The Perpetrator Next Door

Don’t walk alone at night.  Hold your keys between your fingers for protection.  Stay in well lit areas.  These are just some of the lessons I remember learning at a young age.  Doing these things were supposed to keep us safe from being attacked, from being sexually assaulted, from being raped.  Back then I thought that rapists were scary people that jumped out from bushes at night to attack.  

In reality, the numbers of rapes when the perpetrator is a stranger are the minority. 

8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim

The majority of children and teen victims know the perpetrator.

Of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator:

  • 59% were acquaintances

  • 34% were family members

  • 7%  were strangers to the victim

For these and more statistics see RAINN.

There are terms like “date rape” and “acquaintance rape.”  Part of me thinks that these terms water-down and minimize the crime.  Part of me wonders if the intent of these terms were to illustrate that these crimes could be committed by people we know. But why come up with another term?  Rape is rape.  Rape is a crime.  

Rape and sexual assault impact a person mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, behaviorally, and spiritually.  When this crime is committed by someone known to the survivor there may be additional layers of confusion and struggle.  I’ve heard some say that if it was that stranger in the bushes, it would almost be “easier” (it’s never easy) because you could avoid the person, there wouldn’t be common friends, and more.  It’s almost like we think when the rape or sexual assault is committed by a stranger it’s more “clearcut” (for lack of a better word).

Some of the fears and thoughts of self doubt a survivor may have include:

  • I thought I could trust this person.  Did I do something to mislead them?

  • What does this mean about me and my ability to judge who to be friends with?

  • If I talk about this, am I going to lose friends? Will people believe me?

  • My body reacted like I enjoyed it. Maybe I really wanted it. Maybe I like this person.  

  • There must have been some kind of misunderstanding because this person wouldn’t intentionally hurt me, would they?  

  • And more… 

What if the perpetrator was someone that the survivor was in a relationship with, someone they continue a relationship with, or that they begin a relationship with after the fact?  This happens.  A partner may take things further than what was wanted.  Maybe it was the first time.  Maybe it was the 30th.  When a survivor continues a relationship with the perpetrator, it may leave friends and loved ones confused. 

Why would a survivor continue or begin a relationship with their abuser? Maybe the survivor is invested in the relationship and part of them finds a way to justify or rationalize what happens.  Maybe they fear people won’t believe them. Maybe a part of them is struggling with shame and having victim blaming thoughts. Maybe they fear that the consequences (ie social, financial, family, career…) of ending contact would be great. Maybe they hope new memories will outweigh the traumatic event.  Another reason may be related to the self blaming thoughts that can happen when the physical body reacts to sexual stimulation even when it’s unwanted.  Our body reacts to sexual stimulation and it is beyond our control.  What happened is still sexual assault and rape.  

The survivor should be empowered to make decisions about their healing process and this includes whether they have contact with the perpetrator. The survivor may want to avoid the person. They may want to take legal and/or judicial action (if the crime involved students on a campus). The survivor may want to do nothing or do nothing for now. They may want to have a conversation with the perpetrator in hopes of an apology or an explanation. Every survivor is different. Deciding what to do next is part of survivor taking back their control.

This Ted Talk tells one story.

The first time I watched this I had a wide variety of reactions.  There are some excellent points made.  There are some parts that I struggled with.  These events, these crimes, can be complex.  Maybe we know people on both sides of the story.  Different parts of us may be pulled in different directions at different times.  These crimes happen and they happen between people who know each other.  What happened is still sexual assault and rape.  

It would be nice to think we live in a world where if we did everything “right” we could be sure that nothing terrible would ever happen.  If we avoided that road at night, stuck together, and held those keys we would be safe.  Rape and sexual assault can happen at our friends’ homes, in dorm rooms, at the office, and in our own bedrooms.  They can happen at anytime of day and no matter what we are wearing. The perpetrator may be someone known.  When these crimes happen, the perpetrator takes a person’s control away.  The perpetrator is the one who is responsible.  It is still sexual assault and rape.

Things don’t have to stay this way. We can change the conversation about sexual assault and rape. We can support survivors when they share their story. Survivors can heal. We can have conversations about sexual consent beginning at a young age. We can provide sexual assault prevention education and bystander intervention trainings. The person next door could be the person that helps you in your time of need.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. For more information, visit the RAINN website. Contact me to consult further on this topic or to schedule a therapy appointment.

Healing Conversations

Too often trauma gets dismissed as just in our head, but the pain is real. We feel it in our muscles, our cells, our hearts, our heads. And while there’s no magic fix, no pill to make it disappear, we can ask for help. And we can tell our truth whenever we are ready.
— Grey's Anatomy

How people respond when we share our stories of trauma can have a tremendous impact on our healing.  Last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was titled “Silent All These Years” and it did an amazing job addressing sexual and domestic violence.  It followed 3 main story lines which included providing support immediately after the crime, conversations that happen years later, and talking about consent.

When someone shares their experience of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence, it may feel like opening up a wound, or it may feel like sharing a chapter from a book that happened long ago.  There can be a whole range of emotions depending on where the person is in their healing journey.  How it feels can also vary based on who they are sharing with and the context.  There is no right or wrong way to feel. 

It is up to a survivor to decide who to tell and when.  Again, there is no right or wrong way.  Some may reach out for help immediately to one, or to a few, or to many.  Some may not speak about it for years.  Some may share at one point and then never talk about it again.  For some, this may be a conversation that they come back to again one day in future relationships.  Some may find that it gets a little easier to share their story as time goes on.  For some, it may feel just as overwhelming as the first time.  There is no right or wrong way to feel.  There is no set timeline.

There is however, a right way to respond.  When someone shares their story, they are being vulnerable both with you and with themself.  When the person is met with compassion and support, it can contribute to greater healing.  When the person is met with doubt or victim blaming, those responses can be internalized.  One of the best responses is “It’s not your fault. I believe you.”

Towards the end of the Grey’s episode, we see a survivor being brought to surgery by her doctors.  When they enter the hallway, it is lined with women.  No words are needed.  The message is powerful.  We are here to support you.  

Scene from Grey’s Anatomy: Silent All These Years

It’s the showing up that matters the most.  It’s the compassion.  It’s the solidarity.  It’s someone saying, “It’s not your fault. I believe you.” It’s knowing that we are not alone. When we are met with those things, our strength grows. It is in those moments and in those conversations that healing is happening.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. For more information, visit the RAINN website. Contact me to consult further on this topic or to schedule a therapy appointment.

You Are Not What Happened To You

“I feel like I’m damaged goods.”  This statement and other similar statements can come from people who have experienced trauma.  The trauma may have been a sexual assault or other crime, it may may have been a toxic relationship, it may have been a near death experience.  Why so often do survivors believe these events leave them forever damaged?

Trauma does change us.  Some of what it can impact includes how we think, the emotions that we feel, our behaviors, our physical response to stimulus, and more.  This is a normal response to an event that has shook our world. In time, many will return to their previous (or similar) way of functioning.  Some may do this naturally on their own and some find their way back with the support of others.  

There are people who hold the belief that what happened to them has left them “damaged.”  Trauma impacts our view of ourself and our place in the world.  It’s not uncommon to have thoughts like “I’m bad”, “This was my fault,” or “I have no control.” 

I think we like to believe that awful things can’t happen.  When something awful does happy we try to figure out why.  We want to know what we can do to make sure something awful never happens again to ourself or to loved ones.  We start to come up with reasons and justifications like “If only I had…” The amount of victim blaming that we hear in society, especially around sexual violence, further compounds the blame that we place on ourselves. 

