Why Your Focus Should Not Be On Forgiveness After Surviving Sexual Abuse

This post is to speak to survivors who were told or pressured to “forgive.” Everyone is welcome to their own opinions and beliefs, however, I suggest reading until the end, and you’ll see why. This blog post is probably so far one of the most important ones to read if you are on your healing journey as a sexual abuse survivor. It was difficult to write a title that included the two words that make us all cringe if put near each other: forgiveness and abuse. Now, the way I am going to talk about forgiveness isn’t the way your priest or pastor probably did. I’m not saying that they are wrong and I am right. These are just thoughts and realizations that I had about forgiveness a few years ago. Not only did I come to an understanding of what forgiveness really is, but I also came to this conclusion: Yes, it is possible to forgive anything (rape, sexual abuse) HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we need to or should. IN FACT, I don’t recommend that ever being the focus for a survivor. Instead, I am going to discuss the definition of forgiveness and what would be more beneficial to you when it comes to healing from abuse. 

 I always shuttered at the word and would feel so frustrated by my teachers in catholic school who said “we need to forgive to go to heaven.” I remember thinking, How and why would a God make you forgive something so awful?  I’ve had people tell me “to never forgive my abuser,” and I’ve had people say, “you have to forgive to move on.” As an extremely creative kid, I was always painting, writing poetry, and piano playing as a kid. Most of them were expressions and reflections on the abuse. Even as a 7, 8, and 10 years old, I wrote some dark shit. It was something that was constantly in my thoughts, and the PTSD wasn’t helping. My focus for years was on the limitations and troubles it had caused, sometimes my focus still goes back there from time to time. 

Three summers ago I took a public speaking class at my local community college. Over the semester, we gave multiple speeches. The last and longest speech presentation was the “Persuasive Speech.” Our topic was up to us. That week I began brainstorming ideas such as: Why Fear Is The Root Cause of The Worlds Problems, Why We Should All Learn To Abide By The Ayurvedic Diet, or The Power of Thought and How It Creates Our Reality. They interested me but instead I chose to persuade the class on something I actually disagreed on: “It is possible to forgive the unforgivable.”

By the end of the research and presentation, I realized that forgiveness isn’t really what we understand as forgiveness. Thinking you are a bad person for not being able to forgive or that you won’t be able to heal if you don’t forgive is one of the most significant myths that hurt us. I want you to know that you do not ever need to forgive your abuser and that it should not be your focus at all. There is another way to heal, a much less shameful way, a way that lets your empowerment rise again. This other way incorporates certain aspects of (the true definition which I will state later on in this) forgiveness, but I want you to know that forgiveness right now should not be your focus. Before I go into explaining why and what will be more healing for you, I am going to briefly describe what forgiveness is and what it isn’t:

What is forgiveness? What isn’t forgiveness? (this explanation isn’t pertaining to abuse, I am talking about the overall definition) The definition of it for many of us is very cloudy. We hear often that forgiveness is the act of letting go and how choosing to not forgive is holding onto an attachment to suffering. Many of us (if not all) at one point lived in continual pain because of something that has happened in the past. A major obstacle that inhibits one from forgiving is that our happiness is still dependent on that person’s actions. Many of us refrain from forgiving because we fear a lack of control over the situation. Regardless of who we are forgiving, we all have had the thought “If I forgive, what if they do it again?” Forgiveness is a state of being, it’s not a one-time thing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue relationships with them. It’s a continual internal practice. We must remember that we are forgiving the person and not the action. It is the act that caused the feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, not the human itself. Now here is what I realized what it means to forgive: 

Forgiveness is letting go of the person’s actions in the past, present, future. It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.” 

Now that I described what forgiveness is and isn’t, I’m going to talk about why that shouldn’t be your focus as a survivor and what would be more healing for you. In fact, this is what lead me to start this blog, and you’ll see why.

Firstly, whoever is telling you to forgive your abuser needs to fuck off. Whether it is a family member, friend, therapist, or religious figure, it doesn’t matter. They have no business in your decisions and personal journey. The reason why some people urge you to forgive is that A.) they cannot emotionally handle accepting or hearing what happened, and this is their way of sweeping it under the rug. B.) they may be relating your situation to their own or someone they know and believe if you do what they did then you’ll be healed. C.) their religious beliefs and inability to accept any other way of living except for their own. D.) either they have done the act or something similar or know someone who has done it and they are trying to obtain relief from their guilt by needing validation from your actions and current experience. Basically, if someone is pressuring you to forgive something like this, it actually has nothing to do with you and your situation. Instead, it has to do with more of their own personal or selfish reasons that have to do with themselves.

Secondly, the focus shouldn’t be on the abuser or even your relationship with them (if there is or was one in the past.) It needs to be on the person you are in this moment, and what limitations are present because of the abuse. What we are going to do is to pull out pieces of the meaning of forgiveness, and apply it to your own life for you to live the life you deserve and return to who you truly are. So, instead of it being about the abuser, focus more on the effects the abuse has left and how it is currently influencing your life in the present.

Instead of “trying to forgive” reflect on these questions:

Are there any “personality traits” I have that I don’t like about myself that were rooted in the trauma?

Are there any things that I want to do but I believe I can’t because of the abuse? (ex: sex or intimate relationships)

Are there any traits I admire in other’s yet don’t believe I can be myself because I was abused?

Are there any mental/physical blocks or limitations that the trauma has caused?

Are there things that I wish I could do but feel like I can’t because of triggers and PTSD?

Are there times when I wish that “I was normal” and not who I am because of the abuse?

Are there places or situations that I wish I could visit or experience but have a difficult time because of the trauma?

Are there relationships I want to have, yet am afraid to pursue because of the trauma?

Do you see? There are so many ways the abuse has confined us into this tiny cage, almost creating an identity of things we considered “personality traits.” Where in fact, they were symptoms of abuse, those things aren’t you. I’ll be honest, for most of my life I didn’t like who I was and that is because I wasn’t being who I was. It was like I had this agreement with life that was “ok this happened, so now I am this person.” I became tired of living my life based on the past. “It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Trauma impacts so many parts of one’s life so much so, that the trauma can become our identity. What I mean by that is, a lot of us (because of PTSD, our brains protecting us, and human nature) have learned certain behaviors, core beliefs, and ways we perceive the world to protect us and make us feel safe. The problem is that we are living in the present while being in the mindset of protecting ourselves from something that happened in the past. These behaviors and beliefs served a purpose and were there for a good reason: to feel safe, protected, and soothed. Sometimes though, they deter us from living the life we deserve and wish to have.

