Self-Help Books to Kick Start Your New Year’s Resolutions

Admittedly, my goal of writing more blog posts in 2019 has not been going so well. Why, you ask? Ironically, the answer has to do with the subject of today’s post!

In all honesty, I’ve been reading. Like, a lot. In fact, I’ve made it my goal to read 100 books in 2019 – and I have to admit, I’m pretty sure I’m already falling behind!

Since I don’t get much time to read books for pleasure during the busy semester, I like to catch up on reading for leisure on my breaks. So far, I’ve covered ground ranging from YA fiction to women’s health to Reese Witherspoon’s new cookbook – and I’m proud, dammit!

Because I’ve been so excited about reading lately, I figured I would be just as excited to write about the books I’ve been loving recently. I was right, of course. Since self-help is, admittedly, one of my favorite genres, it didn’t take long to craft a list of self-help books that should be on every young woman’s reading list for 2019.

From candid stories about teaching sex ed to college students to kickstarting creative freedom in a way that screams #bigmagic (eek! Spoilers!), here is my humble list of self-help books (and some “normal” books which helped me, too) that every woman should read during the New Year.

But before I start, a quick disclaimer (TL;DR): I do NOT receive payment of any kind for my promotion of these books. All the opinions featured in this post are my own, and featured without sponsorship from the authors and/or publishers of these books!

If you want to take control of anxiety and/or panic….

The Anxiety Toolkit by Alice Boyes, PhD

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Source: Amazon

Why: This book is like an owner’s manual for anxiety. Each chapter is preceded by a quiz that will determine whether the skills in that chapter are relevant to you or not. You have the choice of reading the entire book, or only those chapters which pertain to you – so it’s easy to customize to your needs. In short, it’s like a mini dose of CBT in 150 pages!

If you struggle with overwhelming emotions and/or urges….

The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay, PhD et. al.

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Source: Walmart

Why: After years of therapy and medication, I still had trouble overcoming overwhelming emotions and resisting self-harm triggers. Then I learned about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book literally changed my life. It brought a much-needed dose of zen to my frantic, mile-a-minute brain. Not to mention, you can get it for free as a PDF – run a quick Google search and it shouldn’t take long to find it!

If you’re tired of unwanted, repetitive thoughts and behaviors….

Everyday Mindfulness for OCD by Jon Hershfield, MFT and Shala Nicely, LPC

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Source: Goodreads

Why: Therapies for OCD can be intense. Personally, I find it easier to tackle my exposure hierarchy on my own, at my own pace. That’s where this workbook comes in: it will guide you through challenging, yet rewarding exercises – based both in mindfulness and traditional exposure-response therapy – to help you overcome your OCD.

If your mental health is taking its toll on your romantic relationship….

Anxious in Love by Carolyn Daitch, PhD and Lissah Lorberbaum, MA

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Source: Walmart

Why: If you have anxiety, it affects every relationship in your life. Even if your anxiety isn’t about the relationship itself, teaching someone with a healthy brain to understand how your sick brain functions is never easy – and neither is taking care of someone with anxiety. Hence, this is where Anxious in Love comes in. I recommend it for both partners with anxiety and partners dating someone with anxiety. Its eye-opening suggestions for handling conflict and everyday triggers, without becoming co-dependent on your partner or enabling their anxiety, will make maintaining your relationship 1000x easier.

If you’re stuck on the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster….

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Michelle May, MD

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Source: Amazon

Why: I am NOT exaggerating when I say this book literally changed my life – and potentially saved it. At sixteen, I was two years deep into a spiral of bulimia: periods of intense orthorexic eating and exercise, followed by stomach-churning binges on junk food – you know, “because I’d earned it.” This book reset both my stomach and my brain, and taught me to relearn my body’s natural hunger cues as I recovered from the throngs of my eating disorder.

If you want to make peace with your inner child….

Attached by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel S.F. Heller, MA

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Source: Amazon

Why: My first therapist ever recommended I read this book when I came in complaining of relationship problems with an ex-boyfriend. As I devoured its pages, I quickly learned a lesson I wish every young woman with anxiety was taught in school: if you are anxiously attached (like me, as this attachment style is a common byproduct of having divorced parents), date someone who is securely attached. Do not date another anxiously attached person, or an avoidant person who shies away from commitment, and believe that you can “fix” them. At the end of the day, you can’t – what you need is stability, and this book is all about why.

If you want to laugh (and cry) along to a poignant story of healing….

Fully Functioning Human (Almost) by Melanie Murphy

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Source: Amazon

It’s no secret that Melanie Murphy is one of my favorite – if not the favorite – YouTubers of all time. Melanie is an Irishwoman who talks candidly about sex, body image and mental health – which explains why I vibe with her so well! In 2018, Melanie released her first book, Fully Functioning Human (Almost), which details her journey through disordered eating, unhealthy relationships and learning to #adult. While it’s not a self-help book exactly, it is chock-full of Melanie’s signature positivity – and an excellent reminder that we are never alone in our struggles to achieve optimal mental health.

