Often we think of a new year as a time to change something that we don’t like or start something new. Fresh starts and do overs. Many make New Year’s resolutions, but most fall away from them quickly because change is so hard. For a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence, the dream may be of a peaceful home and a chance to feel whole again. After a trauma, a survivor may think life will never be peaceful again. However, with the right support, your dreams are within reach.
According to helpguide.org, traumatic stress is a normal reaction to a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, a violent crime such as rape, or a domestic violence attack. Such events are extraordinarily stressful—not just for survivors, but also witnesses exposed to the actual event or who have been told of the event. This is also true of children who reside in homes filled with domestic violence. It’s normal to feel anxious, scared, and uncertain about what the future may hold. You become overwhelmed by stress, triggering a wide range of intense emotions and physical reactions. These reactions to traumatic stress often come and go in waves. There may be times when you feel jumpy and anxious, and other times when you feel disconnected and numb. Other normal emotional responses may be shock and disbelief, fear, sadness, a sense of helplessness, guilt, anger and shame.
As survivors start a new year, with a resolution of establishing a more peaceful life, there are some ways to work toward this resolution. First, know there is no right or wrong way to react. We are all different and nobody can tell you what you should be feeling, thinking or doing. Get involved in a support group. Being able to not only share your feelings without fear of judgement will allow you to work through those feelings. It also helps to hear others’ stories so you know you are not alone. Don’t ignore your feelings. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and then talk those feelings out. The feelings exist whether you acknowledge them or not, so working through them will help them to pass.
Secondly, don’t allow your mind to replay the event over and over. Get involved in some positive activities such as reading, watching movies, cooking, walking, playing with your children, etc. so you aren’t focusing on the traumatic event. Try to reestablish a routine. Humans find comfort in the familiar. Try to structure your day making sure you are eating well, sleeping enough and finding some way to relax. Volunteering and helping others also always helps us feel more positive. Look around for a community group you can join.
Thirdly, recognize when you need to reach out for help. If your stress symptoms are not easing up and you feel stuck, reach out. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers crisis counseling, advocacy, referrals and support groups to help you. If you have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault and are ready to work to feel whole again, we are here for you. You may contact our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.