Forget focusing on forgiving your abuser. Instead, focus on shedding all of the beliefs and behaviors that stemmed from their actions that you feel are limiting your life. It’s not about letting go of the past. It’s about letting go of all the armor and limits we have put up to feel safe in this world that is no longer serving us so that our true inner power can overflow our entire being.

We may have learned that power is a dangerous thing and that it can be used to hurt others. Because survivors (including myself) have seen the ugly side of power, we may tend to shy away from any sort of power, even down to the minuscule things such as decision making, speaking up for ourselves, disagreeing, saying yes when we wanted to say no. What true power is- is what you’re about to do. It’s looking at the abuser/abuse and saying “I will no longer let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Were there times after this realization where I had fallen into the cycle of thinking, “the reason I do _ is because of the abuse?” Yes, in fact, that’s a story I told myself pretty often when I was addicted to Xanax. It wasn’t until I got treatment for it was when I realized: I can be the girl who is addicted to Xanax and drinks with it to cope with the pain of abuse and PTSD OR I can be the girl who WAS addicted to the combination of Xanax and alcohol but decided to walk away from it once she realized she was living a constant state of numbness because it was more familiar than allowing herself to feel the pain and enter the new chapter of her life where she sheds those limiting effects and lets her power flow.

The focus is on shedding all those aspects of yourself that were never you. It is about reconciling with the heartbreaking truth of what happened, and knowing that it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it. Listen, that abuser and their actions placed so many limitations on your life, don’t give them any more attention by focusing on reconciling and forgiving them. Focus on letting your inner power, which was once blocked, begin to flow. The trauma may have blocked it temporarily, but the biggest gift you can give to yourself is by turning this obstacle into an opportunity to break the agreements that abuse has us agree to.

We all come to rock bottom at some point in our lives, but many of us will climb the ladder up towards where we were once before. Instead of climbing back up out of rock bottom, what if we broke through? If we broke through we’d have a different perspective looking back at our rock bottom.

So basically, forget about forgiving your abuser and letting go of what they did. Focus on letting go of the limits the trauma imposed so that your inner strength can overflow and be a gift to the universe and yourself.

Things To Know Before Putting Your Child (who has a history of trauma) On Medication

I decided to put this weeks post into a video to make sure this information is clearly communicated. In this (40 min, yeah it’s long) video I talk about things that I have learned over the years about trauma + medication and how trauma can make the process more difficult. Here are things to know when deciding to go the route of medication.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. This is knowledge that came from personal experience.

For Parents: A Blog Series For Parents of Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused

Part 1: This is going to be a series of blog posts that speak to parents of children who have been sexually abused. Firstly, if this relates to you, I want to say that I am so sorry, my heart goes out to you and your child. No parent ever wants to hear that it has happened. Also, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You did everything you could to protect your child at the time. My parents where probably one of the most cautious people, and yet it still happened to me in my own home. What’s important now is to focus on your child and how to help them feel validated, heard, and understood.

Now, I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. All of these insights and tips are things I had wish I had known as well as my parents had. My goal here is to help families have the healing process be as uncomplicated as possible. This is a grave and serious topic in which the healing process often takes years. This first post in the series is about understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma in your child. I believe this is important to start with because oftentimes symptoms of trauma can be mistaken as behavioral problems or mental illness. Some children have been misdiagnosed (including myself) and/or put on medication for something that was a symptom of trauma. (The next blog post will be about deciding whether to or not to introduce medications to your child. That post won’t be a concrete yes or no opinion, but rather things that are incredibly important to keep in mind if choosing this route. Trust me, knowing these things will save your child, time, etc. Stay tuned for next week’s post regarding medication.)

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at breakingagreements@gmail.com

One thing to know about kids before going into this is that they do not have the vocabulary, education, experience, understanding, or knowledge that you do. However, I am not saying children are not smart. In fact, I personally believe that children use certain parts of the brain more than we do. They have such a fresh perspective of life which allows them to be more open to learning without judgment. Yet, this also is what can become a problem if they have experienced abuse. Depending on the situation and who the abuser is, children sometimes see the abuser in a different light than the rest of the world. This is because predators are like con artists. Most of the time, it is someone the child knows. They are manipulative and will create this false perception of what the abuse is. Meaning, oftentimes abusers will try to create a situation where the child depends on them or trusts them so that it taints the child’s perspective of what is really going on and therefore wouldn’t tell another adult because they’d fear hurting the abuser or breaking or losing that bond. I know it is painful to read and hear, but this is important to know when you are trying to talk to your child.

There are many reasons why children do not say anything. Most don’t. The reason above is one of them, but there are a few other reasons. One of them is that the abuser may live in the household, or is a relative. It’s hard for children to speak up against someone in the family or community that may be highly thought of by everyone else. Another reason is that children may not understand what happened. I was six years old when I was abused, and I did not know or understand what rape was. Therefore, I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of what occurred to directly tell my parents right after it happened. I just knew something “bad” happened.

When a child doesn’t report the abuse, that doesn’t mean there are no other clear signs that may appear. Many times, these symptoms show up as behavioral problems or acting out. If the parent doesn’t know what occurred and then punish the child for these actions that are just trauma manifestations, this affects the child on so many levels.

I am not saying that all of these actions mean that your child has been abused, but if you suspect or know they have, then look out for these symptoms because they are not your child “Acting Out.”

Avoiding physical touch of any kind. If your child seems agitated or resistant towards hugs or honestly anything along the lines of that, do not tell them to “toughen up,” “you’re fine,” or tell them that you are safe and not going to hurt them. Right now, they don’t need rationalization, they need their boundaries respected. (Trust isn’t rebuilt by words, it is rebuilt by action.)

I had a VERY difficult time with physical touch, even from my parents. This is one of the few photos my parents got where I wasn’t freaking out or crying about hugging or being hugged.

Avoiding certain people, places, groups, or events. This includes church, school, tutoring, dance classes, or sports practice. Sometimes the people, places, or things that a child survivor avoids may not be directly related (yet oftentimes is) it can also be a trigger that reminds them of the abuse, not even tangible triggers but also, emotional ones. So, instead of immediately reacting when your child seems to be defiant, become observant because learning about the fears is how you will learn how to help your child. There were so many times where my parents thought I was being difficult and was punished for it, when in fact I was terrified to go certain places or see certain people out of pure fear. (This was mostly within the first year after the abuse, where I’d get panic attacks yet seemed like tantrums. Again, this is not blaming them, they didn’t know right away and had no background or experience in mental health.)