Through the support of loved ones it is possible to begin changing the way we think about our trauma.  When someone says to us “it’s not your fault” and “I’m here for you” it goes a long way.  We no longer feel alone.  Their statements of support start to counter the self blame statements that are in our head.  The more we hear these statements of support the more we start to believe them.

Therapy can also help us to heal and to shift those negative thoughts about ourself.  EMDR therapy helps the brain to process an event.  Instead of having a negative thought about ourself we have a positive thought like “I’m good,” “It wasn’t my fault,” and “I have control.”  IFS therapy helps us to release the negative energy, thoughts, and emotions about an event.  Once that unburdening happens it invites us to take in other positive qualities like calm, confidence, connection, and courage. EMDR and IFS are two of the therapeutic approaches that can help individuals to heal from their past trauma.

Through support and therapy a person can reach a different understanding of the event(s) and the meaning can change.  It no longer defines the person.  It is part of their story but it’s a matter of pages and not the whole book. Experiencing trauma does not mean that a person is damaged. The person may change in some ways or their path may change. Life changes us in all sorts of ways.

“Yes I have been through awful things.  It wasn’t my fault though.  I’m strong.  I’m going to do amazing things.”  This type of statement and other similar statements have come from people that have worked through their trauma.  I have heard these statements from clients in my office.

Are you ready to start your healing journey? Contact me to make a therapy appointment.


The Love Within

Happy Valentine’s Day!  This day can bring up a range of emotions for many of us - excitement, sadness, numbness, anger, disappointment, tenderness, ambivalence and much more.  This can change depending where we are in our life.

What I’ve come to realize over the years, is that how I experience this day (and relationships in general) is largely related to where I am in relationship with myself.  

Many of us have core wounds related to lovability, worthiness, and/or our value.  These wounds were often created early on in life.  Maybe by a message we heard from a loved one, maybe it was the absence of a primary care giver (literally or due to mental health or substance use), maybe it was because of another early negative experience or trauma.  That wound can be raw for a very long time.  Sometimes we don’t even realize it’s there.  

We often move through life trying not to acknowledge that wound.  Sometimes we are trying to avoid it through distractions like overworking or binge watching our favorite shows.  Sometimes we try to people please or try to be “perfect.”  Sometimes we try to numb it through using food or other substances.

There are times we try to find something or someone outside to assure us that this fear we hold about ourself isn’t true.  If I win that award… If I date this person… If I get that job… If that person loves me…

Sometimes this may help us short term.  Eventually something changes.  Then, we are again questioning our lovability, worthiness, or value.  

There is another option though… What if we could give ourselves the love we deserve?  Take some time to sit down, get to know ourselves better, get to know the different aspects of ourselves, and in time help heal those wounds.  Then, we wouldn’t be needing someone or something from the outside to give those things to us.  Then, when we meet another person we won’t have the same expectations.  Yes we have standards, we have goals, and we have hopes for relationships.  But how we feel about ourselves is no longer dependent on these outside factors.  

I invite you to take some time today or over the next days to get to know yourself.  Be curious about why you do all the things you do.  Connect to the different aspects of yourself.  Thank them for getting you to where you are today.  Make a plan to spend time with them again.  When you’re ready, set an intention to take steps towards healing any wounds that are there by participating in therapy.  You deserve it.  

Let this Valentine’s Day be a day you give yourself the love you deserve.  If there are others in your life whether they be friends, family, partners, or pets that you want to send love to, take moments to do that too.  When the love starts within, the rest is icing on the cake.  Make the day one full of love, appreciation, joy, and connection.

Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.
— Carrie Bradshaw
San Diego Therapist

Year End Review

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution?  Have you ever seen it through?  Maybe some of you strong willed and determined people have.  However, some of us have likely made resolutions that have fallen to the the wayside by the end of January.  Then maybe we got down on ourself or made an excuse like “new year’s resolutions are stupid.” I’m proposing something different this year.  Do a year end review instead.

Get out your journal/computer/tablet/smartphone. It’s time to to reflect on the past year and to make a plan for next.

  1. What were your favorite moments of 2018?  Make a list of the things you enjoyed about this year.  This is when you can get nostalgic.  Maybe a trip you took, a memory with a loved one, or a book you enjoyed reading… list the good things that you want to remember.  

  2. What were your accomplishments?  When we make resolutions we are often focus on what we wish we could do differently.  I want you to take some time to recognize all the things that YOU DID DO.  Maybe you had a milestone in your personal life or your career, maybe you set a personal record of some kind, maybe you took a class… give yourself some darn credit!

  3. What were your challenges?  Now it’s time to acknowledge what you didn’t do so well.  Try not to be too hard on yourself.  We all have things to list here.  Life is about growth.  Try to see if there are any themes that may relate to something you want to work on.  

  4. Make a SMART Goal (or a few) for 2019:  One of the challenges about New Year’s Resolutions is that often we make grand goals with no plan on how to achieve them. Don’t make a resolution just because you think you should.  That’s how we set ourselves up to not seeing them through.  Use this graphic to help you format your goal(s).

This image was found on Pinterest. I love Pinterest. It says the graphic originally appeared in an article from ReignitingIt.

This image was found on Pinterest. I love Pinterest. It says the graphic originally appeared in an article from ReignitingIt.

Yes I know this may feel like a self evaluation you’d do for your employer.  When I worked in higher education, we had to set SMART goals for our performance reviews every year.  To be honest, I often dreaded that time of year.  Emotions were on high at the office.  Probably because we were being evaluated by other people and that they sometimes had a different perspective on what we did well and not so well.  Plus, it was tied to potential salary increases and money can bring up a lot.  What I’m asking you to do here is different from that type of review.  Here, you’re doing a self evaluation for your most important boss… You.

The goals you set for yourself and how you feel about yourself are most important.  Our relationship with ourself sets the groundwork for our other relationships.  Also, the only time we are going to change is if it’s change we are choosing for ourself.  That’s when the change has a chance to last.  

This year I’m asking you to sit down and really take a good look at the past year.  Acknowledge all that went well and what you want to improve.  Then make a plan.  If you really want to take it to the next level, take that review out in June to see what kind of progress you have made so far.  Adjust as needed.  Stop setting unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions.  This year, do a Year End Review instead. Then watch yourself grow. 

Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
— Natasha Beddingfield, Unwritten

Most Holidays Aren’t a Hallmark Movie: Tips for the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of year.  Or is it an emotional and stressful time of year?  Likely, it’s somewhere between the two.  

If you are someone who struggles finding constant joy this season you are not alone.  The holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons.  It can feel like there’s pressure from society to have this picture perfect family holiday full of traditions and nothing but laughter and good times.  You may feel like that is true for others but the reality of your life is different.  There may be the thoughts like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be ‘normal?’”  Maybe your holidays are overall “ok” but… Maybe there are feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe they’re stressful for other reasons.

There is no “normal” or “perfect.” We all need this reminder.  Also, I can guarantee that there are other people having similar thoughts. In my years as a therapist (and all my years of being alive frankly), I have seen many people struggle this time of year.  Heck, I’ve struggled at times.  There can be an increase in mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression. There can be an increase in substance use or relapse for those in recovery.  There can be an increase in interpersonal conflicts.  So what can you do to get through the season?  

Helpful Tips for the Holidays

  1. Self Care - This is important year round and is especially important during the holidays.  Schedules can get hectic with travel or holiday related events.  Don’t neglect yourself.  If you have found a routine of exercise, meditation, or other forms of self care try to keep this a priority.  If you miss something one day, forgive yourself and get back on track.  

