Heal & Harm | Releasing trauma with little rituals

Heal & Harm is a new no-bullshit column released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, affirming the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal” and oscillating between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.

content note: rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, gender-based violence

Not everyone is into Valentine’s Day. Personally, I’m a hopeless romantic, so a big part of me loves a holiday celebrating love and affection, despite V-Day’s hyper-capitalist tendencies.

February’s new moon in Aquarius hits us during this lovey-dovey week, on February 15th at 4:05 PM EST.

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was very single and recently raped: I spent the day flying back from Montreal after performing at an Occult Poetics event put on by Concordia University, and I spent the evening creating an altar devoted to healing my recent rape. I asked my friends and community at large to donate pink candles and other items for me to put on my altar as a big collaborative magic-making ritual full of everyone’s energies – pink flowers, anti-rape stickers, and more than 30 pink candles. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love, and almost two weeks to the day after that rape I wanted to channel love for myself – and also energy and concern from friends and caring strangers – into my wounds. I talk more about that ritual and healing from sexual violence on the FemRadio podcast in their Sex and Magic episode; my interview starts at about 20 minutes in.

This ritual will probably come up in another column, but for now I want to offer some thoughts on how you can work with a similar swirl of energies in your own practice during this new moon.

Whatever your relationship to love – be it romantic and partnered or otherwise – I invite you to work with this new moon to reflect on and release any pain and trauma that are the result of sexual and gender-based violence. Like it or not, our experiences with trauma – particularly involving intimate partner violence and sexual violence – often influence our connection to and access to love, care, and intimacy. In order to better our relationships with ourselves and our loved ones, it is crucial to examine the traumas that persist in our bodies.

#MeToo has hit the world, the media and the internet by storm, and though there are so many amazing effects of this movement, it has largely come at the expense of the extensive and painful labouring of women, feminine, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people: people who experience the heavy weight of gender-based violence and non-stop coercive sexualisation in a patriarchal society. Many of us have – again and again – shared our traumas, often at great cost to ourselves; we repeat and relive in the hopes that one more witnessing will give us absolution or will finally give others cause to believe us. The tides are, I hope, shifting. What remains is still to be seen.

My Facebook feed is a carefully curated barrage of powerful testimony that is deeply affirming and gives me new language to articulate what I have always known and experienced – and yet it is deeply taxing. It weighs on me, can trigger and re-trigger. It can remind us of things we have maybe forgotten, things we pushed beneath our skin as ‘not that bad’ in order to keep ourselves safe and sane. Moments like this can be a shock to the system and can cause hidden traumas to emerge or re-emerge. It can be helpful to connect with these energies and traumas, sit with them for a while, and commit to integration and release as we see fit, in our own time.

Where I live, trauma therapy is difficult to come by. My most recent rape occurred in January 2017, and as I write this in February 2018, I finally have an intake appointment in my calendar. This wait time is quite typical (if not fast) in Toronto, and there are also no long-term trauma treatments where I live. They just don’t exist. I didn’t spend all of last year doing nothing, however – though given the horrors of rape, I think it would have been quite understandable if this were the route I had taken; it’s definitely a mindset rape has thrown me into before, and I have compassion for all survivors and however they are able to cope.

Without access to trauma-focused mental health resources, and while living in a country where sexual assault is rampant and yet conviction of perpetrators is abysmally low, I did not and do not find going through the court system or contacting police to be positive and affirming choices for me. I don’t want to have my character assassinated, my therapist’s notes subpoenaed, my style of dress and choice of lipstick or sexual habits examined. I fear that I would be physically unsafe were I to press charges; my rapist lives across the street from one of the places that I work.

So what do I do? Where do I turn? Witchcraft.

