Self-Care & Trauma Healing with the Babe Behind Phoenix

Continuing with our segment of powerful babes and how they self-care, we interviewed Melissa of The Phoenix Project. With all of her important work for women who are in need of trauma healing following sexual assault or violence, we couldn’t think of a better person to speak on the important of a little TLC.

For those who don’t yet know, what is The Phoenix Project and the Phoenix rising app?

The Phoenix Project is a Social Good Startup that focuses on empowering survivors of sexual assault and violence. Our platform aims to normalizes mental health and self- care and celebrate the healing journey. 

Phoenix Rising is an app that we are currently crowdfunding on iFundWomen platform to build. The app will deliver high quality healing resources and tools to survivors wherever they are on their healing journey. 

We believe healing is a beautiful thing and we want our work to reflect that with images and messages of love and self-care; too often stories of abuse are grounded in the heavy parts of healing. We want to shed light on the JOY of healing.  

The app will be a tool that can support survivors wherever they are. I myself am a survivor and there have been times when I have needed an immediate moment of support but I have not found an app has a trauma informed lens on it – so I decided to build it. 

I have a female only creative team and board of powerhouse women that are coming onboard. We are gonna do the damn thing all while staying aligned with our mission- to support survivors on their healing journey with top quality healing resources and tools. 

That’s huge and definitely a necessity! Can you tell us how you got started?

I first got the idea to start the Phoenix Project last spring, I had been riding out a really rough moment in my own healing and I had been feeling really lost. At the time I had been doing some of my hardest self-work, really looking at my trauma and actively working to heal some old wounds I had been carrying around with me for far too long.  

In doing that work and experiencing how empowering healing was I wanted to make healing more accessible to survivors. Then #MeToo happened and I knew it was time to get to work. 

The app idea came out of a moment when I was having an awful PTSD “flare up” – I had been at class (I am getting my Doctorate, a casual doctorate, NBD) and I was triggered by an exercise we had to participate in. I went to the bathroom and completely fell apart in the stall- we are talking full blown panic attack. In that moment my brain felt shattered and I could not recall my “trauma recovery resources” which caused me to panic even more (and I still had four hours of class left). I remember crying and thinking, “I need something NOW in my hand.” Sure, I had my phone with me (I’m a millennial so my phone is pretty much always with me) but I was not in a state to google. It was then that I thought of Phoenix Rising. And now I am building the app to be there in all moments of need- from crisis to self-care reminders. I want the app to be accessible, beautiful, and remove the stigma of shame that so many survivors find themselves facing- Healing is a beautiful and fucking courageous act! Let’s celebrate that! 

We couldn’t agree more and are so lucky you are working to provide that to all women survivors. What encouraged you to start a business? Were you scared or was this something you always knew you wanted to do?

Failing encouraged me to start my own business. Coming to a place where I kept getting “no” motivated me. In one of my failing moments a close friend of mine told me if I wasn’t getting a seat at the table, I should build my own damn table. So that’s what I did!

And I was and still am terrified. It’s an interesting thing to start a business, there are so many fears and doubts as well as steep, steep learning curves. I am still learning a lot, every day, every moment. 

I feel like I am reminded on a daily basis that I am venturing into a world that does not represent me wholly or openly: I am a woman, I am a female founder, I am a single mom, I am a survivor, I have PTSD. And I am very aware that I am an educated white woman navigating this. For women of color and low-income women the battle is much harder- the systems in place that regulate whose business is created, funded, etc. live in a place of privilege and I’m not ok with that. 

Neither are we! What were some of the difficulties you faced when launching your business?

Oof! Too many to count haha! When I was filing, my LLC my paperwork got all messed up and I had to spend hours trying to get it sorted. That’s just one that comes to mind with the launch- Running a startup is a non-stop grind so keeping things in balance can be hard. Sure, I can work in PJs, but I can also do that for days on end, not interacting with other people, being glued to my laptop. Keeping things in balance and remembering to make and hold time for rest and self-care can be really difficult when you are first launching, but it is so so necessary. 

