How We Survive This Together

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Yesterday morning at 10 a.m. EST I, like so many of us (11 million of us, specifically) was sitting in front of a screen, watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford give her testimony. I was trying to check out of my hotel quickly so I could join my colleagues at our headquarter office where folks were gathering to watch together in the conference room. As per usual, I was running a little behind. I didn’t want to miss a second of it, so I ended up staying in my hotel room and watching from my laptop.

I watched. I kept watching. I sat there alone in a sterile hotel room and I wept. I looked up into the enormous framed mirror directly in front of the hotel room desk and saw my face and saw my history and saw all of our histories.

I used to work on a sexual assault hotline. I talked to victims and survivors immediately after their attack and knew how to counsel them through an ER medical evidence collection kit (“rape kit”). Almost every woman or queer or trans person or femme I know and many, many queer and trans men I know have experienced sexual assault. Among my closest circles, we’ve talked about it openly. We’ve talked about it at open mic nights. We’ve stood on stages and raged about it together. Sexual assault is just in the air around me because of who I am — a queer, Korean, feminist woman.

I’ve become, unfortunately, a bit numb. Or, rather, I’m able to separate my personal trauma from my empathy for others. I’ve heard so many sexual assault stories that I’ve lost count. Sometimes I actually can’t remember which story belongs to which of my friends, to be honest, because we all have them and they all start to mingle together into a red, pink, purple, blue, bruised-up, twisting smoke.

I didn’t expect to cry. I have hardened myself as an advocacy mechanism, as a survival mechanism. Yet there I was, crying as I heard Dr. Ford’s voice shake in her opening testimony, heard the tears she was choking back, listened to a story too similar to my own, and most of all grappled with my own guilt that I don’t know if I have even an ounce of the courage she does. I don’t have the courage Dr. Anita Hill had over 25 years ago.

Protestors gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court, images of three black and white signs that say "Believe Survivors" in the foreground with the Supreme Court in the background against a blue sky.

Protestors outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday. (Image by Glenn Ricci)

Would I do this? Put my body and integrity on the line for the sake of the nation, for the sake of all survivors and all people’s civil rights? The stakes are so high and yet, I don’t know if I could. Could I survive the death threats? The public shaming? I don’t know and that shook me. I still don’t feel able to claim my trauma, on some level, because…because I tried to believe I wasn’t really raped for a million reasons that I’m not going to unpack right now that boil down to Patriarchy and Rape Culture and Internalized Shame.

What happened next was that I sent an impromptu all-staff email to everyone at my office and our offices statewide. It just felt necessary to name it, that so many of us are survivors and that this hurt and that trauma is valid. I named it and I suggested people do what they need to do to take care of each other right now. Take a break. Take a breath. Take a walk. Talk to a friend. Whatever. I just put it into the interoffice email ether. I got a flood of personal responses back from colleagues at all levels of management in the organization, saying, “Thank you. I needed to hear that,” or “I feel less alone.” It was one email and it connected us to each other in that moment and I felt grateful. It helped me get through the day.


I want to talk about reciprocal self-care or community care. It’s a survival tactic that is a part of my personal activist self-care. For me, I get a good feeling out of supporting other people and connecting with other people and creating safer spaces for people to be real. I love that. It nurtures my soul to nurture others. That’s the “reciprocal” part of reciprocal self-care.

I’ve never been particularly good at individual self-care in the stereotypical sense. Like, taking a bath or whatever. It’s not that it doesn’t help when I do. I’m just horrible at slowing down to do that kind of stuff. It’s not in my nature. I think we need radical, reciprocal self-care right now, at this moment, as we’re all dealing with our shit in our own ways.

Flowers left on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with notes of support from protestors on Thursday morning. (Image by Glenn Ricci)

In social justice and activist spaces, doing reciprocal self-care can help connect us on an even deeper level to our work by connecting us to each other. Community organizing is, at its core, about building relationships and investing in community power. So often, though, we get lost in the work and focus on the collective power as the only goal. We forget to prioritize our selves and each other as human beings. We can’t build collective power without strong, loving communities. We just can’t.