Behavioral changes. Eating less or more, suddenly seems shyer, jumps at sudden movements or sounds, being more agitated, doing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, controlling, tantrums, avoidant actions, and most of all: seeming more on edge, highly sensitivity, and dissociating (which looks like daydreaming.) The body doesn’t feel like a safe place to live after rape. It’s constant extreme discomfort, unease, and yet there’s no escape. In ways to compensate, the child will try to make everything feel safe around them. This will appear as children exhibiting disordered eating habits, saying that certain clothes feel “too tight” or “too loose,” being startled at loud sounds, or extreme responses or freeze responses when people exhibit strong emotions. The year after the abuse, I would take up to three showers a day. At the time, my parents thought it was absurd and obviously, didn’t allow me to when I tried. So just keep in mind to look out for behaviors such as that. The mind isn’t the only thing that is affected. After trauma, the body is still constantly in alert, fight or flight mode. Many kids appear and are highly sensitive, especially to other people’s emotions. (In some cases, if the abuser was someone the child knew, they may have had to scan the abuser’s emotional state and try to respond or act a certain way to not get hurt. That is why many trauma survivors can sense the emotions of others well but often neglect their own.) I have ADHD and PTSD, so it was hard to tell the difference between having a hard time focusing, and dissociating. Internally, there is a clear difference. But if you find your child zoning out often, especially in moments of high stress, it can be either or. This is where professional help is important. Also, here is an article that talks about ADHD and Trauma.

After the trauma as kid, I rarely stayed in the present moment. This picture is was taken a few weeks after the abuse.

Chances are, your child has a limited vocabulary regarding the topic of sexual abuse. They are not going to know how to explain what happened. From personal experience, having parents asking open-ended questions felt frustrating because I could not find the right words to describe it. On the other hand, I have read many articles that said to ask open-ended questions. So, it all depends on the child. Try both and observe how they respond. In my case, it was difficult to put my thoughts into words, and I’d shut down, cry, and become frustrated. If this relates to your child-Instead of asking broad questions like, “Why do you feel sad?” Try asking either more specific questions (even if they say reply “no” to the question, it narrows the answers down and helps the child narrow it down in their mind) or by asking physically related questions, such as where did you get hurt, etc. Oftentimes, they’ll be able to answer the more physical related questions regarding how they felt, instead of the emotional aspects of the abuse. Here is a link to discussing the abuse with your child, based on their age. 

Here is a helpful description of a common way children will try to say that they have been abused. This is from Dr. Laurie Braga’s testimony where she talks about certain techniques she uses when interviewing children of sexual abuse. (Link to interview)

In the course of your interview of thousands of kids, three or four hundred alleged victims of sexual abuse and one hundred confirmed victims of sexual abuse, have you noticed a common pattern of disclosure of the sexual abuse event by children?

Yes. I have seen a common thread, a common pattern of how children disclose. They typically will start off by saying — either by saying nothing happened or they will say something happened, but they will either say the least of what happened, or they will say something happened, but it was just some other kid, or something happened and that they saw it. Then they will gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will begin to open up more and say what happened, actually what happened to them, “This is what actually what happened to me,” and gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will build up to the worst of what happened to them, especially anything that they feel personally responsible for, as if they themselves were a partner in the crime and did something real bad. Then after having disclosed, if they [are] then met with openness and comfortableness, from someone else, say their parents, then they will continue to open up and continue to tell what happened. If they are met with, “I don’t want to hear this stuff,” or they are with a person who is in an adverse position to them who is sort of saying to them, “Well, this didn’t really happen, did it?” they will then retract what they said, take it back and say, “No, it didn’t really happen,” or of they don’t completely take it back, they will say the things that are the easiest and not the hardest to talk about.”

It is important to address the trauma before coming to conclusions about any other mental health disorder. If a child is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, etc instead of addressing the trauma & PTSD that may be causing the anxiety, more symptoms will surface overtime because the real issue at hand is not being addressed. Anxiety and depression are symptoms of trauma and they are also diagnoses. An individual can have both or may have had one or the other before the trauma. But, just from personal experience, make sure you address the trauma first, and then co-existing disorders. Because even if you think one of the symptoms is “solved” (like anxiety & avoiding certain places or people) another one will surface. It will be like playing that game, “wack a mole” because the root of the issue isn’t being addressed. The trauma needs to be treated mentally and physically (I talk about the importance of healing the body in this post.) They must learn to emotionally regulate the emotions evoked from the trauma because (not to come across as extreme here, but this occurs all the time and also is from my personal experience) later on as the child gets older, they will try to learn to emotionally regulate these feelings themselves and sometimes, they are not always the best ways: substance abuse, co-dependency, eating disorders, hypersexuality, self-harm…)

If you are struggling to understand your child, I suggest taking them to see a therapist, social worker, etc. Try: “psychologytoday.com” if you have insurance. You can select your insurance, zip code, and trauma specialization in the search bar. Another tip if you decide to do this is to give time for your child to speak. In some cases where the child is quiet, many therapy sessions end up revolving around the parent’s perspective. Even though that is important too, talking for your child will end up being a disservice in the long run. It can lead to veering off the path of what may be going on within your child’s mind that they are hiding and that you are unaware of (and they also may be unaware.) It is the therapist’s job to help the child find ways to talk about the abuse.

This topic will go into next week’s post where I discuss the pros, cons, and things to know when thinking about medication. *This is not a all for medication and this is not an against medication post. It will be discussing things to keep in mind when considering it.

Resources Used: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/terror/techniques/bragatestimony.html

http://www.nccpeds.com/powerpoints/interview.html

https://systemsofcare.ou.edu/file.ashx?id=a5f6ade6-3a60-48bf-b26a-6872a810eb0d

Chasing Chaos, The Fear of an Ordinary Life, and The Misconception of Pleasure and Excitement: How It’s All Connected

Last week I was staring at a stack of paper cards, with a value written on each of them. We were instructed to separate these cards into the three categories: Important, Kind of Important, Not Important. There were A LOT of cards. After we put them into categories, we had to pick the top ten values from the “Important” category. Never thought how much you’d learn about yourself after doing this. After sorting through the cards, worrying that I’d miss an important one, I chose the top ten. (Here is a list of Brene Browns Values if you want to try this!)

Excitement, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Humor, Creativity, Self Knowledge, Sexuality, Purpose, and Stability. Fast-forward to today, the morning after a bad relapse, I sat holding my mug of black coffee looking at my top ten values I wrote down from last week. Silently, my tears streamed down my face and dripped into the blue ceramic mug. I poured out the coffee and went back to the torn out pieces of notebook paper from therapy. Staring blankly at the words excitement and stability, I felt like there was a contradiction. It’s impossible to have passion, excitement, with stability, I thought, You can’t balance that.

