Victims of domestic violence know from experience that risks, as well as potential benefits, are associated with every choice they make, every action they take in an effort to get safe and stay safe. The journey from victimization to survivorship, recovery, rebuilding, and resilience is often long and lonely. Given their life experience and some aspects of American culture, it’s hard to find people who care; especially those who know how to listen and help heal. Survivors value encouragement, support, and help.
Sometimes, the smallest kindness makes the biggest difference in their lives. At CCN, we see the impact of gifts that “show someone cares”: A new bar of fragrant body soap, a re-cycled novel, a handmade quilt, a shared cup of coffee, an art
class, or a meaningful conversation. For example, after the Pittsburgh Soap Makers’ Guild donated over 200 bars of handcrafted soaps to the agency for our clients, staff, and volunteers to enjoy, one survivor who told us: “This pretty soap smells like summer!… Just smelling it makes me happy! I will just set it out on a pretty dish for a while.” Someone who received one of 20 handmade lap quilts donated by Saint Mary’s Church and Piecing It Together looked forward to “curling up on the couch… being warm and cozy today.” Another “gets in the zone” and “finds a peaceful place” while creating art with fellow survivors through the North Hills Art Center’s donated class time.
CCN staff hear many similar stories in our travels around the county. We meet individuals from all walks of life who remember that someone cared about them during the dark times in their own lives. They tell about the family member or friend, the co-worker or supervisor, the neighbor or church member, the helping professional or the unknown community member who somehow knew how to listen, encourage, and support them. They find a further measure of healing by seeking out opportunities to encourage, help, and support other survivors. Those who have “come through the fire” of trauma, grief and loss themselves are often the strongest advocates for daily, weekly, and monthly self-care.
Self-care can be defined as any intentional action or routine an individual takes to care for their physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial health. Many people living in our hectic, high tech, multi-tasking 24-7 society find it very hard to “make time” or “take time” to care for themselves. Those who are living in or recovering from an abusive relationship often face additional self-care challenges related to feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and low self-worth. Yet, establishing and maintaining effective self-care routines is a very important part of the healing process. For example, consider four elements of self-care that have helped many individuals survive, recover, and rebuild their lives after losing a family member to separation, divorce or death:
- Connecting and communicating with others who somehow know how to listen.
- Activities that are interesting, fun and lead to a sense of accomplishment or adventure.
- Relationships that are safe, respectful, healthy, and supportive.
- Empathy and encouragement to feel your feelings, think your thoughts, and share your views.
In applying these self-care principles, it often helps to think of recovery as a process. As one survivor said, “I picture who I want to become and where I want to go in my life once my divorce is final. For now, I feel physically safe and celebrate being a strong single mom. I feel great because I don’t freak out on my kids any more for just leaving one little Lego on the floor at night. [My ex-husband] doesn’t control us anymore. “ She recognizes that recovery happens one day at a time, one step at a time; and “that it is okay to take a break, a detour, or even a step back from time to time.”
It may also help to identify 3 to 5 self-care goals, action steps towards each goal, and ways to measure success over a 3 to 6 month period. Many people set one goal that will be easy to achieve, one that will be take some effort, and one that will be challenging. They identify a trusted family member, friend or co-worker who will regularly “check in” with them about their progress. In doing so, some questions to consider are:
- How are you feeling (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and financially)?
- What are your goals?
- What are your strengths, skills and abilities?
- What do you need to achieve your goals?
- What actions do you want to take to achieve your goals?
- Who will help you achieve your goals?
The importance of caring for our bodies, minds, spirits, and resources cannot be understated. Thinking honestly about our lives, our goals, and actions to help achieve them is not selfish. It’s good for building stronger, healthier individuals, families, and communities. Thoughtful conversations with supportive, trusted family members, friends or others can be fun, interesting and useful, and may lead to more encouragement, support, and care! In the process, remember:
- Be kind to yourself.
- Think positively.
- Build on your strengths.
- Dare to dream.
- Be open to new ideas, experiences and opportunities.
We’d like to hear your thoughts about self-care. To share them, please contact CCN’s medical advocate, Cora Dietrich Koller at firstname.lastname@example.org.