Dear Survivors: A reflection from ten years of Take Back the Night

This is the tenth Take Back the Night I have participated in and has led me to really reflect on my journey from survivor activist, to volunteer, to a career in advocacy. I remember my very first Take Back the Night. Sitting in a cozy women’s center, hearing and being validated by other survivors as I shared my own story for the first time. Having that moment of just being around people who get it was so healing. To now. There we were. Virtually together. Still uplifting and honoring survivors in whatever way we can. It felt like a very empowering and meaningful moment to me. 

One of the greatest honors of my life has been to be able to support survivors and to hear their voices. I think about the 1000’s of survivors I have worked with in my career and I think I carry a piece of them and their stories with me every day in all that I do. Not a day goes by where I don’t remember one of them and their healing.

So I wrote a letter to some of the survivors I have worked with throughout the past ten years that I wanted to share

Dear Survivor:

I still remember the very first hospital advocacy call I ever went. I was nervous. I was new. And there you were. I remember walking into the room and you telling me how glad you were I was there. In some ways, you comforted me when I was there to comfort you. I remember holding hands, hearing your story, bearing witness to all the pain you had been through in your life as you talked with the nurse. I remember watching cartoons on tv as a distraction while we waited for the exam to start and feeling amazed that after all that you had been through, we could sit together and laugh at the animated scene on the tv together. It felt like the most human moment and what was the most de-humanizing day. It has been over eight years and I still remember your name and I still sometimes wonder about how you are doing.

Dear Survivor:

As you proclaimed all the things that you were going to do to make the system better for other survivors, I was right there with you and I saw a little bit of myself in you. You wanted to change the world. And I could see, just from the look in your eyes and your spirit, that was just what you were going to do. Now, years later, I am proud of you and all that you continue to accomplish each day. 

Dear Survivor:

I will never forget the comments that the court advocate said to you. When she told you she thought you needed to dress less black if you wanted to win your case, I was there with you. You are you and I am sorry that a system didn’t see or respect you for you. You deserved to be seen and respected just for being you. Your courage and strength in going forward were inspiring. But you don’t exist to inspire me or others. I remember you.

Dear Survivor:

I am sorry that the world told you how to feel and how to act. I remember your anger and I remember sitting with you when you were told to calm down. I remember others not understanding why you were so angry. And I wanted to shout with you, of course, you are angry. You have every right to share everything you feel and need.

Dear Survivor:

I am so sorry that you were hurt again. You deserve all the love and respect in the world. I heard your pain and I want you to know that you still deserve love and safety even after what happened to you.

Dear Survivor:

I am sorry that reporting outed you and your identity to your family. You deserved protection and support. I am proud of you for continuing on and all you have done to survive.

Dear Survivor:

Sometimes I only get to meet a survivor once and other times we work together for a while. When you had decided that you needed to move on and that this school we both loved couldn’t be the school for you anymore after what happened, I felt for you. When you asked if I would forget you, I haven’t. I still have the post-it note with your signature and I know you still have mine.

Dear Survivor:

I am here for you. I am with you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your story.

-Courtney

P.S. if you are anyone you know needs support or more information about resources, we are here for you!

How to use Journaling for Self-Care

Cream and light brown background. Cream colored writing pad wrapped in brown ribbon with a silver colored pencil. Brown text that reads "How to use Journaling for Self-Care."

This image is taken from a template on Canva.

What is Journaling?  

Journaling has been around for centuries. You may have read the journals of famous people for a class. Many historians use journals to develop an understanding and get firsthand accounts of historical events. In the 1960’s, people began to recognize the therapeutic potential of journaling; that it can help us to process our thoughts and feelings, rather than only serve to document daily life or important events.   

Journaling allows you to take a moment out of your day to write down your thoughts, feelings, or anything you’d like. Some people prefer to type on a document or use a website to journal too. An electronic journal can be helpful if you have concerns about keeping your journal private. You can also password protect files on your computer or use a journal website with a login function. It may take some time and practice to get comfortable with journaling, and that’s okay!    

How do I Journal?  

