How to Keep Advocacy Work Sustainable
Sexual violence takes a toll, on those who experience it and on those who work at agencies like SARC to respond to and prevent it. Read our volunteer, Jessie’s, article about how SARC staff and volunteers keep their work sustainable.
With any job, it is critical to practice healthy habits to ensure the work is tenable. When it comes to trauma-informed care for the advocates at organizations like SARC, sustainability can be difficult. When we talk about trauma-informed care and supporting survivors, we also need to talk about keeping this work viable for staff and volunteers. I reached out to current SARC employees and volunteers, as well as mental health professionals outside the agency who deal with trauma for their thoughts on sustainability and current coping skills.
An emphasis on staying centered and grounded in a stressful role was a recurring theme in people’s responses. Baili, a volunteer with SARC said, “I really rely on yoga to help me stay centered.” She also draws attention to the importance of checking out and silencing her phone at times. Disconnecting from the world can be a useful key to recovery from the stress involved in this work. Her last bit of encouragement is that she says volunteering with SARC has grown her support network and she has made connections to more people since starting here.
Lee Anne Dillon, a case manager who has been with SARC since 1994, lends some useful advice on staying grounded. She says, “Staying grounded is staying present with the client, and listening with the knowledge that I will be able to support them through whatever the story is.” It is so important to recognize that even if we cannot change what has happened, we can support people through their experiences and the sharing of their story. Balance is another key focus when it comes to keeping advocacy work sustainable. Finding a balance between what the client or survivor needs from you, versus what you realistically and practically have to give. Saving some of your resources for yourself is a necessary practice, as no one can pour from an empty cup.
Bri Ellingson, another case manager at SARC, states that her support system has also changed since working for SARC, and that it is important to surround yourself with people who support the work you do. She says, “When you’re fighting systems of oppression everyday, it’s important to have people around you who are also fighting the good fight, in whatever way the choose, or are at least open to the idea.”
This insight shows how crucial it is to hold space with people who recognize and appreciate that this work can be exhausting, and is also imperative. Surrounding yourself with other socially conscious people can help you feel like part of a community and less isolated. Sometimes it is easy to push down feelings of being overwhelmed and to “power through.” Having strong supervisors, and fellow coworkers or volunteers to check in with regularly helps counteract that impulse. SARC’s monthly volunteer meetings and weekly staff meetings provide structured space for that as well. Many people engaged in this work also have their own therapists and counselors they speak to outside of work.
Finally, finding things that fill your heart and soul with positivity and love will take you far. Take an overly indulgent bubble bath. Go on a soothing walk in the hills. Go to a chocolate tasting with a friend. Do some deep breathing for sixty seconds. Find things that help you take life one day at a time.
Photo credit: Eden Baron