Content note: This article discusses sexual violence at length.
After my rape, I thought of my body as a series of open wounds and wounded openings sutured together.
I had to learn how to rewrite the poems, the stories, the words I wrapped around my flesh.
After certain types of trauma, sometimes the only way we can see our bodies is as spaces for harm, spaces for violence, spaces for betrayal, spaces for others.
For me, I saw my body as nothing more than a vulnerability — this brown and pink stretch of exposure. Before I could reclaim my sexuality, I had to foster a (different) relationship with my body.
I had to forgive my body.
After a lot of therapy and emotional work, I accepted that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. I finally got to the point where I was able to let go of all of those “if only if I had…” thoughts haunting me. But even after I was able to shift away from blaming myself in these unfair ways, I still resented my body.
On some level, I saw it as somehow being faulty — as being responsible for inciting this violence within the person that violated me (and then failing me again by not being strong enough to stop it/him). Learning how to not blame myself and my actions was one step; learning how to stop blaming my body for what happened was another.
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I had to bridge the distance I had with my body.
Distancing myself from my body during and after my assault was a tactic that deeply aided in my survival and my coping. However, a significant part of my healing has been in finding ways to flow back into my body.
Rewriting My Relationship to My Flesh
For me, and others I’m in community with, this process has looked so many different ways: dancing, staring in the mirror, body paint, substance use, breathing exercises, certain types of sex, energy work, writing “mine” again and again on different body parts.
I vividly remember the first time I started doing yoga. The first couple weeks I found myself overcome with the strongest desire to weep whenever we would do shavasana. This practice that asked me to bring awareness and breath and presence to my body — it unearthed so much in me. I learned that connecting with my body also means connecting with all those things I’d been holding in and trying to ignore.
Feeling connected with my body is still not the easiest thing for me to access. However, it’s a relationship I continuously try to foster.
I had to learn to associate my body with different memories and experiences.
Flesh memories are so real. Our bodies hold on to trauma. My body had become a reminder of what had happened to me. I’ve had to acknowledge that fact and continuously, gently try to shift it.
Under the best circumstances, our relationships with our bodies are complicated. This is especially true depending on which kind of bodies and identities we have and becomes even more entangled after exposure to trauma.
I had to come to the space that, yes, my body opens me up to pain, boredom, despair, and fear; but it can also be a place of pleasure, joy, relaxation, and exaltation. And it’s my right to experience and claim those things.
Disclosure: To Tell, Or Not to Tell, To Tell Again
One day, I was sitting on a porch with this girl I’d just met, and in the middle of our conversation she said, “…like that time I was raped.” I had never heard anyone talk about sexual violence so openly before. This was years before the #MeToo movement, so I hadn’t really heard anyone talk about it in general outside of therapy.
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It shook me. She saw my reaction. And she said, “Why should I be ashamed to talk about it? I didn’t do anything wrong. They’re the ones who should feel ashamed.”
Something about that has stuck with me for years.
Here she was smoking a cigarette, drinking a PBR, talking to me about things I could only whisper to my therapist behind closed doors. Since that moment, I’ve talked about it a lot more. I’ve told some people, didn’t tell others, disclosed openly in public spaces, shared my story anonymously. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult.
What it gifts me is the opportunity to remind myself, I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Rituals and Healing
One day I called up my best friend from high school in tears and begged him to tell me how he remembered me. For a long time after my assault, I was obsessed with the idea that I needed to get back to who I really was before this happened to me. I was convinced there was some authentic self I needed to return to. I kept looking up facts about the body: how skin cells replicate every 27 days, how the body sheds and rejuvenates all that time.
I confused the idea of healing with a “returning.” This way of thinking just further disconnected me from my body and my self. I had to accept my whole self, changes, ineffective coping mechanisms, desires, memories, and all.
Talking about what happened to me helped. Practicing yoga helped. The passing of time helped. Supportive community helped. Therapy helped. Sweet and caring lovers helped. Yes. All these things helped me along in this journey. A deeper truth is that at its core, re/claiming my sexuality has been built upon my continuous commitment to my relationship with myself.
It’s a constant tending to my erotic. It’s not just about sex. It permeates so many exchanges with the world. It’s me constantly reminding myself again and again: I’m worthy of pleasure. I’m worthy of joy. I’m worthy of safety.
I am mine to share or not to share.
I am mine.
[Featured Image: A photo of a person with closed eyes. They have a brown and white afro covered in rose, orange, purple and pink flowers. Behind them are fern leaves. Source: Pexels]