“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” -Henry David Thoreau
Whether you are just discovering The Breathe Network, or you are someone who has been involved with our work from the beginning, we want you to know about the values and concepts that shape our mission – what it is that we believe and how those beliefs translate into practice. Our core beliefs about the impacts of sexual violence and the importance of trauma-informed, holistic care, serve as a guide in our work every single day. Focusing on the unique intersection of sexual assault, trauma recovery and holistic healing, we see ourselves as innovators in the movement to end sexual violence. Our emphasis on the holistic impacts of sexual violence on the body, mind and soul, combined with our trauma-informed training curriculum for healers, is unconventional and necessary. We consider the immediate and long-term health, wellness, sustainability of survivors to be a vital component of the work that is already being done in this field. We believe in survivors’ capacity to heal and be resilient in the aftermath of trauma and we believe in the profound impact our practitioner collective is having on survivors’ lives!
Read on to learn some of the core beliefs that are the scaffolding upon which we have built our U.S. and Canadian network. You might consider supporting our transformational work by sharing this blog with a friend, introducing your favorite healing artist to our network as a potential future member, inviting our team to host a training at your organization, or by making a tax-deductible donation.
#1 We believe…sexual violence impacts the body, mind and soul.
All of the systems of the human organism are interconnected – from our tissues and organs, our nervous system, to our thoughts, energy, sensation and emotions – and the wide constellation of life experiences can greatly influence us through all of these channels. The trauma of sexual violence can create an immediate impact on the body, mind and soul, and for many, it leaves a physical, mental, energetic and spiritual imprint that requires diverse practices and options for entering into the healing work. At different stages in their journey, survivors may seek out physical support through body-based practices like yoga, massage, or dance; they may seek out psychological support through EMDR, biofeedback, and equine therapy; and they may seek out energetic and spiritual support through reiki and acupuncture – allowing them to both specifically and holistically address different elements of their wounds. Fortunately, when we attend to healing in one area of the self, we have the capacity to influence and rebalance other areas of the self. Our bodies, minds and souls are intrinsically in relationship with each other, and ultimately, this connection is a key resource for sustainable, integrated healing. The belief that sexual violence impacts the body, mind and soul, informs every area of our work – including the blogs we write, the mind-body-soul resources we deliver to survivors, the trainings we bring to healing arts and advocacy professionals, and the way we tend to ourselves and each other as members of The Breathe Network community.
#2. We believe…healing is a nonlinear journey.
Healing requires intentionality, consistency and patience. Swimming through waves of physical, mental and spiritual challenge, combined with a societal message that time heals all wounds, can be overwhelming. The burden to “move on” may silence a survivor’s pain and isolate them from community and self. The nonlinear and often lifelong process that begets healing can cause a survivor to question their capacity for resilience. Yet trauma cycles through us with its own rhythm. The wounds of our past and the distance between now and then is often changing and beyond linear measure. Each survivor is unique like a grain of sand, no two identical processes, and so is the pace of healing. The belief that healing is nonlinear fuels our work to connect survivors with holistic healing artists. While diverse in delivery, the healing arts share an understanding that healing unfolds in a nonlinear way. They affirm the survivor’s innate resilience and support the survivor in honoring their rhythm. They deliver practices that allow the survivor’s individual resources to come alive. They liberate us from the calendar in our mind and invite us to work with what is showing up now. They reveal that it is part of our nature to heal. When trauma residue re-surfaces, they remind us that our breakdowns are as much a part of our healing as are our breakthroughs. They teach us to trust ourselves. We can feel proud of our capacity to reach out for the compassionate support of healers who will steward us through our next healing phase, whether it has been months, years or decades.
#3. We believe…healing artists have a responsibility to understand trauma’s impact on the nervous system.
Trauma creates a physiological response in the body and when survival responses are unable to resolve, their residue may become encoded within the nervous system. For a sexual assault survivor, incomplete fight, flight and freeze responses may create chronic patterns of tension, anxiety, depression, fear, numbing, etc. If the body remains in survival mode – verbal processing, attempts at linear thinking and sharing details of the trauma may take a person past a safe physiological threshold, and reinforce patterns of stimulation, overwhelm and collapse. These responses can also show up in a massage, during a spinal adjustment, on the yoga mat, during an annual health exam, etc. Trauma-informed practitioners identify nervous system dysregulation and focus on stabilizing the person prior to delving into intense healing. Over the years, we have hosted numerous trauma trainings, developed an online course on trauma-informed care and have begun creating practitioner toolkits for best practices for supporting survivors. We have brought the physiology of trauma to the forefront of how we engage with trauma healing and resilience. We recognize fight, flight and freeze have been evolutionarily selected for as strategies to protect, defend and save our lives and we celebrate this truth. We valorize these responses in our work with survivors. By gaining specific education on sexual assault and the nervous system, healing artists can play a pivotal role in liberating survivors from stigma and shame, and steward them towards balance and integration.
