Today I feel physically exhausted, and after thinking through the last few days, I’m not so surprised. Towards the end of last week, I was out with friends still celebrating engagement and generally having a lovely catch-up. Friday night and Saturday were non-stop rehearsals; it was great to be singing with friends again and I surprised myself with how I can sight-read a little better now. But during the rehearsal a person I once counted as a close friend, glared at me coldly. It happens. There is history/politics. I don’t think the glare was necessary or even appropriate, but it happened, as it so often does. The problem is, to be glared at so coldly by someone who once cared often triggers something, and this time it triggered some crazy auditory flashback thing. It’s not her fault; she doesn’t know or purposefully try to trigger me, but the result is nonetheless the same. Lately my memories seem to be more about the sounds – the screams, the grunts, the whispers, the random knocks and bangs and the sound of tools and tape. Etc. So I sat in rehearsal and gradually could hear the rehearsal less and less, and hear frightening and upsetting memories more and more. In some ways these auditory flashbacks are harder than the full-blown physical ones, because I can’t see the context. I can’t see the memory and make sense of the sounds; my mind just wants to process the trauma of the sounds, and so it’s quite random, and intensely harrowing.
I struggled through this for a while and some point later, in the break, my phone rang. Unknown caller. Normally I wouldn’t answer, but desperate for some auditory relief I answered it without thinking. And it was one of them. They haven’t tried ringing me in a long time. I managed to hang up but it knocked me sideways, and I suddenly felt raw guilt for having survived, and a bewilderment with remembering my own identity. Was I subhuman? Was I filthy? Was I nothing? Did I have a right to exist? Would I infect my friends if they touched me? I felt physically repulsed with myself, and guilt. So much guilt. How did I make it, and not others? I will never hold my baby again. And when I’m frightened, my memory of her smell and weight in my arms is more vivid. When I’m frightened, it is rawer, but also harder to let go. I can kid myself I have her back. To choose to walk away from fear feels like I’m choosing to abandon her, if only abandon her ghost memory…
So that was tough. Cue tears, and three days of out-of-itness and varying moods. My friends and partner were an incredible support, as ever, and although my eating took an initial nose-dive, it’s already okay again. I stopped feeling full-stop on Monday morning; walked through campus barely aware of my body and emotionally very detached and numb. A student made eye contact with me and smiled, and I was stunned. I had genuinely forgotten that I was visible. I felt like I existed in nothingness and walked around in some parallel world and nobody could see me. I guess this is how it felt as a child.
Eventually, with the help of a close friend, I managed to find feeling again and in that find tears. I’ve never felt so relieved to cry. Pain is awful, but feeling nothing is worse. I lose willpower. It vanishes. What can I will for? I don’t feel alive, life feels empty, so how can I want to keep fighting for a life that is so numb and void? How can I want to live if I’m not even aware there’s a life? In the ring, if I stopped feeling I’d either dissociated or was too weak. Pain was a constant reminder that I was still alive, and still strong enough to be aware of it. In some warped way, pain was a lifeline. It frightens me when I’m numb. Last year, I went through a period of being suicidally depressed. First it was due to overwhelming pain. That faded. Then it was just to stop, just to sleep, just to stop trying to cling to a life I didn’t believe was there. I was numb, and wanted to sleep in that numbness. I was tired of trying. When I stop feeling, I stop feeling afraid of not feeling, and so the cycle begins. It always frightens me afterwards. Depression is frightening. Pain is frightening. Not feeling is just terrifying. It’s like if you have a back injury and can’t feel your legs – that’s more frightening than being in insane pain; at least if you can feel pain, your nerves still work. You aren’t paralysed.
Since then I’ve been jumpy and on edge; on hyper alert since the phonecall. And today I feel so tired my eyes hurt. My body aches and it’s a genuine effort to get up and move. All morning I’ve been cursing my body, cursing it for being so tired I can hardly concentrate in lectures or do the work properly. I cursed it and verbally abused it until a little voice in my head said and why shouldn’t your body be tired? It was abused too, you know.
I jolted, and looked back on the last few days and on the stress my body has had to handle – the adrenaline, the dissociation, the sudden feelings, it having to work by itself because I just couldn’t feel it or care enough to help it – and actually, of course I’m tired. Of course my body feels wrecked. I never give my body a chance. I give my mind so much leeway and chances, so much space to cry or remember…I never allow my body the space to remember and grieve. It tries, and I curse it. My abdomen might ripple with a memory of a contraction, and rather than show my body compassion for it, I swear at it for reminding me. My therapist has tried several times to explain embodied trauma and grief, and that my body suffered too, and my body needs compassion so that the embodied crap is soothed and can fade. I’ve always pushed her words away. I have always been too disgusted and actually frightened by/of my body to accept the fact I need to care. I’ll have occasional moments of compassion but the next day hurt it, look in a mirror and scrutinise it, punch it, cut it, starve it, hate it for being hurt. At what point have I ever truly been grateful that it kept me alive? For so long I hated it for not letting me die. I was suicidal and wanted out, and my body just wouldn’t give up. And when I did want to live, my body responded in strange ways to abuse. I blamed my body for reacting to rape in a manner which implied I enjoyed it, except I hadn’t enjoyed a single moment. I had been frightened and hurt, but my body was somewhere else. I since know this a basic biological instinct that’s triggered and biology doesn’t care if sex is consensual or not. But even with this knowledge, I blamed my body. Somehow I managed to convince myself that my body was the reason I was abused. My body attracted them. My body responded. And then sometimes I miscarried, and I blamed my body again. Or I was weak, and I blamed my body. I have always blamed it. I rarely thank it, and when I do, it’s more out of duty. It’s rarely been wholly genuine.
