My Five Most Helpful Strategies for Healing from Sexual Assault

I’ve made large strides in my healing process since it started around five years ago. It’s been full of ups and downs, but five main things have helped me to get where I am today — a place that I’m pretty content with. I hope these strategies might help you too, if you’re a fellow survivor.

1. Figuring out what my triggers are.
The first thing I did was try to figure out what triggers me in the first place, so I could avoid such things or at least be mentally prepared when I encountered them.

2. Finding a bunch of coping mechanisms that work best for me.
Soon after, I started experimenting with coping mechanisms, because it’s not possible to avoid every single trigger. This took a while, to be honest, and I’m learning more every day. I’ve tried many different strategies and have a list in my phone of the ones that work best. I often look at the list when I’m feeling triggered.
The difficult thing about this is that one strategy may work one day and not the next. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at figuring out when each coping mechanism would be best. For example, if I’m disassociating then it’s often helpful just to tell myself that it’s 2017 and no one is trying to hurt me. If I’m having a milder episode, those two things are already obvious to me. I may instead try to meditate or watch some funny videos to distract myself.

3. Reaching out
This, for me, has always been the hardest part. I don’t like asking for help and I also would hate to be stereotyped. For many years, I almost never talked about what I went through. Being alone in my struggles made an already difficult situation even more challenging. However, telling my story has gotten easier every time and it almost always feels like a step forward in the healing process. It still makes me super nervous, but I’ve never really regretted telling someone.
I’m trying to get to a point where I can talk about PTSD in particular just as I would talk about a migraine. I want to help lessen the stigma around sexual assault and mental illness. Opening up helps accomplish that goal little by little while also amassing a group of people who understand and support me.
Telling my story at events for survivors (such as Take Back the Night) has been particularly helpful. In those spaces, I feel safe because I know that everyone there cares deeply about the issue and that they’re not likely to misjudge me.

4. Helping others.
A few months after I realized that my past experiences count as sexual assault, I joined an organization at my college whose goals were to prevent sexual assault, raise awareness and support survivors. It was very rewarding to see what a difference we made on campus and know that our efforts could prevent more people from going through what I have. It feels good to use my past experiences to better the lives of others.

5. Positive thinking
Cheesy as it is, positive thinking has made a huge impact on me. In the past, I’ve made the goal to only think about sexual assault if my thought process is going to help me heal. No voluntarily replaying memories. No feeling sorry for myself if I can help it. Instead, I would only “allow” thoughts such as “Look how far I’ve come,” “I think I should try ___ as a new coping mechanism,” etc.
I also try to be patient and compassionate with myself by reminding myself that healing is slow and nonlinear, and by not beating myself up when I’m struggling.
In addition, I try to take this one day at a time. I try not to think about the future too much by telling myself that someday I won’t have any mental health issues from what I’ve been through. Chances are I’ll always have some scars. I just need to learn to live with them, and remind myself that it’ll get better with time. I like to tell myself that healing is a journey, not a destination.
…Which leads me into my last aspect of positive thinking: accepting my circumstances — my new normal. If I continue to wonder what my life would be like if none of this happened, I’ll be miserable. If I instead make the best of the cards I’ve been dealt, I can just focus on how happy I am with the progress I’ve made and all the little victories.

Thanks for reading this post. If you are a fellow survivor, I hope this helps!
You can find my backstory here.

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