If possible, begin by finding a quiet space to journal. You can also use headphones or listen to music if that helps. Take a few moments to reflect on your day and how you’re feeling in the moment. Sometimes it can be difficult to start journaling, especially if you have a lot of thoughts and feelings or you don’t know how to put them into words. Remember to be gentle with yourself. Journaling is just one form of self-care and expression; it does not have to be perfect. You can journal however often you would like. Some people find a routine to be helpful, like journaling every morning when they wake up, and others just journal when they feel they need a cathartic space to express their thoughts and feelings.   

Different Types of Journaling  

There are many different types of journaling. Some of these you might enjoy, and some you may not. You might also enjoy a combination!   

  • Stream of Consciousness/Brain Dump: This type of journaling doesn’t have to be chronological or orderly. Sometimes it can be helpful to get all the things in our brain out and into our journal. This could look like making a list, just writing whatever comes to mind, or anything that feels helpful.   
  • Prompts: Some people benefit from having a prompt, whether it’s the same prompt every day or a different one. There are journals you can purchase that have daily prompts, or you can find some online and choose what interests you.   
  • Art Journaling: When it’s hard to put things into words or you’re someone who really loves art and feel like that’s the best way to express yourself, art journaling can be a great option. You can draw, sketch, or paint in a way that expresses your thoughts and feelings.   
  • Scrapbook: This is another type of journaling that can serve as a creative outlet. You can cut out images, quotes, use stickers, or anything inspiring you find and stick them in your journal. Whenever you’re looking for inspiration, you can reflect on what you’ve gathered and created.   
  • Quotes: Have you ever read a quote that really resonates with you? Adding in quotes, their authors, and where you found it can also help you to connect with books, movies, tv shows, blogs, and other forms of media that are affirming and validating.   
  • Habit or Emotions Tracker: This helps to track habits, such as making a note of each day that you practice self-care. You can also track your emotions. Some people do this by choosing a certain color to represent an emotion and then filling in a calendar square for how they felt that day. This can be helpful if you want to reach a goal and become more mindful of where your emotions may be stemming from. For example, you may notice that you have a pattern of feeling nervous before a certain class, and you can begin to think of self-care and coping strategies to help with that.   

What is Self-Care?  

When we are busy or feeling overwhelmed, we can take some time out of our day to take care of ourselves. We can also do self-care even if we are feeling really good. Self-care is a practice of taking care of ourselves, replenishing ourselves when we need it, and maintaining our care when we are feeling good. Self-care can also involve setting and honoring our boundaries. Self-care doesn’t have to be something big and time consuming. It can be as simple as taking a few moments to ground yourself, breathe, and take care of your immediate needs.   

How can I use Journaling for Self-Care?  

Before you begin journaling, you may find it helpful to practice some grounding techniques. For example, grounding yourself by describing in detail a few items that are around you. You can also say out loud a few things you are grateful for. Another helpful grounding technique is to use positive affirmations. You can try taking a deep breath in and when you exhale, think of an affirmation in your mind such as “I am enough.”   

Journaling can help bring awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and the present moment. As a form of self-care, journaling can help you understand what worked or didn’t work for you while managing the day. Reflecting can help you gain some insight as to what’s going on around you and decompress some of the stress or anxiety you may be feeling. Journaling can help to identify triggers that lead to stress and how to better plan for managing that stress. Journaling can also help to increase your tolerance of distressing or ambiguous things. It can also help to identify things that you enjoy, and in doing so, you can jot down future plans to meet with a friend or watch your favorite show.  Journaling helps us to recognize what we have control over and what we don’t. It can also help to recognize our strengths and support systems.   

We’d like to note that it’s important to feel your feelings and give yourself the space to address them in a way that feels best for you. Or even to not address them in that moment. We want to be mindful that a drawback of journaling can be that it has the potential to reinforce the difficult or negative things we’ve experienced or are thinking and feeling about ourselves. If you find that your journaling efforts start to make you feel worse instead of better, it may be helpful to take a break, reach out for support, and try different forms of self-care. You can choose whatever is going to be the most supportive for you in expressing your thoughts and feelings.   

If you want to learn more about different forms of self-care or if you find that your journaling practice starts to bring up things you would like to talk about, SSAC is here to support you. You can Request Support on our website, ssac.gmu.edu.  

Take Care! 