If you’re passionate about closing the orgasm gap….

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

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Source: Simon & Schuster

Why: I first read this book when I discovered the sexual side effects of taking an SSRI (think: the Sahara desert), and have gone back to it at least once a year since. Nagoski is a college sex ed professor whose book should be required reading in all schools. She filled in so many of the gaps in my sexual knowledge, imbuing important tidbits of wisdom – for example, did you know the most important female sex organ is actually the brain? Or that there’s such a thing as being “wet” without being “turned on” – and vice-versa? If your answer is no, as I suspect it is for 99% of the American adult population, then pick up Nagoski’s book and get back to me when you’re done. Period.

If your resolution is to start (or finish) a creative project….

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Source: Goodreads

Why: Yes, I am aware that I am the millionth blogger to recommend this book; in fact, it’s becoming a bit of a self-help cliche. In my opinion, this is rather unfortunate, since Gilbert’s Big Magic is a real gem of a book. As someone who’s ridden the struggle bus of writing a novel from start to finish (yup, you can check out my novel Wilder & Wilder – published in October 2018 – for $2.99 on Amazon!), I could not agree more with the guiding principle behind Gilbert’s book: in hundreds of splendidly-written pages, Gilbert essentially advises, “don’t wait for the perfect time to start. Just do it.”

If you’re a feminist who loves wearing pink and men/women who pay on the first date….

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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Source: Ravishly

Why: Again, this book is a compilation of essays by the author Roxane Gay – not exactly a self-help guide. Nonetheless, I still believe it should be required reading for every woman in 2019. In the political climate we live in today, it’s nearly impossible to be a woman (or a man/nonbinary person who fully embraces gender equality) without identifying as a feminist. As the conservative right continues to launch attacks on women’s rights, there is no better time than the present to read Gay’s thoughtful reconciliation of her feminist ideology with her love of traditional femininity, with all its pink bows and lace frills; her poignant movie reviews as a well-educated Black woman; and, perhaps most memorably, her thoughts on playing Scrabble in a big league tournament.

Last but not least, if your apartment floor hasn’t been visible in months….

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

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Source: Target

Why: I’m a firm believer that our spaces reflect what is going on in our lives. As anyone who knows you well will tell you, my room tends to become a pigsty when I’m stressed – and when I start feeling productive and put-together again, it usually leads to a long, binge-cleaning session. In my opinion, there’s no better time than the New Year to get your sh*t together. By following Kondo’s patented discarding, donating and decorating techniques, you can both build a space you love – and keep it the way you love it, without all the unnecessary clutter blocking out those positive vibes.

Click here to keep up with my journey toward 100 Books in 2019 by following me on Goodreads!

Masturbation as Medicine: Your Hands-On Approach to Healing from Sexual Trauma

Hi, my name is Haley, and I am a woman who masturbates – and a survivor of sexual assault. Read to find out how masturbation can help you find sexual healing in the wake of trauma, and learn to love your body again.

My name is Haley, and I am a woman who masturbates. I am also a survivor of sexual assault.

What do those two things have in common? Firstly, they’re both things I feel the need to “confess” – as if I’m somehow dirtier for admitting them – mostly because I am not a man. (If I were, my sexual appetite would just be accepted as a fact of life.) But secondly, and more importantly, they’re both things that have informed the way I experience sex as an adult woman.

I have rarely spoken out about my sexual assault publicly. Many of my closest friends still don’t know. But now more than ever, talking about this experience feels relevant to what’s going on in the media – and in my emotional and political life as a young American woman and a survivor.

I’m a survivor, but I’ve also learned what I do and don’t like in bed, and how to speak up for myself sexually. Not that I think I could have prevented my assault simply by saying “no” – which I did. Multiple times, actually. Rather, it’s that I feel confident in bed. I feel like a sexual being again – a whole being, instead of a walking pair of boobs with a vagina. And I’m not afraid to admit that masturbation has played a big part in helping me heal from my sexual trauma.

Fortunately,  I never suffered flashbacks or other symptoms of PTSD as a result of my sexual trauma. However, I did lose sight of myself as an active participant in sex. Instead, I learned to see myself as a giver rather than a receiver of pleasure. I grew complacent, almost comfortable, with the idea that my body was there for men to use; to create an experience rather than have one; to give rather than to take. I also developed problems reaching orgasm, problems I now know resulted from the judgment and guilt I felt in the sexual relationship where I had been assaulted.