As this column evolves, I will meander through this topic in a great deal more depth, including its complexities and nuances. However, for today, I’d like to leave you with a little exercise: an invitation, an opportunity, a moment of stillness and rest. You can’t get rid of all of your trauma with just one spell. It’s a process; one that is long and drawn out, and one best used in conjunction with other healing modalities, such as (but not limited to) finding solace in community and friendship, talk therapy, trauma-informed therapy, EMDR, yoga, theatre, movement, exercise, meditation, and eating and sleeping in ways that support and solidify our health. Like anything else, witchcraft is rarely a quick fix pill, especially if you are at the beginning of your journey in learning to speak its languages. However, we have to begin, and with each breath we can release.

Summon up some trauma in your body – remember it. That may seem like a strange instruction, but stay with me here for a moment. Work with your own awareness of what you can tolerate and what you can’t, what you’re ready to face and what you’re not. Start small. How were you triggered by the #metoo conversations? Were you? For me, that brought up a lot of feelings about peoples’ lack of belief(s) in my reported rape(s), and people telling me what I should have done (called the police, pressed charges, not consumed alcohol, not have gone on a date, not have used Tinder, etc), and that what I did/n’t do invalidated my rape as rape. Invalidated my pain. They said I was a bad victim, my story not sad enough, somehow my fault. Even the rape crisis line I called told me this after I broke down crying, recounting my story.

I invite you to locate something you have the capacity to face and sit with. Summon it. It can be any number of things; maybe it is the disappointment in a friend who didn’t show up for you after you were assaulted; maybe it is how stressed out you feel when reading endless celebrity stories about #metoo on your news feed. Maybe it’s your own sense of shame around being on Tinder in the first place, about being OK with sex on a first date, or having an interest in rough sex. Find a feeling – big, small, medium sized – that has been occupying more brain space lately than you’d like it to. I know it may be tempting to want to try to throw the whole thing away at once, but trust me: small, manageable goals work best here.

Found that thing? Okay good. Now let it go. How? Embed whatever that feeling is, that memory, that cluster of thoughts, and put it somewhere. You can locate it in your exhale, and imagine this thing’s hold on your heart, body, mind, and soul leaving you bit by bit with each letting go of breath, and with each inhale you can imagine your body filling with nourishment (or whatever word or symbol of goodness feels nice to you). You can also choose to embody this feeling, memory, or thought cluster in an object. You can write your heart out on a piece of paper, rip it into pieces, set it on fire, and flush it down the toilet. What symbolizes getting rid of something for you? For some it may involve burning, for some it may involve flushing, or throwing it in the garbage or down a sewer drain at a nearby intersection. You could also hold a candle and charge it with the energy of what you want to release, imagining the thing’s hold over you disappearing with the candle wax as it burns. Water more your style? Take a cleansing shower with herbs of your choice (I love cedar for very intense banishing work), and imagine each stream of water washing away the thing as it massages your flesh and drips down your hair. Imagine your shower water taking the power of this thing with it as it swirls down the drain. There are so many different ways to work with symbolisms of renewal and banishing around the new moon, the dark moon, the shadow moon. Release.

For best effect, I find magical work around trauma responds well to repetition. Try doing whatever action you have chosen every day for one week. Or maybe it’s every Saturday morning, every Friday night. Listen to how it feels, and let your heart lead.

Chipping away at trauma – even with magic – isn’t a one-shot quick fix.

It requires continued commitment. It may be big; it may be a lot. But I believe magic can help us start somewhere, can help us commit to silence, reflection, screaming, intention, action. A reminder that we manifest, we make ourselves, shape our worlds. We cannot change what we have been given by life and birth, but when we work with magic, we acknowledge we have the tools to change our inherited circumstances, to do and be differently in the small steps necessary to change how we feel long-term. Long-term change is the result of many small shifts. This may sound corny as fuck, but even setting aside the time to breathe through, reflect, and release these experiences and reaffirm our resilience can have a cumulatively powerful effect on our bodies: we remind ourselves that our lives are precious, we are important, we are worth it, and we are enough. We are still here, and we survived.

And that is worth celebrating.

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