Reciprocal self-care is as easy as checking in on your friends online or IRL. It’s as easy as sharing tips and strategies for dealing with trauma on social media. It’s as easy as jumping into an Autostraddle feelings atrium so we can all be in our feels together. It’s as easy as reminding each other to breathe.

My beautiful friends, I’m here right now as an act of reciprocal self-care and also to encourage you to try it out yourselves. Yesterday I also posted to my friends on Facebook, “What are you doing to stay grounded today?” Dozens of friends replied with comments ranging from staying hydrated to teaching yoga to going out with friends to eating pizza.

We hear a lot about “mindfulness” when we talk about self-care. I don’t think mindfulness is a reasonable goal when you’re flailing around with deeply rooted pain and completely depleted emotional energy. Mindfulness is achieving a mental state of being fully present in the moment, finding a calm and even mental state by acknowledging and honoring your feelings and thoughts and body. I mean, it sounds really nice. If you’re good at practicing mindfulness, I’m happy for you! I’m terrible at it. Part of my self-care is allowing myself to be terrible at it. What I do think is necessary to survive is to stay grounded.

Staying grounded is not about achieving a state of mental calm or even about being fully present. It’s about tethering yourself to the world. It’s the things we can practice and do to keep our minds from floating away from our bodies when we’re experiencing trauma. It’s a survival technique and it works. Here are some examples of ways people can stay grounded, but really anything you do that helps you feel more ok when you’re experiencing trauma or stress counts!

Enjoy a meal.

Take the time to really taste your food. Enjoy each bite. Focus on the way it makes you feel. Indulge in comfort food or a dessert or a good drink or anything that fuels you.

Be with others.

Surround yourself with people you love be that friends, family, children, grandparents, pets. Anyone who lets you be 100% you and can help make you feel connected in your relationship with each other.

Be alone.

Allow yourself the luxury of being alone in a place you feel safe. Close the door to your office. Take a walk by yourself. Take a few minutes of alone time in your bedroom listening to music. Take a few minutes of alone time in the bathroom if that’s all you can get.

Name three things.

If you feel yourself floating away, look around the room you’re in. Name three things. Focus on each one and note something about it (color, shape, purpose). Name three things you’re touching right now (the floor, your chair, your keyboard, your clothing, etc.) Focus on each and note something about it. Come back and notice your state of mind. Do you feel nervous, agitated, calm, energized, scared? Name your emotions. Be with your feelings, whatever they are.

Breathe in and out.

Do a breathing exercise. An easy one is just to inhale and count to four, then exhale slowly and count to four. Repeat at least three times or until you feel grounded in the moment. There are great visualization breathing apps to help with this if it’s a technique that works for you.

Use your nose.

Waking up our sense of smell can help keep us grounded. Smelling something strong makes us immediately more alert. Smelling something pleasant makes our brains go to a happier place. Light a favorite candle. Keep fresh herbs nearby. Smell lavender (calming) or peppermint (energizing). Burn some incense. Bake brownies. Follow your nose!


Those are just some ideas. If you feel your world spinning around right now, maybe try something to just focus, for a few minutes, on tethering yourself to the ground. That said, I don’t think it helps to try to squash down our feelings. If you’re feeling rage, feel it. If you’re feeling sad, feel it. If you’re feeling like you need to disassociate from the news, do it. If you feel like you need up-to-the-minute livestreams going all day, tune in. If you need to seek out others, do it. If you need to be alone, do that. If you need to meditate and practice mindfulness, yes, go, seek your peace! If you just need to scream and throw things and let it out however it’s gonna come out, do that, too.

If there’s something I learned from working with sexual assault survivors and being one myself, it’s that no two people deal with trauma the same way. Some laugh. Some rage. Some cry. The very last thing a survivor needs is to feel like they need to conform to some “typical” or “proper” way of reacting. This is why true advocates for survivors will never pressure them into speaking to the police or reporting. The most empowering thing you can do for a survivor is to deeply listen and let them make their own choices about what to do next.

Let’s do that for each other. Let’s make radically caring space for each other, OK? Let’s honor each other’s choices as survivors of the cishetpatriarchy. Some of us will be in the streets fighting. Some will be in the courts fighting. Some will be battling from the internet or our phones. Some need to tune out and not engage right now at all. None of us are “doing it” wrong.

