Childhood sexual abuse, rape, incest and sexual coercion and all forms of sexual trauma impact us for the rest of our lives. What people don’t understand is that it isn’t just our sex lives that it affected. It is not being able to trust people. It is not being able to feel joy during sex. It is being so afraid that the same thing will happen to our friends, family or children. It is being afraid that the new guy you’re dating is just using you for sex. It is that you feel so violated, you aren’t sure you will ever want to be with someone again. Or, it is feeling so violated, you engage in high risk sexual behaviors to cope. Sexual trauma leaves us vulnerable but it doesn’t have to for the rest of your life.
It took me years to heal from sexual trauma, not because I wasn’t trying, but more because I didn’t know how. I wish that I had hired a therapist sooner and prevented many years of pain, guilt and anxiety. Here are my 10 Essential Tips for Healing From Sexual Trauma:
They say that time heals all wounds..well, I think that part of that is true. I think that time makes memories less vivid and painful. Time makes your experience less colorful and more faded. There will be things about your experience that you will never forget and that is OK. Time also gives you the gift of figuring out what you need to do to makes things easier for yourself. Time does not heal you instantly. In order to make time work in your favor, you have to move on with your life and take the next steps toward healing.
I am a HUGE proponent for therapy. I think everyone could benefit from therapy. If you don’t have a therapist..definitely get one! In the realm of sexual trauma, I cannot stress enough that therapy is important. Therapy actually changed my life. Therapy offered me a new perspective into how I was dealing with my trauma and new ways to cope. My therapist has encouraged me, challenged me and sat with me through it all. Trauma therapy is hard work and it is completely worth the time, energy, money and pain. Even with the amount of sexual assaults happening in society today, there are ENOUGH therapists out there. Find a therapist that specializes in trauma here.
For me, my trauma seems so loud, so hateful and so intrusive. Meditation is a peaceful, quiet and reflective practice that anyone can benefit from but especially those who have been impacted by sexual trauma. Meditation can be difficult because the world is so noisy and your brain won’t “shut off”. There are MANY benefits to meditation including decreasing stress, overcoming anxiety, promoting focus and assisting in self awareness. If you are interested in adding meditation to your daily routine, check out these apps and videos.
If you have experienced sexual trauma, chances are it has wrecked part of your world. You may feel depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, scared, angry or not able to sleep. You may feel completely numb. I have been on and off medication a few times. I can honestly say that finding the right medication has changed my life for the better. At 16, I tried a mood stabilizer medication called Topomax. I didn’t feel any sort of symptom improvement. In college, I tried Zoloft. I felt like an actual zombie on this medication. Between about 20-26, I wasn’t on any medication. I self medicated with alcohol most nights. After I realized that my anxiety and panic attacks were out of control, I went to see a therapist who then convinced me to see a psychiatrist. I have never felt better on Pristiq.
Pristiq is a newer antidepressant. The reason I really love Pristiq is because it is “activating” meaning, it gives me a bit of energy. I didn’t realize that I actually had lost a lot of interest in life, had low energy and depressed mood until I started taking Pristiq. Now I feel..normal. I feel like I am able to conquer life. I feel like Pristiq has made my life full of color where before, it was grey.
Ativan is an as needed medication that I use for panic attacks. Ativan is something I do not take everyday, but it is available to me when I need it. I highly suggest talking with your doctor about what will work best for you but both of these medications have been life changing for me and my symptoms.
Trazodone is a both a sedative and antidepressant. I use Trazodone for sleep. More recently, I haven’t been able to sleep well due to stress related to my job, money and relationships. I talked with my doctor about adding Trazodone and now I can get a full 8 hours with no issues.
I was discouraged from getting on medications for years. I was told by boyfriends, parents, family members and friends that medications have awful side effects and the pharmaceutical industry is just trying to get everyone hooked on something to make us more “controllable”. I think this misinformation is toxic for anyone reaching out about seeking help. You are doing people a real disservice if you are discouraging them to seek help from a professional. The interesting part is that since I have begun taking Pristiq, I have never felt more involved with my community, more bold at work and more “uncontrolled” by anyone. I feel more like myself than ever before. In conclusion, if you are feeling like you may benefit from medication, don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from having an honest conversation with a professional.
I think journaling has been one of the most helpful activities for me. Journaling helps me to release feelings, thoughts, pictures, anything that I don’t feel like saying out loud. Journaling can be a way to keep track of your feelings and symptoms and share them with your therapist or other providers. When I am in session there have been MANY times where I say “Wow, I wish I would have written down what was going on for me that day because now I can’t remember”. Tracking how you feel today and being able to look back and say “look how far I have come” is very beneficial to healing from sexual trauma.
I actually just found out about this app that allows you to journal, track your progress and it walks you through mindfulness activities. It is for anyone struggling with depression and anxiety. Check it out here.