  2. Keep Your Boundaries - These could be boundaries with how you spend time or boundaries with individuals in your life.  Keep the balance that works for you. Sometimes holidays mean being around people you don’t usually see.  It could be family or other individuals that caused pain in the past. Identify people that can offer support if needed at events and people that will be there to reach out to after.  

  3. Sleep - Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and sleep goes out the window.  Sleep is key to our physical and mental wellbeing.  If you get off schedule, give yourself time to get back on track.  

  4. Make Room for Your Feelings - Don’t try to eat or drink them away.  These and other forms of numbing only “work” for a short time and they’ll still be there. Acknowledge your feelings.  Be curious about them.  You don’t have to put on a facade of constant joy because of the season.  When we make room for our true feelings, we learn to ride the wave because they will change.  Journal about them.  Talk to someone about them.  Most importantly, feel them. 

  5. Live in the Moment - Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the planning of events and gifts that before we know it we have missed enjoying being in the moment.  Slow down.  Breathe. Enjoy what’s happening in the now.  

  6. Practice Gratitude - Notice what it is you do enjoy and appreciate.  Maybe it’s something about the season (ie weather, movies, music, events, peppermint mochas, or gingerbread).  Maybe it’s something you value year round that you want to give extra acknowledgement to and thanks for.  This actually helps build positive emotional pathways in the brain. 

  7. Take the Pressure Off Yourself - You don’t have to work so hard trying to create the perfect holiday for others. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do (within reason of course).  If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, you don’t have to.  If you can’t afford to give that expensive gift, don’t.  Listen to your gut.  You do you. 

  8. Make the Holidays Your Own - Someone else’s idea of a “magical” holiday season doesn’t need to be what yours is.  If there are holiday events you want to attend, go for it.  If you want to cook yourself an awesome meal, you can do that. If you want to go sit on the beach with your dog, that’s cool too.  You can start your own traditions.  You get to choose.  

  9. Connect - Sometimes we want to hide in our safety cocoons.  That can be ok to some extent.  Sometimes when we want to isolate, what would really be best for us is to connect.  Find people to talk to.  This may be friends or family.  It may be professional support like a therapist.  Talk to someone about what the holidays are like for you and how you are doing this season.  You don’t have to go through it alone.  

When we stop trying to make the holidays fit an ideal, we give ourselves permission to find enjoyment in what they really are.  Again, your holiday can be whatever you want it to be.  Take a few minutes and think about what you really would enjoy doing this time of year.  Picture your ideal holiday.  Make plans to do as many of those things as possible.

Remember, the stress of the holidays will pass.  It is normal for emotions to fluctuate especially during the holiday season.  There may be moments of stress, moments of joy, moments of tears, moments of laughter, and so much more. 

Wherever you are in your life this season, take care of yourself.  It’s both ok and normal if your holidays aren’t like a Hallmark Movie.  Maybe they’re more like a prime time drama or a reality show on Bravo. Whatever the holiday season brings, know we’ll all muddle through somehow.  2019 is just around the corner.  

If you need extra support do not hesitate to reach out. You can email me to schedule a therapy session. For 24/7 Support contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

From Stuck to Breakthroughs: EMDR for the Business Professional

Have you ever felt stuck in your profession? Something holds you back from having the confidence to taking things to the next level.  Maybe you are struggling to ask for that promotion or to make that sale.  Maybe you struggle with owning your professional identity or with taking on new projects.

The events and relationships throughout our life shape us into who we are today.  For better and worse.  

Have you heard of EMDR?  It’s an AMAZING form of therapy.  I have seen professionals go from feeling completely frozen in some aspect of their work to gaining clarity and confidence. 

Isn’t EMDR for trauma? Yes it is and that’s not all it can help with. 

Have you ever had any of these thoughts?  I’m not good enough.  I’m not smart enough.  I have to be perfect.  I cannot get what I want.  I cannot trust anyone.  I’m a failure.  I am not in control.  I do not deserve… 

We all have negative thoughts about ourselves from time to time.  Sometimes all the time.  These thoughts are contributing to us being stuck.  

Through the use of EMDR we can explore what events and relationships in your life may have led to these different negative thoughts.  Sometimes the connection is clear.  Sometimes it may surprise us.  Sometimes it’s a big event.  Sometimes it’s something small.  Sometimes those small things add up and impact us in a big way.  

After we identify what contributed to these negative thoughts, we use EMDR to process the event.  This will help to reduce the emotional response to the memory.  The thoughts we have about ourself when we think of the event will also change.

After EMDR therapy, you could have thoughts like these:  I am good enough.  I am smart enough.  I am good the way I am.  I am strong.  I can get what I want.  I can choose who to trust.  I can succeed.  I have control.  I deserve good things.  

When we shift our thoughts and our emotions, our behaviors change.  EMDR will help you to truly embody these beliefs.  EMDR helps you get unstuck so that you can be fully grounded in the present with confidence.  

Conquering your self doubts boosts internal confidence.  When you feel confident, you act confident.  People gravitate towards that energy.  They want to succeed with that person.  

You deserve that promotion.  You will make that sale.  You can take on that new project and do well.  You are a talented business person.  You can succeed.  And you will… 

Are you ready to see how EMDR can help you?  Contact me to make an appointment.  

Numbing the Pain

Tell me more about your pain.  Where do you feel it in or around your body?  What does the pain look like?  How long has the pain been there?  Can we get curious about it?  What does it want you to know?  

Some clients can go through these questions with a level of openness and imagination.  Some clients may have a quick reaction of “Hell NO” when asked to explore their pain.  They want to talk about what to do to make the pain stop.  I’ve also heard everything in between the extremes.  It can be uncomfortable to make room for emotions that we don’t like or don’t want to feel.  

Many of us are experts at what helps us numb the pain.  We distract with Netflix binges.  We over compartmentalize and try to lock those boxes away where we can’t feel them.  We over eat.  We shop.  We drink.  We use drugs.  We overwork.  We daydream.  There are endless ways that we shut down uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.  We all have our go to’s.  Some days these methods “work.”  But sometimes what we are trying to do to cope with the pain ends up causing us more pain.  

The problem is… that you cannot selectively numb emotions… You can’t numb the hard feelings without numbing the other affect and emotions. When we numb those we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness, and then we are miserable and we’re looking for purpose and meaning. And then we feel vulnerable so we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
— Brene Brown

A question that I often ask my clients is “How’s that working for you?”  Then we explore how it helps and how it doesn’t. Whether it’s using substances or other avoidance tactics there is always a reason why we do the things we do.  At one time it worked.  That reinforced the behavior.  Chances are though that it’s not working so well anymore.  That’s why you are reading this blog.  That’s why you are thinking about making a change.  

There are some ways we numb the pain that are “less harmful” than others.  All methods have the potential to become harmful especially when done to an extreme.  When we continue to do something in an effort to cope despite negative consequences we are entering the realm of addiction.  When we start talking about addiction whether that be to a substance or a compulsive behavior we also start to talk about judgement.  Judgement may come from ourselves or from others.  Likely it is both.  

Part of me wants to stop and part of me doesn’t.  When we acknowledged the ambivalence the work can truly begin.  Tell me more about the part of you that wants to stop.  Tell me more about the addict part.  There are things to be learned from both.  

It’s “easy” to numb the pain.  It’s more challenging to make room for it.  It’s “easy” to judge our addict part and our “bad behaviors.”  We all have a critic inside that has a lot to say about what we do.  It’s more challenging to spend some time with that addict and that critic (and the many other parts we have).  These parts have a lot to say.  They have been doing their best to help us through life.  They have been trying to protect us from that pain.  

