I finally worked up the courage to go to a yoga class today. I’ve been going to gym but just to do cardio and weights, and I’m not really present for it: I ignore my body and just push through waiting for the session to be done. I’m supremely uncomfortable in my body: that weak, damaged thing I find myself living in. I’m not in good health. I’ve been violated because of the sexual coercion I suffered and my emotional abuse manifested in multiple physical ailments. I have been instinctively fighting against the multiple medical practitioners who have told me I need to do yoga to help strengthen my wasted muscles and correct my posture issues. I resisted because I wear my trauma in my body and yoga is all about being present in that very same body I’m desperate to escape from. Just looking at me you can see the signs of stress: I try to hold my legs together because opening them and letting my most intimate parts be accessible is unsafe, even when driving or doing squats at the gym. I hug my arms across my chest to protect my heart because I feel scared all the time. I slump over, feeling worthless and a burden, head down, lower back pushing out to the extent that my current chiropractor has told me I’m in danger of permanently pushing out the curve of my spine in the wrong direction.
So today I summoned my inner strength and went to yoga at my gym. I told the instructor beforehand I have flexibility problems and am healing from chronic fatigue. I’m still terrible at letting people know I have PTSD and severe anxiety so I tend to describe it as a generic physical problem.
The class starts. It is mostly retirees (whew). The instructor is tall, beautiful, impossibly slim and graceful (shit). I’ve put a little weight on from a comfort eating relapse and I can see my tummy rolls in the studio mirrors when I sit down. I am sucked back into my head, into that most self-critical place where my abuser set up camp and feasted. I am officially a mess. Shit, the retirees are far more flexible than me and we have only done some gentle movements. The class goes on. I struggle with basic things. My body is so locked up, so painful I need special instructions and even they are too difficult. I can’t power through and escape my thoughts like when I do weights or cardio. I am forced to be present. The full extent of the physical damage done to my poor body because of how it responded to my emotional abuse is laid bare and my denial, my armour, ripped from me. My poor body. I begin crying. I can’t even bend over in one sequence, in another my hips lock up and I can’t move. The pain is excruciating. My body feels like cement, frozen, brittle, dead. I cry more, silently, horrified by what has happened to me. It’s been around two years since I escaped and in one session of yoga I am finally confronted with the full extent of the violence perpetrated against my outer, physical self.
My journey back into my body has been long and difficult (and still has a long way to go). In August 2016 I was sent to a chiropractor by my dentist who was treating my chronic jaw clenching and teeth grinding (hello stress and trauma, I see you manifested in my body yet again). The chiropractor was a few years older than me and very good looking. He was very male, fashionable, muscular, a solid presence that took up the room. I panicked at our first session. I stuttered, I didn’t make sense, I was sweating because of my fear of being around his maleness, an energy that screamed danger. I ended up crying as he checked my posture because his (gentle) touch was too much and thankfully he graciously didn’t say anything. He was lovely. I might have developed a small crush on him, I’m not going to lie.
I remember looking at him: he was my age-ish, good looking and successful and then looking down at myself: overweight, hair ratty and a mess, too long since I’d been to a hairdresser. My clothes were baggy to hide my body. I didn’t live there: my body was an alien thing I was tied to against my will. But seeing him every week reminded me I was young and once had dreams, once cared about how I looked. He would give me a neck massage each session to try to release the tension from my jaw problems. It was a sacred experience for me. He was at all times professional and detached, but also gentle and intuitive. And that gentle, safe touch lit something in me. For years I had been played with, discarded, often deemed unworthy of any touch or physical comfort. And the little I received was either toxically sexual or emotionally empty, a show so my abuser could feel good about himself and give me just enough breadcrumbs that I wouldn’t see what he was doing to me. Lying on that chiropractic table, being touched like a human worthy of physical affection was both exquisitely beautiful and devastating. Was this what human touch could be? Was this real? Why hadn’t I been allowed this before? Through all of the messy mix of emotions I started seeing my body again. I started to want it back. I dieted, trying to break the cycle of comfort eating that I used to deal with my trauma and PTSD that was undiagnosed at the time. I got my hair dyed and trimmed. I wanted to be his peer. I wanted to be young again, be my age, not some broken-winged bird waiting for winter to come so I could die in the snow instead of by my own hand by jumping from my nest. But I was still a long way from good health and recovery.
I’ve talked before about how Domestic Violence (DV) doesn’t have to include physical abuse to be classified as violence. When you are being systematically broken and erased through cruelty meted out by words, a lack of words and psychological games, your body responds. You are under attack and you seek to somehow, futilely, protect yourself from that predator your instincts whisper is hiding in the shadows. Even when you don’t recognise you are being abused part of you senses the danger. My body began shutting down. I got sicker and sicker. Even after my escape I still felt the threat everywhere because DV trauma doesn’t stop when you get out. For years afterwards your brain unearths memories you buried. The more psychological help you get, the more you realise the extent of the horror you were living through. Many survivors report feeling worse in those first few years after escaping.
After I got back from yoga today I fell apart. My body was sore, my back was aching because I’d pushed myself too hard at the beginning, determined to be unbroken. The pain was distressing, but what was most upsetting was that I was mentally fracturing: I was completely overwhelmed by the horror of what had been done to my body by my abuser. My body. My body. My abuser had twisted it and broken it without lifting a finger. So today I fell apart. I was so distressed I had to take some of my emergency Valium. But I still couldn’t handle the waves of grief and anger as I sat in my body and took account of how broken it was. I needed the pills because I needed to leave my body again and fade back into ignorance. The intensity was too much after being ignored for so long. It’s after midnight now. I’ve taken more sedatives and I’m still a mess. I should be knocked out but I’m awake, agitated, alarmed, scared, angry.
I have to go back to yoga because this is not ok. I want my body back. I want to be healthy. I want to be touched with gentleness and respect. I want to feel beautiful. I want to love myself. I want to open my body to another man and not be afraid but to feel desire and joyful curiosity. It’s going to be difficult, though. It’s going to be painful. But it’s my body. My abuser had dominion over it for ten years and he shouldn’t be allowed to still be crushing me.
Wish me luck. This is going to suck for a long time before it feels good!