Seasonal holidays involve many inherent rituals, but have you considered creating your own protective rituals? I had the opportunity to discuss rituals–both helpful and harmful ones–with psychologist Stanton Peele while researching an article I wrote about addiction for Vice. He describes the ways in which some rituals actually protect people from developing addictions–such as Jewish customs of drinking wine only during certain occasions. He finds that Jews who associate wine in that religious context often find it odd to think of alcohol as a “party drug.” This conversation made me think of the rituals we encounter during the holidays. Can trauma survivors intentionally create protective rituals as a means of coping with some of the extra stress associated with holidays?
The memory that haunts me most is not being strangled until my body gave way to seizure. Nor is it the three days I spent being beaten in a motel by my lover. It’s not the day he raped me on the bed next to our three-month-old son, or the time he punched my head again and again into the cement floor of a garage until I had to prop myself against him, his arms wrapped around my waist, just to get home. These memories hold their share of terror, but the one that haunts me most begins with a bicycle.
The #MeToo hashtag campaign has exposed the fact that sexual violence is a significant event in the lives of most women. One of the most common forms of this violence is sexual harassment. A few examples of sexual harassment are catcalling, suggestive comments at school or work, and unwanted sexual advances. Many women have experienced at least one instance of everyday sexual harassment.
But one in five women will also experience a major act of sexual violence, like rape. Many of those women will also develop posttraumatic stress disorder. This means that female survivors of rape and other major acts of sexual violence are forced to experience comparatively milder forms of sexual harassment before and after the major trauma. Can the prevalence of PTSD among female sexual assault survivors be related to the commonality of sexual harassment?