SSAC Advocates  

Sources:  

Mindful Coloring

Mindful coloring is when you are able to be so focused on your design in front of you, that you do not give any attention to your negative thougGraphic titled "Mindful Coloring as a grounding technique" in white text on a black background with the image of colored pencils below. It features the George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center watermark.hts that occupy your mind. It is very similar to meditation in that way. Mindful Coloring is not to be confused with art therapy which you need to do under the supervision of a therapist. This is just one form of grounding, and if it works for you then that is great, but if it does not, that is okay too. Please feel welcome to reach out to SSAC to learn more about grounding techniques and receive support! 

History of Mindful Coloring  

Carl Jung, a prominent figure in the field of psychology, is one of the first people to have started this form of meditation. He focused on the drawing and coloring of mandalas. Mandalas are Buddhist devotional images and are considered sacred in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. They are a reflection of an ideal universe. When using mandalas, the focus should be on the culture it comes from and be a form of honoring the history behind it. The purpose of mindful coloring is to ground oneself and be in tune with our bodies. 

How it Works 

For mindful coloring to be effective, the image must be complex enough to require a fair amount of attention to complete it. The complexity of the mandala is why they have become so popular in stress-reducing coloring books. A study by Curry and Kasser (2005) found that complex images create a meditative state. If you are choosing a coloring book of some sort please keep this in mind when choosing your image.  

If you would like to see if this grounding technique works for you but do not have access to coloring pages, art supplies, or would like to try it in a different way you can do what I like to call mindful doodling. When creating your own image, doodle, without planning out your drawing. Just relax your mind and see what happens on the page. Have no judgment and do not worry about mistakes, just focus on the pencil gliding across the paper and try to remain focused on that throughout the exercise.  

There is no specific length of time that you have to do this technique for it to be effective, just listen to your body and do what is best for you. This is just one form of grounding and it may or may not work for you. That is completely okay, just try it out and see what happens. If you find that your mind strays, that is okay also, just do your best to bring your attention back to the page.  

Here is a link to free PDF pages if you would like to check them out! 

Free PDF of Coloring Pages: https://www.betweensessions.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/mindfulness-coloring-book-4_25-16.pdf 

-Catherine BSW Advocate Intern

Sources: 

https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-coloring-art/ 

 https://asiasociety.org/exploring-mandala 

 

#AskAnAdvocate: Helpful resources to learn more about and amplify Black voices in anti-sexual and interpersonal violence movements

a green and orange gradient background. Centered at the top of the page is the title: "#AskAnAdvocate. in the middle of the image is a search bar with the text: How do I learn about and amplify Black voices in the movement to end sexual and interpersonal violence? The SSAC logo is displayed in the bottom right corner. For this week’s #AskAnAdvocate, we talked about the connections of race and sexual and interpersonal violence and the ways to learn more about and amplify Black voices and works in the movements to end sexual and interpersonal violence. Throughout Ask an Advocate, I referenced some resources and toolkit and wanted to share these resources with you all! These resources may be helpful in increasing our knowledge and understanding of racism and its ties to sexual and interpersonal violence. This is not an exhaustive list but can be used as a starting point!

George Mason University Resources about anti-racist works, practices, and on racism in the U.S

  • The Center for Culture, Equity and Empowerment (CCEE) provides educational programs and cultural celebrations to raise awareness and to provide support for students of various racial and ethnic identities.
  • University Life Black Lives Matter Website provides accessible resources that allows us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be anti-racist. In addition to compiling resources, this website also provides action items and ways to become allies and support the Black community. These are incredible resources that can be used as a guide.
  • University Libraries Anti-Racism, #BlackLivesMatter, and Civic Action resource guide is another resource that provides a list of readings and materials on topics of anti-racism, white supremacy, and activist movements. This guide can also be used as a starting point to expand our knowledge of anti-racist practices.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) also compiled a list of helpful resources about dismantling racism and tools for coping with Racial Trauma.

Resources on Race, Sexual and Interpersonal Violence, and anti-violence movements

Part of the discussion in this week’s #AskAnAdvocate focused on the connections between race and sexual and interpersonal violence. Throughout history, sexual and interpersonal violence has been used as a tool for racist oppression. Also, the ways that attitudes and behaviors are being used to allow sexual and interpersonal violence in our society are rooted in racism and other systems of power. Below are some resources that provide more information on the intersections of race and sexual and interpersonal violence.