I never recognized the connection between masturbation and my healing process until very recently. Like many girls, when I first realized that I had been sexually assaulted (almost two years after the incident had actually taken place), I didn’t want to be touched. But slowly, I eased my way back into taking pleasure from sex in the way I felt most comfortable: alone.

I started having orgasms again – first from masturbating, then with a new, more patient partner. I explored my body, got in touch with my needs and wants and bought my newly-sexual self fun presents like lingerie and a Shibari magic wand. Finally, I started to see sex as something exciting that I could share with another person. Rather than something that happened to me, sex became something I did.

To put it bluntly, I wasn’t just “getting fucked” anymore. I was fucking. We were fucking. And it had been our choice to fuck. We had chosen each other, and we had both said “yes” explicitly and eagerly.

Using masturbation as an acclimation tool, I slowly took back control of the sexuality that my assailant had forcefully taken from me that one day in the basement of his parents’ house. Because of this experience, and all of the research I’ve read that confirms my theory, I firmly believe that masturbation is a critical element of the healing process from sexual trauma.

Here, I will share with you some of my findings about masturbation and healing from sexual trauma – and explain how you can start a mindful masturbation process (I know, I know – sounds weird, right?) to help you reclaim control of your sexuality.

As always, I am not a doctor, so please speak with your PCP or mental health provider if you have any specific medical questions about sexual trauma. You can also always contact RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline by calling 1-800-656-HOPE.

Sexual Symptoms After Assault

After experiencing a sexual assault, it is natural to experience some interruption to normal sexual function. In my case, I did not even realize I had been assaulted by my emotionally abusive partner until almost a year later – but as I began to learn more about sexual assault, I realized the warning signs had been present in my behavior following the assault all along.

For so long, I had no libido whatsoever. I enjoyed masturbating from time-to-time, but my sexual appetite – or sense of satisfaction – was never quite what it used to be. At the time, I blamed it on my antidepressants – but even after introducing Wellbutrin, an antidepressant used to treat SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction, I faced difficulties achieving orgasm, especially with a partner, and eventually began to avoid sex altogether. This caused even more problems with my sexually coercive partner, who used guilt to manipulate me into performing sexual acts I wasn’t really interested in to begin with.

After the relationship ended, my sexual desire snapped back like a rubber band. Though I still suffered from anorgasmia, my formerly-nonexistent sexual appetite became insatiable. I remember feeling confused, yet empowered. For so long, I believed I was broken because my partner couldn’t “finish” me, or because I wasn’t giving him enough sexually (or so he used to say). So, what happened? What had changed?

Once I learned about sexual coercion, it all started to make sense. At first, I had simply believed the relationship was to blame – we didn’t love each other the way we used to, so the sex wasn’t as good. Then I learned that the guilt-tripping, badgering and pouting my partner used as weapons to obtain sex were actually a form of assault and abuse. All of a sudden, I went from “sexually broken being” to “sexual assault survivor,” and was forced to reconcile with this new identity and what it meant for my sexuality.

That is my story, but I am only one of the 1 in 3 women who has experienced sexual trauma in her lifetime. Sexual trauma following an assault looks different for every survivor. If you have survived sexual assault, abuse or rape, here are some signs you may still be suffering from the scars of the events:

  • Avoiding sex. Just as I did when my partner would badger me, sexual assault survivors often avoid sex altogether as a means of coping with their trauma.
  • Viewing sex as an “obligation.” Healthy sex means both partners give enthusiastic consent and want to share in that experience with each other. However, that is often not how we see sex after an assault. Not only does our sexual functioning change, but our attitudes toward sex are affected, too.
  • Feeling anger, disgust or guilt with touch. Over a year later, the feeling of being “wet” still leaves me feeling guilty and “dirty.” These effects often persist for survivors of sexual assault.
  • Loss of sensation or arousal. In some survivors, libido may cease to exist – or, they may have a sex drive, but experience little to no sensation when touched by a partner. Sexual assault can leave you feeling “numb” and indifferent to sex.
  • Intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. Some survivors use sexual acts or masturbation as a form of self-punishment following assault. Others may experience unwanted images or flashbacks to the assault.
  • Pain or difficulty reaching orgasm. Vaginismus – the painful contraction of the vaginal walls upon touch, which can make penetration near-impossible – is a common trauma response to rape. You may also experience erectile function, premature ejaculation or anorgasmia. Or, you may have vaginal dryness – which, take it from me: makes penetration feel about as sexy as sandpaper.

Why Touch Heals

The idea that you could heal from sexual trauma with sexual activity sounds, on its face, counter-intuitive. But while it’s true that you should ease yourself back into sex gradually, there are a couple reasons that distinguish masturbation as a form of healing after assault.

