post. It doesn't take but three extra seconds and it could save your loved one some unnecessary trauma.

The thing I heard most from survivors was that they want and need support. Even if they're struggling to leave the house, just knowing that you're out there if they want to talk is so good. Even if they don't respond to your daily quote or text or encouragement, be patient. I asked survivors' what support entailed specifically for them.

"The ability to just talk without fear of judgement or doubt," one survivor answered. "I always felt that, in some way, I must've done something wrong because any time I brought it the subject people changed it." When a survivor chooses you to open up to, it's not your place to decide how they should be grieving or handling their situation. "Being there for someone doesn't always mean making them talk, sometimes it's just the being there for when they do want to talk. [...] It can be an enormous pressure when you want to make someone feel better and you can't. Being there though, really is enough."

"I think the most important thing that someone can give me, is time. Time to heal at my own pace. Time to listen to me if I need to talk, or to not talk. I ask those who know, not to ask me too many questions. Don't expect too much of me. But at the same time... please just treat me like me. The fun, light hearted girl is still in there, under all this pain, confusion and frustration, I am still here." This sentiment seemed universal.

"I think people need to understand that (for me) it isn't something that consumes me," one survivor told me. "I don't think about it daily; however, I will always have days where I do think about it, and I'm not ok. [...] I live my life happily and I chose not to let it rule me, but that won't stop it rearing it's ugly head on a down day."

It seems the best thing you can do to help support a survivor is just ask them what they need. Also, know that peoples' needs can change. It's okay to check in with their mental and emotional health from time to time. Be secure in the knowledge that you can't fix this, but you can help and that is enough.

Until Next Time,
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