Ah there lies the problem.

It’s not the value itself that needs to change, but rather it was my definition of the value and how I’d seek it..

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

My mother would quote one of my grandmother to me, “Boring is beautiful.” I’d often cringe at it. Whenever she’d say that, I’d think to myself “No, boring is when I can’t sit still. Boring is when I end up getting super high alone at night and go skateboarding (yes, I know, I am 23) or opening up that orange pill bottle, or waking up at this man’s house in Delaware (I live in PA.) I can’t be bored! It’s not fucking beautiful.” Obviously, I didn’t say those things out loud, and yeah that reaction is a bit extreme. Most of the time, I’d reply to her saying, “I don’t really see that Mom.” I didn’t. Is stability and boredom the same thing? Can you live a life where excitement and stability both equally exist? Here are a few things I realized on this “not my greatest” morning.

Here’s the part where I talk about the correlation between chaos, our definition of pleasure, and the fear of living an ordinary life.. It all ties together.

If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, lived in an environment where abuse was occurring, or survived emotional abuse chances are you became familiar with chaos. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with chaos than calm. Even though calmness is what we ultimately crave (and may have used addictive behaviors to self soothe and emotionally regulate) it’s unfamiliar. And for the human brain- unfamiliarity is scary. “I never lived in peace, I don’t deserve it, and even though other’s do, it’s not possible for me” This may not be a thought that is highlighted in your mind, but it could be subconsciously lurking in the background.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

You see, abuse and being raised in certain environments overtime imprint the belief system. We might believe “we don’t deserve to feel good.” OR that “we don’t deserve boundaries.” Something the world see’s as so pleasurable was used against us to create pain and punishment. In consequence of this, it’s common to believe that pleasure = punishment. In cases of emotional abuse, you may have a belief that love equates to pain, or that you need to tolerate _ when in a relationship, to receive love you have to neglect yourself and value other’s more. Another common belief survivors may have is if they feel pleasure, they will have to be punished for it. Some punish themselves after it. Maybe you feel that you are not allowed to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel afraid to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel that if you experience pleasure, someone else will feel hurt, and vice versa. The major concepts that we need to look at and change are: What does pleasure mean to you? How do you seek it? Often, pleasure for us can be connected with methods of escapism and behaviors that lead to addiction. Those old behaviors that once may have saved us, took us out of the scary reality, and brought us pleasure often later on turn into what is causing pain later.

This is how the cycle occurs. The abuse happens imprinting deep wounds and core beliefs about ourselves and the world. With that perspective and definition of what love and pleasure is, we subconsciously end up gravitating towards experiences that mirror those views (the way our brain works is to constantly seek out evidence for our beliefs and thoughts, it’s not that we wanted more bad things to happen, it’s our brains trying to make sense of things.) When we then experience the pain again, it confirms the belief that “Life is always unstable and painful.”

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

Let me clarify very CLEARLY: You are never at fault for being abused. Never. It’s never EVER, someone’s fault that they were abused, OR ending up in another abusive situation later on in life. What I am talking about here is the importance of understanding the wounds in some of our beliefs and what we believe we deserve. If you were raised in an environment where abuse was called, “house rules,” or it was the norm, when you are in a relationship later on and something similar happens, it may take a while for the survivor to notice the red flags. There’s that quote from Perks of Being A Wallflower that says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But in this case not only is it “what we think we deserve,” it also is “what we saw and learned as love.” Maybe you didn’t experience abuse but you witnessed it as a child, that is still a chaotic environment where you learned to tolerate it because in that moment you needed to as survival. Calmness can feel strange and unfamiliar for those who experience sexual or emotional abuse.

I’ve done it myself, believing that I wasn’t deserving of a calm, normal life. I still struggle with this. Sure, in many aspects I’ve worked through them, but there are still many more. I’ve had multiple therapists, friends, and especially my mom say to me many times that “You should write a book about of all the weird stuff that has happened to you.” Sure, on the outside they were funny, but a lot of the situations I’ve found myself in were a result of feeling unworthy, battles with addiction, and core beliefs I had about sex and relationships. Sure, I causally write or tell my weird ass experiences with hits of humor. Yet, I often don’t talk about the aftermath like crying in the gynecologists office, the distance addiction has caused in my friendships and relationships, going off the grid from the world during depression or relapses, and so much more.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

It’s not that we don’t want an ordinary life. It’s not that we don’t want a supportive loving relationship. It’s that we might believe deep down we don’t deserve it. It also might be the thought, “If my life didn’t consist of chaos, constant healing from the chaos, addiction…who would I be? And what would I do with my life?” becuase you were in the throws of it for so long.

Once we become aware of our past and how if affected us, we can now take our power back and create the life our seven year old self would be proud of, and smiling at. We may feel like without constant chaos or substances life would be dull, but I’m learning that chaos and relapses gets old as well. I am learning to value my current relationships over the substances I once used to escape from the old ones (or memories.)

This is where we return to the values I talked about above. Except this time, rewrite under each value how we want that to look in our everyday lives. So instead of pleasure and excitement being: abusing substances, chaotic relationships, and walking into situations most would run from, we can seek those things in other ways such as through listening or playing music, making playlists, preforming, getting coffee with your girlfriends, rock climbing, fresh bed sheets, early mornings, create art, write a book, laughter with friends, soreness in your muscles after working out, hot yoga, ah the list can go on.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

** I want to also not dismiss the difficulty in leaving an abusive situation. My love goes out to you and I know how scary it can be to speak up and leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Is:  1 (800) 799 – 7233. There are also many centers that help women such as https://womenagainstabuse.org/ (Philadelphia Area)

After you write down your values, redefine what they mean to you, and how that would look in your life, you’ll be able to see that it is possible to live a life of excitement and stability.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

Why You Should Break Away From Extremes

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.

-Iyanla Vanzant

Yeah, I’m a Gemini, but in no way will I ever use that as the reason as to why I’ve always struggled to find “The Middle Path.” Just over year ago, you’d most likely find me at the local yoga studio downtown, sipping on cranberry kombucha, slathering coconut and eucalyptus oil on my body every night before bed, taking long hot baths with Epsom salts, and living off of sweet potatoes, green juice, and quinoa. Then, the next week I’d be at least three shots in of Smirnoff (of my 100 lb frame at the time) during my evening biology class that usually followed up with smoking cigarettes in my car until I was sober enough to drive. I’d swing from the chandelier, (almost literally) from one side of the spectrum to the other. There were moments of putting lavender and eucalyptus essential oils on my wrists, keeping citrine crystals in my bra or pockets wherever I went, and juice cleansing for a week. Then there were also the moments of landing at midnight in San Diego, still drunk and letting my cousin give me acupuncture while she was high. Which then led to continual drinking the rest of the time I visited family, ruining my mothers “girls wine tasting trip” to the Funk-zone in Santa Barbara when she turned around to find me lying down on the sidewalk, under a tunnel, and had to peel me off the dirty pavement. We have never gone on one since, and I can understand why.

