Life is hard.
December 25, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Feeling empowered.

Hello. I'm feeling very shy, so hope responses are kind. It's difficult to formulate a clear question, but I think I'm seeking some insight into how to feel empowered after rape.

Right now, I'm experiencing several responses to traumas, and am staying in a safe place until late winter, early spring. I'm retreating, choosing the best place to get support, and just got back from a brief 15-minute walk outside. One foot in front of the other.

Encouragement for a somewhat socially isolated period in my life while dealing with many hard things. It's difficult to share with other people in my life, so I'm reaching out to strangers online.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Journal writing can be helpful when dealing with overwhelming, confusing or just generally very bad feelings. In writing, issues can be broken up and dealt with in more manageable chunks. For me it allows me to look at things (emotions, events) in a more analytical light which can strip them of some of their power over me.
posted by frobozz at 10:20 AM on December 25, 2010

Think about doing whatever it is that will help you feel more in control of your life. Maybe that's working out to build your stamina. Or mastering a new skill. Or cleaning out old books/papers/clothes/whatever. Or painting a room a color you like. No matter what you choose, you'll be doing something forward-looking that is attuned to your need for spending time alone while you heal.
posted by DrGail at 10:51 AM on December 25, 2010

While in recovery from a serious eating disorder about a year and a half ago, I had a lot of feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. As a part of my recovery process (in addition, of course, to therapy, medical treatment, and depression/anxiety medication), I created a list of 15 things that I wanted to accomplish over the summer. A lot of these things were really small -- I'm not sure they would have seemed like significant accomplishments to anyone who wasn't intimately familiar with my situation. Two of the most memorable items from my list: 1) going dancing. 2) riding my bike up a rather intimidating hill. Accomplishing these things -- checking them off the list, as it were -- gave me this HUGE sense of empowerment. I felt like I could be good at stuff apart from my eating disorder. What's more, I ended up meeting a lot of people and making a lot of new friends in the process.

While my list certainly would not have been enough in and of itself to help me recover, it was definitely an essential part of my larger recovery process. I'm sure you're dealing with an entirely unique set of emotions with regard to your individual experience with sexual assault, but maybe it could be helpful to create a list of your own (maybe someday turning that 15 minute walk into a 30 minute walk?). While it isn't going to fix the situation (it certainly didn't fix mine), it may remind you -- like it reminded me -- that you CAN take your sense of empowerment and control back in small ways.
posted by LittleKnitting at 11:06 AM on December 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

I wish you lots of strength -- maybe this post will offer some ideas.
posted by bwonder2 at 11:10 AM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

To deal with a big problem, take small steps until you have the problem done with.

Doing something that's not very significant, but productive can have a positive impact. Think writing, art, learning a new skill, a language you always liked, and so on. What you want to do is to overwrite the negative part of your brain with positive memories now. Not sure if this works with trauma or not, but it sure works with depression.

To an extent, of course. Most importantly, don't brood over the situation. If you think you're depressed, you most definitely are. If you don't, the whole point is moot, isn't it?
posted by Senza Volto at 11:12 AM on December 25, 2010

Join a group if you can. Talking about it to people who've been there helps immeasurably.
posted by rougy at 11:37 AM on December 25, 2010

You will probably have to cobble together your own recovery program depending on what works for you. Your first stop may be to see what services RAINN provides or look for similar services in your community by calling 211. You may need a therapist or even meds to get you through particiularly difficult times. Joining a therapy group works for some while others feel more empowered by volunteering at Rape Crisis Centers or talking about what happened to them at public forums in order to help others. You might want to take a self defense class or set a larger goal to work towards like getting a blackbelt in karate. There is no "perfect healing plan" from a traumatic experience and it is more likely that some days you will feel great and other days you won't want to get out of bed, however the more you keep marching forward, the longer the intervals will be of having good days. Good luck and stay strong!
posted by MsKim at 12:32 PM on December 25, 2010

You've made the best first step, I think, by using your strength to reach out and ask for help. That's huge and, I'm sure, difficult. I would second most suggestions here, with an emphasis on making your goals do-able. I might even suggest wait a bit to think specifically about a "recovery" program or plan and think, simply, about survival. Your short walk is precisely the sort of accomplishment you should feel good about and be focusing on. You will continue to accumulate successes and, I think, will find that your life will return to you--eventually. Keep on keepin' on. You are brave and strong and I am grateful that you asked us for help.
posted by Poeia8Kate at 1:21 PM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Continue with putting one foot in front of the other. It will be easier some days than others, but keep at it. You have the power to continue within you.
posted by ms.jones at 1:33 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please memail me, or contact me at the email address in my profile (you can use a throwaway email address if you would like).
posted by hasna at 2:19 PM on December 25, 2010

I've found that exercising my mind and my body helped me get past my own assault and subsequent breakdown. I spend at least an hour each day just sitting and thinking calm, happy thoughts so that my mind feels encouraged to rebuild and renew its resources. Sometimes I find myself thinking about vague things and all I'm doing is just chanting, "Happiness, peace, joy, safety". Other times I'm visualizing myself in places and situations that make me genuinely feel okay. My therapist had me choose a safe space to retreat into mentally whenever I felt myself growing anxious or scared; maybe you could do the same, and spend time furnishing it with things you find comforting.* I also spent a lot of time working out and eating right, because feeling physically strong and healthy can help the mind feel the same.

You are on your way to recovery. Know that even though we're all strangers, we do care, and we are happy to support you in whatever way we can, because we understand and want to see you succeed and feel better.

