Enhancing Physical Activity as a Trauma Survivor Lies in Feeling Powerful

Gillian Sisley

Whichever workout or fitness routine you choose, ensure it makes you feel like a goddess.

Photo by Vishal Bhutani on Unsplash

Asa woman who has spent her entire life struggling with maintaining a healthy amount of physical activity, I resonate with those of you reading this who are thinking,

“No way. I’ve tried every type of workout, and it just didn’t stick.”

My question in response to this is, “Did any of these workouts make you feel like an empowered goddess who could kick the ass of anyone she crosses?

It might not seem like this really matters… but if I’m being honest, asking myself this question changed the entire way I look at my healing and fitness journey.

My physique is nowhere near my number one priority.

In fact, it’s rather low on the list.

I consider it more of a perk than a reason that contributes to getting me out on that concrete.

And I’m simply not one of those people who hears, “It’s good/healthy for you", and just jumps on the bandwagon. That’s not a good enough reason to convince me to commit to it, as terrible as that may sound.

And I know I’m not the only one!

I need something to fit well into my life for me to harness and run with (pun intended). My everyday life living with trauma is already complicated enough. Anything else that takes energy from me needs to be something that slots in comfortably and practically.

It wasn’t until I started looking at my fitness journey through a different lens that things finally clicked into place.

Once I focused on finding something that made me feel powerful, I found that fitness was — dare I say it — enjoyable on a fundamental level for me.

It has now become part of my overall healing and recovery journey, and something that treats my trauma from the inside out.

Now that’s something I can get behind, far more than, “But you should just do it because it’s good for you.”

As survivors, we’ve already had so much taken from us, and been left feeling powerless.

An important part of our healing journey requires reclaiming our power.

That is the basis of this article, and why I’m sharing my experience with you all.

The main reason I enjoy jogging is because it makes me feel POWERFUL.

It makes me feel like a badass who can conquer the world, outrun anyone, and not be touched by anything.

All of us need that sense of power and self-confidence back after a sexual assault, or any other form of life-changing trauma.

I’ve spent my fair share of years feeling powerless under the crushing weight of my trauma. To have found something that makes me feel like a fighter and a badass, rather than a pitiful victim, has changed my entire healing journey for the better.

You deserve your best, most fruitful life.

Looking after your body and soul are important parts to leading your most fulfilled life following a traumatic incident.

That said, whatever you do has to line up with your unique recovery journey as an individual— whichever phase you’re currently in — rather than it going against the grain.

Because, let’s be honest, living with trauma is hard enough without attaching a list of ‘Must Do’s to it.

And for this very reason, I’m going to say something that some fitness buffs might find controversial —

You shouldn’t choose to participate in a workout that isn’t enjoyable to you while you’re doing it.

We as survivors already live with unpleasant reminders of things that are harmful and we don’t enjoy.

In what universe would we want to willingly subject ourselves to something else that causes us great unenjoyment, when all we really deserve is to be as happy and fulfilled with life as much as possible?

Set yourself up for success by doing something you actually enjoy, and creating the conditions that will enhance that enjoyment of whatever thing you’re doing.

Here are some of my personal, yet important, conditions to facilitate getting the most joy out of any physical activity I take part in:

  • I don’t kill it every workout: in fact, many I do half-assed. My pace is slow, and I don’t always aim to get out of breath. No, in not looking to get the most out of each and every jog. And that’s okay. I’d much prefer just getting out there in the sun and doing my body and soul a solid through some light exercise than putting any unpleasant expectations on myself.
  • I don’t jog during crappy weather: I’m fairly picky when it comes to my jogging weather conditions. As I’ve been stressing many times here, I’m looking to enhance my jogging experience, not make it miserable. On cold, wet, rainy days, I don’t go jogging. Because I know I’m not going to enjoy it, and I want to keep the positive momentum going. I give myself permission to pass on those days, and often will look at the weather forecast to get a sense of my workout opportunities for the week ahead.
  • I don’t work out during certain timeframes: I jog outside, and live near both a junior and high school. I avoid going out during the window in which students are on their lunch breaks, or getting out of school. Being ogled at by a group of high school boys while my tits and ass are bouncing around skyrockets my anxiety and paranoia. I just avoid jogging during those times to do myself a favor so I can focus on being out there for me.
  • I don’t push myself to the point of misery: despite my enjoyment for jogging, there are still plenty of days that I wonder if I want to do it. Regardless of the day, I begin with being gracious with myself. After establishing that grace, I try a few tricks to prompt me to get into the mood to actually jog. Just putting on my workout clothes helps, even if I’m only doing chores around the house. I also turn on the playlist I mentioned above before even starting my workout, because it makes me feel super empowered. If after doing these two things I’m still not in the mood to go for a jog, that’s okay. I don’t beat myself up for it. I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can with the cards I was dealt, and that is absolutely more than enough.

In whatever you do, be extremely gracious with yourself. OVERLY gracious, even.

My jogging 3x per week routine started from humble beginnings — 6 months worth of 3 walks per week during the wintertime.

Even today, I don’t over-expect anything from myself.

I can either jog or walk on my workout days— either is fine and counts in my books. As long as I get out there, I’m proud of myself and grateful that I did it.

When setting up a fitness goal for yourself, start small. Very small. Not because you should expect little of yourself, but because practicing grace with yourself is the thing that is going to make this routine stick in any sort of way.

Some small ways to start are to incorporate the following several days a week:

  • Going for a 15–30 walk with a friend/pet/loved, or even by yourself with a great podcast!
  • Doing light, restorative stretches.
  • Keeping a 5–10 lbs. dumbbell around and doing 20–40 reps while waiting for the kettle to boil in my morning.
  • Anything that feels manageable, and also enjoyable!

Trauma survivors are often their own harshest critics — it takes great intention to deprogram the damaging extent to which we beat ourselves up.

If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that building a fitness regime on the basis of shame and pushing myself too hard will guarantee it doesn’t stick.

If you’re looking to build a healthy/healing habit that sticks, shame and putdowns have to be restricted from being anywhere near that routine.

Final word.

If you’re a trauma survivor and are looking to enhance your physical activity or create a fitness routine, know you’re not alone.

A lot of us are looking to establish the same sort of routine, and we all know just how difficult that is when you’re already struggling under the crushing weight of living with trauma.

My hope with this article is that it can encourage you to be gracious and patient with yourself throughout your fitness journey, just as you need to be patient and gracious with yourself throughout your overall healing journey. Consider implementing physical activity as a potential treatment option (one of many options) in your trauma recovery.

But over all else, take care of yourself. You should have peace and fulfillment in life after everything you’ve been through. Do what feels right, do what makes you happy, and love yourself every step of the way.

Because you absolutely deserve it.

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