The Funk Zone
Hangover Acupuncture from my Californian cousin.

Once my therapist quoted to me, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” At first, I really didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t really take a deep look into applying that to my life. A common theme has been extremes. If I felt like I relapsed a little bit, I’d run with it. If I felt like I was finally getting my act together, I’d run with it. What was the precursor to either extreme was by all or nothing thinking, and disregarding listening to my body. 

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” If you’ve been the person who always said, “tomorrow I’ll start,” and then ended up drinking 10x more than you would, smoked your entire “last” pack of cigarettes, started a 10-day water fast or some weird shit like the 70’s Vogue Diet only to resort back to your “higher calorie” trail mix and kale chips…this post is for you.

A food journal entry from a few years ago… yikes is right

There are three categories of tools to use in times of stress, overstimulation, or just feeling overwhelmed. Category 1, 2, and 3. Category 1 sums up the habits you probably are trying to break. Category 2 consists of the things we do but prefer not to talk about, and Category 3 is mostly what we understand as “positive” coping tools. The idea is for you to categorize your own tools, coping habits, and incorporate new ones as well. Once you see them written down on a piece of paper, you’ll be able to understand the dynamics of your cycles and patterns, see how often and why you use negative coping tools, to navigate a starting point of recovery when you aren’t sure if you really want to recover yet, or just feel like you need to find awareness of what you have been doing. By writing it all down on one piece of paper, it also takes away the shame and all or nothing thinking-because, in the end, they are all coping behaviors.

Category 1: Wine, cigarettes, weed, starving, counting calories, water fasts, Xanax, Tito’s in your GT’s Synergy Kombucha, keeping airplane bottles in your car..basically any form of using booze to escape, throwing up, sleeping pills, casual sex with randos, laxatives, Tinder Men (especially Tinder Sams and a few of the women on there), Men who keep asking for pics, credit cards you shouldn’t be using, running so often that you get stress fractures in both legs, or bleaching your hair after drinking a bottle of wine.

My “Tinder Sam” Saga Back In March
Archived from my Instagram story
Meanwhile, I should’ve been doing homework.

Category 2: Hours of reading the elephant journal or about astrology, spending almost all of the money you saved for groceries on new journals or mediums, three cups of black coffee, taking too much b12, dark chocolate, Instagram, running out at 10 pm before CVS closes to buy a vibrator because you threw your old one out for using it too much, spending an unnecessary amount of money on crystals, sage, maca powder, and goji berries.

Category 3: Hot lemon water, epsom salt baths, Peppermint or Kava Tea, Essential Oils, Hot Yoga, Yoga, singing at the top of your lungs, L-Glutamine/Amino Acid therapy (highly recommend if you are quitting drinking), long walks, short walks, binaural beats, affirmations, meditations such as “Fuck That Meditation” and “Aaron Doughty’s Meditations,” headstands, green juice (for minerals and electrolytes), coconut oil, crystals, Yin Yoga, FaceTime your friends, journal with spelling and grammar errors in a stream of consciousness style of writing, walk in the forest or on the beach, turn off your phone, sparkling water, Tito’s-free kombucha, Self-Defense Class, Acupuncture, Reiki, reading life changing books such as Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself, The Body Keeps The Score, Quit Like A Woman, The Fuck It Diet (by my cousin Caroline…where you’ll also probably learn a lot about my family’s past weird diets, and the not so normal moments that I thought were normal, for example: when my mom poured a bowl of “frozen blueberries” for my neighborhood friends, called it dessert, and none of the kids on our street ate at our house ever again.)

Anyway, you can tell Category 1 coping tools aren’t anywhere near the “goal” and that Category 2 isn’t preferable, but it doesn’t have as many repercussions as Category 1. Category 3 is what we may have learned about in self-help books, rehab, or therapy-it’s what we “should” be doing.

Now, I want you to try to categorize your own tools you use. Once you do that, I want you to realize and accept that it’s actually better to end up in mostly Category 2, while integrating parts of Category 3. I know it doesn’t sound ideal, or like your perfect version of “Recovery,” but I promise it’s a lot better than going all in for 3, and end up burning out and then resorting back to all of the coping mechanisms in Category 1.

If you feel impatient with your progress and want to resort to an extreme method or if you’ve relapsed, I suggest learning about The Middle Way. For example: If you started smoking again after you quit, instead of hyper-focusing on not smoking, start incorporating behaviors from Category 3. It’s extremely difficult to quit cold turkey when you don’t have any coping mechanisms you’ve practiced and have evidence that they’ve worked. It’ll be smoother (as much as it can be) when you decide to quit again.

**Another Tool I learned today in group therapy (after discussing my recent impulsive decisions) is to set a fifteen-minute timer every time you feel an urge. Once it ends and if the urge is still there, try it again. However, if you feel like you CANNOT possibly set that timer again or that you don’t know if you want to quit whatever it is, then let yourself do engage in the habit-after the 15 minutes. This actually helps your brain over time, rewire itself to pause before taking action instead of going straight into engaging in the habit. This technique is definitely a form of practicing moderation. However, I go back and forth with this idea because there are some habits and urges that you can’t fuck with, like oxy or mixing liquor with Xanax or perhaps just drinking in general. I think in therapy she was referring more to the most recent event of deciding to bleach my hair while drunk. (I did pause, for what I recall being ten minutes, with a bowl of bleach in my hand.)

What Does It Mean To Be A Sexually Empowered Woman?

I didn’t go on my first date until I was nineteen. Nineteen. Between fears from the trauma and the dogma preached to us in Catholic school, sex was something I avoided like the plague. Talking about it, thinking about it, hearing anything related to it just freaked me out. I’d shut down, dissociate, and cry a lot during health class as a kid. omg

I don’t know what caused me to jump towards the opposite end of the spectrum after that. Maybe it was angst at the church after all the years or watching too much Sex And The City. There were many parallels between the show and the way I was living. Except, replace cosmopolitan men (although that has happened) with mostly tan, skateboarding, guitar playing, flannel-wearing men who’ll throw a Shaka in every picture opportunity there is.

I’m lucky to have girlfriends who are open and confidently are able to speak about their sex lives. I think that’s important because if you’re surrounded by people that associate sex with shame, it’s going to be difficult to venture out of that perspective. Nowadays, no one looks twice at a woman who goes on tinder for hookups. Personally, I think it’s great we’ve gotten to that point now. We’ve been working on deconstructing the ties between women, sex, and shame for decades. If you go way back (and still, some hold these beliefs) women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex, sex was for marriage and only to have children, etc. So to say that society has finally been starting to celebrate women and their sexuality is incredible. I’m all for it.

HOWEVER, there was one thing I mixed up. For the longest time (and honestly, not until very recently) I didn’t understand what really makes a woman sexually empowered. To start, the most important thing I want to get across is that there is a major difference between a sexually empowered woman and a woman having sex to feel sexually empowered. The essence of a sexually empowered woman is something internal, whereas the second of the latter is more of this chasing, “never going to be enough” experience.

I used to think that being casual about sex and avoiding emotional intimacy with sexual partners made me feel like an “empowered woman who doesn’t need a man.” I felt “empowered” for keeping a laced bra from Free People, along with miniature airplane bottles of Smirnoff in my glove compartment, because, hey ya never know, right? If you are familiar with Attachment Styles, you’d understand what I mean by when I say that I was the poster child for “Avoidant Attachment.” A lot of this was intertwined with trauma-related wounds, such as chasing after more risky situations to reclaim a sense of control I lost from the abuse.

Time went on, along with a lot of breakdowns. I was in pain. I caused a lot of emotional pain for others. I said yes when my inner child was screaming no. I followed that script we all learned as young girls. Moaning at all the right times. There was no pleasure at all. I believed that having casual sex and seeming “chill” made me sexually empowered. I didn’t want to go back to avoiding it completely out of fear like how I was in the beginning. Even in relationships, I’d tell myself to “get it over with” and put their desires before mine.

What made me realize something had to change was when I cried during sex. Yeah, that was…awful, awkward, I don’t even have the words to describe it. I remember texting my roommate after, in tears, asking if that’s happened to her. She said no. I experienced probably what was one of the worst flashbacks in my life. This is just my own observation, but I feel like that happened because I wasn’t listening to myself for a while. I kept saying “yes” or thinking “ah whatever, It’ll be over.” for way too long. It was as if my body had to step in and say, “it’s time to listen to yourself, it’s time to change.”

That’s when I decided to redefine in my mind, what makes a woman sexually empowered.

It has nothing to do with how often or who you have sex with. It’s an inner sense of self, a set of guidelines, the openness to learn about all of your desires, fears, and what you like and don’t like. It’s a promise to never abandon yourself and to follow what makes you happy. It means to continually practice listening to how your body responds to certain things. It means to become familiar with your menstrual cycle, make your own choices when it comes to birth control and self-grooming. It means to learn how to say what you like. It means to understand that sounds are an energy being released through your body and not something that is “thought about or timed”. To have sex as often or little as you want. It means to learn about your anatomy and what your vagina looks like. To be able to say the word vagina, without embarrassment or shame. To know that pleasure doesn’t only come from sex but also candles, salt baths, dancing, fuzzy blankets, facials, long talks with friends, or going to sleep in clean sheets and a t-shirt.

You already are a sexually empowered woman, it’s just that we have to clear the fog of all the “should’s” we have learned in society in order to tap into it.

Relapse, Recovery, and Figuring Out If It Is A Problem

I had a wake-up call. Now, listen, I’ve had a lot of wake up calls. Many of sorts. Like waking up on a couch without a clue whose home I was in. Waking up to the fact how sick I was when my best friend since the first grade held my hands in a local Starbucks, with tears in her eyes, begging me to get better. Or the wake-up call I had when I was being rushed to the Mission Viejo Hospital for my heart rhythms after starving, being underweight, overdosing on laxatives, and throwing up anything I ate for months on end. Not even the Advanced Pedialyte or Coconut Water with Himaylan Salt save me at that point. Waking up to how my life was constantly being put on pause when quitting college to attend an eating disorder treatment center (twice). Waking up with Pacifico bottles, a burning throat, and cigarette butts by my bedside. Waking up during the middle of sex at 4 am with some man at his house in Delaware. Delaware. (I live in PA for context.) Waking up after my flight landed and groggily walking through the San Diego airport, still intoxicated, and was lost. There are more extreme wake-up calls that I’ve had, but this would be a long post if I listed them all. 

After each one of these wake-up calls, I swore to myself that I was going to change. I meant it, and I really believed it. “This is it, this time is really it, I can’t live like this anymore,” I’d say to myself, usually after the times that my body took a hard hit from my actions.

I quit it all for a while. I got into yoga, continued school, focused on healing my body, and started this blog. Drinking happened occasionally, but nothing like before. Until I woke up the morning after this Halloween, not remembering much of the night before. Except for the part when my ex walked me down the street that night saying, “You’ve got to stop, you need to take care of yourself, Fiona.”

That morning, I sat up, climbed out of bed, and brushed off that vague memory. I sat down at my laptop, read my horoscopes off of three different websites, and swallowed a handful of vitamin tablets with black coffee. #Health .

I stared blankly at the screen, ruminating on the thought, “How do you know if you have a problem? I think I relapsed. Yet, did I even have a problem before? I mean, what’s the difference between having fun, being young, versus being addicted?” I grabbed my phone and texted one of my brothers. (Who would be a therapist because he’s the most honest, empathetic, insightful person you’ll ever meet.)

He then called me. We talked on the phone for almost an hour. I told him everything I had been avoiding acknowledging myself. Sure, I was taking herbal remedies to heal the weekly fevers I was having, but I wasn’t eating basic nutrients. Sure, I wouldn’t drink much around my friends, but I’d pour wine in a reusable water bottle and secretly drink it before or after. Sure, I wasn’t smoking weed as much, but I was taking Xanax from my friend’s medicine cabinet and drinking with it. Those substances weren’t used for social reasons, they were used for “medicine” to cope with stress.

I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I especially didn’t want to admit it on here because this blog is supposed to be helping others climb out of this kind of cycle. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid of what my friends, family, and readers of this blog would think. I strongly believe in practicing what you preach. For heaven’s sake, I wrote an entire workbook on anxiety and didn’t take any of the advice. My friend Nick and I were recently laughing about how the book should’ve been titled, “All The Advice I Had, But Didn’t Take.” ….Well, I sure am taking it now.

After talking to my brother, I knew I had relapsed, needed to relearn coping patterns, and that I had a problem. Obviously, I cannot give you my credibility for using healthy coping tools over the past few months that I’ve mentioned on here. I’ve used them in the past to get back on track, and I’m back to using them again to do the same. But what I can give you is honesty, what I’ve learned from this, and what is currently helping me now.

