a blog and resources for trans survivors and loved ones

  • Empowering.
  • Healing.
  • Connecting.

In the last blog post, we talked about ways to think about and use traumatic anniversaries. Here we offer a toolkit of other useful coping strategies.

  • Create new seasonal associations: Much of what the brain does is create associations between one experience/memory and another. Part of healing trauma, especially surrounding anniversaries, is to create new, empowered, and joyful associations for your brain to make with a particular date or season. This may mean creating a new tradition in place of an old one, such as attending Thanksgiving dinner at a community center, starting a Dreidel tournament, collecting Christmas presents or Valentine’s Day cards for folks in the hospital, or celebrating your birthday with a trusted friend, Netflix, and Chinese takeout. Beyond this, think about what other associations you can make to transform difficult times of year: Does your favorite toiletries vendor sell a particularly delightful scent? Are there breathtaking changes in scenery you’ve been overlooking? Are there seasonal activities you can experiment with?
  • Limit your responsibilities around anniversaries: Some survivors tend to engage a “responsibility coin toss” in times of stress: some are prone to rabid workaholism and others find solace in dropping all responsibility and running. Many flip back and forth throughout an anniversary depending on the trauma symptoms at hand. To mitigate the harm caused by this coin toss, it can be helpful to mindfully limit your responsibilities surrounding an anniversary season as much as possible. Listen to your own desires and limits. Sometimes, taking on a new project will be exactly what you need to find an anchor in a turbulent time. Other times, it may be wise to take time off of work or class if you are able.
  • Either way, task delegation is a healthy skill for survivors to nurture. This could look like asking someone else to spearhead an upcoming presentation, seeing if a trusted support could pick up your kids from school or take your dog for a walk, or asking for help getting rides to a support group or therapy appointment. Task delegation also may involve a temporary shifting of household responsibilities, stepping down from high-intensity activism, or letting go of the expectation to single handedly host a perfect party, workshop, trauma group, or final exam study session.
  • Have healthy outlets on standby: When possible, reach out to your supports ahead of an anniversary to let them know you may benefit from additional help and ask if they would be willing to support you (they can reference FORGE’s “I’m here for you” cards for support inspiration, but feel encouraged to give them your own ideas, too!). Also have non-human outlets planned ahead of time: Make self-care playlists; pinpoint your favorite park trail, coffee shop, or other calm spot; consider what kind of energy-releasing outlets you may need (a punching bag at the gym, or just your pillow? Would you benefit from trying yoga? Do you already know where your running shoes or swimsuit are?); have a plan for food (especially if you struggle with disordered eating, in which case develop this plan with the help of your supports); and procure whatever creative materials you use to cope and process (journals, favorite pens, art supplies, guitar picks or strings, any supplies for video recording or music mixing).
  • Give yourself permission to be in this anniversary however you need to be. There is no need to force a certain response. Challenge the impulse to force yourself to cry if you feel like laughing, or to laugh if you’re barely holding back sobs.
  • Check your expectations: Are you holding yourself (or those around you) to a standard of performance that’s built out of fear and pain rather than compassion? Are your standards “shoulds” that do not really reflect your values and needs?
  • Have hard-copies of the personal and professional supports and crisis resources you can reach out to. Consider sharing the contact information of your professionals with your loved ones (and fill out releases of information so your professionals can talk to them).
  • If you take medications, make sure you have enough and consider setting up a med box so that you don’t have to worry about when to take the correct doses. Be honest with your prescribing health care provider if you have concerns about side effects or misusing your medication during the anniversary.
  • Reduce your exposure to people, places, or things that will increase your traumatic symptoms or urges to hurt yourself and others in this critical time. Ask for support in the safekeeping of things you temporarily don’t feel safe around, enlist a buddy system if you need to go to places that feel unsafe, and don’t unnecessarily increase any involvement you have with your perpetrator(s) for the sake of familiarity or reenactment. (Learn more about coping with reenactment in a future blog post).
  • Educate yourself on trauma, self-care, and resilience: Many survivors find that learning about the biological and social processes behind trauma and healing helps them challenge toxic shame and make informed and affirming decisions to empower their own resilience. There are many excellent transgender-specific educational resources available on FORGE’s website (see, especially, “Trauma and its Aftermaths,” pages 13 to 31, in our Self-Help Guide for Healing and Understanding for Transgender Sexual Violence Survivors at http://forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/self-help-guide-to-healing-2015-FINAL.pdf). Other general resources that come highly recommended can be found on Pandora’s Project (which also has a highly active survivor-focused forum and LGBTQ+-oriented resources).
  • Postpone making major decisions: The intensity of anniversaries can prompt some survivors to make massive changes in their lives in the hope of achieving some relief. This is understandable because anniversaries set off the brain’s fire detector (called the amygdala) and life changes can be one way to “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” However, there’s no actual fire right now; the alarm is sounding because of its seasonal associations to the past, not because of an imminent harm in the present. Whenever possible, hold off on making any big work, school, housing, relationship, or sexual status changes or body modifications during anniversaries. These are all important decisions that you deserve to be fully present and empowered in, which can be hard to do when faced with an increase in traumatic symptoms and brain-based emergency responses.