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Self-Care for Sexual Assault Survivors

Self-Care for Sexual Assault Survivors

Another round of assault allegations are surfacing from survivors, this time, against boxing star Oscar De La Hoya and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer.  Sexual assault causes many survivors to disassociate from their very selves – physically and mentally.  The road to healing may not be easy, but it is based on a familiar idea – self-care.  As a survivor, focusing on self-care helped me reclaim my body, and it can help others as well. 

I recall the feelings of fear, shame, disbelief, guilt, and dissociation during my experience, as if it were yesterday and not years ago. I also find myself reflecting on how I have navigated my self-care journey as a survivor and reminded that more conversations are needed focusing on recovering from sexual violence.

To be honest, self-care was the farthest thing on my mind the weeks that followed the assault. The experience had stolen my sense of agency, autonomy and right to my own body – a violation in the most intimate way. Self-care can feel unimaginable when you feel disconnected from your own body.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated experience. According to RAINN , 1 out of every 6 American Women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted). The number is even higher for women of color – African American girls and women 12 years and older experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than White, Asian, and Latina girls and women from 2005-2010. Sadly, the dynamics that African American women survivors endure are also complex as they intersect with cultural expectations.

Self-care is a vital part of the healing process for many survivors of rape and sexual assault and helps survivors cope with the effects. Our bodies can be a resource in navigating what kind of self-care it needs. When we are ready to reconnect with our bodies, we must listen and let them guide us towards healing. Of course, just as no two healing journeys look alike, there’s no one “right way” to practice self-care. As writer Nikita Gill stated, “[e]veryone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that without judgment”

Although my journey to healing was not easy, I created my own self-care checklist that focused on both my physical and emotional healing that may help other survivors as well.

Physical Self-Care:

The first steps are simply eating and sleeping. Eat foods that are nourishing to your body – a healthy outside starts from the inside. It is also important to get enough sleep. I found that the best bridge between despair and hope was a good night’s sleep. I know it can be really hard to get a good night’s sleep in the aftermath due to nightmares and fear of reliving the experience, so try to be kind to yourself – some of these things might not work right away.

After re-establishing the basics, engage in activities to help you remain present in your body, such as deep breathing and meditation. Pay attention to when you exit your body and notice what is happening in both instances. Traumatic memories can pull you into the past, while anxiety and hypervigilance project fear into the future. By re-connecting with your body in the present moment, you can get some distance from the thoughts that do not serve you. After all, the present is the only place where any of us can create change.

Create a specific routine that supports you in re-establishing a sense of self-trust, agency and autonomy. Break down a goal into tiny actions. Each time you complete a micro action, your faith in your abilities will grow incrementally over time. Tiny actions tend to be achievable, maintainable, and not at all overwhelming.

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional health is just as important as physical health. Be compassionate and gentle with yourself. Doing things for yourself is not the same as being selfish. It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask so you’re able to help others. You cannot take care of anyone else if you’re not okay. Or as they say – you cannot pour from an empty cup.

It will also help to spend time with people who can pour into you, people who make you feel safe and supported, and at places that make you feel comfortable and grounded. When a situation or conversation feels triggering, walk away from it.

Finally, know and communicate your sexual boundaries. It can be tricky to navigate sex after assault so being able to express your boundaries and needs to a partner who respects those boundaries can be healing as well.

In honor of all the women navigating the road to healing after an assault, may we all remember that we are not defined by what we went through, even if it feels like it at the time. If you are a friend of a survivor, keep reminding them that being assaulted is not a consequence of a victim’s choice of words or clothing. No one ever asks to be violated in this way. The best thing to say is simply, “I Believe You. It’s Not Your Fault. You are Not Alone.” May all survivors re-learn the importance of self-care as a tool to reclaim their bodies and come back home to themselves.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINNEnd Rape on CampusKnow Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

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