Creative Expression is something that I think I would have really benefited from earlier in my sexual trauma healing journey. I really enjoyed doing ceramics in high school but I wish I had some sort of creative outlet in middle school and stuck with it through my life. Hey..it is NEVER too late to start right? For me, creative expression is happens through writing but there are all sorts of things out there that can aid in trauma healing. I think that there is just something about creating something with your hands or interpreting something through dance that just makes you feel “whole”. There are even art therapists who specialize in this type of work. If you go online a lot of cities have community centers where classes for creative expression are very low cost or free. Check out your communities website for more information.
At boarding school, we had a special group that met a few times a month. All the girls that came to this group had experienced some sort of sexual trauma. We did a letter activity where we wrote a letter to our abuser and then lit it on fire in kind of a ceremony type of thing. I found it to be very beneficial (be careful with fire!)
Ideas For Creative Expression:
- Ceramics (pottery)
- Painting classes
- Knitting, sewing, needle point
Reading Stories of Triumph
Reading stories, blogs, books or watching videos of people healing from sexual trauma can be very helpful. Be cautious that some stories can be triggering but if you find the right book for you, I think nothing can be more powerful than being inspired by someone else’s story of healing. In moments of pain, it can be helpful to know that it has gotten better for someone else and it will get better for you too.
I am currently reading the #1 book on this list “The Body Keeps The Score” Read with me and let me know your thoughts!
Self Care is always important but it is especially important after you have experienced something traumatic or if you are beginning on a journey toward healing from past trauma. I understand that some people, like me, have past trauma and it is not like it happened yesterday. Be kind to yourself while you are seeking help, use self care as a tool to take care of yourself and do things that make you happy. Therapy can be hard, trying a new medication can be hard, realizing that you need to heal is hard. Find something that you enjoy and try to incorporate it into your life on a daily or weekly basis.
I have an entire blog post dedicated to ideas for self care, check out 7 Ideas For Self Care
Sexual trauma left me feeling used, vulnerable and worthless. Sexual trauma can mess with your mind in ways to make it seem like sex is the only thing people want from you. Sexual trauma can make you feel exposed but also unable to open up to anyone. Sexual trauma can make it hard for you to want to do anything but be numb. During times of healing, I think it is really important to give yourself reasons to feel good. Ask yourself the questions below to get started on activities that would give you a confidence boost.
What makes you feel good about yourself?
What is your talent?
What did you want to be or do when you were 10?
What do you find yourself gravitating toward?
What did you used to find fun or entertaining that you could pick back up?
Is there an activity that you and your friends could do together?
What makes you feel powerful?
When I started seeing my therapist, we had to pick and choose what we would work on first. I am not saying I have a lot of issues.. BUT…We had to tackle some things first. We did not immediately start working on trauma because my present life was very out of control. Once we cleaned the present up, we started digging deeper and we are STILL digging. Trauma work does not happen overnight. Trauma work leaves you feeling vulnerable afterword (ask your therapist to zip you back up so you don’t leave feeling shitty, I did this and it made all the difference). Before we started working on trauma related things, my therapist and I worked on what I could be doing in my life to make my life more enjoyable. I talk all about there here.
I started planning more activities with friends, getting more involved with the community, going on walks, I joined a kickboxing gym, writing, reading and I told one of my personal stories in front of 300 people!You can read that story here
My therapist knew I needed a confidence boost and she encouraged me throughout our time together (over a year now..wow, I should probably get her a card or something)
Set Yourself Up To Handle The Hard Stuff
The thing that sucks about trauma is that it never completely goes away. It just gets easier to deal with and handle. Setting yourself up to handle the hard times is probably the most kind thing you can do for yourself. This might include a plan you have with your therapist or doctor which may include medications. This might look like having a list of friends you can text or call when things get rough. This might look like a spot you go when you are struggling. Having a plan to how you will handle the hard days will set you up to know that the day won’t last forever. It is a bad day, not a bad life.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had late night conversations with my roommate, Kate. She has been instrumental for my healing. I have a list of things that my therapist and I have come up with for when I feel highly anxious.
Give Back & Share Your Story
Sharing my story has helped me in more ways than one. I started blogging and sharing my stories on Instagram. At first it as very tough and I would ruminate about how people (especially people I know in real life) would react to my stories. Now, I thrive on the positive messages that I receive and knowing that I am helping people by sharing my own vulnerabilities. I enjoy empowering women (and all people) to share their story and feel inspired to speak out. I also love hearing other people’s stories and how they overcame their own traumas. Do I think it is necessary to healing to speak openly about your trauma? No. Do I see any drawbacks? No. I think that being bold and open will help to end the stigma associated with sexual abuse survivors and you never know you could be inspiring to seek help.
Take care of yourself and it will get better.