This may seem elementary to some, but it’s actually very common for trauma survivors to struggle with any type of self-care. An especially important part of discovering, storing, and knowing how and when to use inner resources comes from having a good relationship to self-care. So if you aren’t really sure what self-care looks like for you or you have no practice of self-care (yet), you aren’t alone. When you don’t have a regular self-care practice, for trauma survivors, it may be because you don’t have a very strong relationship to your own mind, body, or spirit. This is also very common, and nothing to berate yourself for. A big key for a lot of survivors when they are first stepping into their healing journey is to initially recognize that they don’t often check in with or feel like they have a communication with their thoughts, body, or inner spiritual world. If that’s you today, maybe today is just your moment to realize that and acknowledge it. If you are ready, you may want to explore some of the basics of getting into a healthy space with your self before you go too big with self-care. Remember, the self-care regimen and practice that you can eventually develop will look quite different from person to person. It’s a very special, personal plan of things that feed your own being. You can get great ideas and suggestions from others — but self-care is actually much more than a spa day or a bubble bath. Although self-care CAN be those things, it’s not truly just about those things.
However, a good place to start is always at the beginning. There are actually things that are needed for human survival before one can fully thrive. If you are at that place today where you are noticing how little you hear from your heart and body, these basics will help you grow some of that inner intuition by being kind to yourself in a very “human needs” sort of way. Some of these basics that I’m referring to would be cornerstones like sleeping, eating, grooming, hygiene, moving the body, and kindness to yourself while you learn. I’m not in any means saying it’s time to start a major diet or start working out 3 hours every day. I mean taking an inventory of your regular daily habits to see where you may have some deficits. This is by no means either a way to judge yourself against some standard. This inventory is to get really honest with yourself in your “activities of daily living”. This term is used by many health professionals as a measure of fundamental things one needs for independent living.
As a trauma survivor, for instance, your sleep might be problematic — from being unable to get to sleep or stay asleep, to full fledge insomnia, or major disruption like nightmares. If you have used eating as a coping skill during abuse or stress, it may be helpful to just recognize this as an unhealthy mechanism that may be hindering your health in your mind, gut, body, and spirit. This is just an inventory — and trust me when I say, it is extremely common for trauma survivors to have impediments in these basic fundamentals. What you have been through has left you with maladaptive survival skills, overactive stressors, fear trapped in your body, and weights of epic proportions on your spirit. Recognizing that something such as ‘personal hygiene being limited’ may unlock an eye opener to help you realize that your hygiene or basic grooming is representative of how you see yourself. Then, maybe seeing that limited care for your outer body, this can clue you into how it mimics the way you haven’t cared for your inner being.
Once you can begin to acknowledge some of these things in the ‘school of basics’, you can itemize out anything that you find to be lacking that you would really like to change. It’s also okay if you understand your eating habits are a way that you control the stress in your life, for instance. It may not be something you are fully ready to work through yet because without that coping skill you may not feel equipped to face the stress of your trauma. With some of these functional skills, you honestly may want to work on your trauma healing much more before you are able to tackle something like your eating choices or body image. For a lot of survivors, they need to address the mental health aspect of their trauma and find recovery before they can address sleep issues or physical exercise restrictions. This is all okay. Today is just a challenge for you to examine what is working for you and what isn’t. This type of investigation is helpful but may be triggering. If you have a trauma recovery coach or a therapist or close friend, you may want to ask them to help you sort out a list of your daily habits and general self-care. With my clients, we go through an Activities of Daily Living assignment once a month for three months to get a baseline of what a day in their life looks like. Then we check in with it periodically to see how things have been changing as they move forward down their trauma recovery path. It may be daunting to write out “sleeps just 2 hours at a time” or “sleeps all day” — but trust me when I say there is NO judgment to this record. It’s just the truth about your situation — with no story behind it. It takes practice to recognize a need this great yet to have kindness and patience with yourself as you do it. If your basic life health has taken drastic downturns due to your mental health or your trauma, please recognize that this activity of exploring these things is best done with a professional or close partner. It’s helpful to have someone there to remind you that these truths about yourself are totally normal and totally okay. Then, you’ll also have someone available to help you sort out what areas that you’d like to make changes and help you figure out how to go about starting to do that.
The basics are an important stepping stone to finding genuine care for yourself. Beyond the basics, it’s then safer to take a look at those more stereotypical self-care routines and practices that you read about in the magazines — which are truly more about what fills you with joy, what makes you feel alive, and stops the clock while you do it. In fact, in the care of a professional, I would even encourage you to start searching out those things that are “big S” Self-care for you even while you are still working on tackling the basics. The more you grow in your healing, the quicker some of the basics will start to align to your preferred values. Always remember to give yourself a ton of grace with this type of topic. You have been through things that others haven’t, and you owe a large appreciation to your body and coping skills for helping you survive here today. Kindness is really the key here. You can’t experience self-care without first learning to care for and about yourself. Be patient. You got this!