Healing from sexual trauma takes time, and it usually takes hard work on the part of the survivor. And before we get any further—we get how much that sucks. To have to spend time, energy and money on healing from something you didn't ask for feels altogether wrong. But in many ways, as survivors we are our only hope—and the only way out is through.
There will be moments in your healing journey that feel discouraging, or even impossible. There will be other times when you feel that what happened is now in the distant past, that—hallelujah—it no longer occupies your mind. But healing isn't linear, and for all of the low-lows and high-highs, there's a lot of in-betweens that feel like one step forward, three steps back. But we're here to tell you that as frustrating as this process is, the ebbs and flows are normal, and each step, no matter the direction, is progress.
With summer coming to an end and autumn right around the corner, survivors may experience heightened anxiety or signs of regression as the seasons change. According to Anastasia Doulis, a licensed mental health counselor based in Midvale, Utah, "with the change of seasons, some of the symptoms [survivors try] so hard to minimize or eliminate altogether come creeping back." Despite having made progress in therapy, some symptoms may worsen during the time of year associated with their trauma.
Seasonal change can reawaken trauma, says Doulis, and here's why:
Trauma symptoms may resurface or worsen at certain times of year—it is almost as if the change in seasons is a catalyst that causes a person to feel as though they are regressing. It is easy at these times to dismiss the progress that has been made in therapy and focus, instead, on the reemerging symptoms. Rather than consider this a regression in therapy, I prefer to think of it as an expected occurrence in trauma work that should be normalized and discussed.
Several factors can be at play here. First, as the time of year when the traumatic event occurred comes around again, a very powerful reminder of the trauma often occurs. The brain is triggered and begins remembering. The body also remembers and symptoms reemerge.
Holidays can play a role too:
Certain times of the year can make symptoms worse. For example, with colder weather and less daylight during the winter months, a trauma survivor who also experiences symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may encounter a worsening of both SAD and trauma symptoms. Similarly, someone prone to anxiety may find symptoms flare up during the holidays, when more cars are out on the road, malls and stores are more crowded, and financial and social pressures are mounting.
But just because certain times of year have been difficult in the past, doesn't mean that they will continue to be challenging forever. If you feel like you're regressing (in the ebb stage, or experiencing semi-lows to low-lows), don't feel ashamed to bring it up to your therapist. Acknowledging and addressing seasonal slumps can help you feel prepared to face them when they arise. What's important is to not give up on your healing when you feel seasonally set back. Reach out to trusted friends, family members or resources like therapists or recovery groups in your area, and remember, you are not alone in your healing.