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An open letter to the #metoo about PTSD & Resiliency

The Dalai Lama has said that western women will save the world. Well first we’ll need to stop behaving like crabs in a pot. When you cook crab there’s no need for a lid. If one starts climbing to safety the others pull it right back in to get boiled up. Is that because of cruelty? Maybe some of it but I imagine it’s more out of misunderstanding.

I believe the #metoo movement has a stand-out misunderstanding to address. A huge dividing factor among sexual violence survivors is that less than half experience PTSD. So the after effects are different. One victim was hurt, reached out, got help, moved on. Another went down a shame spiral of self-destruction, depression, and addiction. Both are speaking their truth.

The rise of the #metoo movement has been a wake up call to many about how trauma can affect a survivor’s life long term.

After part 2 of Surviving R Kelly there was a 40% increase in calls to RAINN, the national sexual assault hotline. 

It wasn’t news to me. I’ve been on this journey since 15. Sitting quietly next to a fireplace at a party. My friend and I asking the same question to ourself, what’s wrong with me. That question changed with compassion and more resources into, what happened to me?

These days I’m asking a different question. What’s next. Is it because I’m totally better and don’t still have bad days? No. It’s because I understand a lot better what I’m dealing with… PTSD, and its brain & body changing effects.

But it took years to understand what Tarana Burke, founder of the me too movement explains in her Ted talk. She guides survivors to lean into solutions and move forward with what we need on a personal level to heal. Not to lean into trauma.

That’s what I did for over a decade. And my wish for survivors who are just starting their healing journey is you start with the end in mind. What’s next. How can you retell your story as as a survivor and your own champion.

Eric Gentry, a pioneer in trauma resiliency, says he only ‘needs to go back’ (to painful past events) with about half of his patients that come to him specifically for PTSD recovery. And that it’s counterproductive for those who don’t need it. Half can regain quality of life just by learning to respond to stress with a relaxed muscle body. Consciously calming the flight or flight response.

Statistics tell us that 44% of women who are raped develop PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as I best understand it, not as a medical professional, is your body being too easily & often triggered into fight or flight mode. Our body’s primal response to danger.

Rest and digest systems shut down as the body prepares for battle. Blood rushes to your hands for fight and your feet for flight. Your skin releases an ‘I taste bad don’t eat me’ flavor. Your higher brain faculties of language & creativity shut down, replaced by survival instincts.

It’s that feeling you get when you’re driving, relaxed, then something scary happens. Suddenly you have a near miss like a car slamming on the brakes in front of you and you almost don’t stop in time. Your heart is pounding. Your breathing is shallow. Then you shake it off, forget about, and move on. Right?

You know in the nature shows when the cheetah is chasing the gazelle and the gazelle escapes? What does it do? It literally shakes it off. This resets the stress response and allows the animal to get back to being relaxed. 

When survivors get assaulted more than half are able to shake it off. They move forward and do not have the same quality of life snatching effects. Not to say it’s not traumatic and stressful. But they feel bad, they get help, they start feeling better, they move on.

 

It’s understandable those survivors would be skeptical. They wanted to move on with their life and continue to feel good about themselves and the world. And they did. Why can’t I? The same thing happened to them and it didn’t affect them in the same way at all.

Not to diminish the pain of their experience. I imagine it just didn’t ‘get in their bones’ and mute their quality of life on a soul crushing level.

Well for almost half of women it does. Although we would prefer to ‘just get over it,’ we don’t. And now this many years later millions of them around the world are saying, I still haven’t. 

We’re starting to have a lot of new conversations. Two separate one are

 

  1. Sexual violence is prevalent, preventable, traumatic and  stressful. Especially under the age of 18.
  1. Sexual violence often results in PTSD, which can have long lasting, devastating mental, physical, & economic effects.

Now there’s an outdated word used to describe women experiencing post traumatic stress symptoms. Hysterical. We have been told it’s all in our heads and we’re just dramatic and seeking attention. It’s not. It’s in our bodies, but it’s somewhere else too. It’s in our stories. It’s in our inner dialogue.

Not everyone will understand this. So if you have a survivor story to tell, first off choose your audience carefully. Not everyone can be supportive. And you deserve support. You deserve validation. You’re not crazy. You’re not too sensitive or overdramatic. And thriving is possible for you.

It’s not your fault what happened but it is your responsibility to heal and move forward. Today for me that looks like somatic therapy with EMDR & EFT tapping, working on my assertiveness skills, exercise, a solid morning routine and not numbing all the feels with weed, alcohol, or food. Everyone’s process is unique.

So what next? 

Lady Gaga recently talked to Oprah in front of a large live audience about her ongoing struggle with fibromyalgia. Which is closely related to an autoimmune disorder.

Her team of doctors are educating her on the mind/body results some people experience from being a survivor of sexual violence. And she’s telling the world.

There’s a big correlation between trauma survivors and autoimmune problems. Especially in women. I finally got a Hashimotos thyroid autoimmune disorder diagnosis after struggling with symptoms for decades.

Gaga telling her story gave a voice to countless survivors with similar stories but without her money or influence. When asked by Oprah for solutions she vows to assemble the best minds in science to search for them. Luckily she’s not starting on the ground floor. There are so many experts in this space and so many recent breakthroughs. 

If you are a survivor of sexual assault who didn’t experience PTSD I am sorry that happened to you. And I’m super glad you were able to move on like you did. I ask that you please understand that PTSD is a thing. And it’s brutal. Please be kind.

If you’ve had your life shattered you are not alone. But you might be misunderstood by some people right now. Those who refuse to acknowledge their own traumas. Those who were raped and experienced traumatic stress, not PTSD. And some just toxic people who want to hold onto their mean or rapey ways.

You don’t owe anyone your story. Sometimes there are teachable moments where it’s a win/win to start a dialogue about your experience. Otherwise keep your head up. Keep leaning into solutions. Get support. You are not alone. Visit the metoo website for local resources. Sending you all the love. You got this!

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