We get it! We’ve been through it and we are so glad you are shining light on it. How do you process the ups and downs that come with entrepreneurship?

I cry. I work out. I binge watch things on Netflix. I reach out to close friends. I go to therapy. The reality is life is always going to be full of ups and downs and perfection is an illusion. I am learning to meet myself with grace when I hit a wall or am exhausted. A book that has helped me too is, The One Thing, it really helps put the entrepreneurship thing into perspective. 

I also have been reading, You’re not Lost by Maxie McCoy- I had the pleasure of meeting her when the Wing SF first opened and we both bonded over blue bottle coffee and never really knowing what the fuck it is we are doing. I think that’s something that needs to be said: none of us really know what we are doing- but we are trying and that’s what matters.

P.S. Maxie’s insta is chocked full of good stuff for entrepreneurs and her book is a must read. 

We will definitely check her out! Thank you for the recommendation. Now, what keeps you motivated?

My why. I am doing this work because I am a survivor and I know how painful, disorienting, scary, and hard healing can be. I have also lost close friends to abuse and that heartache constantly propels me forward to do this work.

I want to use my access to some of the best technology in the world (I am a born and raised Bay Area human- I am actually writing this right now from San Francisco) to create something that can create real social change and help people heal. Carrying around the wounds of trauma does not equal a life fully lived and I believe we all deserve to live a full beautiful life.  

In February I had the privilege of meeting Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo and we spoke about the joy of the healing process... from that moment The Phoenix Project was committed to brightening the lives of those facing the trauma of sexual assault and violence- no matter where they may be on their healing journey. 

With all the amazing work you are doing, what is your favorite way to self-care?

I am an avid cyclist (indoor, I am not that hardcore). I found SoulCycle at a time when my healing journey was really calling for a high energy outlet but as my schedule was busier it was harder to get to classes- also I am bootstrapping Phoenix so, ya know, SoulCylce is pricey. 

For a while there I stopped working out, that wasn’t great for my mental health- I am someone that can live in her head so I need the physical outlet of exercise to connect to my body. I just made the bold choice to invest in my mental health and I financed a Pelaton bike. I have had the bike for three days and it is one of the best decisions I have made all year. I am getting workouts in and feeling much less anxious. 

But honestly, self-care for me is remembering to drink enough water, get sleep, and value my time and energy. It is loving myself in the moments when my own demons want to tell me I am not enough- it is consistently showing up for myself- cause without that I can’t do much. 

Does practicing self-care help you on bad days?

Constantly. I cannot talk enough about the importance of self-care- it is a necessity that we all need in this world. I worry that as it becomes more “main streamed” that feelings around self care will become a source of shame. The Instagram life fuels this idea that self care is only legitimized if it looks like the insta perfect posts we all scroll through. That’s not true at all- self-care can be as simple (yet profound) as saying, “I love myself & I am enough.”

That is so valuable. What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell her to trust the process- all of it. The good, the bad, the ugly. 

I am not someone that has lived a pain free life, I have endured a lot of heartbreak (from being assaulted at 17, to realizing I was molested at 5, to being abused through my pregnancy, to losing my younger brother to cancer, to being abused when I was a student at UC Berkeley by my then partner). 

My younger self had to cope in ways that fragmented me and kept me from living a full life.

Now I just want to tell her: “its ok, I love her, and I she will rise, she is rising. Just trust in it all, baby. I promise it will be ok.” 

What advice would you give your followers when it comes to self-care/ self-love?

Invest in yourself and your healing every day. You are never a bad investment- your healing is never a bad investment. You fucking matter and we need you here now more than ever. When you show up for yourself, you show up for others and you shine a light into the darkness- you never know who is going to need that light and at what moment. 

Your support humbles me daily, from my heart to yours: Thank you.