First, my heart goes out to all my cis/trans sisters who have ever faced violence at the hands of men – and we know that there are many more of us then we can fathom. And that makes my blood boil and my heart break. I am sending love and light to you, my dear ones.
We are facing challenging and gut-wrenching times. With the backdrop of the Jian Ghomeshi trials and the recent RooshV meet-ups, everywhere we go we are being faced explicitly with issues that have always been present, bubbling under the surface of our skin as we navigate a world wounded by patriarchy. Those bubbles are now becoming a seething riptide as waves of emotion and memory swell in our bodies at the wake of systemic violence against womxn.
We are angry. We have had enough. We are speaking out. We are writing out. We are connecting. We are expressing. We are healing. We are engaging.
And, it is very difficult. It brings up a lot, for many of us.
As we sit in our homes and see the news feeds, watch the un-folding of the trial, absorb all the responses – we are brought right back to experiences of being violated, abused, raped, assaulted, made to feel as objects, and made to feel unsafe. We are reminded of just how present womxn’s oppression is.
Underneath the myriad of my emotional responses, this most simply makes me so very sad.
I spent a few years as a trauma-informed facilitator and program developer at Bridges For Women, an organization supporting womxn affected by violence and abuse. I have seen the impacts of violence and fear, and I have seen the power of community and healing from those impacts. I have seen the incredible strength and tenacity of a womxn’s spirit. I have experienced these myself in my own healing from trauma.
From this place I offer these few touchstones to all my sisters through this time. May we find safety and love within ourselves as we stand in solidarity with each other and continue to speak and act out against violence against womxn.
1. Self-Soothe. When we have experienced trauma, regardless of how recent or long ago, it doesn’t take much for our bodies to be re-activated into a flight, fight or freeze response. The long-term impacts of violence can vary, however the most intrusive is the energy of fear. The feeling of not being safe. Even if it has been years since the traumatic event, a trigger can still elicit the SAME impacts on our body and brain in the present.
Here is a helpful analogy. If a lion is chasing after a gazelle, the gazelle is activated into a flight response. Its survival is dependent on that response. Question: while this chase is happening, would that gazelle decide to stop and take a sip of water at the nearby watering hole mid-chase? Hell no!
Well, while we are scrolling through news-feeds and headlines, and taking in all the details of the trial and stories, we can be activated into fear – fight, flight or freeze. We become the gazelle, even in our own living rooms when there is no ‘real’ lion chasing us anymore. It may appear we are just sitting and watching or reading the news, but our bodies have taken off. We are swept up in rage, fright, panic, fear. We become un-tethered from our center of power; from our grounding.
It is important to continually remind our bodies that we are safe. How? Take a pause at that local watering hole.
In other words – take deep breaths. Sip warm tea. Stretch your body. Take a bath. Meditate on your breath. Practice emotional freedom technique and tapping points to calm the nervous system. Do all those self-soothing things to remind your body and brain that you are safe. Check out these simple yet powerful embodied practices for self-soothing.
It is not enough to just “tell ourselves we are safe” because this is not a dialogue with our rational mind. This is a conversation with our physiology, and that means the language needs to go through our body. Self-soothe your body. Which brings me to:
2. Movement. Fear has a powerful grip that stagnates, immobilizes, paralyzes and limits our movement and vitality. Stay moving! Whether this be through dance, yoga, tai-chi, running or going to the gym – keep your body moving regularly. Especially helpful are those activities that get you out of your mind and into your body.
I have been dancing. A lot! I mean, every night, in my living room, I have made it a practice to dance out whatever energy may have been activated within me during my day. Doesn’t matter if I can name it or not. In fact, I don’t even try. And, it may not even be my own – I may be dancing on behalf of the pain for my sisters. I just focus on my body and move – whatever my body leads me to do. I trust the physiological conversation that takes place without my rational mind interjecting.
3. Dosing. In therapy terms, this is called titration or pendulation – the ability to manage our energy so as not to become too activated. We need to dip in to our responses of grief and rage, and we also need to dip out of it and to cultivate relief (self-soothing!).
Dosing can become difficult when we are being bombarded by newsprint, computer screens, and TV screens. We don’t have control over what media will cover or when, or how the events will take shape – which means we can be at the whims be being activated at any point.
We need to give ourselves a break from it. It is all too easy to become intoxicated by it all, driven to keep reading more, to scroll the comments, to watch each update – to become hypnotized and passively consumed by all the information, perspectives and bullshit. This can feed our rage and fear…we become more and more un-tethered from our center and sense of safety.
Make a choice about when and for how long you will engage with the news. And then, take a break. You have this choice - this power - always.
4. Support. Our individual responses may be entirely personal and unique, but healing and support is always relational. Who is your tribe? Call up your bestie. Get together with compassionate and understanding friends regularly. Express your grief, your rage. Be witnessed by others in your pain, confusion and anger. Seek healing support, energy medicine, a counsellor. Be in community – seek connection. Call on your unseen team. Gather the support from your ancestors. Call on the cosmos. Cuddle your beloved pet.
You are not alone. Ask for help. Reach out. Connection is vital.
5. Choosing Love. It can be easy to get wrapped up in anger, hate, and fear. These emotions are demanding and consuming and we may find ourselves becoming overly focused on all the shit. Just so much shit.
Actively choose love, and keep choosing love. There are a lot of hurt people out there, and hurt people hurt people. Keep choosing love. Surround yourself with light, with good loving people, hug those near and dear to you. Find laughter. Find lightness. Look for beauty. Listen for beauty. Dose.
This doesn’t mean that we are denying the reality of the very real oppression and misogyny that is pervasive in our society. It does mean that we are choosing to stay in the energy of love. We are choosing to stay in the energy of vitality, connection and open-heartedness despite the pain and violence.
6. Action. Tethered in this place of love, we can then act. We can be motivated to continue acting to be in service of a better future for our mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and future generations. This will look many different ways for each of us. We need all of our voices and contributions – more than ever. Write, educate, support, engage, protest, create. And love.
Shauna Janz, MA is a teacher, mentor, and facilitator at the crossroads of grief, trauma, ritual and ancestral healing. She is the founder of Sacred Grief offering immersive online programs for folks interested in deepening their skills in these areas.
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