There’s a certain skill to knowing when to curl up beneath the blankets and allow softness to fill the space created after experiencing sexual violence, no matter how long ago or recent, intentionally letting go of anxiety and the pressure to do. Many trans and nonbinary survivors have adopted a kind of frenetic urgency as part of their survival mindset: In this line of wounded thinking, if they never stop moving, the ghosts of the past can’t catch them; if their hands stay busy enough, they won’t have to hold the messy depth of their sacred grief and outrage that can so easily feel overwhelming. Slowing down feels counter-intuitive to the very impulse to survive that has characterized many survivors’ post-trauma patterns. But, it is precisely in slowing down, in sinking beneath the blankets and allowing rest to encompass the whole, aching bodymind, that survivors become able to internalize their healing work. No matter what that work looks like for each survivor, slowing down allows all of its new ideas, hopes, and healing benefits to germinate and mature across social, spiritual, psychological, and neurobiological levels. Sometimes, hiding in blanket forts is a necessary part of the healing process that survivors have to revisit frequently, and deserve to do so without shame or regret.
Several months ago, I wrote in a blog post from deep within the lovingly crocheted folds of my own blanket fort: “Overwhelm doesn’t have to constitute a crisis to be worth talking about.” It couldn’t be more true. Slowing down before burning out and reaching a crisis point in healing allows survivors to tune into their bodyminds so that talking about the landscape of their overwhelm becomes easier. When survivors practice preventative care by practicing regular rest and germination periods for the hard work of healing, they become able to talk about experiences of overwhelm that may have once triggered a crisis response from a place of greater inner and outer safety and security. With repetition, this allows the activated nervous system to reorient and settle. It creates new neural pathways that allow the bodymind to remember, mentally and physically, that the experience of overwhelm does not constitute the entirety of the survivor’s horizon or sense of self: They can also feel their feet on the floor, see puffy clouds scuttling outside the smudged window, smell coffee brewing in the next room.
Unless survivors slow down and tell the story of post-traumatic overwhelm from a calmer place of observation, it’s easy to stay caught in the sense of being totally consumed by overwhelm and pushed into fight, flight, fawn, or freeze. Fortunately, simply slowing down and allowing healing to germinate with compassion and presence offers a solution to that activated chaos. As much as society valorizes “getting it together” and making outward facing gestures of being a “good survivor” and a “contributing member of society,” trans and nonbinary survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence can’t give in to those pressures and forgo the sacred necessity of rest and germination.
Intentionally slowing down can be especially important after therapy sessions or other healing engagements, when the very thing a survivor needs might be to curl up under the covers or sit outside with a good book. This lets the bodymind digest the healing the survivor has just done in quiet, restful solitude for a while. While the full force of “good survivor” mythologies may rail against this, I advocate for, whenever possible, scheduling a “germination hour” after every therapy session so that new ideas, connections, and growth can really sink in and become embodied. Sitting with what was just worked on can be raw and uncomfortable, but it deserves space to breathe and integrate instead of being overridden by frantically returning phone calls or otherwise trying to mask what aches. Some survivors may find it helpful to have a journal or sketchbook nearby to process whatever comes up while resting. If using this tool feels helpful, it’s important to allow yourself to engage with it however you need to in the truest sense, without pressure to create a certain amount or quality of work.
I also encourage trans and nonbinary survivors to stay tuned into their bodies during their “germination hours” instead of disowning them by default. Look for cues about hunger or thirst, but also practice curiosity and openness to see if your body wants to engage in movement to process its experiences or if it would feel safer wrapped more tightly in a blanket. Allow your body to move and rest however it needs to while you process, without judgment. Building this time into the day after therapy sessions can give survivors invaluable practice with attuning to their bodies (including experiences of gender and sexuality as they may arise in each moment), their emotions, their desires and fears, and what narratives underlie their behavioral patterns so that they can decide which they want to nurture and where we want to change from a more whole, integrated place.
If taking an additional hour out of your day to curl inward and rest isn’t possible, fifteen minutes at minimum is enough for the brain to germinate what it gained from therapy. Whether for fifteen minutes or an hour, it can be helpful to set a timer so that this important self-care and exploration time is clearly contained. By establishing a clear beginning and end, the timer communicates a commitment to return to “real life” after the alarm goes off, lest constructive processing veer towards a rumination spiral or dissociative state. Survivors may benefit from having a low-anxiety activity pre-planned for after their germination periods so they can rest with a sense of safety in what comes next: having a plan for what to do can give survivors an extra sense of release and security by creating a structured but no-pressure environment to come back to. Some examples might be getting the mail, taking the dog outside or taking out the trash, or deleting junk emails while listening to a good playlist.
The need to slow down isn’t reserved solely for after trans and nonbinary survivors work hard in therapy. Getting buried under a nest of blankets or in a good book until overwhelm can be met, explored, and shared with a sense of security and calm is a valuable skill for the many situations where that overwhelm occurs: After a long day at work or school, a fight with a loved one, seeking or receiving medical care, experiencing financial insecurity–the list is endless. The point is, survivors don’t have to justify the need to take mental and physical space for a little while to germinate what’s happening in their lives. Doing so allows them to emerge as more effective, compassionate, grounded co-creators of the world around them. In a society that prizes always moving forward at a frenetic pace, it is imperative that survivors teach themselves and their communities how to slow down, step back, and breathe. This is part of healing and thoughtful living. Allowing things to settle is incredibly brave, and survivors will find that when they return to the world of doing, their hands will often be steadier and intentions clearer than before. We must rest, renew, germinate to heal and thrive in an overwhelming world.