Friends, let’s all do what we need to do to survive and heal. Let’s make space for all of it. The very last thing any of us need today is even more guilt and shame about not performing trauma or anger or feminism or activism correctly. Take care of yourself first. Take care of yourself by taking care of others, if that feels like something that feeds you like it feeds me.

image © Molly Adams for Autostraddle

This is reciprocal self-care. I’m opening it to you to participate in. We’re doing it together, right here, right now.

Here’s what I know, above all else. We will survive this and I truly believe we’ll come out stronger, even if he is confirmed. Especially if he is confirmed. WE WILL SURVIVE AND WE WILL WIN. For Dr. Anita Hill and for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and for all of us. It’s not over, even if the confirmation is successfully blocked, it’s not over for us. We will outlast them all.

Now I want to ask you all: What are you doing to stay grounded today? How are you surviving?

Share your grounding and survival techniques in the comments. Share this article to your friends who maybe need a little community care. Close your screen and go look out a window. Go scream into the void. Just be here, today. I’m here with you!

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 201 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. Avoiding certain people, mainlining music, getting lost in works of fiction, eating the last brownie a la mode.

    Later I’m going to make bread because me and yeast have a special bond and culinary endeavors make me feel grounded and in control. Even when I make a mistake I always can save bread because I understand it.
    Maybe make a pot of congri if I can some get some fresh peppers because black beans are yummy and when I feel numb and can’t pull myself together enough to prepare a meal I will have 4 ready, yummy hearty meals I can freeze in microwave safe containers

    Candlelit baths help me because water has historically been my meditation space, but also active meditation thru dance helps me too.

    I kinda want to get back into hand stitching repairs of my clothes and maybe try embroidery because as a teenager the repetitive nature of hand sewing would put me in a trance-like state. Machine sewing was stressful.

    • 4 yummy meals ready to eat sounds like an amazing strategy that future you will really appreciate!

      I’ve totally been giving myself space to just walk away from convos that I don’t want to have. It’s imperfect in a work situation, but I temper that by making sure to have convos with people I actually do enjoy talking to.

      I’m not a crafty person, but I always find creating things with my hands very calming. Maybe I should get back into jewelry making. You’ve inspired me!

      • Stockpiling already cooked food in freezer is an old reliable strategy for me, got me thru a many mid-terms/final projects.

        What kind of jewelry making? Cause I might have advice and links.

        Like Conteni’s plier page, bare minimums for wirewrapping safety and supplies

        • Oh, I don’t even know. I used to make my own earrings and necklaces with glass beads and seed beads, but it was a long time ago? Like almost 20 years ago? So I don’t know. Styles have changed. I’ve grown up. I’m not even sure what I’d want to make now!

          • Style is what ya make it.

            Contenti has quality tools, Rio Grande has ALOT of findings.

            But if you’re like looking for ideas maybe stop at craft store with a jewerly craft section and browse some catalogs for ideas.
            I’m found objects and free-form wirewrapping focused, partly cause I don’t have the resources for forging and folding sheet metal at present, and my inspiration is what works for the particular object with the tools and materials I have.

  2. Thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve been mostly numb and avoiding the news and feeling low level bad for not being able to participate more – even though I also feel like my choice to protect myself and my mental health is 100% the right choice.

    I’ve been working at staying grounded and I’ve been reaching out to some of my fellow survivors. And it does help.

      • Thank you KaeLyn. I got tears in my eyes reading your reply.

        My brother told me the same thing Thurs night and I teared up then too.

        It’s hard – but since two people I respect have said it, I’m trying to believe it.

  3. You are awesome. Thank you for this, and for reiterating that every survivor deals with things differently.

    The ‘anniversary’ of my assault was last month, and I took the day off of work and went to the aquarium and amusement park inside the mall. Nothing takes my mind off of things more than the stimuli that comes from a place like that. Also the aquarium is incredibly soothing.

    I’m reading, coloring, and crossword puzzle…ing this weekend and I can’t wait. You’re never too old or young to do those things. We all deserve those joys in whatever way we want them.