In order for any behavior change to be lasting we need to look at what is fueling the behavior.  There’s a reason for it.  Once we get to know the part that feels like this behavior is the only solution we can start to heal it.  Then we can look at our pain and begin to heal that.  

I want to invite you to take a look at the ways you numb your pain.  Maybe there’s a part that looses itself in TV.  Maybe there’s a part that likes to shop.  Maybe there’s a part that uses substances. Let’s get curious about the part. How long has that part been around?  Do you remember what was happening when it came into existence?  What does it fear would happen if you didn’t do this?

Next the inner work begins. Healing is possible.  Change is possible.

The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.
— Gabor Mate

When the News Is Triggering: Self Care for Survivors

It has been an especially rough few weeks in the news when it comes to the topic of sexual assault.  Several women have come forward accusing Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh of sexual assault.  There are the ignorant statements in response to this from other political leaders including President Trump (someone who has also been accused of sexual assault).  Then, there are the sexual abuse cases involving priests. Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced for 3-10 years for sexual assault. This was the sentence for the criminal case involving one of the women who came forward. For survivors of sexual assault and all those impacted by (and dedicated to preventing) these crimes - loved ones of survivors, advocates, educators, professional supports, and more - it can be both overwhelming and triggering to follow these events in the news.  

Some days, it feels like you can’t keep your eyes away from the headlines.  Then, even though you know you probably shouldn’t, you scroll down to the comments.  That’s when the blood really starts to boil (at least for me).  There is so much misinformation and a general lack of information out there regarding sexual violence and the impact of trauma on an individual. There’s so much victim blaming and minimization of these crimes.  Some survivors choose not to watch the news at all in effort to protect themselves from being triggered.  Some survivors may not be able to take their eyes off it.  Maybe it’s a way to desensitize. Maybe they’re trying to understand other people’s perspectives.  Maybe because they are looking for the comments of support from advocates and other survivors.  Maybe they are wanting to leave comments themselves.  However you are reacting to these events, it is important to practice self care. 

Tips for Self Care:

  1. Utilize Your Supports.  Reach out to friends and other survivors.  Reach out to local agencies and hotlines.  Talk to a therapist. Process your thoughts on these events and what it may be bringing up for you.  Know you are not alone.  

  2. Try Not to Personalize Comments. This can be VERY hard. Survivors may have a part of themselves that self blames or may have people in their lives that made statements that were victim blaming or judgmental.  When reading these comments it can fire up those negative thoughts. These people who are making ignorant comments do not know you.  They do not know your story.  They likely don’t even know facts on the stories they are commenting on.  Breathe.  Scream if it helps you.  Write a response if it helps.  See Tip 1 and talk to your support system. 

  3. Find Balance in Information You Take In.  In addition to the various news outlets, try to follow organizations that provide support to survivors.  These include RAINN, Victims Rights Law Center, YWCA, and local rape crisis centers.  They are also posting statements and articles in support of survivors.  They are sharing important educational information in efforts to make people better informed.  People are commenting words of support and compassion.  Take those statements in.  

  4. Sweat It Out.  Physical exercise is one of the best forms of self care.  It is especially important for survivors.  It helps you to get connected to your body.  It helps you to feel physically strong.  It can help to clear your mind.  Put on those sneakers and go for a run or take a class.  You will notice a difference. 

  5. Find Creative Outlets. Many people benefit from expressing their thoughts and emotions through art work, journaling, and music.  Maybe you create these works yourself or maybe you enjoy appreciating others creations. Find what inspires you. 

  6. Identify What You Need to Heal.  Healing isn’t always linear.  What you needed when you first began this journey may be different from what you need now.  Some find healing through sharing their story, some through a new form of therapy, some by taking legal action (i.e. with criminal or civil charges), some become advocates or educators, and much much more. What do you need to do for yourself at this time?  It’s ok to try something new.  How you heal may be different from others and that is ok.  Take care of you.  

  7. Know your limit.  There may be a point when you can no longer take in the news.  Maybe you need to take a break.  Maybe you need to walk away completely.  

  8. Know Times Are Changing.  The previous administration was committed to improving prevention education and decreasing sexual violence (Obama’s Title IX Guidance).  There are college campuses that provide bystander intervention and trainings on consent.  Military provides these trainings as well.  Some schools are starting these important conversations for youth at younger ages.  The #MeToo movement is strong.  People are coming forward with their stories.  People are passionate about preventing this violence from continuing, about bringing perpetrators to justice, and about supporting survivors. 

This week I found myself getting to a place of curiosity about and calmness towards the people who are making ignorant comments about sexual violence (between the moments of blood boiling).  I wonder what they may have experienced and what messages they have received about these types of crimes.  I reminded myself that it has not been that long that we have been talking more openly about these crimes and providing prevention education.  Many of these individuals making statements do not know how to define sexual assault, rape, or consent.  They haven’t learned about bystander intervention.  They do not know how trauma impacts an individual.  A lack of knowledge doesn’t excuse their ignorant and insensitive remarks. It does help me understand their perspective a bit more (I don’t agree, but I get where they’re coming from more). 

I wish someone would do a presentation for our elected officials so that they would have this information.  The Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women comes to mind as a possible presenter because of the grant work I took part in on college campuses. Maybe then, politicians would have compassionate statements about those coming forward with their stories of sexual assault. Maybe then, they could make better informed decisions (for example, who has the values we want represented on the Supreme Court).  If these elected officials could at least experience the trainings that are now mandated on many college campuses and by military branches they would likely learn a lot and their perspective could shift. 

Who knows what headline we will see next and what statements will come from our political leaders.  Times are changing, not as quickly as I would like, but they are changing.  I encourage all survivors and people who care about this topic to take care of yourself.  These stories in the news will keep coming.  We all have an important role to play in how history is rewritten for survivors through our support, advocacy, and education.  I have hope that things will get better.   I hope that one day when I read an article about sexual assault accusations that the quotes from our leaders will consistently be a commitment to finding the truth and justice or a statement of compassion and in support of healing.  A movement has started. #MeToo 

If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. 

I See You. I Care.

I find it interesting that after high profile suicides my newsfeed is often filled with posts from well meaning individuals with blanket statements along the lines of “If you need to talk, I’m here.”  It makes sense.  We want people to know they aren’t alone and that we are there for them.  Unfortunately, putting that invitation out there may be futile when it comes to our friends who are suffering.  These people may not be able to reach out and ask for help.  One of the features of depression is isolation.  That person may not have the strength to reach out in response to that post.  They might not see that post. 

What makes someone think about suicide?  Imagine being physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted all the time. You feel alone.  You just want the pain to end.  It doesn’t feel like there is any other way to end it. You have lost hope.  

It isn’t uncommon to think about suicide.  It may start as a fleeting thought.  Then that thought gets louder and more frequent.  It gets so strong that the person starts to think of how to do it and maybe starts to prepare to act on those thoughts.  Then maybe something happens that makes them want to carry that plan through.  There are different risk levels of suicide ranging from passive thoughts to having a plan and intent.  It doesn’t have to be a linear progression either.  

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Every 12 minutes someone in the US takes their life.

On average there are 123 suicides per day.

For every completed suicide there are 25 attempts. 

- AFSP.ORG data from 2016 

Suicide is the most preventable cause of death.  If it is known that someone is struggling and they are able to connect with support.  

What can we do to stop this epidemic? 

