Black Women and Self-Care After Trauma: A Conversation w/ Jimanekia Eborn
Jimanekia Eborn is a sex educator, trauma specialist, media consultant, and host of the podcast Trauma Queen. We spoke to Jimanekia about understanding Black women’s experiences with trauma and the importance of practicing self-care. Jimanekia recently launched a fundraiser to support a retreat for women of color who have experienced sexual assault. See here for more information and to contribute. In the meantime learn about the many forms in which trauma shows up and the ways we can protect our magic.
Trigger Warning: sexual assault
Can you share with our readers background information related to your work supporting Black women’s mental and sexual wellness?
I started 11 years ago. I started out as a criminal justice major because I watched a lot of Law and Order SVU, and was trying to figure out how I could help women–I knew I had a calling. My mother was killed when I was one year old and they found me with her body. I have constantly concerned myself with the issue of domestic violence, thinking of how I can help prevent [domestic violence] or how can I help people.
You host the podcast, Trauma Queen in which you normalize discussing sexual assault and healing. What are lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I’ve been reminded how much healing goes into storytelling and sharing your journey with others. I’ve learned sharing your story is amazing and allowing other people to share their stories is healing on different levels for other people. It’s been quite beautiful to have people send me messages saying, “this is amazing.” Now, in the third season, I’m telling my own story and seeing how it’s hard for other people to handle certain situations, and learning how my story can be helpful.
Can you talk about what finding one’s voice looks like and the work it takes to feel comfortable occupying certain spaces and speaking up for your needs unapologetically?
The first thing we all have to be reminded as Black women is that we’re allowed to take up space. Sometimes just hearing and saying it is a reminder itself. Finding a group of Black women is so helpful. Finding someone who can understand what you’re going through can be really helpful and also help with affirming your voice and reminding you, you’re allowed to take up space. Finding your voice through support and practice, but actually putting it to work is when [empowerment] really happens. It’s also important to note you may not get it right the first time, but going over it, if it happens again [you can learn from the situation].
How do we deal with trauma that involves people we can’t entirely cut out of our lives, like co-workers and family members?
Create boundaries. When you’re thinking about creating boundaries for yourself, think about things you’re willing to deal with and things you’re not willing to deal with. Creating boundaries looks like checking in and saying, “Hey, you did this thing, and this is how it made me feel, and I can’t have this.” If this is someone in your house, whom you have a relationship with or a family member, and a certain type of conversation comes up and it’s going to cause you harm, you can remove yourself from this situation. The best you can do in these situations when you can’t get away from people, is removing yourself for your own safety and sanity, so you can deal with everything.
Also, breathing techniques are really, really helpful. You can do breathing techniques without anyone else noticing. So if you start to get anxious or upset, internalize it and focus on your breathing. Check in and recognize your breathing has increased, identify where you feel tension in your body, and work to slow down your breathing and release some tension. That can even distract you from dealing with what’s going on in front of you if you’re not able to physically remove yourself from the situation. Set up verbal boundaries with people and give them two chances. If they’re continuing to not respect those boundaries you’ve put in place, then stick with and continue to protect yourself.
How do you care for yourself after trauma and what is the most important thing you can do for yourself after experiencing trauma?
Caring for yourself after a trauma looks different for everyone. The best way to do things after you’ve been assaulted is finding someone who hears you, believes you, and sees you. You’re going to go through self-doubt and questioning your self-worth. The best thing is to find someone you feel grounded with and then go from there. Most people say, you should go straight to the police department or the hospital. I don’t necessarily push that on people first, especially going to the police department. There are so many people who are against going to the police department because it’s so traumatizing. The questions they ask, the way they treat people can be re-traumatizing and further push you into a hole. You don’t necessarily have to jump in and do the big scary things, because something big and scary just happened to you.
Do you believe survivors can find pleasure in sex after experiencing trauma?
Definitely. After a sexual assault, sex looks different for everyone. Some people jump in and have an abundance of sex and some people shut down and don’t want to have any sex. Once someone starts to seek out how to have sex again, I always advise them sex starts at home and sex starts in the brain. Most people forget sex isn’t just genital, it’s the thought process and idea of what can happen and what cannot happen. That’s when arousal starts, [in] your creativity, your brain. You don’t necessarily need genitals to have sex, you don’t have to penetrate or rub for it to be considered a sexual act, which is interesting. When I say sex starts at home, [when approaching] sexuality after trauma, you need to re-learn your body.
