Every 9 minutes a Child Protective Services process a claim of child sexual abuse. Even though her case was never reported, Rachel Grant knows exactly what it feels like to be a victim of sexual trauma.
“Back when I was five years old, I used to spend a lot of time with my grandfather. We would be reading together, playing, watching TV, sitting on the front porch swing, talking as I was curled up in his arms… I recall one day when I was 10, he was wearing this orange fuzzy sweater I loved, so I snuggled up next to him. This is the day he first touched me inappropriately. I remember wiggling and trying to get away, confused.”
That moment changed the course of Rachel’s life because from that day on, she went from being a bubbly and happy little girl to feeling scared and full of shame.
“I thought, ‘What is it about my body that is drawing attention? I felt both highly sexualized and unlovable.”Rachel Grant
Childhood abuse had its consequences in adulthood.
Rachel was finding it hard to relate to men, to feel and trust then. So she ended up in an abusive relationship/marriage for 10 years. When they divorced, Rachel felt like a failure, “like nothing was ever going to change, that I would spend the rest of my life just surviving.”
At some point, she’d decided enough was enough. That’s when it hit her. She was stuck in the survivor stage. She was still carrying her wounds around.
“Most people are stuck in the survivor stage… I became obsessed with finding the answer to just one question: How do I actually heal from sexual/physical abuse?! No doubt the trauma had impacted me mentally, and I started seeing it as an injury to the brain and the nervous system.”
Rachel decided to study neuro-science and tested out the simple, doable strategies on herself. “I was my own guinea pig – and to my delight, things really started to change.”
It took her 13 years researching trauma with a special focus on neuroscience to understand that “trauma is stored in the body, in neurological pathways, at the cellular level.”
In the end, she put her knowledge into a program called Beyond Surviving to help teach those impacted by trauma how to use brain-boosting strategies to heal the brain and nervous system, to put an end to shame, and create a life they love.
In her guidebook, Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse, Rachel explains how the brain plays a role in the recovery from physical abuse:
“There is a saying, neurons that fire together, wire together. When we have an experience, neuronal pathways are created in the brain by neurons firing and connecting to create a neural net. Each time a pathway is accessed it is expanded and reinforced”.
Rachel goes on to explain that it is, in part, the reactivation of these neuronal pathways that cause survivors of trauma to remain stressed, activated, depressed, overwhelmed, and suicidal.
She advises these five tips to address it and destroy its consequences:
- Believe healing is possible. It is! You can break the cycle. Abuse does not define you. It all starts with your beliefs. Your beliefs create your reality. Start there.
- Change your inner language. The words you use about yourself. Language is power. How about starting to use words like “valuable, lovable, capable, beautiful”? Language defines our experience of the world and can create a big shift.
- Next, look at your communication with others. Make clear requests. And set boundaries. Boundaries are sexy! By communicating your needs, you limit the possibility for them to be crossed. This will also help you build healthier connections and learn to trust again.
- Reclaim choice. Abuse is always about the removal of agency/choice. Focus on the choices you have available. Find your voice. Put your hands back on the steering wheel of your life.
- What do you do with your free time? Have other creative endeavors, other ways to grow and discover things about yourself. What do you enjoy doing? Do more of that. This is a way of recreating your sense of identity.