This week’s #AskAnAdvocate was in celebration of Black and African Heritage Month. The Center for Culture, Equity and Empowerment is offering various programming for Cultural Heritage Month. The calendar of events for Black and African Heritage Month is posted on their website!

– A quote by Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo Movement in a 2017 Washington Post article.

 Respectfuly,

Aina 🧡

How to Start the Semester Strong

Graphic titled “An Essential list of How to Start the Spring Semester Strong” in white text with “How to Start the Spring Semester Strong” bolded on a purple background. It includes the George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center Watermark.

We are about to begin our third semester during a worldwide pandemic. As this is the third semester under these conditions, we may have adjusted a bit to our circumstances, but that does not mean that this isn’t a difficult time to be students. As we come back from a long and needed winter break, we face the reality that classes will begin (some online and some in person) and that we need to start preparing ourselves for success. Here are 6 tips on how to start the semester strong! 

  1. Create a sleep schedule. 
    As most students do when on break, sleep is taken over by binge-watching Netflix,  Graphic reads “1. Create a sleep schedule”. In the next section it reads “2. Organize a planner (include important due dates” The text is white bolded and written on a purple background. It includes the George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center Watermark. chatting with friends, and the freedom of not having assignments due. As we prepare for this semester, try to spend the next few weeks before classes adjusting your body to a sleep schedule that will set you up for success. Consider what time your classes start, whether they are online or on campus, and start setting your alarm to the time you will have to be up for them. Try to go to bed at a time that will be conducive to waking up ready to learn. The Center for Disease Control recommends that College Students get at least 7 hours of sleep a night (CDC), but we all have different needs so please do what is best for you. 
  2. Organize a Planner (include important dates) 
    I recommend the ones that have a monthly page and then a large section for each day so that you can put important due dates, like exams and papers, on the monthly calendar and then weekly assignments in the day sections. Once you receive your class syllabi you can go through your agenda and add in those assignments (You may want to use pencil as due dates can change). You can also use planners or agendas to write down your goals for this semester! 
  3. Set up a study space. Graphic reads “3. Set up a study space for online class. In the next section it reads “4. Block out time for self-care”. The text is white bolded and written on a purple background. It includes the George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center Watermark. Whether you are taking your classes online or attending in person, you will still be doing quite a bit of work at home. Designate a study space for yourself that will be conducive to learning. That can be a desk, kitchen table, or anywhere that you are comfortable and able to focus in on your work. It is recommended that you not work in your bed as that is a place for your body to rest and relax, but if there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is to do what is best for you and your body with what is available to you. 
  4. Block out time for self-care. 
     It is so important to listen to your body and to take care of it now more than ever. One part of that is to do self-care. Self-Care can be whatever you need it to be. For some it is coloring, taking a bath with essential oils, or just taking a nap. It can also be putting your phone away for an hour, going for a walk, and watching an episode of your favorite show. Try to set aside time each week for you to do an activity that you find relaxing or comforting. You can block that time out in your planner so you can get into a schedule.
  5. Identify your support system.  
    Whether you are returning to campus for the semester or will be virtual, now is a good time to reach out to your friends, compare schedules to see who you know in your classes, and talk to each other about how you are feeling about this semester. Covid has taught us that you do not have to see people physically to be there for them. Schedule zoom game nights or watch parties with friends as a way to stay close and lean on each other. SSAC is also here to support you, please feel welcome to reach out to us! 
  6. Order your textbooks and school supplies. Graphic reads “5. Identify your support system”. In the next section it reads “6. Order textbooks and other school supplies”. The text is white bolded and written on a purple background. It includes the George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center Watermark.
    As you prepare for your classes to start be sure to check in with your professors for a list of course materials. Organize what supplies you have left over from last semester and make a list of what you still need. Order what you need and as it arrives organize it around your designated study space so that you can study effectively. Remember the library on campus or in your community may have some resources for you to use! 

These are just a few ways to prepare yourself for this next semester. As classes begin, if you find yourself in need of support, please reach out to SSAC by visiting https://ssac.gmu.edu and selecting the request a meeting tab. We are here for you! 

-Catherine BSW Advocate Intern