5 ways to heal from abuse or trauma
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde
Going through trauma and abuse is a very difficult thing. I don’t think anyone would choose that for themselves. However, if you’ve been through it, I want you to know that you are stronger and more compassionate for having made it through. Your experiences can be used, not only for your own strength and growth, but for the healing and benefit of others who are going through something similar.
Part of our healing process after abuse and trauma has to be self-care. It may feel selfish to take time out to nurture yourself but you must. Abuse, especially, can make us feel that we are not worth the time and resources necessary for self-care but we have to reject that lie. We are worth it. Here are some ideas to get you started on the self-care journey. This is not a list meant to be followed once. You should continue on the journey for the rest of your life. Take care of yourself daily. Add your own ideas to the list and let it grow with you.
1) Preach to yourself. You may have felt devalued or less-than while you were going through the trauma/abuse. You may have felt weak and powerless to change your circumstances. Abuse and trauma victimize us and there is no shame in being a victim. However, you want to begin to see yourself as an overcomer. A survivor. A conqueror. Tell yourself that you are strong (look at what you’ve been through!). Tell yourself that you are worthy of love, time, healing, and care. You’ve been made in God’s image! You are important and beautiful.
2) Take care of your body. This is one of the most important components of any self-care program. Remember, healing and caring for yourself is an act of war. You have to fight for your mental, emotional, and physical health and you can’t do that if you are burnt out from stress and exhaustion.
You must make rest a priority. Take time out to sleep and just relax. Make sure you are nourishing your body with good food. Take vitamins and drink water. Exercise can be extremely beneficial here not only for the physical benefits but it can be very emotionally therapeutic. Exercise such as yoga, kickboxing, Zumba, etc.… can help you release emotions such as anger and stress and replace them with feelings of empowerment and a sense of calm. Even something as simple as a daily walk has numerous physical, emotional, and mental benefits.
3) Get creative. After leaving an abusive situation, I finally took up photography. I’d taken a class years ago but never invested in a camera or spent the time on it that I should have. Once I was free, I was drawn to creatively expressing myself. I take photos all of the time now, mostly candid photos on the street of people and places that I find interesting, and it engages most of my senses. I was already writing poetry but there is something about the way photography requires more from me that helped with my healing. Also, I didn’t yet have the words for what I was feeling. This sort of all-encompassing engagement is why art can be so helpful for those who are recovering trauma.
Of course, you don’t have to use photography. Maybe you will be most helped by getting into the culinary arts or painting or drawing. Try different artistic pursuits until you find the one that you most connect to. In the meantime, enjoy the journey of expressing yourself in different ways.
One book that has been very helpful to me is Mending the Soul. In it, there are several art pieces by abuse survivors such as poetry and drawings. They used art as a way to express how they felt during their abuse, much of which took place in their childhoods.
There is also a very special program called Kids in Focus that uses photography as a way to help children who have been through abuse, poverty, homelessness and more. Learning a new skill helps these children feel empowered and helps them reconnect with their feelings and the world around them.
4) Consider a pet. Pets can be wonderful sources of love and healing. Dogs, especially, have been shown to help with healing from PTSD. A dog helps trauma survivors relearn essential skills such as giving and receiving love and trusting others. Dogs love unconditionally and this is extremely beneficial for someone going through PTSD or recovering from trauma/abuse.
Another benefit to having a pet is that you are responsible for caring for another creature. In some ways, pets help pull our focus away from our pain and onto their needs and care-free joy and, just as a child learns unintentionally through play, abuse/trauma survivors heal through loving and being loved by pets.
5) Turn to others. I know this can be very frightening. For a long time, I had an almost angry response when someone told me that I needed to let people in. After being so hurt by so many, I had no faith in people at all. However, I have come to realize that there are people who are worthy of trust. You don’t have to let everyone in and you don’t have to let anyone in too quickly. It is ok to take your time with this. But it is important for the sake of your healing that you begin to try to develop healthy relationships with people.
A good place to start is with a trained professional. Getting counseling from a supportive and patient therapist can be key to healing. If you can see this person once a week, that would be wonderful. If they were skilled in using sensory treatments as part of their therapy (such as art and music) that would be even better.
Also, consider checking out this list of free and low-cost resources for mental health and healing.
Remember, this will take time. There is no hurry and no time-line to follow. Everyone’s journey to healing is different and it is the journey that matters. Be patient with yourself and take your time.