Self care and helpful resources

Taking care of the only self I have

During my recovery I learned the value of taking care of myself and treating myself with kindness. I can only speak to the specific things that worked for me, but I want to share them in case they happen to work for you as well or give you ideas for other self-care activities you could try.

  • Writing. I journaled about my recovery process as it was happening to help me process it. Since I had been keeping so many secrets, even from myself, it was important for me to let my words out.

  • Reading memoirs from other people who survived difficult experiences. It helped me to see examples of courageous women like Amanda Lindhout and Elizabeth Smart moving forward and doing well in the new lives they built.

  • Zumba. This might seem like a silly addition, but the dance fitness classes were the first time I can recall being fully in my body in public and enjoying it.

  • Baby promises. I promised my therapist early on that I would eat at least one bite of a vegetable and at least one bite of protein every day.  It was the most I could do some days. Each night I knew I had lived up my goal made me feel a sense of accomplishment even when everything else in my life was in chaos.

  • Stickers. Speaking of living up to my goals, I bought a ton of stickers and put one on the calendar each time I did something good for myself, like calling a friend, washing my hair or baking muffins.

  • Going outside. I tried to go outside most days, even for five minutes. Just taking the recycling to the alley counted. One spring I tried the David Suzuki Nature Challenge where participants commit to spending 30 minutes outside every day. I did it and began to love even the rainy days. Nature is so alive that it seemed to bring me more alive too.

  • Seeing a therapist. I went to therapy over 80 times before the clinic I was at said I needed to take a break. I wasn't better yet so I begged my therapist to see me at her other practice. It took many appointments and a lot of money but it was one of the best investments I've ever made.

  • Meditation. I went to all the meditation groups and retreats I could find. Once I spent 18 days on a silent retreat. I try to practice most days. I use an app called Insight Timer for a silent mediation that starts and ends with the chiming of a bell.

  • Massages. I treated myself to massages and took advantage of the steam room. My body was grateful to be treated with such tender kindness.

  • Hot fudge sundaes. Whenever I had a particularly difficult day, like a therapy session that left me wrung out, I would ask myself what present I would most like. Often the answer was a hot fudge sundae. Over time the sundaes came to taste exactly like love. They're my medicine of choice.

  • Baths. I took an incalculable number of hot baths with a bath bomb and a book. I took them so often I sometimes ended up eating supper in the tub.

  • Nieces and nephews. I sure love my sisters' kids. Once after a breakup I was too sad to jump so I lay on the trampoline while three of my little nephews hopped over me. They were having so much fun that they pulled me out of my sadness and into their joy. That moment is one of the most precious of my life.

  • Drawing. When writing and speaking about darkness was too much, I let it out in colour. I scribbled out loads of rage through my red and black oil pastels.

  • Purpose. I believe I'm on this earth to learn to love the best I can. My book came out of that intention as did my drive to resolve my issues with my parents. Having a larger purpose may have helped me put the individual moments of recovery into perspective.

  • Love letters. I bought tons of greeting cards for myself. The first one was a sympathy card when my world fell down. I bought cards celebrating my progress and thanking me for the work I was doing to heal.

  • Everything else kind. I threw myself so fully into my recovery that I did basically everything I could think of to be kind to myself. 


Resources that helped me

  • Dr. Peter Levine's books. Dr. Levine spent his career researching trauma and healing. Waking the Tiger and In an Unspoken Voice were so helpful for me that I filled them with entire packages of sticky notes. He shares case studies about people who have been traumatized and talks about their healing. He also provides some exercises people can do on their own. His approach called Somatic Experiencing - which is the next bullet point - made a huge difference for me.

  • Somatic Experiencing. This is Dr. Peter Levine's therapeutic technique and the main one my therapist Nicole used as I was healing. This treatment is very focused on what is happening in your body in the present moment. When I would get lost in my trauma and felt like my assault was happening again in the present, this treatment allowed me to fight back and keep myself safe. It was like a form of time travel where I got the chance to re-do my actions from the night of the assault and create a better ending.

  • Eye Movement Integration. This is a really painful therapeutic approach because it's basically like immersion into your wounds. But it's incredible. I did it around five times. I feel that if people only use this approach, they sometimes get stuck in their healing. I found combining a little of this with a lot of Somatic Experiencing and some talk therapy was the best approach for me.

  • Medication. I didn't take any medication during my recovery. I asked my therapists a few times, but decided in conversation with them that I would rather treat the causes of my illness than the symptoms. In hindsight I believe this was a mistake on my part because my healing was so painful that it would have been kinder to have some medical support along the way.