Masturbation makes sex about YOU again. During an assault, your abuser is inherently acting selfishly, with no regard for your health or well-being – let alone your sexual pleasure. By masturbating, you are able to reclaim your sexuality as a healthy and valid component of sex. Sex isn’t something to be taken from you; it’s something to be shared and enjoyed!

Masturbation puts you in the driver’s seat. One of the most frightening and frustrating parts of a sexual assault is the feeling that what happens to you, and your body, is out of your control. After a sexual assault, you may find it difficult to resign control to a partner in the bedroom. Masturbating allows you to be in control of your own body, so that the only touches you have to experience are ones that you want to and enjoy experiencing.

Masturbation allows you to safely restart your sex life. Following a sexual assault, partnered sex becomes complicated. Whether your partner is someone you’ve known for five hours or five years, you may find yourself triggered by partnered sex after the assault. Even the most understanding partner can get frustrated by this part of the healing process. By masturbating in the privacy and safety of your own home, you can start to build a healthy sex life without feeling guilty for stopping – or pressured to keep going – as many times as you need.

Finally, masturbation helps heal sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction is a common response to sexual trauma. It includes any interruption to the progression from arousal to plateau to orgasm. For some victims, this may present as low libido or vaginal dryness; for others, this may look like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or anorgasmia. Regardless, sex therapy – and directed masturbation as a component of that – is a proven treatment for sexual dysfunction in both men and women. (And guys: the myth that masturbating can cause ED is just that – a MYTH!)

How to Start Healing

Before I discuss what worked for me, and how you can begin a mindful masturbation process to begin healing from sexual assault, I’d like to devote a few sentences (which is still not nearly enough) to the importance of therapy and the role sex therapists can play in healing from sexual trauma:

Therapy is an important component of the emotional healing process following a sexual assault. It’s imperative that survivors feel like they have someone they can turn to whenever they need to talk about what happened, or reconcile with their new identity as a survivor, or navigate their altered relationship with sex and sexual partners.

Ideally, this person is a professional sex therapist (though it may also be a friend, family member, life coach, counselor, professor, minister – you name it). However, because the majority of therapists specializing in “sexual trauma” primarily treat victims of child abuse, and the majority of “sex therapists” work mostly with couples struggling with sexual difficulties, I recommend finding a sex therapist who specifically mentions working with survivors of sexual violence, sexual assault or rape in their professional experience.

I also think it is incredibly important to find a sex therapist who views sex openly and non-judgmentally, but also someone who comes from a similar walk of life and will share the same attitudes and beliefs regarding sexuality. For example, if you are a trans person who has experienced sexual violence, you will probably want to find a counselor who specializes in treating the LGBTQ+ population – or, if you are a devout Catholic (or Jew or Buddhist or whatever-ist), you may want to seek a counselor whose practice is informed by your faith.

Because sexuality is such a sensitive subject to broach, finding a counselor who speaks openly about sex, encourages you to do the same and does so in a language you understand can be life-affirming for a survivor of sexual violence. That being said, you can also take steps to heal yourself from sexual assault outside the therapist’s office – and that can start with a mindful masturbation practice you begin at home.

As a survivor of sexual assault, here is my advice for masturbating following a sexual assault – as well as some juicy bonus tips for how you can experience greater pleasure in the process!

  • Begin with non-sexual activities. Lighting a candle. Soaking in a hot bubble bath. Rubbing a vanilla-scented body lotion into your parched skin. All these activities, to me, read “sensual” rather than “sexual.” These activities allow you to show yourself and your body some love, before you are ready to start engaging in sexual touch.
  • Follow with non-sexual touch. The feeling of a hot shower running along your bare skin, or a gentle massage from your partner after a long day at work, can be just as powerful in relearning to love your body as sexual touch.
  • Give yourself time. The last thing you want to do when healing from sexual assault is “rub one out.” Allow yourself at least an hour to breathe, take breaks (if necessary) and spend this time focusing on you.
  • Avoid watching porn. Porn can be a healthy way of exploring sexuality for the average person – but when you’re a survivor, so much porn depicts sexuality in an unhealthy, even violent way that can trigger unpleasant thoughts and memories of the abuse. Rather than watching porn, close your eyes and focus on your breathing and the sensations going through your body. This simple act of awareness is what sets “mindful masturbation” apart from simply masturbating.
  • Try tantric masturbation. Whether or not you buy them, you’ve probably heard of tantric sex techniques for growing closer with a partner – but did you know you can practice tantra by yourself, too? Because of tantric masturbation’s focus on loving-kindness and self-exploration, the mindfulness techniques used in tantric masturbation make it the perfect healing art for survivors. Check out this article from Refinery29 for the full breakdown.

 

Survivors, what has helped you recover from sexual trauma and learn to love sex again? Let us know in the comments below!