Empowerment in the Face of Real-time Trauma

Do you actually believe you can be empowered in EVERY situation, including in terrible circumstances? This post talks about how you can find your power, even after trauma.

Trigger warning: Life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. Sometimes bad things simply happen without your permission. Feelings of being triggered are actually a clear indication there’s healing and emotional work you need to pursue for yourself. If you are in distress, please dial 911 or the emergency number in your area. If you feel triggered, I strongly encourage you to seek professional assistance to support your healing journey. The goal is to be present with yourself.

I was sexually assaulted on the subway two weeks ago.

A man fondled me. For those moments, my body was not my own. He simply helped himself to fondling my body. And unbeknownst to him, it was the same area of my body where I experienced my first violation a long time ago.

And then he disappeared into the crowds of the train, all while leering at me.

It wasn’t until he was out of sight that I thought about taking a picture of him. I did the next best thing and took a picture of the subway car number. Then I got off the subway and reported it to the fare booth operator.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) staff were incredible, seamlessly implementing a process to support the situation and working with Toronto Police. The man was found a few days later and charged, and the court process will begin.

Since the incident, I’ve been chronicling some of the things I’ve been doing to support myself.

I’m writing about this and have been showing up honestly to share how I’m doing, the choices I have made to support myself, and the effects those choices have. Because overall, I’m exponentially and unequivocally in a better place than I ever would have been if this happened to me 3 years ago.

And I believe anyone can achieve this kind of true personal growth and power.

Core Principles

There are a couple core principles I’ve reiterated a gazillion times in my posts.

  1. Sometimes we don’t have control over our circumstances. We absolutely do have control over how we respond.
  2. We can be empowered in EVERY situation.

Today’s post uses my recent experience as an example of what I mean by both of those.

It’s not obvious how either of these principles can practically apply in a situation of assault or abuse or anything uninvited.

But that is precisely when all the work to be empowered truly matters.

It’s easy to feel powerful and grounded when life is good.

Yes, it’s easy to feel powerful when life is going well, and it even improves life in strides to feel empowered during those good times. You’re more likely to make healthy, powerful decisions that create a life experience you want.

And life isn’t always good. Every single person can think of a time when something bad happened, uninvited. Maybe someone died, or someone betrayed, or another traumatic event occured.

Those raw moments, because they are so visceral, can seriously change how we experience life. And it’s not just an “attitude is everything” kind of platitude.

Because our supercomputer minds are driven to keep us safe, our neurology literally changes in those moments. In NLP, we recognize that “what fires together, wires together” and it’s our brain’s way of serving us in that moment.

The question is, once we’re no longer in imminent danger, is that wiring still serving?

Empowerment, even right after a trauma

That experience on transit was deeply upsetting, and of course it had an emotional, mental and energetic impact on me. I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want him to control my body in that moment.

And the fact is it did happen. Bad things do sometimes happen. So what did I do?

As I’ve said, sometimes we cannot control our circumstances, and we can control our response

So how have I managed my response?

First of all, I reported the incident. No one is permitted to commit a criminal act against me, for any reason. So here’s an example of what response management looked like for me. Managing your response might look different for different people and situations, but the key response regardless of the situation is to remain fully present.

So here’s what I have been doing to support myself as I recover from this experience:

  • Non-negotiable, regardless of the situation: remaining fully present with self.
  • Being intentional to do lots of self-care.
  • Movement when the body craves it.
  • Rest when it’s needed.
  • Crying when the tears need to fall.
  • Time away from work when needed.
  • Time at work when ready.
  • Being authentic with loved ones, the workplace and in my case, my audience about what happened, as appropriate.
  • Making nutritious food.
  • Staying hydrated.
  • Continuing with conscious tools and sacred practices.
  • Accepting support when it’s been offered.
  • Asking for and accepting help when needed (including at work).
  • Stepping back from activities if rest is needed.
  • Engaging in activities when it feels good to do so.
  • Accessing professional support (via phone and in-person).
  • Continuing to create things that are important and enjoyable (for me – this blog, my Instagram content, investing in my closest relationships, developing content for upcoming workshop collaborations).

We can be truly empowered in EVERY situation

Any kind of repression, avoidance or denial reflects a disempowered state. It takes courage and strength to remain present with yourself and allow yourself to feel everything AND to choose wisely.

I have remained empowered throughout this experience so far. But let’s be clear – just because I’m empowered doesn’t mean I’m feeling on top of the world. I’m not.

Acorn + Burdock

I’m very tired, and my energy levels have been noticeably lower in the afternoon. I’m not performing at my usual capacity.

A range of emotions ebbs and flows over the day. I wonder whether people assume that because I seem fine in my Instagram stories, that I somehow don’t need to receive direct messages of encouragement or support.

That first week, I made a batch of cookies, and ate 10 in two days. For me, that’s more than I normally ever would in that timeframe. So I decided to outsmart myself, put the two remaining cookies into the freezer, and I cooked healthy food.

I also found myself adding more items to my online spring shopping than I normally would. So before placing either order, I made myself empty out items from the cart.

So where is the empowerment in this?

Coping mechanisms still happen. We’re all human. The question is how present are you able to remain?

In this situation, I have chosen to manage my emotions and manage my state while simultaneously loving and supporting myself through the fallout of this experience.

Am I afraid as I go about my day? No. Do I have any self-doubts about how I handled the situation last week, or how I’ve managed it since? Not at all.

Just don’t mistake my strength, courage, and (mostly) good decision-making for my being somehow unaffected. I’m very affected.

Acorn + Burdock

What empowerment, recovery and self-care looks like will vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. The question comes down to whether those core principles are there.

What’s next?

I will continue to take things day and week at a time, while I also go about my everyday life. I will also continue to remain fully present with myself at all times. And I encourage you to pursue presence with your self, even when the going gets heavy.

There is no room for hiding from ourselves. That’s not real life, and it’s not a powerful life.

As a reminder, here’s a previous article I wrote on how to process distressing news (and how to support the other person, if appropriate).

This experience is also a good example of everything I discussed in the last blog post on the concept of soul contracts (which was written a couple of weeks prior to this incident).

It’s also a good example of some of the considerations I discussed in the two-part series last month.

Previously I’ve also written about accessing professional supports when you need them.

Closing thoughts

In closing, I’d like to share one more part of my experience these past couple weeks with you, perhaps as inspiration for moments when you find yourself needing some encouragement to show up for yourself with strength.

The very next day after the incident, I made myself get back on the subway. I refused to allow an incident with one troubled person to dictate how I go about my life. My heart rate was slightly elevated as I stepped onto the subway. But there were zero PTSD- or anxiety-related symptoms.

THAT is empowerment. If you’re ever interested in working with me to discover how you can find your power, even when jarring, traumatic events happen, reach out to me and let’s chat.

To see my recovery journey so far, please go to my Instagram profile and tap the highlights reel entitled “Resilience”.

Blessings and empowerment to you.

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