I was at a recent gathering of crisis workers when the topic of conversation switched to self-care. With enthusiasm, each of the attendees began to tell us their favorite activities. “I do yoga after work most weekdays!” “I’m in a book club with a handful of friends.” “I like going hiking when the weather’s nice.”
The mainstream dialogue around self-care is full of articles about making time for self-care activities in the midst of our busy lives. It’s no wonder we think of self-care as something that we do, rather than viewing it as a philosophy of life, an essential part of our work, or a way we move through our complicated lives, especially as advocates and preventionists dedicated to the movement against sexual violence. It includes making time for things that nourish us, recharge our batteries, and bring us joy. It also means being gentle and present with ourselves in our missteps as well as our successes, in our reactions as well as our intentions, and in our heartache as well as our joy.
As survivors, self-care can mean giving ourselves permission to move through our trauma in our own way and at our own pace. It can mean remembering (and eventually believing) that we are worthy of love and healing, even if love and healing have not been offered to us in abundance by those we trusted. It can mean learning and re-learning, over and over again, our needs, wants, bodies, and desires, so that we can come more and more fully into the spaces we inhabit with connection, rather than dissociation.
As advocates, self-care can mean noticing when we feel a personal discomfort rise up in our work, and learning to balance holding space for others with time to process our own feelings. It can mean stepping back to heal ourselves more intensely when we need to, without shame, and stepping up when we’re able. It can mean recognizing the limits of what we are able to do when a boundary is the most appropriate solution, and learning to take care of our hearts when those moments happen. It can mean speaking our truth compassionately even in the face of fear, allowing space for silence and deep listening when words are not helpful, and continuing to grow in ways that allow us to know which is needed in any given moment.
As organizations, self-care can mean recognizing the conditions that allow employees appropriate rest and opportunities to heal and thrive increase an agency’s longevity and potential to flourish. It can mean encouraging debriefs to reduce vicarious trauma, as well as learning about and incorporating trauma-informed supervision into your workplace norms. It can mean encouraging employees to have spaces that are comfortable and personalized to work in, and structuring time and schedules so that enjoyable, recharging activities might be woven throughout the workday.
For all of us in all our roles, it means recognizing that the space we take up in our lives, our offices, and our communities, however focused or expansive, has worth and is deserving of security and support. It means recognizing that there are times we will expand and times we will contract, and that we can reduce burnout by making time to take care of our tender hearts and exhausted bodies, both inside and outside of our workplaces.
And why do we do self-care?
So that we can stay present. So we can learn from the world around us without being too tapped out to notice what it is telling us. So we can feel great love and compassion in addition to giving it to others.
Several of us at NCCASA have been re-reading Emergent Strategy lately. We want our work to be holistic, honoring the movement to end sexual assault in its context and each of us in our humanity. We are continually learning how to better care for ourselves as we care for others. We are continually learning how to transform ourselves as we transform our culture. And we are continually learning how to listen and pay attention — to our own bodies and selves, to each other and to you, and to the survivors we support.
I look forward to working with you all in 2019 to end sexual violence, and doing so with love, creativity, and wisdom.
“I am listening now with all of my senses, as if the whole universe might exist just to teach me more about love. I listen to strangers, I listen to random invitations, I listen to criticisms, I listen to my body, I listen to my creativity and to the artists who inspire me, I listen to elders, I listen to my dreams and the books I am reading. I notice that the more I pay attention, the more I see order, clear messages, patterns, and invitations in the small or seemingly random things that happen in my life. In all these ways, I meditate on love.” – adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy
Christy Croft NCCASA Anti Human Trafficking Specialist