There are some things you used to love–your favorite position, favorite move, or where you like to be touched. After trauma, there can be some brain rewiring that [sexual acts] no longer brings you pleasure. So try having a date night with yourself at home, set it up, do dinner, get your favorite toys out, your favorite album. Whatever you need to do to make yourself feel sexy, and then start to play with toys, start to play with pressure, whatever your thing is and see if you still like those things. You may even learn you like new things. So, when you [decide to] bring someone else into your bedroom, you are able to tell them things you like and don’t like. When you are incorporating sex back into your life with your partner, everyone wins because you are able to take care of yourself and your star player.
You made a comment, you don’t have to rub or touch to have sex. Could you expand?
Yes, there are people who can find arousal just from talking. There are people, and this is scientifically proven, some people can have orgasms just from thinking. It’s very wild and so interesting, some people can think themselves into an orgasm. It’s why I say sex doesn’t necessarily start in the bedroom.
How can a Black woman who has gone through trauma enter into that sort of headspace to make themselves orgasm by solely thinking?
It takes patience and realizing something may not work for you. I don’t necessarily know anyone who can reach that level. But I do know some people who have [what they call] brain sex. Where they’re just sharing intimate information and dopamine levels in their brain are so high they are just having feelings of ecstasy and enjoyment. Bodies are cool.
How can an understanding of traumatic experiences inform our non-sexual and romantic relationships?
In relationships, I would say patience and checking in with each other. Communication is the biggest thing in any type of relationship: dating, family, friends, co-workers etc. Setting boundaries, checking in with people, asking them what they need, and what they don’t need. Not trying to push your ideals onto other people and asking people what they need is some of the easiest things people can do and they don’t. People think they know how to take care of other people, and they might, but what you might know may not be good for this person. So, communication and giving grace are extremely helpful in all of these situations.
What can we keep in mind as we move through the world and interact with our sisters who have experienced trauma?
Be reminded we never know who has been sexually assaulted. Giving people grace can be very helpful with non-sexual relationships. Just smile at them, speak to them, acknowledge their presence. Doing little things can help each other remember we hear each other, we see each other, we may not know each other’s story, but we each have one.
How can we begin to identify what self-care looks like identify how to heal and transform ourselves after trauma?
It’s hard to identify one type of trauma because there are so many different ways it shows up. If you’re noticing being around certain people changes your energy or it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning, maybe that’s when you need to take a little bit more time for yourself. Try to check in about how your energy is around certain people. These people can be impeding within your space and draining you without you even realizing it because you’re just so used to giving. Emotional and verbal trauma is important and happens more often than physical trauma in the outside world. When people are saying things to you and you start to feel heat rise within you and you start to shake or cringe or feel anxious — this is probably a traumatic and invasive space to just who you are.
What is the thing that continues to surprise you the most about the process of healing?
We don’t necessarily know what our triggers are all the time, and when they pop up we’re shocked. Recently, the guy who assaulted me in college sent me a Venmo request for 25 cents the year he assaulted me. That messed me up for three days. What you can do in preparation is have a safety plan. Have a support team in place and try to keep something around you that can help to ground you. That can be something physical that you can touch, a smell, or a specific type of food. Remember triggers can affect anyone of your five senses. I always say, if you are walking behind someone, the easiest thing you can do is announce your presence because you don’t know what kind of traumas people have. You don’t know who you’re affecting, you may help someone in that situation from being re-triggered. Another thing–let’s stop hugging everybody! Ask people if they want a hug.
What is missing or overlooked in the conversation about self-care and destigmatizing mental health treatment?
Just sitting in silence is so helpful. You don’t have to spend money on self-care. People sometimes forget self-care is whatever you need in the moment. It’s overlooked you can sit by yourself in silence, read a book, take a walk, it’s the little things people overlook we can do so easily. There’s so much emphasis on going to spas to do all these fancy things, but not everybody can afford to go to spas. What is feasible is, sitting down, listening to my favorite album and drinking some tea, or sitting in silence, or googling/searching YouTube for a mediation I can listen to. These are things [tools and practices] I can utilize.
What words of encouragement can you offer to the women of Upspoken who want to take the first step to healing?
The first step of healing is knowing and reminding yourself it’s not going to happen overnight. There is no timeline to what your healing will look like. It takes work. It’s not always easy, some days are going to be better than other days. Your sexual assault is not everything you are. Your sexual assault is something that happened to you. It’s a part of your story, but it’s not your full book. It’s something to start reminding yourself of and also finding other people who can understand without questioning you.
Photo Credit: Trauma Queen