With the Harvey Weinstein trial underway, news coverage is bound to churn up emotions for sexual assault survivors, much as it did during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in 2018. When Christine Blasey Ford took the stand and described how then-Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school — and then had her credibility picked apart — many of the women around me were subdued or anxious. They suddenly suffered from migraines or came down with colds. These were not coincidences. They were the physical effects of trauma.
So assuming we are going to be exposed to ongoing and extensive reporting of the Weinstein trial for the next few months — the movie mogul faces multiple charges of sexual assault and rape in New York — how do we keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy?
For me, the Weinstein trial is intensely personal. I am one of the more than 100 women Weinstein preyed on. It was not the first time I had been sexually assaulted — nor, sadly, was it the last — but he was the only one of my abusers I could not escape. His image was plastered on newspapers and magazines. He popped up on TV for more than two decades following my assault. It was impossible to avoid him.
For decades, seeing his face would send a shudder of revulsion through me. Meanwhile, I burned with the secret knowledge that this man whom the entertainment world feted was nothing more than a bully who had treated me like a piece of meat. I felt naive and stupid that I had ever taken him at his word that he wanted to help me get my start in Hollywood.
The constant Weinstein reminders contributed to my drive to learn everything I could about trauma and resilience; it also eventually led to the current focus of my nonprofit, Echo, which offers training and educational resources for trauma survivors. Since knowledge is power, I want to share some tips I’ve learned with anyone who might need a little support getting through this time.
Be okay with not being okay
“I’m fine!” you say, but your body and subconscious behaviors might be saying otherwise. I didn’t realize the stress was getting to me until I was about to go to a business meeting and noticed I had left home wearing my slippers. When my hair starts to fall out in handfuls, or I feel tired even when I’m getting enough sleep, these are the signs I need to give myself a break. Maybe you experience digestive problems. Perhaps you’re more irritable than usual or feel a sudden lack of interest in the things that used to give you joy or motivation. This is when you talk to yourself as you would to your best friend, with compassion and lack of judgment.
Check in with your body to feel where it is tight, where you can release. Track your thoughts as if they were clouds in the sky — let them drift in and out. My mantra when I want to quit my job or dump my boyfriend based on a whoosh of strong emotion is, “It’s just a feeling; it’s just a feeling.” I’ve learned the hard way about being blown off course by feelings that seem so real and then, 24 hours later, feeling the complete opposite. Learning how to notice is a practice. Some people call it “mindfulness.”
Our parents and caregivers are supposed to teach us how to self-soothe — babies are not born with the capacity. Some of us got lucky: We were wrapped in a warm blanket, we were rocked, we were stroked, someone tapped gently on our back. These are still good strategies for calming the nervous system as adults. Havening and EFT, among other techniques, use tapping to stimulate the vagus nerve, which controls the calming part of our nervous system. There is also a cluster of vagus nerve endings between the nose and upper lip. Ever since I was a small child, I have stroked my upper lip with my thumb — and now I know that is my built-in calming response. Think about what has helped you in the past. You are the expert at regulating your own nervous system.
That can be harder than it sounds, particularly if life has taught you that other human beings may not be trustworthy. I consider myself lucky to have found community with my sister survivors. It hasn’t always been plain sailing — we have all been living in a state of heightened tension over the past two years — but you can bet when any news regarding Weinstein comes out, we’re on the phone with each other immediately. It’s a very strange club we belong to, but despite the circumstances that have thrown us together, we draw strength from each other, hold each other up when one of us is down, and laugh at things only people in the same shoes are allowed to laugh at.
Relationships are often messy and emotional, but human beings are wired for cooperation and connection; it’s how we’ve survived as a species. I encourage you to find your community, whatever that might look like. Maybe your community is online. Maybe you feel safer with other large mammals such as dogs and horses. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships are the key — they don’t have to be with a romantic partner, or with a family member who has lost the right to your trust.
I don’t want to make it sound as if trauma survivors are forever ticking time bombs, or that we have to tiptoe around our emotions and each other. The fact that we are still here shows we are resilient. We have survived. It’s good to recognize and celebrate our adaptations to toxic stress and trauma that have kept us alive. We should also recognize that they have the potential to derail us and no longer be life-serving once the danger has passed. So let’s celebrate that biting wit you developed to deflect verbal abuse, but not allow it to destroy your current healthy relationships. Perhaps anger was the only way you could counter the aggression coming your way — yet now do you really want to use it to crush another’s soul? Being a people pleaser may have been a smart move if the abuser was bigger and more powerful than you, but now may be the time to learn how to set limits with others.
Powerlessness reminds us of the lack of power and control experienced during the traumatic event. It is a huge trigger for trauma survivors. I believe that is why we were all so impacted by the Kavanaugh hearings. We all stood in Ford’s shoes and watched her truth be overridden by political expediency and misogyny. Whatever the outcome of the Weinstein trial, we women — not just Weinstein survivors, but all women — are speaking our truth and shaping society so that future generations of women do not have to bear our same burdens. It’s time for us to get active, take to the streets, petition our lawmakers, educate our sons, empower our daughters, and challenge social norms. It is a lie that we are powerless. We are mighty, and we will prevail.
Louise Godbold has worked as a commercials producer in Europe, a “development girl” in Hollywood, and a consultant for social programs. In 2010 she joined the nonprofit Echo, which under her leadership has become a resource for training on trauma and resilience for survivors and those who support them. Louise was one of the first women to come forward about Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.