What I learned about anxiety – for child sexual abuse survivors

Feel whatever is there in a safe place

The first time I remember not being anxious was after a 12 step meeting. My shoulders were relaxed. This had never happened before, I was certain.  It  was after an adult children of alcoholics meeting.

I found 12 step meetings really helpful in my early recovery, because I could be real there about what was really going on, and because of the structure (no crosstalk) no-one could try and rescue me. I attended almost one meeting per day. At the time it was the only place I could be real about the intense memories and feelings I was experiencing.

I shared my first flashbacks and some very intense things in meetings in those days, so much so that afterward, people would come up to me with the ‘are you all rrriiiight…” and a pitying tone to their voice like they were pretty sure I was a complete basket case. I always took no more than my share of the time, normally about 10 minutes per person, and could get a lot done in that time. I’d always say (and feel) “yes, of course, I just got it out and had a cry, of course I’m all right.” And I was. I refused to let them pity me. I was just having a feeling, and I’d expressed it fully, and could move on to being calm.

This is the first thing I learned about anxiety and other strong feeling states, that being direct and honest about it in a safe space makes all the difference.

Ramping down the hyperarrousal

The second thing for me was the strong link for me and perhaps other survivors between anger and anxiety/fear, which is so big a part of being a survivor of childhood sexual assault that I wrote quite a bit about it in my post on night fears, so I’ll just refer you there.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder. I don’t think of it as a mental illness, but as a nervous system injury. Anyone who went through what I went through, with the lack of support that I had, would have it. The trauma is the cause. My nervous system was set on fear, legitimately, so high and for so long, that it got stuck that way, among other things. Anything that ramps down the PTSD hyperarousal is a good thing.

Physical solutions help a lot more than you’d think.

Exercise: I can often manage my anxiety best by looking after it in completely physical ways. Walking for exercise, which gets the good endorphin benefits without getting me adrenalized the way more active exercise or classes do, helps a lot.

Food: Eating whatever I feel like and whenever I am hungry (and stopping when I’m full) seems to reduce any anxiety my mind and body has about there not being enough food available, and if I’m consistent about it, it helps keep me calm.  Stress-eating can calm me down, but is more of a band-aid thing. Consistently meeting my body’s needs ramps down my anxiety.

Sleep: I play all kinds of tricks to help me sleep, but hypnosis has been the most effective. I particularly like a cd called ‘deep sleep with medical hypnosis‘ and listen to two of the tracks from it (healing sleep and deep sleep) back to back almost every night. Safe routines are good.

Medication: I know nothing about medication for anxiety. I’ve never taken any for my PTSD. However I have taken chamomile tea, skullcap, and melatonin to help me sleep.  The thing I pull out if I’m desperate is one of the old school antihistamines (not the no-drowsy kinds) which works but makes me groggy in the morning. I also almost never consume caffeine, aside from the occasional chocolate.

However, vitamins help my anxiety. I take two multivitamins, six fish oil capsules, a vitamin D3 and a low dose coated aspirin daily. Since I’ve been doing that I feel a lot better. Apparently, there is some research to show that physical and emotional pain are connected. I take the aspirin because apparently when you are over 40 it is recommended to reduce inflammation, but I think it helps my mind ramp down too, by reducing my aches and pains. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, after all.

Safe touch: Curling up with my wife, skin to skin, reduces my anxiety. Petting my dog reduces my anxiety. Hugs that last more than 10 seconds apparently release positive chemicals in the body. Getting a foot rub reduces my anxiety.

Writing it down

Writing: Other than feeling the feelings when they come up, as fully as possible, I haven’t found a lot of mind/emotional things that work, other than journalling. I’ve journalled at night, and in the morning, artists way style where you write non stop for 3 pages, and both help clear out worries and obsessive thoughts. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night when I’ve had a nightmare and written in this blog. It helps.

