Self-Care Tips For Sexual Assault Survivors When You Can’t Escape The News

It’s okay to be selfish.

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Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault in this article. 

After the third harrowing accusation against Brett Kavanaugh came out today, I felt it hit me. It was like a gust of cold, winter wind that sneaks its way up your coat when you least expect it—though I was still physically at my office desk, my emotional and spiritual self was right back at the college football house where I got raped some October’s ago. Reading Julie Swetnick’s account of Kavanaugh and his peers hosting parties where they regularly spiked the “punch with drugs and/or grain alcohol so as to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say ‘No’” viscerally triggered me back to my own experiences with sexual violence. And I’m sure there is a wave of this PTSD going across America right now with many other women and LGBTQ people who have traumatizing memories of sexual abuse.

What we need right now is not another news story recounting the monstrosities Kavanaugh is being accused of. What we need right now is help coping. What we need right now is space to process and heal. When the gaping wounds of rape culture in America are revealed, those left most raw and vulnerable are survivors of sexual violence. We are left with more questions than answers. We are left with violent memories and little community support. We are left with constant fear of when the latest news story sweeping the country will be brought up in our work break room or in a casual conversation or overheard on our morning commute—completely derailing our mental heath for the day. When it’s mentioned, will the commenter be perpetuating rape culture with sentiments like: Well, why did she wait so long? I mean, they were drinking so what did they expect? She’s just doing this for fame. 

As an anti-sexual violence advocate and sex educator, I’m constantly helping survivors navigate their way towards healing—which is often a lifelong journey. The impacts of sexual trauma on our lives are widespread and not often discussed in public, making accessibility the first hurdle when it comes to healing. But as these news stories come out, I want you to know that it’s okay to be selfish, it’s okay to prioritize your self-care, and it’s okay to disconnect. I know some of that is easier said than done, so here are 6 ways you can take care of yourself as these difficult news stories continue to sweep the nation (and hopefully stop Kavanaugh from becoming a Supreme Court Justice).

1. Have a safety plan.

This means having a strategy for when your PTSD is triggered—which could mean you’re having a panic attack or your anxiety is impacting your ability to function or you can’t stop replaying memories of your own assault. These episodes can come out of nowhere sometimes and it’s hard to know exactly what is going to trigger you and when, which is why it’s important to create this safety plan when you’re in a good mental health space. Think about things that soothe you—whether that’s meditation, breathing, going for a walk, or talking to friend, having a plan in place can help you find peace. It might even be helpful to let a close friend know what your emergency self care plan is, so they can help support you.

In our current culture, it’s almost impossible to completely avoid these triggers so, being able to ground yourself in these moments is valuable. Remind yourself that you are safe, do a physical check-in of where you are, and bring yourself back into your body. Taking deep breaths, drinking water, and speaking out loud what your current surroundings are is a good way to do this.

2. Take care of your body.

Repeat this in your head right now: My body is a good place to be. Taking care of your physical being can help reduce feelings of anxiety or depression when you’re being bombarded with news stories about sexual violence. Have a check-in with yourself by asking these questions: How am I sleeping? Am I nourishing my body with food and water? Have I gotten out of bed today? Can I center back into routines that help soothe me at the start and end of my days?

Some important things to remember that mainstream self-care movements might not prioritize enough: It’s okay to eat comfort food when you’re in a bad mental health space. Celebrate the small victories like getting out of bed and taking a shower on rough days/weeks/months. Your worth does not lie in productivity, it’s okay to slow down and/or take a break. Repetition is soothing to the soul—create routines that nourish you but aren’t too daunting or complex.

3. Disconnect from the digital world.

Being constantly connected to social media conversations about rape culture and believing survivors can sometimes be a toxic space for people who’ve experienced sexual violence. It’s filled with people who question the “motive” of survivors who are coming forward and being brave enough to tell their stories. It’s filled with victim blaming. It’s filled with toxic masculinity. And often, it’s filled with rapists trying to stand behind the man in question—because if he’s found guilty, that means they have to confront their own internal guilt as a perpetrator of violence.

And you don’t need that in your life right now. So when you get home from work, turn off your devices. Pour yourself a glass of wine or some tea and curl up on your couch with your favorite queer movie or book. Find nourishment away from the digital world. Maybe call a friend who you haven’t talked to in a while and catch up about your lives. Maybe go outside without your phone and connect with nature. Allow yourself some space from the constant onslaught of news. You already know rape culture exists, and you aren’t going to fix it by getting into a Facebook argument with John from high school. Be selfish for once and prioritize yourself.

4. Connect with community.

Find solace with your support network. Call on your community of queers and fellow survivors. Create a space where you can heal together. When I’m feeling all too overwhelmed with constant conversations round sexual violence (which happens often in the work I do) one of my favorite things to do is to host a queer potluck. While it can be helpful to attend something like a survivors circle—we often need space away from centering our identity as a survivor of violence. That can be a hard space to exist in.

Create nourishment with your queer babes by letting people know that your home will be open on a certain night and everyone is welcome to bring a yummy dish to share. Us queers are so good at holding ourselves through difficult times, but sometimes we need that reminder to call on community. This is your reminder. You are not alone in this. You have support and community who loves you. And if you feel like you don’t, message me.

5. Set and communicate your sexual boundaries.

For me personally, when the topic of rape becomes the center of national attention—my libido takes a hit. Dealing with constant triggers and hearing stories that are all too familiar to me makes it difficult to connect with my sexual self. But moving past those triggers and connecting with a lover can also be one of the best healing strategies. Because navigating my boundaries with a partner who understands and respects my consent (and vice versa) is empowering. It’s a reclamation of my body over the PTSD. It’s a reclamation of my sexuality from my rapists.

Knowing how to communicate and set your sexual boundaries is key to this healing path. You deserve to have amazing, consensual sex with a partner who respects your body. A partner who listens when you say pause or not there. Having your no’s respected allows you to not only have more consensual sex, but a more pleasurable and connected experience.

6. Know when to walk away.

This. Is. So. Important. You have to know when you to walk away from a conversation that isn’t serving you. Survivors are often at the forefront of the movement against sexual violence. We’re often the ones pushing people to dig deeper into why they don’t believe survivors. We’re often the ones asking questions and pleading society to do better for all survivors of sexual assault. But that fight can be exhausting and extremely taxing on our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes you have to walk away from the coworker who so clearly does not believe any of the women coming out against Kavanaugh. It’s okay to put your headphones on when you hear the people sitting next to you on the train talking about how it can’t be true since she didn’t immediately report to the police. You can absolutely block someone on social media who is harassing you about your advocacy for survivors.

It’s not your job to educate someone or stay calm during these discussions. And if you need to walk away from the conversation, do so. You can always send a followup email if it’s someone you know. Or ask an ally to call that person in to tell them why what they were saying is damaging. Expending your energy towards someone who doesn’t want to listen just isn’t worth it.

Overall, the most valuable advice I can give you is that it’s okay to be selfish. You have to prioritize your needs and taking care of yourself when these conversations become the center of our culture. If you are a survivor of sexual violence, I believe you and I love you.

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.