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Coping and Compassion

This post is written by Nancy, a MSW student intern, who was with us for 8 months offering crisis counselling and co-facilitating groups. Thank you for your contributions Nancy!

As I reflect on the time I have spent as a practicum student at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC), on leave from my job as a substance use counsellor, I am struck by the incredible strength and resilience of survivors of sexualized violence. In particular, I am amazed at the resourcefulness that people have used to resist and cope with the aftermath of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse when there has been no access to support or counselling resources.

What saddens me is the intense shame that many people feel about their methods of coping, particularly when it involves the use of alcohol or other substances. Sometimes, it is because the survivor has found that the substance that once eased the flashbacks, nightmares and memories of their trauma has started to pose problems in relationships, work or is otherwise causing harm.  Survivors may also receive messages from well-meaning loved ones, or even counsellors, that using substances to ease their pain is wrong and “not the proper way to handle things”.  Sometimes survivors either assume or are told that there is no help available until they are prepared to completely stop using substances, which creates a catch 22. If we are asking survivors to give up the one coping mechanism they have to deal with the trauma in order to receive help for their trauma, without any other skills and supports in place, it simply doesn’t make sense!

Fortunately, trauma and substance use recovery are not black and white. People can actually begin to work on building safety and skills for dealing with trauma while still using substances.  Of course, it depends on the degree of substance use and how that impacts a person’s ability to be in the present, and be able to attend to safety and skill building. At the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, there are a range of services available to support survivors in their day to day lives including the 24 hour Crisis and Information line, crisis counselling, support making a police report or navigating the court process, groups focusing on building recovery skills and strengths and finally, individualized therapy to process trauma. If you, or a loved one, are dealing with trauma and utilizing substances to cope, please don’t assume that this will make you ineligible for services. Although the individualized trauma therapy does require a high degree of safety, stability and safer coping skills, other services may be appropriate for you. At VSAC, they take a compassionate, individualized approach to healing so if you are considering getting help, give them a call on the Crisis and Information Line at 250-383-3232 and start to explore whether or not this is a good time for you to begin your journey to healing!

Photo by Priya Saihgal