We need to not be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.  We need to make it ok to talk about mental health struggles and we need to make it ok to talk about suicide.  Talking about it can be a protective factor.  There can be relief in giving voice to the thoughts someone has been holding inside.  Then, they don’t feel alone with the dark thoughts.  If someone is struggling ask them -  How are you? How dark does it get? Are you thinking about suicide?

We need to show up for each other and show that we care.  If we know someone is struggling we need to be the ones to reach out to them.  Send a text just to say you’re thinking about them.  Make plans.  Invite them to talk about what they’re going through if they want.  Invite them to do something fun together to get their mind off things.  Ask them how you can help support them. Tell them you think they’re awesome and that you care about them.

We need to give people hope.  When someone is struggling they may not see an end to the darkness.  Let them know that it will get better.  It may not feel like it now, but it will get better.  The only way to know that for sure is to stay around to see that sunrise.  If you’ve struggled and came through to the other side (or know someone that has) share those stories of hope.  Sometimes someone may struggle to believe in that hope.  Let them know that’s ok if they aren’t there yet.  Let them know you’ll believe for the both of you until they find their hope.  Let them know you’ll be with them throughout their journey.

We need to connect people to support.  Everyone deserves support.  It may come in the form of therapy, support groups, online forums, spiritual guidance, and doctors, just to name a few.  I believe everyone deserves therapy.  Offer to go with them to their first appointment, if it will make them more comfortable.  If they don’t connect immediately to the person they meet with, let them know it may take time to build a relationship.  If it’s not a good fit, let them know it’s ok to try someone or something else.  It’s important for people to feel comfortable with their support.  Get support for yourself while you are supporting them.  Get support for yourself anyways.  Again, everyone deserves therapy.

What can you do when there is a high profile suicide instead of making a post inviting people to call you if they need anything?  Make a post about hope. Send a message to your loved ones just to say hi, to let them know that you are thinking of them, and to let them know you care.  Check in with loved ones that you know have been struggling to ask how they are doing, offer support, and let them know you care.  Engage in dialogue about mental health to help decrease the stigma.  Spread awareness about resources.  Connect to resources.  Go to therapy yourself. You deserve it! Let people know about your experiences and invite them to share about theirs.  

What if we made it a point to do all of these things regularly?  Why wait?  There are many stories about people who were struggling that describe how on a dark day a smile or kind word from a friend or even a stranger made a difference.  We don’t know what is going on in another person’s world.  What if we made it a point to smile and be kind to each person we interact with?

I see you. I care. 

According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That's one person every 40 seconds. World Suicide Prevention Day is Monday, September 10. Today, this week, and well into the future, we're asking you to fight with us. - TWLOHA

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

Survivors of Suicide Loss offers support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

You are not alone.

Reaction to 13 Reasons Why Season 2

Wow. That was intense. 

This reaction blog is late to come. I finished the season well over a month ago. Summer has been busy and I also wanted time to digest. I don’t know how people binge watch this show. It doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy topics. Anytime I watched more than 2 episodes at once, I could really feel it. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I say this in effort to help normalize any reaction you may have had. Also, I want to encourage people to identify people you can process your reaction with. It can be a lot to hold on your own.

The second season of 13 Reasons Why shows us what happens to the characters after the tapes have been released. Again, I want to state for the record that I do not believe this show glamorizes suicide.  Season two shows us the impact that this traumatic loss had on a community.  It also reveals new sides of these characters that we didn’t know in season one. Some of what we learn includes relationships we didn’t know existed and secrets that were held. The actors once again did an amazing job bringing these characters to life. We begin to understand more about why they either did or did not do certain things.  Everyone has a story.

There are so many reactions that I have to this season.  I’m going to try to focus on three main areas: responding to suicide, sexual violence, and how communities care.

Responding to Suicide 

The school made the decision to no longer discuss suicide after a second student makes an attempt.  While I do not agree with that choice, I do understand why they felt they had to do that.  There is fear of a contagion effect. The suicide of one person or multiple people can contribute to a rise in suicidal behavior in others.  However, it’s more complex than that. There are variables we need to consider including: if/how was it reported by the media, what details are known and what are rumors, how was it discussed in the community, how was it discussed in the school, what is known about individuals who may be struggling at risk already, and what support resources are available.  

There is still so much stigma out there regarding mental health, suicide, and substance use.  There’s also a lot of misinformation and a lack of education.  This school was not in a good position to respond to this tragedy.  We saw in season 1 that the counselor didn’t know what questions to ask or how to respond when Hannah asked for help.  The teacher didn’t know how to respond to a poem that was shared which clearly was about someone in pain.  But not being prepared isn't an excuse.  These high school students needed someone to talk to about what happened.  They needed resources.  The therapist & prevention educator in me saw so many red flags and missed opportunities both before and after Hannah’s death.  

Sexual Violence and the Legal System

With polaroids as evidence we learn that Hannah was not the only victim of sexual violence.  This season we learn that one character is a sexual predator.  We see characters trying to bring him to justice.  This is a big challenge.  One of the difficult parts about bringing a sexual predator is that these criminal cases often depend on the victim being a witness in the case against their attacker.  This can be re-traumatizing for the victim.  

The students search to find someone who is willing to go on the stand and share their story of being raped. When they find potential victims/survivors/witnesses these women express hesitations about taking the stand. One changes her mind once she is up there. It can be an overwhelming and scary experience to go through the legal system.  This is why many people choose not to.  When one student corageously takes the stand and shares her story, the perpetrator barely get’s a slap on the wrist. The judge says something along the lines of not wanting to ruin two people’s lives because of choices they made. My blood boiled here. Unfortunately once again there is misinformation and lack of education.  This leads to a lot of victim blaming. Schools are starting to educate more about consent and sexual violence prevention. I hope one day our legal system will also start to change. 

How Communities Care

Season two showed how relationships changed after the tapes were released. Some relationships grew stronger and others grew apart. One of the things we learned from the tapes and the show is that you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. We don’t know the impact we have on the lives of other people. I appreciated seeing how some characters started to take care of one another in this season. If only more could have learned this lesson and applied it to more people. Then maybe we wouldn’t have the violence in the end of season 2. 

This is the biggest lesson to be taken from this show - We need to care about each other. We need to do more. We need to ask more questions. Teachers, parents, professionals, friends… we need to reach out when we think someone may be struggling.  We need to know the signs.  I have seen people post comments saying "If you're struggling reach out. I'm here for you." The thing is sometimes people who are struggling can’t reach out.  They need others to reach out to them.  

It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.
— Clay Jensen

13 Reasons Why Season Two did it again.  It held a mirror up to show the deep, painful, struggles that people face.  People every day are struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression, bullying, substance use, infidelity, secrets they keep from both themselves and others, and so much more.  It’s intense when we see it all play out on TV with one group of students in one community.  However, maybe that is more realistic than we realize.  If we all stopped and took time to ask people in our lives how they are doing...if we really stopped to have a conversation and ask some tough questions, maybe then we would learn just how much people keep hidden.

There are people that say this show goes too far.  Yes there are hard scenes to watch.  The writers didn’t pull these types of events from thin air though.  Assault, suicidal thought, substance use, and the other struggles depicted in this show happen more than we may realize.  13 Reasons Why has given us an opportunity to talk about these topics.  Sometimes it can be easier to lead into a difficult conversation by talking about our reaction to fictional characters.  I encourage you all to take the time to process your reactions with people you know. Then ask a follow up question. It might be something like this.  “Have you or anyone you know gone through something like that.” You may be surprised at where the conversation goes. I hope that it is the first of many conversations.  The key is to keep talking and keep caring. 