  4. I teach lots of daily living skills at work, and yesterday, I had a great cooking class! Even though our chocolate chip cookies didn’t rise as much as I’d have liked, they were still edible, and my students learned to measure, blend, and be less afraid of the oven. (We all have low vision). Next time I’ll try adding more flour to that recipe, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll ditch it and try another! Cooking, baths, walking, and really any kind of exercise are great. Screen time is okay in small amounts, but I go crazy if I sit still for too long.

  5. The week before last I read “A Little Life” and it took me days to recalibrate.
    This week, I’ve just been quietly riding my bike, going for walks with a Harry Potter Audio book and to the gym. I’ve gone grocery shopping and made myself meals.
    Everyday things, but very silently.
    In the quietness that my mind demanded, I always felt like something else was processing.
    Like a defragmentation process running in the background.
    And it’s this.
    That I am not an ally. I am a me,too. Without the hashtag.
    That this has influenced great parts of my life and my relationships with others.
    My lack of relationships.
    To a degree I was not ready to face before.
    So, while this shitshow is not preferable, I was already triggered into some sort of process, and maybe it’s for the better.
    Maybe.

    • That’s a huge shift. Thank you for sharing about it.

      I had a similar epiphany several years back, but almost a decade after my assault. I was helping with a training for a group of talkline volunteers about abortion and sexual assault. I suddenly realized that my “almost-assault” was a “yes, actually an assault 100%” and it was so obvious as soon as I flipped that switch that I’d been holding onto internalized shame. SO MESSED UP, but we protect ourselves however we can, I guess.

      I hope unpacking your history is an empowering process, if a sobering one. <3 I'm right there with you. So many of us are.

  6. I ate a lot, cried loudly, and shouted threats two days. Then last night went to Cuties coffee and enjoyed being in safe space made for us(LGBTQ) with warm & charming people. I find that community(more so those not specific to gbq men) has been healing for me. Thank you for this!

      • I do too, I heard that it’s close to reaching its goal, which is very good. I’m sure posts that Autostraddle and lgbtq youtubers have made has helped. It’s just an affirming and safe space.

  7. I like getting out into nature, even if just a local park (although natural, not human contrived nature is preferable). Ideally, I’ll take a hike, and at some point, I’ll take a break and sit on a rock (hopefully somewhere with a nice view), and think about how long that rock (and those trees, and these hills, etc) has been there, getting sun and rain on it, unchanged through many changing seasons. Then I think of how it’ll still be there next week, after I’m back home and worried about the next drama, and how it’ll probably even still be there when I’m gone. It feels steady and persistant and hopeful, even when I do not.

  8. Thanks for this, KaeLyn.

    The last couple of days I’ve been doing solo stuff like birdwatching, and social stuff like talking to friends and visiting family to keep from exploding.

    I’ve been doing a simple breathing exercise with my hand on my belly, and a loving-kindness meditation with my hand on my heart to ground myself and have moments of calm.

  9. Went camping this weekend with my daughter and a bunch of her friends and their families. She got to run around with the kids getting dirty and having adventures and finding pretty rocks and I got to stare at trees and go for walks with people I like.

    Aaaand then it turned out one of the kids had a highly contagious skin condition so now we all get to watch ours for the next few days with our fingers crossed. So there’s that. But otherwise it was perfect. Also there were smores.

  10. After two full weeks of hearing older women in my office talk about Dr. Ford was “making the women’s movement look bad” and “doing this for politics”, i had a break down friday morning. Bae and I were having a nice sexy morning in bed together when I started feeling A LOT of things. we stopped and bae held me while i cried. I started talking about all the ways in which this week had been hard (there had also been a shooting at my work this same week) and being able to cry and feel my feelings with this person was so cathartic. I find that post-sex crying feels really good for me, since i’m already emotional and vulnerable and a bit more in touch with myself than I am on your average morning. I had been feeling frustrated and like i couldn’t let it out. So this time, It felt great to take all that energy and just use it to cry, to feel all the things I was feeling, in this safe warm space with someone who cares about me so much.

  11. Thanks so much for writing this. As a survivor this is a really difficult time. I’ve felt like I’ve been walking on eggshells with shallow, jagged breathing.
    I appreciate the simple reminders to breathe and ground yourself- both are simple things that I forget to be intentional about, and it makes a difference. With ptsd I get in my head a lot and it feels like floating away, like you said. Thanks for the practical and useful reminders to get through this difficult time

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