* (I chose a closet, personally: a dark, well-ventilated closet that has just a little bit of light creeping in under the door, with soft blankets and sweet smelling clothes all around me. I imagine myself opening the door, crawling in to the blankets, and curling up like a little kid or kitten and going to sleep, breathing, slowing my heartbeat, and imagining that the people outside the closet love me and will be there for me when I need them to be.)
posted by patronuscharms at 3:18 PM on December 25, 2010

In addition to the excellent advice above: Do a thing. Pick one simple thing that is very slightly outside your comfort zone. Do it every day, at the same time if you can, preferably before something else you want to or have to do (eating, for instance).

The walk is good. Once it's easy, walk farther. Once it's *really* easy, add a new thing. Gradually expand your comfort zone.
posted by Etrigan at 3:40 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
anonymous email:
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:21 PM on December 25, 2010

For me, it really helps to talk to someone who's willing to listen. Kind of like a reality check.

When I get stuck in a rut my worldview/problems keep self-reinforcing and making themselves worse. When I share them with my closer friends, it really helps to a) get a little sympathy, but much more importantly, b) get a fresh outside perspective.

I know it's hard to open up to someone else, the risk of rejection, of being scorned or pitied or dismissed or whatever... but getting "outside of one's skull" might help.
posted by porpoise at 6:20 PM on December 25, 2010

something i have found helpful in processing traumatic memories/overwhelming emotions is this: when i have the time and space to explore them (e.g. not going to result in a breakdown at work etc.) i go ahead and give them my full attention. i think we sometimes spend too much energy trying to suppress our feelings, which make them rebound with double intensity.

at the same time as watching them play out, i concentrate on my physical presence in the here-and-now. i tell myself: right now, my body is safe and secure in a comfortable place. even though my mind is in turmoil reliving the past, knowing that my body is in the present and free from threat somehow helps my mind to catch-up and move on.

i hope this makes sense, and i wish i could explain it better ... tl;dr 1) give yourself time and space to feel and process your emotions (the journaling suggestion was excellent in my opinion), 2) reinforce a sense of physical safety and security in the present while doing so.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:32 PM on December 25, 2010

You've taken the first step into seeing the light from the dark tunnel within. I am so very sorry this happened to you. Remember that when you are feeling bleak, know that you CAN and WILL get over this horrible violation. When I found out I had terminal cancer, that was the worst because there was no control! That's the worst thing, that person took your decisions away from you. In reality the only control you have is within you. Second the journaling or blogging, think of how many others you can help by sharing your experience, even if it's one person, you have done something to regain your self esteem and anger. Seconding the advice above, take a boxing class, and yoga...yin and yang, balance in nature. One for the body one for the soul, the two blending a cocktail of healing and emotional stability. I still have no control over my physical circumstance, but I sure can reframe it and look at it as another opportunity to add to my collection of coping tools. 'Bwonder''s link is powerful, please read it....Wishing you the best, and how brave you are to reach out!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 9:44 PM on December 25, 2010

In writing, issues can be broken up and dealt with in more manageable chunks. For me it allows me to look at things (emotions, events) in a more analytical light which can strip them of some of their power over me.

Seconding this. I've also found that the mere act of trying to find the right word to describe what I'm feeling forces me to think about the feeling itself, and that's always helpful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:23 PM on December 26, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
I've read every response. Coming back to check on the question I posted, and reading what people wrote, helped me when I felt afraid to reach out for support.

patronuscharms, your suggestion made me cry. Crawling into a closet and wrapping myself in blankets felt like exactly what I needed to do. I found some comfort being in my bed, reading the responses, with layers of blankets over me. Your suggestion really touched at what I needed to feel safe: feeling physically comforted.

LittleKnitting, thanks for sharing what you did and for the great tips.

ms.jones, thank you for the really important reminder that gave me some sense of empowerment: knowing I can heal myself. It is a process, said over and over, but it's very true. The journey has often felt really lonely. That's what's hard about being a survivor, how lonely it can feel, experiencing things in your head and body that are not visible, but still very much there.

And, Poeia8Kate, it soothed me to know that it was okay to ask for support. Feeling vulnerable makes me feel worse, but in small doses it can feel less so.

Calling RAINN was a decidedly poor experience for me: the woman on the other line said something akin to, "This wouldn't have happened if you weren't having sex before marriage anyway." I hung up. Instead, I ended up calling local crisis hotlines.

I'm not always sure what will help me, and sometimes I feel incredibly lost and unsure, but I'm trying to feel the feelings instead of staying numb. I'm omitting a few details for privacy, but please know that the timing of the posting and everyone's responses helped me deal with something really hard recently.

Acupuncture is on the table, and logistically it's a little challenging to get to and fro, but I'm doing my best within the constraints. I'm going to be looking for body-based ways of healing, so if anyone recommends something that was especially helpful for them that was not triggering but also very gentle and body-based, I would appreciate any tools you've learned about how to calm the body and befriend it again. Walking feels like the most I can muster right now without feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. Gentle ways to introduce them into your life. I've been listening to loops of guided meditations at night, and sleep with a light on. It may be a waste of electricity, but it helps me feel less afraid. Were there books that helped you?

Befriending my body, my feelings, and my judgment feel the most daunting right now. I'm still not sure how.

Thanks again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:47 AM on December 28, 2010

Calling RAINN was a decidedly poor experience for me: the woman on the other line said something akin to, "This wouldn't have happened if you weren't having sex before marriage anyway." I hung up.

*stares in shock*

OP, if you're comfortable and you remember any details about the woman's name or when/where/about what time you called, memail me and I will personally call RAINN on your behalf to chew them out because that shit certainly ain't right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on December 28, 2010

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