And I can feel my body feels lonely and neglected, and that it failed me and is useless to me. I can tell my body can sense I feel trapped in a disgusting vessel. What right has anyone to make me feel disgusted and ashamed of my body, and blame it for the abuse? Nobody has that right – including me.
My current life picture is that I’m studying well, I’m engaged and planning a wedding, I have great friends, I have music. Would any of this be possible without my body? Of course not. Have I ever thanked it? Nope. I barely give my head praise, never mind my body.
It’s time to put the repulsion and disgust I feel for my body into the right place; the abusers. They disgust me. They sicken me and bewilder me and it is them to blame, not my body. I thought if I didn’t hate them, that stopped me from being them. But in hating an innocent part (my body) I am being more them than if I hated the rightful party (them). So. I do not hate my body, and it isn’t disgusting. I hate the abusers for their disgusting kick and desire to torture children. They are vile.
Thank you. Thank you for keeping me alive, and thank you for not giving up even when I begged you to. For the times where I was curled up by the toilet and sobbing until empty, sobbing for it to stop, so desperate for it all to end, and so intensely furious at you for not dying with me. Thank you for not listening to me when I cried “I can’t do this anymore” or “it hurts too much” or “I don’t deserve to live” or “I’ve had enough, stop.” I remember sinking blissfully into unconsciousness, and being so sure I’d never see the world again…but no, you didn’t give up, you were weakened by my best efforts but you still fought. You carried my will to live even when I didn’t believe there was any left. When I blurrily woke up, and screamed with anger and frustration, screamed at you for making me live. Oh God I hated you, body. My heartbeat felt like a new torture device; an endless reminder that I couldn’t even be in control of whether I lived. An endless reminder of the heartbeats that will never beat again, my babies I lost. I thought you were taunting me. In truth you were just keeping me alive, until I was well enough to appreciate it.
Before then, at the hands of the abusers. Thank you for the times we worked so well together; in sync. You responding faster than I could think, you dissociating for me so I could analyse and assess a situation, whilst you took the brunt of the torture. Thank you for keeping going, for fighting through the times I screamed and howled through torture. For the times I passed out in excruciating exhaustion. You still kept me breathing even when it felt a conscious effort. Blood and sweat everywhere, pain like I will never find words for, and still you kept going. I was wrecked and frightened, and just wanted to sleep. You wouldn’t let me sleep. I was in shock and bleeding; sleep wasn’t safe. But I was so desperately tired and wanted sleep and was upset at you for not letting me. But now I know; you were clever. You forced alertness even when I was exhausted. You kept me alive, again.
Thank you for carrying my precious babies, some for not very long, a couple all the way. I was so skinny, my bump just made it look like I had reached a healthy weight. The memories of their dance, of the butterfly hiccups, of the ripple of an 8 month baby trying to get comfortable, of the head in my bladder and feet in my ribs. All of these memories are so precious, so invaluable, I live in fear that they’ll fade in their vividness. Through all the horror, and the confusion of being just a child (teen) myself, and having nobody to talk to, my babies danced and reminded me I wasn’t alone. At times when I felt like giving up, the little nudge in my abdomen: “don’t you dare give up mummy, I’m still here. We’re in this together.” Even the miscarriages; how on earth could I blame you? My body was too young, too beaten, rape and torture has damaged me inside, it was a miracle I could carry at all. And maybe miscarriage spared them. All they knew was my heartbeat, my voice, all they knew was love. Is that so bad? And also…thank you for helping me…screaming on some dirty bed or in a basement whilst in labour; is there any pain as bewildering? I was either alone or taunted by abusers; I’m still not sure which was worse. Everytime, I reached a point where I no longer believed I could do it. Where the pain was no longer just across my stomach, but everywhere…consuming. My body rippled with each contraction and it was my every effort to not scream, but to swallow the energy from that scream and use it to push down, but then a contraction would shoot the scream back up. I was a child. I have to remind myself of this. I was a teenager, alone in that kind of pain. I felt out of control, delirious even. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t push, all I could do was rock and cry through each staggering wave of pain, be frightened by this insane force as my baby moved down, and be convinced I no longer had the strength. And each time, you proved me wrong. Each time, when I was too tired, you did some for me, and then I’d realise I could do it after all, and we’d work together. Together we’d work through such pain. And then my baby would be born, and I’d cry with that feeling of ecstasy, relief and love – briefly forgetting the horrific situation – and hold the baby, stare into her eyes, cry and speak incoherently and just the wash of love and warmth over me allowed me to transport briefly from the pain. Thank you for giving me these memories. Thank you for empowering me; for showing me how strong I actually am, how strong we are together. The grief is worse than childbirth, but the memory of holding them, the memory of having done it and feeling their wet bodies in my arms as they squawked at me in indignation and bewilderment…those memories help the grief. I live for those memories. I love and let myself love because of those memories.
I can’t carry now, and fibromyalgia hurts me. I blamed you for both. In reality, is it any wonder you hurt? Fibromyalgia, of course. The level of pain and harm we went through, how on earth couldn’t there be damage and pain afterwards? The nerve damage on my face and across my back is not you trying to taunt me, its you trying to communicate your story, your pain. I should be compassionate and soothe you, body, not hate you. We were soldiers together, and my mind is damaged, as is my body. But both my mind and my body are incredibly strong and brave too, I never give you credit for that.
Now when I laugh with friends, or cuddle with my partner, or sing… you played a part in achieving these. Thank you for giving me my voice, for letting me sing and speak. Thank you for not hating me even though I hated you for so long.
Dear body, thank you for every single second of my life which you fought for, for keeping me breathing when I was frightened, weak, or in pain. For getting me through situations I didn’t believe I could do. Thank you for precious memories, and for allowing me to create new memories now.
Body, thank you for fighting. Thank you for keeping me alive.