#4. We believe…sexual violence impacts each person uniquely and requires a wide range of healing resources.
When it comes to trauma recovery, a healing practice that uplifts one survivor may destabilize another. Survivors are not a monolith – we are people of all genders, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities, abilities, ages and creeds. Just like our lifestyles vary, as well as our self-care practices and our personal passions – the practices that bring about healing are specific to who we are and our lived experiences. We all have our own vulnerabilities and our strengths which can influence the kinds of care that we feel drawn to. Survivors may struggle with the impacts of the trauma on their physical body, their capacity to find mental clarity, or they may grapple with their spirituality and faith. They may feel acute sensitivity in any one of these realms, or experience a sense of loss throughout their whole being. Our care reaches beyond conventional responses in order to fully meet the body, mind and soul needs of a diverse population. We recognize the scope of trauma on a person’s whole life: their relationships, work, sleep, sexuality, body and mental health and we have built a collective of healing artists who deliver 30+ different healing modalities. We are conducting research to understand how alternative healing practices can transform survivors’ lives and how we can make them more accessible and meaningful across the lifespan. As life’s ongoing phases may stir trauma residue, what is most effective for our healing at any stage may change and we deserve a variety of channels through which we can continue building resilience.
#5. We believe…ensuring survivors’ access to trauma-informed, holistic healing is integral to ending sexual violence.
When we access personalized healing support that addresses all layers of our experience, the roots of our resilience can be nourished like a seed. Holistic healing methods allow people to connect with the wisdom of their body and intuition, and determine how to embark on each stage of healing. When survivors heal, they can fulfill their unique life purpose and discover the gift of being alive. We value the survivor-healers who are an integral part of our network – they embody the capacity to heal and share healing. As they tend to their wounds (again and again) survivors hold an unparalleled ability to lead – guiding us on practices and organizing that can dismantle the systems that allowed sexual violence to permeate our culture. We are cultivating a level of care among healers that meets the whole person. Our trainings dismantle stereotypes, raise awareness among healers about the prevalence of survivors in their clientele and teach best practices. While the heart of our mission is bringing about healing, with every training, social media post, effort to reduce triggers in treatment, teaching flashback protocol and responding to disclosures – our work contributes to national prevention, education and advocacy efforts. Rooted in an understanding of the physiology of trauma, along with cultural and social factors, we take into account the influence of the overall societal ecology on a survivor’s healing. Our trust in the innate resilience of each individual is the foundation upon which we have grown a belief that together we can transform how society responds to sexual assault and we can end sexual violence.
Our 5 core beliefs steer every element of our organization. Our efforts to support survivors in discovering resilience and finding their path to recovery remains essential not only for individual healing, but also for the healing of our communities and for the possibility of one day living in a world where sexual violence is not the norm. The sustainability of our movement and our ability to retain and nurture the growth of our advocates, healing arts practitioners, and volunteers – especially those who have turned their own trauma wounds into battle scars of insight – is dependent on our capacity to resource all survivors with the highest level of care. This care cannot be limited by timelines or a pressure to compartmentalize one’s past trauma experiences in order to meaningfully participate in the movement. We must recognize and honor that we can be both healer and healing.
Supporting survivors’ healing is fundamental to dismantling the cycles of violence that are passed through generations. When survivors heal, this can bring about repair in families, restore the capacity for intimate relationships and expand possibilities for enhanced health, safety and equity for future generations. Survivors’ healing is fundamental to creating a movement to end sexual violence that is trauma-informed and survivor-centered. We must recognize the value of the survivor employee, volunteer, or board member on our team and build a work culture that attends to the unique sensitivities and skills of the survivor turned advocate. Survivors are critical to the leadership and stewardship of this field.
When sexual violence is one day an anomaly rather than a norm, people will be released from the burden of carrying the residue of trauma in their body and heart, so that they can fully participate in their lives, fully embody their physical shape, and fully share their gifts with our society. This is the future we are working towards, this is a future we believe in.