The Importance of Caring and Self-Care

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

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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 selfcare-2hectic, 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 ckoller@crisiscenternorth.org.

Peer to Peer: Students Making a Difference

On April 26 a banquet was held at the Chadwick to officially mark the close of and to celebrate the projects of the 2015-16 Peer to Peer Empowerment program.

Now in its fifth year, the program’s goal is to help students develop the skills needed to deal with social justice issues affecting their everyday lives. When Crisis Center North first began Peer to Peer Empowerment only four schools participated. That number has since swelled to 12 schools and over 10,000 students impacted.

Instead of being passive participants, in the program students are given the opportunity to better their school and their community by creating and leading their own program to address an issue. By encouraging students to take an active stance, they learn that their actions can make a positive change and inspire their peers to action as well.

“The students inspire me every year. Often school administrators and teachers don’t realize the asset they have in the student body, the power they have to make positive change,” said Leon Strimel, CCN prevention educator and coordinator of the Peer to Peer program. “The success of [Peer to Peer] has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with [the students].”

At the banquet students from most of the participating high schools presented an overview of the trials, tribulations, and successes of their collective project.

As opposed to previous years where schools would work independently, students decided they wanted a single coordinated theme and plan for all schools. For 2016, students chose to confront dating violence, a prevalent yet often understated issue. As such, for the first week of February, Teen Violence Awareness Month, students coordinated programming in their schools dedicated toward one goal: To “Say No More” to abusive relationships.

Though there was variation in exact implementation and activities among schools, each day brought a different method of spreading awareness of teen dating violence.

  • On Monday students sold purple wristbands bearing the motto “Respect Starts with Me” and the phone number to Crisis Center North’s hotline.
  • For Twitter Tuesday students, teachers, and staff from Crisis Center North shared the signs of dating violence and ways to intervene on social media.
  • Wednesday celebrated positive relationships in all their forms, and students singled out and gave treats to anyone doing something nice for a person.
  • Thursday and Friday varied for each school, but activities included guest speakers, information campaigns, and athletes advertising the cause by wearing purple articles of clothing during sporting events.

“I love Peer to Peer Empowerment, and I can really see the impact it has on our whole school,” said a student from Pine-Richland. “None of this would be possible without you, Leon, so on behalf of Pine-Richland and all of the other schools involved, thank you so much for creating this program and making it what it is today.”

Student participants of Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM), another CCN school-based prevention program were also in attendance. CBIM aims to reduce instances of violence by teaching positive gender attitudes and encouraging bystander intervention. Some of those students shared their thoughts on the programming and on Strimel.

“Mr. Strimel taught us problem solving skills and skills to help us deal with conflicts,” said a Moon athlete. “It built team chemistry.”

“We learned how to be role models, not only in our school, but in society. We learned to lead by example,” said a Northgate student. “[Mr. Strimel and CBIM] taught us responsibility, and how it builds trust with others.”

Also in attendance for the banquet was a representative from the Jefferson Awards Foundation. All schools were recognized for their work in Peer to Peer, with special recognition given to Shaler and Pine-Richland for their participation in other programs offered by the Foundation.

The Witch’s Ball Draws Nigh

As part of the Center’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities for this coming October, we invite you to join us on October 20 at Jergel’s for the third annual Witch’s Ball, a night of fun, food, costume contests, and copious amounts of Halloween based spirit(s)! Save the date now and expect more information soon, but in the mean time read on to discover the tale of last year’s event.

“The Witch’s Ball” of 2015

To embrace the most sinister time of the year — while still looking to support a good cause, of course —over 60 people donned costumes and crept out into the night to attend Crisis Center North’s second annual Witch’s Ball. The annual Halloween party and fundraiser was held at Jergel’s Rhythm Grill on October 29.

The band Dizzy Woosh provided the live entertainment while attendees enjoyed their food and Witch’s Brew, an alcoholic staple of the event that changes yearly: This year’s brew was a mix of cranberry, cinnamon, and whiskey, provided courtesy of Western Spirits.

Also keeping with the Halloween spirit, prizes, provided by Costume World and by Grandpa Joe’s Candy in the Strip, were awarded for the best costumes. Attendees also had the opportunity to win several small raffle baskets as well as a couple’s massage at the Sewickley Spa.

Though the Halloween season has passed, those horrified that they missed their chance to join in should fear not: The next Witch’s Ball will be held on October 20, 2016 at Jergel’s. Be prepared.

Hear the “Whispers and Roars” Again this October

Crisis Center North is pleased to announce that “Hearing the Whispers and Roars,” a community art event based around the experiences of domestic violence survivors, will be held at the North Hills Art Center in October as a part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The opening of the event on Oct. 14 will include live performances, and the show remain open until Oct. 28. Please check back for more details, but in the meantime read on to learn more about last year’s show and what awaits you this October.

“Hearing the Whispers and Roars” of 2015

Silence often surrounds the experiences of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, but the art event “Hearing the Whispers and Roars” shattered that silence, revealing just how close such issues are to all in a community.

As part of 2015’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the art show “Whispers and Roars” was sponsored by Verizon Hopeline and held at the North Hills Art Center.

The event brought the community together to support, learn, and explore the experiences of local domestic and sexual violence survivors via art: 90 pieces created by more than 20 local survivors and artists were showcased.

“It is important to have an event to honor the recovery process,” said Carly Cooper, an adult counselor with Crisis Center North. “It honors the survivors and educates the community.”

Between 50 and 75 people attended the show’s opening on October 9th which included live performances of music, poetry, dance, as well as an interactive installation piece that invited participants to map their own life experiences.

The piece consisted of a board with large nails stuck throughout it, each containing a statement ranging from the innocuous, such as “my cats help me relax,” to the traumatic, such as “I have been raped.”

Participants wrapped yarn around each nail that had a true statement about themselves, allowing them to show solidarity for those with whom they had similar experiences and to comprehend just how similar their own lives were to those of survivors.

“Domestic violence is all around us in the North Hills,” said Kim Freithaler, the president of the North Hills Art Center board of directors. “The show is a worthwhile cause… it highlights the problems we face and brings them into the open.”