Our weekly Survivor Support Group at the Resource Center is special because it is completely peer-led and peer-operated. In addition to being facilitated by survivors of exploitation, support group participants also help in the set-up, break down, and general organization for the time we host for them. Because this group provides a safe haven from the world that so often misunderstands or judges those who have endured what our women have, participants are also invited to share with the group on topics they have studied that prove to be influential to all attendees. Our group discusses many subjects surrounding rehabilitation, including emotional recovery from trauma, personal boundaries, faith’s role in recovery, but most recently, our group was honored to host a presentation by Sarah, one of our group participants, who has illustrated how PTSD impacts the brain and how to heal from it in the moment it affects them. Way to go, Sarah!
Sarah’s topic of choice was Amygdala Hijacking, a process in the brain which triggers a fight or flight fear-based response that is overwhelmingly out-of-proportion to the stimulus because one has lived through repeated or constant trauma in their past. Survivors who are being exploited often face life-threatening situations on a daily basis, but this still can be extremely damaging even when they have left exploitation and are rebuilding their lives. What may seem trivial to a layperson may trigger an enormous response in a PTSD diagnosed survivor, which can impact their ability to function. But not only did Sarah’s presentation define what Amygdala Hijacking is; it also offered a solution to this fear-based response, including a step-by-step guide to talking one’s self out of fight or flight.
Because Sarah’s presentation was so well received by the group, our facilitators have chosen a new curriculum developed by a christian neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, which explains the process of learning new material effectively and how to literally “switch on your brain.” “It’s been proven that in high stress situations and different forms of torture and manipulation, human being’s brains are drastically affected to a physical point of damage,” says Sarah. “I believe a group that is so focused on emotional health needs a scientific balance of how they feel and also what their body is doing in relation to the traumas they endured.” This is especially important for survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation, as the specific trauma they face can be devastating. “We live within our bodies everyday and traffickers usually teach us to numb ourselves and pretend we don’t have a body AND emotions. They train us to stop noticing our emotions and stop knowing what damage is being done. It’s our job once free to reverse this damage, I believe.”
Sarah has a point: though our group can learn about emotional healing on a weekly basis, the medical and scientific side of healing can insure that the knowledge we share has a lasting effect on survivors. “I believe that if these women were given a lead to medical care, we could address the PTSD symptoms in that place,” Sarah shares. “It’s hard to get anyone in trafficking to actually see their situation is bad. But literally everyone needs check ups. I believe if given the opportunity to have pre-paid medical check ups, this environment could serve as a place to inform them of the life they’re in and how to get free. This is where they could be given materials and direction to the groups.” Alabaster Jar Project is doing our part in this by offering medical referrals to local free clinics which can be the first step in a survivor’s healing. Science and medical attention are often the key to one’s recovery.
Sarah has become an asset to our group not only by presenting her knowledge, but also by participating in all topics over the last several months. When asked if she gets more out of group if she is sharing or listening, her answer is both. “I get equal support in my opinion because I am learning to give love and accept it,” she states. “It is a process that children learn early with healthy influence, and without it they fail to experience it. In order to have a healthy lifestyle I believe it’s my job to both give support and accept it.”
Our support group meets once a week. We start and end every group with a prayer in agreement for the Lord’s healing and protection over our group. Though this group is closed to the general public, we invite you to pray over our women with us this week and every week as our group shares their time together. This group is a close-knit, loving community and we are blessed by each and every one of them.