by Linda Crockett
As a survivor, I am leading Safe Communities. Working with friends, partners and allies, we exist to end child sexual abuse and to create healing spaces for survivors – and that will not stop even as we live in this time of a global pandemic, which is scary for everyone.
The virus is an invisible enemy that we can’t control, even as we try frantically to reduce risk through various tactics. No one is immune. Low-wage or hourly/contracted employees are particularly vulnerable economically. Older adults and those with underlying medical conditions are more vulnerable to severe illness, based on what we know right now. Less discussed has been the psychological vulnerability of survivors of sexual violence.
Many survivors of sexual abuse and assault do their best every single day to live with the long-term impacts of trauma - such as PTSD, acute anxiety, and depression. It is not uncommon for survivors to have a high need for control, given that our bodies were broken into. For many who were violated repeatedly as children, the break-ins were a continual theft, leaving our spirits in a state of homelessness when our bodies became occupied territory.
Although human beings have a basic and healthy need for a degree of control over their lives, the need by survivors often slides to an extreme version on the spectrum, in order to manage their trauma sensitized nervous systems. Some of us are extreme planners, making sure we not only have a Plan B, but also a C and D for any possible contingency. Those who have been lucky enough to acquire a tool box for healing have healthy self-care practices we can call upon that work at least some of the time so we don’t turn to unhealthy methods, which includes too much alcohol, over-medicating, risky behavior, isolating and self-harm.
Some of us are able to manage our chronic PTSD or anxiety fairly well for years until we are hit with an unexpected triggering event that destabilizes our physical and emotional selves. Basic bodily functions such as eating, elimination, sleep and more are all heavily impacted when PTSD is your dance partner. Psychological disruption runs the room with everything from emotional meltdowns to immobilization to your thinking brain suddenly going off-line. The trigger often has to do with a loss of control - a sudden job loss, severe injury or illness, divorce, moving and a multitude of other curves life throws at us. While these are anxiety producing events for non-traumatized people, for survivors it may mean a plunge into a reactivated trauma mode.
As though all this was not enough, many survivors of sexual abuse are exquisitely attuned to social, cultural, or political changes that may adversely affect them and the people they love. That attunement was often developed out of necessity in childhood. The powerful people in our lives - those that controlled our households, schools, churches and other places where we were supposed to be safe but were not - betrayed our trust in the systems around us either through active perpetration of harm or failure to protect. Just as we were once attuned to the micro-movements in a perpetrators face that could signal danger was coming, we are attuned to even the faintest whisper of approaching harm. We feel it in our bodies, and with survivor super-powers – we brace or numb ourselves.
A pandemic is no longer a distant threat, but a real and present danger for everyone. Fear is a rational response, even as we try to remain calm and manage our anxiety.
For survivors, however, the psychological impact is exponential and may be a major trigger. We are faced with loss of control over our daily lives as powerful people who did not do nearly enough to protect us at the first warning signs now issue orders that close our schools and workplaces, tell us to isolate ourselves as much as possible, and close recreational and social gathering venues that were part of our trauma-management toolboxes.
So, this is hard. But survivors can DO hard. It’s why we are still here. Kind of like dandelions.
Some people get really annoyed at our existence – especially when we insist on truth-telling, accountability, and justice. They mow us down, again and again. But the wind keeps spreading our seed, and we pop up in new places. Some of the survivors we work with are incredible leaders in their communities and organizations - resilient, strong warriors for justice on small and large scales.
We may need to practice social isolation in real time; but we can find alternative pathways to come together and create circles of wisdom and healing in virtual space.
We need each other.
Our communities need survivor wisdom on how to get through these scary times. We are grateful for the community we have, and we look forward to how this community will grow and support each other during the current pandemic.
Love and Light,