That’s the thing about pain.
It demands to be felt.
I have always hated my body.
I can name twenty things off the top of my head that I wish I could change- I wouldn’t even need to think about it. I hate my elbows. Who hates their ELBOWS? It is hard for me to accept compliments gracefully- I immediately want to deflect, or make a joke, or tell you the many things that are wrong with me.
Some of that is just the world in which we live. You don’t need to have experienced sexual trauma as a girl to be awash in self-loathing as a grown woman- we are bombarded with unrealistic beauty ideals and the constant repetitive beat of you are not enough, you are not enough, you are not enough. As a survivor of sexual abuse, those beats frequently fall in time with the rhythmic story you tell yourself, I am bad, I am bad, I am bad.
Those beats? They are the drums of war.
I’ve waged war with my body for as long as I can remember. Hate is a strong word, an ugly word, but it’s what I felt for my physical being for as long as I can remember. Hate.
I have had many conversations with people, women mostly, about the ways in which sexual abuse affects you long term. I think it is astounding, the ways we find to survive.
Some of us block out the memories. Our young brains determine that the trauma is too much to handle and they bury the truth. The mind compartmentalizes the memory. It puts the pain on layaway- you pay a tiny bit, over a long period of time- but eventually, the balance comes due. The pain demands to be felt.
So many of us battle with weight. Some gain pounds as a type of armor- a way to keep people at arms’ length, in an attempt to make themselves unappealing. A way to stay safe. Some deny themselves food, some purge. Some try, literally, to disappear. I did. I tried to disappear.
So many of us anesthetize, with food, or alcohol, or drugs, or sex- all in ways that are harmful to our bodies. Temporary fixes at best. Treacherous band aids. But still, eventually, the pain DEMANDS to be felt.
I had several woman share their shame and guilt over their promiscuity. I had one woman tell me it was proof she had invited her abuse. If she was really traumatized why would she seek out sex? I can only speak to my experience, but when you are taught at a very young age that no doesn’t mean no and that you do not have ultimate dominion over your own body- you believe it. When you are taught that your value lies solely in your sexual being- you believe it. Some are seeking to reclaim their sexual power, or are chasing the temporary pleasure to stave off the crushing pain, pain that DEMANDS to be felt.
I think the mind and the body are miraculous. I think we subconsciously find ways to survive. When the body undergoes severe physical trauma it goes into shock. Systems slow, shut down. You are protected from the pain because it is simply too much to bear. The same is true of emotional trauma. Your body finds ways to protect you. But just like with physical shock, you can not live indefinitely in that state. The very things you are doing to protect yourself from the pain will eventually kill you. You need to come out of shock at some point. As Robert Frost said, the only way ’round is through.
To come out the other side, to feel the sun on your face again, you need to feel the pain. It is unspeakably hard to sign up for that. To know it’s coming and to stay still for it. To not find ways to numb yourself. It takes a staggering amount of bravery.
I am finally forgiving myself for the things that I did to survive. Those things that seemed foolish or harmful from the cheap seats. Those things that seemed self destructive and counter-intuitive from the outside. Many of them were, honestly, but I’m not sure I could have survived the pain earlier. I think they were desperate measures, but then, that’s what desperate times call for.
I am extending the olive branch to younger me. I’m calling a truce, and laying down my arms. I am going to stop blaming my body, and I am going to stop shaming my brain.
No one gets to judge how you managed to survive, friends. No one. No one gets to shame you for whatever you did to get yourself to the place where you can live through feeling the pain. Not even you.
You survived, honey. Not everyone does, you know.
You miraculous girl. You miraculous boy. You clever, resilient child, you.
You can stop hurting yourself. You can shed your armor, and still be safe. You can be seen, and still be safe. You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. You are being held hostage. Meet the demands. Feel the pain. It will take some courage, but we already know how brave you are. You are so, so brave.
You are strong enough to walk through the pain, and into the sunlight- I promise you. Freedom is just around the bend. See you there, sweet friend.
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