0 thoughts on “What I learned about anxiety – for child sexual abuse survivors”

  1. Yes I sometimes feel like I have bought into the , ” I must be dwelling on this and it is bad to do that”. Then I realise Speaking out is so important it honours the grief of years of battling with memories turning everything up side down…my work, lovers, education, friendships often swamping dreams and keeping me poor. I have needed my warrior self (She is back!!) to look me in the eye and say I see you and I am proud!. Till next time Janey

  2. Hi thanx again for making this space available filled with such well thought out writing on a taboo issue, “talking about it”. Thanx to Kate for the mention of societies inability to act as witnesses. I recently did an interview and let a lot of friends know. I had the distinct impression that this was seen as a backward step. For me it was personally freeing and felt politically responsible. It was so healing to break the silence. Only one person listened and gave me feedback. Let me know if you would like the web site as it is accessible. It is 24 hrs of interviews on child sexual abuse. go well cheers Janey

    1. Funny how people think that when you talk about it, it means you’re ‘still dwelling on it’. I hate that. But people who have had important people die, or who had a spectacular football injury or something are still allowed to talk about it years later. People who have had children die before they do are able to say “you never get over something like that” but being raped repeatedly over the course of a decade by someone twice your size is something you’re supposed to get over in six months and then never mention again. It’s about people’s cognitive dissonance with the topic. F- that.

  3. i’ve had a lot of positive experiences in using valerian root to sleep. it’s never made me groggy in the morning. you can either brew the root as a tea (although it tastes a bit funny) or you can get capsules – i personally buy the powdered root and make my own capsules, because it’s so much cheaper.
    i hope this helps!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, and for commenting. I think I’ve tried valerian too, and also passionflower, which worked the best for me, now that I think of it. Dr. Oz (the tv doctor) covered it on one of his shows saying it was as effective as prescription anti-anxiety meds. I didn’t take it for long though, I kind of prefer my hypnosis and vitamins, seems to work fine unless I’m really triggered. Lately my anxiety has been so low that I haven’t felt the need to do anything. yay.

  4. Hi Warrior,

    You are doing some great healing work. It is so wonderful to read your posts and to have your blog as a place where I can come and be a witness and a participant in your life and your healing work.

    I too have found a great deal of release and healing from the act of telling with those who witness. I have found most people deeply unsettled. Some even asked me if I needed to check myself into a mental health ward immediately afterwards. No I don’t, I actually feel better. I even experienced that a few times with a therapist, who I convinced myself was not the sort of person to trust with my memories or with that area of my healing work, and instead only tried to do day-to-day issues in healing.

    I don’t think that our culture understands the concept of being a witness to someone else’s pain and the healing impact of that act. Most people, it seems to me, want to run from that and want to excuse their behaviors by believing that for someone to do that, they must be unbalanced or become unbalanced in the telling. Or the fact of feeling their feelings is unbalancing and that all of the above might be catching.

    I really appreciated reading you mention PSTD as a nervous system injury. This has been the belief that I have started to head towards in my own life and in my healing. For me, it helps me to stop being so anxious about what I am dealing with and that in itself is helpful in dialing down my anxiety. It helps me to judge myself much less and to be more understanding, upsetting, loving and caring to my body. It helps me to see and know deeply that my body is not the cause of any of my health and mental health issues. It helps me to see that what has been done to me is separate from who I am intrinsically as a human and being and has nothing to do with me, and what my body, us, and I have done to survive, to live, and to heal that was less than kind and loving. It helps me to accept myself in a way that is transformative.

    I too am finding a great deal of assistance in the things that I do for and to my body in the area of body and life care. I found what you wrote helpful. I have tried a number of things to help in this area. You have given me some more ideas, thanks for that. I still have issues with sleep and am thinking something like this might be helpful.

    Food issues, for me, were shaped by my mother and her food abuses of me. Being deprived of food, having food used as a weapon and a coercion changed me and made me very upset around the topic of food. For me I am slowly figuring out that my day goes best when I eat often during the day. I have learned that my body works worst when I deprive myself of food; even by accident, even when sick, even when I am not hungry. So I have concluded that I need food often and that helps prevent a lot of other issues coming up. Walking seems to balance that out, as it seems to balance out so many things.

    Thank you for sharing so much. Good and healing thoughts to you.


      1. Hi Kate,
        Yes, isn’t that wierd how upset other people get and how worried about us when we disclose when in fact we’ve just experienced something that makes us feel so much better. I’m so grateful for those opportunities to be witnessed. It’s a drag to have to reassure people that I’m really okay afterward. If I wasn’t okay, you’d think they could tell. Yes, I usually test out a therapist on disclosure. If they are frightened or upset by me disclosing the things I’m dealing with, or just don’t have confidence in my competence, I’m with the wrong therapist.

        Thanks so much for your comment, Kate. I found it very validating to know we have similar experiences and views.


  5. Hi SDW,

    Great post. I can really relate. Sorry I wrote a response twice already and it keeps getting deleted, on a netbook and that is common. I will try later to add more.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: