Self Care…

I had a hard week last week, both at work and in my personal life.  I struggle with high levels of anxiety, but it comes and goes so I never can really predict it.  When I was in college it would get so bad that I couldn’t breathe and my chest was in knots.  Now, it’s not quite so bad, but I can feel it building until it almost gets to that point.  Anyway, last week (Tuesday?) my anxiety really took over and I was having a hard time.  My boyfriend had some friends over and I couldn’t bring myself to socialize because I was so uncomfortable and anxious so I ended up just hiding in the bedroom with one of the cats.  To me, that’s not okay.  I appreciate that it helped reduce my anxiety level and that he kept coming in and checking on me and was worrying, but I don’t want to be that person who just hides whenever people are over.  I didn’t really know what was causing me to be so anxious, but I think I finally figured it out.

I worked with an individual last week who had been sexually assaulted the previous weekend.  After they told me their story I did everything I could to be supportive and helpful, but their situation was tricky as they had been pressured into filing a police report by the roommate and parents.  This normally could be a good thing, but they explicitly expressed that they didn’t want to go through the court process and couldn’t handle the trial and everything that came with charges being pressed.  However, they had just seen their assailant in class and felt as though they needed to tell the detective assigned to the case (which is a whole other story…).  I tried to warn them that because sexual assault results in criminal charges, it is the state who is pressing charges against the assailant and not them as an individual.  This means that once the police have a certain amount of information that can lead to an arrest, they must make it.  I was concerned that because they said they didn’t want to go through this process, that they would end up being cornered and forced to do something they weren’t ready for.  Now, I start off every session now with the disclaimer that “everything you choose to tell me will remain confidential, what we talk about is completely up to you and what you are comfortable with.”  As I have talked about in previous posts, I always check in with other staff members after a one-on-one to process and debrief.  For this particular individual I thought it was especially important because my supervisor has a better relationship with campus police than I do and may be able to offer better guidance to the individual or talk to the police and see where the case stands.  After I talked to my supervisor and the executive director they felt that the student should be contacted to offer a few further suggestions about what might happen and things they could do.  I wasn’t 100% comfortable being the one to contact her has they had not seemed comfortable giving me their contact information, so my supervisor said she would contact them.  At this point I was beginning to be uncomfortable with them being contacted because I was worried it would be seen as a breach of confidentiality and that the student would feel betrayed and wouldn’t want our support or services anymore.  I realized days later, that I was carrying that worry and stress of wondering how the student would perceive that contact and that was causing my high anxiety levels.

Since the beginning, I have had self-care preached to me repeatedly.  I got the message, that it is important to take care of yourself because what we do is hard, and we need to be in a good place in order to help these individuals.  I always thought I would be fine and could handle it, but this week I really struggled and am trying to find good self-care techniques.  Even writing this, I feel a slight tightness in my chest and the fluttering feeling in my stomach that is the warning sign for me to relax and take time for myself.  Right now I’m relying on reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and various blogs (www.thebloggess.com, www.filing-jointly.com and www.sometimessweet.com are my daily reads) and Netflix/Hulu to get me through.  I’m trying to find new ways to do self-care, and I really should get back into the gym, but it’s so hard when I get up at 5:30am and don’t get home until 6pm to get motivated to go work out.  I need to work on that.

This four-day weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with family, friends and my partner without the stress and anxiety of work for a few days.

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Alcohol and Sexual Assault

I have noticed that the crisis center I work at, again it is on a college campus, tends to get the most reports of sexual assault after a time that is notorious for partying (i.e. first week back from  break, homecoming etc.).  I think this highlights an important issue that is very complex and can be very loaded.  To me, this highlights the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that alcohol causes sexual assault.  In fact, I think that alcohol is used as an excuse to justify the assault and to blame the victim.  For example, I have great issues with the statement that people (read: girls) will ‘cry rape’ if they wake up after a night of drinking to realize that they have had a sexual encounter that they regret.  To me, this minimizes the issue of sexual assault, particularly when alcohol is involved.  In reality, when considering the number of false rape reports (as well as unfounded reports), it is extremely small compared to reports of sexual assault that are considered to be “real” or founded* (i.e. a police investigation found that there was evidence to support the claims).

However, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that all sexual activity when someone is intoxicated is rape (that is my re-wording of the statement that you cannot consent to sexual activity while intoxicated).  I think saying that oversimplifies the issue and takes two key factors out, namely, the role alcohol played in the situation , and any existing (or lack of) feelings/desires between the people.  For me personally (and other disagree) I believe it is sexual assault if: alcohol is used as a tool to take advantage of somebody else and/or if the sexual contact would not have taken place under other circumstances.

I think it is sad and unfortunate the number of sexual assaults that take place at this university (and others) that involve alcohol.  I think David Lisak’s research really shines some light on this issue and would really recommend it to anyone who is interested.  Lisak does some very interesting research with fraternities and other groups known to have a reputation for perpetrating sexual assault and looks at the circumstances surrounding the assaults.  He has coined the term the “Undetected Rapist” and pointed out the very purposeful targeting and manipulating of victims and the very intentional use of alcohol in their assaults.  He talks about it in this video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5592427n.  This video gets at so many other good things (particularly surrounding the police investigation) but I won’t get into that right now…

This video (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157) is also interesting.

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*DiCanio, M. (1993). The encyclopedia of violence: origins, attitudes, consequences. New York: Facts on File.