Again, there is so much more I could say in response to season 2. I deliberately kept statements about events vague to not give spoilers to those who haven't seen it. Feel free to comment general reactions to the season here. I welcome to opportunity to talk more about specifics off line.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

Reaction to 13 Reasons Why Season 1

13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It illustrates the pain and struggles that teenagers may face.  These are challenges that many of us may have faced in our lifetimes.  These important topics include: friendship, suicide, sexual assault, substance use, stalking, sexuality, and bullying. 

I was hesitant to watch this series.  I knew I could have a strong reaction. I had talked with friends about it and got fired up enough just hearing their reactions.  I want to make it clear that my reactions here are my own. They are based on my personal and professional experiences.  That’s how we all make meaning of things including television shows.  I haven’t yet read any of the articles by other professionals because I wanted to form my own opinion first. 

I invite all of you who have either already watched this show or who are thinking about watching it to take a moment and reflect on what it may bring up for you.  There’s a chance that a character may remind you of someone you know or a situation may remind you of something that has happened in your own life.  How will that impact the conclusions you draw about these characters?

One comment that I have heard some say is that Hannah put herself in a lot of bad situations.  I don’t agree.  Hannah was a teenage girl trying to navigate the challenges of adolescents in high school.  There is no guidebook for this.  We all do the best we can and if we are lucky we make it through relatively unscathed.  Hannah was not able to do that.  One thing after another happened.  How much can a person take?  Hannah shares her 13 reasons why she died by suicide so that we can better understand her story. 

I’ve heard some people say that suicide is a selfish act.  Is it really though?  Someone is in so much pain and they just want it to stop.  Hannah mentioned feeling like she was a burden on others.  Maybe in her mind she thought she was doing people a favor.  People in pain may not see things clearly.  Everything is taken over by the darkness or the numbness.  It feels like suicide is the only choice.  It isn’t, but it feels that way.

Several years ago, I was at a suicide prevention summit in Colorado.  One of the talks included video interviews with individuals who survived suicide attempts.  They each shared how after they attempted, they realized they actually did want to live.  Some shared how if one thing had gone different that day, maybe they wouldn’t have attempted.  I’ll never forget those stories.  Kevin’s was one of them.

Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death.  IF we know the person is struggling AND we connect them to support.  If you have lost someone to suicide, I don’t want you to think I’m blaming you or saying that you should have done something.  You didn’t know what you didn’t know. 

While watching 13 Reasons Why, I had a whole range of reactions and emotions.  There were moments I was yelling at the TV, moments I cringed at statements made or questions asked, moments I hid my eyes and couldn’t watch, and moments I was in tears.  There were so many opportunities for Hannah’s story to change, for the story of all of these teenagers and adults to change.  They didn’t know what they didn’t know. 

Where does the responsibility lie? We need to be changing the conversations that we are having with our youth.  We need to be having the important conversations.  It is our responsibility.  The conversations may be scary or uncomfortable at times but these conversations will save lives. 

While working at WPI, I had the privilege to be part of two grants that helped to support these conversations.  The first was a suicide prevention grant.  This grant helped the Director of the SDCC, Charlie Morse, to develop the Student Support Network.  This six week training program teaches students about mental health struggles, how to support a friend, and how to connect them to resources.  The second grant was to reduce dating and sexual violence on campus.  Both of these grants provided information, led to important conversation, discussed bystander intervention, and helped make resources available (and known about). In my High School, we had the Yellow Ribbon Project for suicide prevention and the Yellow Dress to discuss dating violence.  What is it about the color yellow?  These are just some examples of how to start conversations.  We need to have these and many more (we needed even more back then, but it was a start).  Social media and cell phones have increased the pressure on teens.  When I was in school, when we went home for the night we got a reprieve from these pressures, but kids today don’t. 

High School can be a challenging time.  I think many of us can identify with one if not more of the characters in 13 Reasons Why.  Maybe we also struggled to find our place socially.  Maybe we felt pressure to be the star athlete.  Maybe we were labeled the school slut or a loser.  Maybe we were bullied.  Maybe we were the bully.  Maybe we were all of these and more at different points or maybe just one for a small time.  The fact of the matter is that we can relate.  That’s likely why this show has become so popular.  It speaks about things we don’t always know how to speak about. 

No, 13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It holds up a mirror for us to see all the ugly painful challenges that face youth.  We have a choice.  Do we continue to hold secrets and avoid important conversations?  Do we take this opportunity to stop and have some potentially hard conversations?  If you have a young person in your life that has watched this show, I encourage you to sit down and dialogue about it.  Even as adults there are things to be gained by talking to each other about the different issues that this show addresses.  If we don’t, this is a missed opportunity. It’s time to acknowledge our own fears and pain, to acknowledge the pain and struggles of others, to support one another, and to talk about what we can do to change.  Things can get better.  They do get better.  We know this when we live long enough to see it.

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down, it’s just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left, and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came
Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
— How To Save A Life, The Fray

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

For additional resources on how to talk about 13 Reasons Why, see the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

This blog reflects just some of my reactions to Season 1. There is much much more I could say. I invite you to respond with your reactions in the comments. Let's continue this important dialogue. Next, I'm off to start Season 2. More reflections to come after. 

The Darkness

The darkness can feel like being hit by a wave of emotion - exhaustion, despair, and sadness.  The more you fight it, the stronger it gets and the more it pulls on you. When you just let go and fall with it, things get even darker. How do you find your way out of the dark to the light?

Mental health struggles are real. They can be painful. You may feel alone.  In some of the darkest times, you may feel like something is “wrong” with you to the core. There may be thoughts of suicide.

There is hope though.  You may feel alone, but you don't have to be.  Reach out for support. It could come from a friend or family member. It could come from a therapist, a doctor, or another professional.  People care about you.  They want to help. There are people that you haven't even met yet that care and want to help. 

When we open up and talk about our struggles, it may feel strange at first.  We aren’t sure how people will react.  When we talk to people in our personal lives, we may fear that if they knew the truth about our pain, then they will “know” that there’s something “wrong” with us.  Then, they may leave or reject us.  Often times though, when we open up, when we allow people to truly see us, we allow for a true, genuine, connection to happen.  By sharing about our experience, we are making others more comfortable to share about their own.  

We live in a world of airbrush, photoshop, and snapchat filters.  People find ways to alter how they present themselves to the world in hopes of being “perfect.”  Why do we do this?  Maybe it’s because we all have a similar core fear.  There’s something “wrong” with me that makes me “unloveable.”  We don’t realize that the people around us may have similar fears and struggles.  We may think others have found the secret of how to live the perfect happy life. It only looks like they are a duck sitting on water cool, calm, and collected.  The reality is, that duck’s legs are moving fast to stay afloat too. Other people have struggles that they may not be talking about. 

What would happen if we just stopped using those filters?  What if we stopped trying to always cover up the pain and the self doubt that we feel inside.  What if, we got real?  What if, we let people in and let them see the true us – flaws and all.  We all have them.  We all have experienced darkness at some point.  Our darkness may not be the same. We all have our unique stories and our darkness may be influenced by different things.  But we can relate to the emotions and thoughts.  We can support one another.

When we share the truth of who we are, where we have been, and how we feel, we can begin to truly connect.  We can begin to heal.  We are not meant to go through life alone.  We need other people.  We deserve that support.  Through support of friends and professionals we can learn to ride those waves of darkness.  Our supports are there to give us light, even when we can’t see the light ourselves.  There is hope. People care. It gets better. 

May is Mental Heath Awareness Month.  If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

I got all I need when I got you and I
I look around me, and see a sweet life
I’m stuck in the dark but you’re my flashlight
You’re getting me, getting me through the night
— Jessie J, Flashlight

The Road to Survivor

If someone breaks into your house and you no longer feel safe, you have options. You could install a security system or even move to a new house.  When someone breaks into your body, you don’t have the same options.  Sexual assault and rape is often about power and control. It can leave someone questioning their safety in the world. They also may question their worth and have fears of being “damaged.” 

How can a person who has been through this type of trauma begin to heal? Two important factors in healing are support and choice. This includes taking care of physical health, connecting to support, and making a decision of what to do next.  Reporting and taking legal action is a very personal choice.  When this type of a crime is committed the person doesn't have control.  Being empowered to make this personal choice is an important step in recovery. 

After a Sexual Assault or Rape - These are options. The first two I encourage all survivors to do. 

1. Seek medical care as soon as you can.  A physical exam will help determine if there are injuries that need to be treated. Even if there are no visible injuries, there may be internal injuries.  A medical professional can discuss with you the possible risk of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.  Preventative measures can be taken.  You have the option of having a rape kit done.  This kit makes it possible to collect physical evidence, which may be helpful if you make the choice to pursue legal action.  I encourage calling the medical facility in advance to make sure there is someone there who is trained to do the kit. They may also be able to arrange for an advocate to meet you there who can help explain your options.  Ideally, seek medical care immediately, however, a rape kit can be collected for up to 5 days after the event.  If possible bring the clothes you were wearing at the time of the incident with you in a paper bag.

2. Get support.  Find someone you are comfortable talking to about what happened.  It could be a friend or family member.  It could be a professional like a rape crisis counselor, an advocate, or a therapist.  Maybe it’s a mentor, a coach, a teacher, or a spiritual/religious leader.  Have multiple sources of support.

3. Take steps to pursue criminal charges.  Report what happened to the police.  Share as many details as you remember about the incident and the perpetrator.

4. If you are in school, you can take steps judicially.  Report what happened to your school’s Title IX Coordinator, Campus Police, or Dean of Students Office.  Different campuses may have different resources and procedures.  If you aren’t sure what you want to do yet, you may want to speak confidentially to your school’s counseling or health services staff so that they can help outline your options. 

5. Take steps to pursue civil charges against the perpetrator.  The burden of proof and the role of the victim are different in a civil case than in a criminal case.  For more information, see the websites for Victims of Crime and Victims Right Law Center.

6. Do nothing or do nothing for now.  You get to choose what’s right for you

What helps someone get to the place where they view themself as a survivor?  Being empowered to make the best personal choice of what to do is one thing.  The other key factor is having support.  Having people who are there whether you want to talk, cry, yell, or sit in silence.  To anyone who has ever or who may in the future support someone after an assault or rape, I want you to know that to support someone you just need to A. be there and B. believe the person. 

Friends are amazing.  Sometimes we can support someone without saying a word.  It might be a small gesture like reaching out to hold someone’s hand when you notice her mind is elsewhere while everyone else is chatting away.  Some friends are there with a box of tissues and comfort food for a good talk or cry.  Some friends call every year on an anniversary to check and see how you’re doing.  There are many different ways to be a friend to someone who is healing.  Whatever type of support you offer, remember that being there is making a difference in your friend’s recovery. Thank you. 

There is no right or wrong way to react after experiencing a sexual assault or rape.  There may be changes in behavior, emotions, thought process, and more.  There may not be.  Everyone is different.  People choose to cope or to not cope in all sorts of ways. There’s no set timeline for the healing process.  What that healing looks like may change at different points in a person’s life.  But it is possible to heal.  It is possible to find your way back to yourself. Though who that person is may change a bit. 

Some people find their way to healing by taking steps towards bringing their perpetrator to justice.  Some find it through exercise and self-defense classes.  Some people become involved in educating others or become advocates for other survivors.  Some may speak at events to bring awareness to this topic.  Some people become really amazing friends to others who go through similar experiences.  There are many possibilities.

You get to choose what it means to you to be a survivor.  Only you really know where you are on your healing journey.  But know that you don’t have to be in it alone.  After a sexual assault or a rape it may feel that way at first.  It may feel like there was an invasion to your home and you may feel vulnerable.  Your house isn’t the only one on the street though.  You are part of a community and you have neighbors (i.e. friends, law enforcement, counselors) who can help make your home feel safe again. 

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Student Development & Counseling Center Staff at Take Back the Night 2010

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Student Development & Counseling Center Staff at Take Back the Night 2010

I’m not a stranger to the dark
hide away, they say
‘cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are…
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
This is me
and I know that I deserve your love
‘cause there’s nothing I’m not worthy of
— This Is Me, The Greatest Showman

This is the third in my series of blogs for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2018. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657. These three blogs were meant to be an introduction and an overview. There will be more blogs on this topic in the future. There's a lot I could write about. If there are specific things you want to learn more about please let me know in the comments.

Wanna Make Out?

I remember my first time.  There was a look exchanged, a smile… In my head I’m excitedly thinking, “Is this really going to happen?” Then there’s a kiss, a touch…and then IT’S HAPPENING. As I type this, Meatloaf’s song Paradise by the Dashboard Light is going through my head.  

What is consent? How do we know we have consent for sex?  It could look something like this….

That’s one of my favorite clips that we showed when teaching college students about consent back when I worked in higher education.  It’s hilarious and memorable.  That’s the point!  In reality consent doesn’t exactly happen like that.  I’ve never had a lawyer show up in the bedroom. But what stops us from having these conversations to be clear about what we are hoping to do and make sure that is also what our partner wants to do?  Maybe it’s because the sex education we had in school looked something like this… 

For some of us this may not be too far from the truth.  Why was it so often that the gym teacher also taught health?  What I remember the most from that class was the gym teacher showing us how to put a condom on a banana and learning about STDs.  As Coach Carr said if you have sex “you will get Chlamydia and die”.  To say that sex education was lacking a lot of key information is an understatement. 

Fast forward to college… I miss college.  The freedom. Living with your closest friends.  Studying things you are excited about.  The concerts, sports, activities, and the parties… My roommates and I had what we called “morning reflection.” We would gather in our living room and discuss what happened the previous night.  Sometimes those conversations would include who hooked up with whom.  Sometimes the stories were shared with excitement, but sometimes there was a different feeling, a yucky feeling.  I’m not talking about regret or instances of “beer goggles.”  We began to identify who was “shady” and who you had to be careful of because they might try to give you lots of alcohol and make a move. 

When I was in college (and it wasn’t THAT long ago), we didn’t have the language to talk about sexual assault.  It wasn’t until years later when I became a therapist and an educator that it clicked. That person wasn’t just “shady” they were a sexual predator.  That yucky feeling was because what happened was sexual assault or rape. 

These events, these crimes, don’t just happen on our school campuses or when we are a certain age.  They happen at social events or when we are out with friends or even in our own homes.  It’s usually not a creepy stranger that suddenly jumps out of the bushes or an ally to attack us.  That’s what I thought a rapist was when I was younger.  The reality is that often times it’s someone we know. 

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.  Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely

About 3% of American men – 1 in 33 – have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted.

55% of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home and 12% at or near a relative’s home.

7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

Of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator – 59% were acquaintances, 34% were family members, 7% were strangers to the victim.

For these and more statistics see

When I finally had the language to talk about sexual violence, I talked a lot.  Events from the past suddenly became clear and there was some relief in being able to clearly identify what had happen.  I loved working on a college campus that was taking a stance to prevent sexual violence on campus by having discussions about consent, bystander intervention, and how to support someone if they experience a sexual assault or rape.  When speaking with friends, I was shocked at how many others had experienced similar situations.  I would think to myself, “why don’t we talk about this more.” The answer is often because of the shame and victim blaming that can happen. 

We have all heard statements like – if you weren’t wearing that, if you didn’t drink, if you didn’t go to his apartment…. I think we try to make sense of events that don’t make sense.  We try to think of what could be done to prevent ourselves from ever being the victim of sexual violence.  We want to be in control.  The reality of sexual violence is that someone has taken away our control and our power.  We should be able to run around stark naked with a drink in hand and not have to worry about being sexually violated.  We would probably get arrested for public nudity and public intoxication.  BUT we should not have to worry about being raped.  

After the sexual misconduct story involving Aziz Ansari appeared in the news, one of my college roommates sent me a text asking what I thought.  She said she liked him as an actor/comedian and wasn’t sure what to think.  My response started with that I wasn’t there so I don’t know all the facts of what happened.  The articles that I read made it sound like Aziz thought his date was interested in sex because of non-verbal cues.  When he reached out to her later, he learned that was not what she wanted. Her experience of the night was very different than his.  He had no idea that was her experience and he expressed feeling awful.  I have compassion for Aziz.  It’s hard to read non-verbals.  This is why we need to have the conversation.  There needs to be verbal consent. 

Why don’t we always have these conversations?  I have heard some say that it will ruin the mood.  Please (insert eye roll emoji).  I remember instances of having the conversation with potential partners.  They went something like “Do you want to have sex?  I think we should maybe have sex. Do you want to?” Then when the answer was yes, hallelujah was there excitement and those clothes could not come off fast enough.  If anything knowing with certainty that a partner does want to have sex increases the thrill because we KNOW it’s going to happen.  See, we don’t want to operate on assumptions. To quote a former colleague, we want “an Enthusiastic HELL YES!!!” If you want to take your sexual experience to the next level, ask what exactly what your partner wants to do sexually.  You never know unless you ask AND you could be pleasantly surprised to know something is on the table that you wouldn’t have thought of.

Finally, we are having conversations about consent.  Thank you Joe Biden for champion the Obama administration’s “It’s on us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus and in the workplace.  Bystander intervention and consent is often a part of new student orientation at college campuses.  I hope more high schools and middle schools are having similar dialogues.  I hope more parents are having conversation with their children about sex and respect.  Abstinence only education does not work.  Yes teach your children about values whether they are influenced by your spiritual beliefs or family morals.  But also, teach them the facts, how to stay safe, and what consent is.  Let them make their own informed decisions and let them know that whatever happens they can come talk to you. 

A lot has happened since my first time.  I’m no longer meeting guys at parties or at the bar for one.  My typical Friday night includes pizza and a movie at home on the couch with my husband and our dogs.  There may be a look exchanged or a smile.  Then, I’ll say to my husband “wanna make out?” He’ll scoot over and I’ll giggle.  Then suddenly Marvin Gaye’s song Let’s Get It On will start playing in my head…. 

This is the second in my series of blogs for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657.

Healing from Trauma

What is trauma? When people hear the word trauma they may think of PTSD. That can then make them think of “Big T” traumas including combat, rape, natural disasters, and near death experience. There are also “Small T” traumas. These are smaller “everyday” or less pronounced events and may include bullying, neglect, difficult relationships, and loss. Now I need to say using terms like “big” and “little” in reference to the type of trauma gives me mixed feelings.  Depending on the individual circumstances, any of the “Small Ts” I mentioned could be a “Big T.” I do like that describing trauma this way opens the door for people to recognize a multitude of events as traumatic – because they can be. However, I don’t like that it inadvertently has us quantify these events.  This is something that we may do automatically. “What I went through wasn’t ‘bad enough’ to be considered trauma.” “Other people have experienced worse.” Trauma is trauma. It leaves a mark. Sometimes it impacts us immediately and sometimes we don’t even realize its impact until later in life. 

Experiencing a trauma also does not automatically mean we have PTSD.

The mark left by events that we have experienced doesn’t mean that we are “damaged” or “broken”. It is possible to heal. It is possible to turn that experience into something that makes us even stronger. Things may get harder while we are doing the work. It can be similar to when we clean a cut or a scrapped knee.  It stings while we clean the wound. I often use this metaphor to explain what therapy can be like for clients. 

How do we heal? The specifics of how to start may depend on the event. It’s important for the person to re-establish safety.  When a person has been impacted by trauma they may feel unsafe in their body and in relationships.  A person may need medical care. They may need to physically get to a safer place and in contact with supportive people. 

To heal we need to reconnect to our body.  See, our system has this fabulous coping skill of disassociation. We all do it. Have you ever zoned out? Have you ever been driving somewhere then poof you’re there and barely realize the time went by?  These are just a couple every day examples.  There are many ways we dissociate. Another example is when a person feels like they are outside of their body watching themself.  Also, sometimes when someone is experiencing trauma their system checks them out  (it’s almost like they aren’t even there) in efforts to protect them from feeling and thinking everything associated with what’s happening.  Sometimes our system gets so good at doing this that it happens all the time…. Sometimes when we don’t want or need it to.  That’s why we need to find a way to get back in our bodies.  Some of the ways we can do this are through meditation, grounding exercises, and physical exercises like yoga or cardio. 

To heal from trauma we need to find a way to make sense of it and process what happened. Two amazing therapeutic approaches that I use with my clients are EMDR and IFS.  These are both evidence-based practices.  Research has shown that they work.  But for me it’s more than just the research that makes me believe in them.  I’ve seen it work with clients that I’ve supported in therapy.  Additionally, I experienced my own healing through EMDR and IFS when I was the client on the couch.  Next, I’m going to share a bit about these approaches to explain how they help individuals heal from trauma.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of trauma.  When a traumatic event happens that memory can get stuck.  All the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations we had got stuck in time.  When that memory is triggered we can get flooded with emotions and get overwhelmed.  It’s almost like it’s happening again. EMDR helps an individual to process what has happened so that the person is in a more balanced state and grounded in the present.  When the person thinks of the event, it’s a memory that doesn’t overwhelm them.  There isn’t the same charge. 

IFS (Internal Family Systems) is a form of therapy that uses the language of “parts” as a working metaphor for our internal experiences.  We use this language every day.  After a stressful day, part of me wants to go workout and part of me really just wants to go to DQ and get a soft serve.  We all have parts.  Our different parts are trying to help us out.  Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they get stuck in roles that aren’t helpful.  Maybe we have a people pleaser part that is often sacrificing our own needs to make sure people around us are happy.  Maybe we have a part that believes the quickest way to deal with feeling overwhelmed is to drink a bottle of wine or get high.  These parts are doing what they think is best to help protect a part that feels vulnerable. This part may feel unworthy of love.  Once we get to know our parts we can work creatively to help them find new healthy ways of helping us out.  We can help transform that vulnerable part. 

What I love about both EMDR and IFS is that they help us get to a place of deeper healing.  There are many types of therapy that can help us learn about ourselves and gain helpful skills.  Some tools only take us so far though.  We don’t just want to put a Band-Aid on a wound so that it doesn’t get dirty or infected.  We want to no longer NEED the Band-Aid because the wound has HEALED. 

Scars and stitches always fade
and only strengthen me.
— Guster

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment.  Let me know if you relate or if you have questions.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month.  This is a topic that I’m passionate about.  It’s why I’ve decided to start blogging at this specific time.  My intention is to do a series of blogs this month related to the topic of Sexual Assault.