Here’s some thoughts:

  1. Never abandon yourself. Most of us would rather feel resentment while giving in to others than the shame that comes with saying no to them. I was saying yes to things I wanted to say no to in all areas of life. And after I would give into them, I’d feel this anger at myself and them, which is also usually when I’d numb out. I was muting my intuition with eating disordered behaviors, Xanax, and alcohol instead of listening to what I needed at the time. 
  2. If you have to question whether it’s a problem. It is. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily about figuring out if you have an addiction problem, but rather asking yourself, “Is this substance interfering with my everyday life? Is it helping or halting me from pursuing my dreams?” Or ask what my brother mentioned, “If I found out my friend or family member was doing this, would I be concerned?”
  3. You can’t do it alone. Now, personally, I don’t believe AA or other 12 Step groups are the only way. Maybe it’s my own personal bias from being raised in an Irish Catholic family, but anytime I hear someone say, “this is the only way to be healed, and you are lost until you follow it,” I become suspicious. I’ve known a lot of people who didn’t do the 12 steps and have been clean for years. I’ve also known people who have been going to the 12 Steps and have been clean for years. What seems to be the common denominator on both sides is this: Community and being part of a group with the same vision, the same meaning of life, and what they want to make out of their lives. It could be a group of people at a yoga studio, a trauma group, a book club that addresses recovery, the 12 step program, or Refuge Recovery (A Buddhist recovery group.) There are so many options out there, but by being in a support group, you are inspired, held accountable, and learn from others. Personally, I just started going to an outpatient support group that runs during the week. There’s no shame in getting help, even if it’s for the 17th time, and you are never “not sick enough” to get help.
  4. Ditch the phone. Use airplane mode. The constant communication, notifications, and distractions had been a major source of stress for me. I’d have so much guilt about not responding to texts and emails right away, it kept me too much inside my head. For an hour, a day, a week, try taking a break. They can wait.
  5. Simplify your life & take care of your body. List three priorities you have right now, including your health. Writing this down clears your head. Focus on what your body needs, not what you think it wants. It’s easier said than done, trust me. Because, if you suffering physically, it’s going to be difficult to function mentally.

These are the five things that I’ve learned recently. They are things I am incorporating in my life right now. I used to have shame about relapsing, admitting it, especially after after having those wake-up calls and making those promises. But what I learned is that it’s better to be honest, and get help, rather than giving up.

TRAUMA AND THE BODY

Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.

 Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT,  is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.

Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.

This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.

I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.

Types of Therapies That Address The Body:

-Trauma Sensitive Yoga

-EDMR

-Somatic Therapy

-Brain Spotting

-Neurotherapy

-Hypnosis

-EFT (tapping)

-Accupressure

-Massage

-Acupuncture

Books, Videos, and Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

Episode 2: Breaking Away From Old Thought Patterns, Behaviors, and Addiction.

Gentle & Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Sequence for Grounding and Upper Body Release (Video)

When A friend Tells You

You’re shocked, speechless, and trying to put together the right words to say just within a matter of seconds. No, no, no. You don’t want to believe it. You’re scared for them.

When a close friend discloses they have been raped, you want to do everything you can to help them. You want to take their pain away. And as much as I wish it were possible, you can’t alleviate the pain from them. What you can do is give them comfort and unconditional support. That makes more of a difference than you may think. Now, before I discuss ways you can help, I’m going to give you a few tips on what to avoid doing when a friend discloses to you that they have been abused. From personal experience, the reactions of family and friends made a strong impact on me.

What NOT to do:

Don’t ask questions, especially ones that are not relevant at the moment. I know, there are probably a ton of questions surfacing, but hold back right now from asking them. Examples of unnecessary questions are: Why didn’t you tell me right away? Were you guys ever romantically involved beforehand? Did you try to push him/her off? Why didn’t you report it after? Basically, if you are questioning yourself whether you should ask the question or not, I’d advise to not ask it.

Don’t minimize it. Things like, “Well at least he didn’t…..,” or “It could have been worse if he..” is not the thing to say. Even if you were also abused in the past, avoid bringing up your story at that moment. By not bringing up past cases, you are giving your friend’s story that necessary space to be talked about. It also can feel overwhelming to hear other survivor’s stories at that moment, because they may automatically and mentally place themselves in the other story, especially if they were abused recently.

Do not give the benefit of the doubt to the rapist. “Were they drunk?” “Did he know what he was doing?” “Maybe he thought you consented to it,” “He was such a good person, I can’t believe he’d do such a thing.” When a friend tells you that they were abused, the focus needs to be on them and not the rapist. It doesn’t matter about all the past times the abuser has seemed like a good guy, and it’s not even that important right now regarding who it was. What matters at this moment is that your friend was raped and they need your help.

Which leads me to…

What TO Do:

Try, (I know it’s hard) to remain calm: Sudden outbursts and cursing the abuser’s name isn’t going to help your friend. When someone has been through something like rape, they need a safe, calm, gentle place to go to.

Fewer Questions and More Statement Responses: “I’m so sorry you went through that,” “You didn’t deserve that,” Empathy is key here. Instead of direction and problem solving, most survivors need a good listener at the moment. Other good things to say are “I am here to listen,” “I love and care for you, and will be here to help you in any way you need.” 

Listen, Listen, Listen: Although you may want to go find the guy and kick him in the balls, hold off from telling your friend that. It may be a difficult story to listen to, but by just listening you are giving their words air to breathe. By just speaking out loud without questions and comments, the survivor feel heard. One of the worst feelings as a survivor to feel is to feel unheard, not believed, or misunderstood. I know you have a lot of questions and a lot to say, and it may feel like you’re not doing much by listening, but this is, in fact, one of the best things you can do.

“I Believe You,”: Is one of the most consoling things for a survivor to hear. Before telling you, they’ve probably had many back and forth conversations in their head about whether or not to say anything. This especially goes for cases when the abuser was someone you knew. A lot of the time survivors hold back from speaking because the pain of not feeling heard or believed just makes the wounds even deeper. So the fact that they are disclosing this to you means that they are really going out on a limb by sharing. They trust you. So by saying, “I believe you and am here to help,” seals that trust between both of you. Sexual abuse shatters the survivor’s trust in anyone, so to be that foundation of trust is one of the best things you can do. Your friend needs a trusting figure in their life right now.

