It always felt to me that my abuse had been etched into my bones. That the shame and terror of it had crawled into the cells of my skin, saturated my blood, and written it’s secrets not just in my mind; but in the organs, the joints and the deep tissues of my body. It always felt that my body is a battle field which the abuse has scattered with landmines.
I tiptoe on eggshells inside my own skin.
It makes sense. Sexual abuse is first and foremost an invasion of the physical body. And your body remembers everything.
There was a time, before the worst began,… my mother told me about it. She said that I loved to run. That I ran non stop whenever I could. I remember I was fast. I won the running race in my first school sports day. I remember the feeling of freedom, and my breathless pride as I crossed the line first.
But then the body wasn’t mine anymore. It belonged to bad men, and whoever they wanted to sell it too.
And I can’t imagine it now; being able to take pleasure in what my body can do or what it might be experiencing, without unbearable shame and fear. I cannot imagine taking pride in anything my body might be able to do without first asking “is it safe?”, “will I trigger anything?”
Therapy helps… But there is trauma held within the physicality of my body, our body, that is difficult to reach with thoughts and words and feeling.
Over the years we’ve found yoga to be a useful tool for finding and working with “things” that are going on within the body. For the most part, we’ve always liked doing yoga, but aspects of the practice can be triggering. If we are not careful, yoga classes can become an exercise in suppressing and containing flashbacks, rather than actually engaging with the body.
The trouble is we can’t relax, we can’t close our eyes, we can’t sit still, we cant “focus on our breathing”. It brings the trauma too close. And not being able to do these things in a room full of people who can all do them with ease feels embarrassing and shameful.
We still want to practice yoga. It just has to be different. It has to work with our traumatised body, not against it.
We told all this to a close friend who also teaches yoga, and she said she’d like to help. This week we started working, just me and her, with a Yin style practice of long held, deep stretches.
We stay here and now. No eyes closed. No relaxing music. Just me, my friend, a pile of mats, cushions and blankets, and my own living room. We talk about what we’re noticing in our body and what we like or don’t like about the postures.
During a deep twist, I become aware of a persistent image in my mind. It’s a pink set of curtains, only we’ve zoomed into the top left corner where the curtains meets the wall and sunlight creeps past. I wonder why I’m seeing this now? Twists are my favourite! I enjoy the deep pull across my lower back, my hips easily rotate all the way down to the floor. Yet here I am in a twist, and I can’t keep still. I’m clenching and unclenching my hands and my breathing is shallow.
My friend asks me whats going on. I can’t explain in the moment, but later I can…
Something was going on in my body that was triggering a trauma response. I felt stuck in the posture like I couldn’t escape, so I mentally ran away.
When we thought about the shape of the posture, it was suddenly obvious.
My arms were stretched out at right angles, in “crucifixion” position, and there was a pulling feeling across my shoulders. And I thought about the many times my arms have been pulled out just like that and tied down with ropes or hands or chains.
No wonder then, that my shoulders hate this, that my body resists, that my mind switches off.
It’s just that with DID the dots don’t connect very easily. Everything is about automatic, preordained responses, of which I am for the most part oblivious.
Because that’s the whole point. We must not know about the abuse.
We must close down, switch off, zone out, get dizzy, migraine, vomit, panic attack, self harm, overdose, fall asleep, wake up, anything, anything…. Anything, to not know.
And we can’t just choose to stop. Because it goes on and on, unconsciously. We are always running away from what is hidden inside our own mind, and we don’t even know it.
But what if, here and now, wrapped in a blanket on our yoga mat, with the support of a kind friend, what if we decided to stop running?
What if we choose to place our arms at right angels and stretch out our shoulders?
What if we choose to stay still, to stay here and now, to allow whatever is stored in our shoulders to be felt and experienced?