Domestic Violence Advocates Lose Sleep Over Tough Questions

By Kirstin Kelley

Trauma often leads to troubled . But what people don’t realize is that the caretakers of victims of trauma can also struggle to find the sleep they need.

So says Juli Abraham, a response advocate working out of Portland, Oregon. Abraham works for Volunteers of America educating survivors about their options and connecting them to services that fit their needs. The situations Abraham responds to are often traumatic, not just for the survivors of domestic violence, but also for anyone getting the call that someone is being abused at home and needs help to figure out the next steps.

To be effective in her role, Abraham must be completely present in the moment and able to offer strong emotional support. The best thing she can do to make sure she’s at her best is to practice self-care. Getting enough sleep and taking time away from work are vital. Abraham also sees a counselor to help her process the stress and vicarious trauma she experiences because of her job. She does water aerobics, and she meditates. But sometimes, she’s lazy about it, and neglecting these routines has immediate negative results.

Recently, she has found herself sharing symptoms with the survivors she treats. “I’ve actually had a lot of trouble sleeping lately,” Abraham said. The stresses of her job can make it extremely difficult to finally settle down enough to sleep. The most important thing an advocate can do is offer support to survivors, but they do not actually have any control over the choices a survivor will make. By keeping that reality in mind, Abraham is able to keep some emotional distance, allowing her to get the rest she needs.

In addition to the emotional stressors on sleep, Abraham works from 1:30 in the afternoon to midnight, four days a week. Her late-night shifts put her at work during some of the most dangerous times of the day for people in abusive relationships; most incidents of domestic violence occur between 6pm and 6am.

But Abraham doesn’t mind the late nights. She’s not a morning person, and likes being able to get in a doctor’s appointment or a workout before work… Plus, it’s not a night shift, which Abraham has worked in the past, which she says affected her health.

Another hazard in her line of work– and a potential sleep-stealer– is the temptation to hold herself responsible for the outcome of the situation. Abraham has connections with the police, Volunteers of America, and local shelters, But she gives her clients these options, rather than deciding their next move for them. It’s a tactic to avoid feeling responsible for their choices, but it only gets her so far. “Every once in awhile I might harbor on one I felt a strong connection with,” she explained. “But I am careful about how emotionally invested I get.”

Tags:  domestic violence shift worker series Sleep

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