When someone you care about reports being sexually assaulted, reaching out for help can be the first step towards healing. The impact of sexual assault is not confined to those directly impacted. News of sexual assault can trigger traumatic stress in people previously impacted by it. Even those who do not have a personal history that has been impacted by sexual assault can find themselves dealing with a range of emotions: anger, sadness and worry.
Anyone burdened by these normal reactions to a painful event must know this: You are not alone. There are experienced, trained people who will listen to you, believe you, understand and support you, and keep everything in confidence. The Somerville Health Department’s Trauma Response Network at 857-221-0942 can provide the support you need and connect you with other resources, such as the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), which has a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-841-8371. The BARCC hotline is staffed by knowledgeable sexual assault crisis counselors who also offer support and educational information for parents, family and friends. More information is available online at www.barcc.org.
Trauma can impact people differently. You may have a physical reaction, like changes in appetite, sleeping behavior or feeling physically ill. You may feel frustrated, irritable, nervous or even guilty, with rapid mood swings. You may find yourself worried about your alcohol intake or drug use as you try to wend your way through a difficult and painful situation. You could have difficulty concentrating or making decisions, burdened by questions of faith, and changes in your social behavior, including isolating yourself from others or finding it hard to be alone. All of this is within the range of normal and can vary from person to person.
You may even find yourself feeling unburdened in the immediate wake of the news and carrying on, perhaps with magnified resolve and strength, only to find days, weeks or months later that you’re once again feeling deep feelings of sadness and fear, and that’s normal too. Whether you need help immediately or in the future, compassionate and understanding people are always available to give you the help you need, when you need it. Also know that calling for support does not obligate you in any way. When you make a call to an anonymous crisis line, you are in control of how long you talk and what you choose to disclose. Maybe you need someone to reassure you, or maybe you need to reassure yourself that the support is there. Whatever you feel comfortable doing, know that the door is always open and it does not close behind you.
In addition to reaching out for confidential support, there are other ways you can take care of yourself when dealing with traumatic stress. Because responses to trauma can be physical, remember to slow down, breathe and drink water to help clean out your system. Get as much rest as possible, but also get exercise and stay active while knowing your limits. Also take care of yourself emotionally and socially. Connect with people you care about, try to avoid stressful situations and be patient with yourself. Reach out to your spiritual or faith community if it feels right to you, or talk to someone else you feel comfortable with, and let people know what you need. Don’t be hard on yourself. Take time for yourself. A great resource for stress reduction strategies is www.helpguide.org.
Healing is not only seeking the support you feel that you need and taking care of yourself. Regular day-to-day activities may feel funny to you, or you may feel guilty enjoying yourself, but these are important steps in healing as well. It’s OK to laugh. It’s OK to go to a movie, play with your kids or a pet, or whatever you normally enjoy.
Wherever you are in your healing process, remember that people react differently to traumatic stress, remember to take care of yourself and that whatever you are experiencing is normal. Above all else, please remember: You don’t have to go through this alone.
Important phone numbers:
• Somerville Trauma Response Network: 857-221-0942
• Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 24-hour hotline: 800-841-8371
• Clinical Youth Specialist: 617-625-6600 ext. 4325
• Somerville Teen Connection at SHS: 617-575-5690
• Guidance Center Referral Line: 617-354-2275
• Cambridge Health Alliance Referral – Adults: 617-591-6033
• Cambridge Health Alliance Referral – Kids: 617-665-3458
• Mass. Substance Use Helpline: 800-327-5050
– Patricia Contente and Paulette Renault-Caragianes