Support Their Decisions: “That was a crime and I want you to know that I will be there to support you if you want to report it.” Remind them of that option, but don’t pressure them if they don’t want to. I know you probably want that prick to be charged but go with your friend’s decision. A lot of people ask “Why don’t survivors report rape?” and I can give a list of reasons right off the bat. When a survivor reports a rape, they are the ones who will be going through a lot of hell. Not the abuser. You see, there will be hours of sitting in waiting rooms at the hospital, station, or court. It’s torture. Rape kits feel beyond invasive. There will be stacks of endless paperwork where they’ll have to write that person’s name down over and over again. They’ll be asked many detailed questions, bringing them back to that moment of the assault for days on end. Going through this process feels like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. The survivor not only has the psychological reminders and flashbacks of the abuse replaying in their mind every day, but they will then literally have to devote their days to the case after reporting it. It practically becomes the core of their life during that process. What you can do is to offer to be there with them if they want to report it and remind them that they won’t be alone during the process.

**If your friend disclosed that they had just been abused: please also remind them of the option that by keeping evidence, it will help their case later on if they choose to report it. Examples of this are: Waiting to shower, brush teeth, eat, smoke, or drink. Honestly, after rape, all you want to do is to wash it off. Definitely validate that by saying, “I know you want to shower right now, but maybe wait until after you see the doctor just in case you will need it as evidence later on.”

If the rape just happened, reporting it is the last thing they are thinking about. Actually, they are probably having a difficult time thinking clearly at all, so a good first step to offer after listening is to go to the doctor or hospital. Remind them that they can still go to the hospital and not have to report it to the police right away. The police will be informed that a crime has occurred after the rape kit is completed, but no charges will be pressed until your friend chooses to do so. The hospital’s main priority is to take care of your friend’s physical wellbeing and collect evidence if they chose to report it.

As a child, when I spoke about the abuse, it was not handled correctly by my mother. This impacted me emotionally almost just as much as the abuse itself. There were a lot of excuses for the abuser such as: “He had a hard life,” and “but remember, he had his own problems.” There was also a lot of, “Your brothers can’t know,” “If your grandfather finds out, it would literally kill him,” “Don’t you dare tell anyone because it’ll make my family look bad.” However, looking back as an adult, I know her intentions were not to cause shame or to hurt me, but more that they were strong reactions that stemmed from her own fears and wars. She did the best she could with the tools and knowledge she had at the moment. But now after you read this, thankfully you will know better. The things is that: most abusers are people you know. I know you may feel shocked, betrayed, afraid of how relationship dynamics may play out within the family, community, or friend’s circle, but please believe your friend and tell them that. Remind them that you will support their decision no matter what. That’s what they need.

Recently, I disclosed to my friends about recent incidents that happened with someone a lot of people trusted, even myself. After opening up about it to a close friend of mine, I cried afterward. Not just because I was overwhelmed and afraid regarding the situation, but more because he responded to me so compassionately. It was then that I realized THIS is what support looks like. These are the responses I wish I heard when I was younger. If you are reading this as someone who has been abused: I want you to know that there are people and good friends out there like this that you can trust. They might not be blood-related, but there are still good, trustworthy people in this world. I promise. If you are reading this as a friend of a survivor: Please be like this friend who stood by my side. The reactions of friends and family impact the survivor much more than you think. When I felt like I couldn’t trust people again, these responses from my friend reminded me that there are people you can trust. There are people in this world who care.

Here are some of the consoling things that were said that you can also say to your friend who was raped or abused physically and/or emotionally:

“If something happened, I want you to know that it’s not “dramatic” of you to be uncomfortable.”

“I don’t know what happened, and I won’t ask but if you need to talk, I’m here.”

“I am so sorry.”

“Listen, you did not deserve that.”

“We are good friends and it does make things complicated but what’s more important is the RIGHT thing.”

“I got your back like a chiropractor sis.”

THIS is what support looks like, this is how to respond.

Much Love,

Fiona

What Once Served A Purpose

It was at a hot yoga class a week ago when the instructor had us go into frog pose. My body tensed up at just hearing the words “frog pose” and even more so as I sank deeply into it. Even though I’d focus on loosening up my shoulders, jaw, and hips one at a time, my muscles still tightened up seconds after I went focused on the next part of my body. I was ready to sprint the hell out of that 90 degrees heated room.

Like life, nothing is permanent, not even frog pose. Eventually, the instructor-led us into a restoring savasana and said, “This savasana would feel very different if we didn’t go through all of the poses before. It wouldn’t have felt as rejuvenating.”

That got me thinking.

Trauma is experiencing extreme discomfort that isn’t controllable. To self protect, survivors have learned to dissociate and find other coping mechanisms such as addictive behaviors to escape that discomfort. The behaviors had served the purpose of protecting us from feelings, memories, and experiences that we felt unable to handle. However, if we’re constantly numbing ourselves from the discomfort, we won’t be present to feel the pleasure in life either.

Numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol before sex can be a way to protect you from those flashbacks, but that also comes with never being able to truly connect with someone through sex. That trust and safety that you really desire within, will never come from numbness. In fact, it distances you not only from your partner but your body and spirit as well. The same goes for eating disorders, those behaviors give you that illusion of control but you are actually destroying your body as well as many other areas of life such as relationships, work, school, or inspiration for the future. Addictions such as these becoming replacements of where the trauma is in your mind but takes away your attention from everything else too.

Ah, just one of the 4am walks across town that I barely remember.

One of the greatest milestones in healing from sexual trauma is learning to remain still and present during the discomfort. If we learn to be present in those moments, we also will start to notice other ways to respond to it rather than numbing out. Not being stoned, high, or drunk during sex gave me the awareness to know what exactly causes anxiety as well as the opportunity to speak up about it. It gave me back my own power in what I experience, rather than hoping for the best while numbing out from it. Making the promise to stop abandoning oneself while passing through the obstacles of discomfort will illuminate the opportunities of solutions to it.

Doing your best to remain grounded during these moments is key. Try scanning your body to locate where the anxiety is manifesting and then breathe into it. If you feel like you’re pulled up into a tornado of thoughts, focus on bringing attention to your lower body like your legs or feet.

If you are alone and are experiencing panic, one of the best tools I have learned was EFT, also known as tapping. Now, at first, I thought it was stupid and tedious. Yet over time, it has become one of the most helpful coping mechanisms that bring me out of that whirlwind of panic after experiencing anxiety. A great resource is Brad Yate’s YouTube channel. Try his “Trauma and Abuse” and “Sex Issues” EFT videos.

When we learn to observe the discomfort and remain present, we can ask ourselves what we need to feel safe. Maybe you have been in survival mode for most of your life, but now, I want you to know that you deserve to thrive and live a life of adventure and freedom while also feeling at peace. I promise, with time, you’ll learn how to move through your own versions of frog pose in life.