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Body Memories

My body remembers everything my psyche holds back. It tells me when to fear for my safety, when I am somewhere familiar and terrifying, about to repeat an event that I’m not safe enough to remember yet. My heart speeds up and every hair on my body stands on end. I begin to panic. Even when there is no real danger. I begin to feel alarmed and get the overwhelming urge to isolate and take hands off my body. Even if those hands are just holding mine. I can’t explain why I’m triggered, I just need to get out of there. Even when “there” is naked and waist-deep in the ocean at the bottom of a 986-step descent. My body remembers and responds to the danger, even when my psyche doesn’t.

This is not merely anxiety or some kind of agoraphobia that can be resolved by systematic desensitization. This is re-living a horrible past of childhood sexual trauma I cannot bring myself to remember, except with my body. I rationalize with myself and negotiate through it. I assert boundaries and demand that they be respected. I terminate relationships when I have to repeat them — when they are taken as trivial, by someone who fails to understand that they exist for my very survival.

I didn’t just survive my trauma. I had to fight to get to a place where I can begin to feel my emotions again for the first time, and I have to keep fighting for it. I had to fight to get to a place where I don’t hear voices both inside and outside my own head, knowing that none of them are real; and that neither are the sensations of insects crawling in and on top of my skin, or the feeling of being touched by leathery hands and jagged fingernails. I had to fight to understand why I feel simultaneously terrified and sexually aroused, getting the urge to void, whenever I experience immersion into wet filth, either directly or vicariously. I had to fight my way out of multiple relationships that took away the voice with which I assert my boundaries, that took away such a basic degree of safety as the knowledge that my body is safe from any imminent threat of harm, and that took away my ability to navigate my way back out as I fell in love with a surrogate of my pedophile parent — over and over and over again. I had to fight to unveil an entire subset of language with which to speak.

None of these things come easily, and many of them are locked behind unspeakable barriers. We are not allowed, in our kyriarchy, to speak of what lies beyond the bounds of consent. Of what happened behind closed doors that makes a child so hyper-sexual or an adult so desperate to self-objectify and self-harm. Our compliance with the system of injustice we are all born into is both required of us and enforced by us. The repercussions for speaking out against wilful blindness are oppressive: emotional blackmail and exploitation, ostracism and marginalization, rejection and alienation, and even direct acts of violence. It’s part of the social contract of living immersed in the murky waters. Part of the cost of admission to any form of support while we peer into unknown depths at hidden threats.

But I am no longer ashamed of what’s happened to me, and refuse to take on a burden that belongs to the men who perpetrated against me. I am not sorry, because I did nothing wrong. I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry, either, because you didn’t do it (unless you did, in which case, I don’t care for your attempt at an apology, because it’s not all about you any more). I want to hear that there are other survivors. I want to hear that other people like me are taking up space, unashamed, and speaking out about how we can end this perpetual nightmare. I want to hear that there is an end to the number of voices with a story of survival to tell. I want to hear most what my own body is telling me — to take myself back to somewhere safe, and to remember once and for all.

9 thoughts on “Body Memories

  1. Oof. Life really fucks some of us over, doesn’t it? I was raped back in 1999. It took me five years to even remember that it had hurt, and that was only with body therapy I learned in a group for survivors of sexual violence. All along I’d thought all the drugs he’d fed me at least protected me from feeling any pain. Nope. Well, maybe, but I felt it five years later, either way.

    Crazy what the body can do. Those of us with a body considered female by society are constantly told how inadequate it is. I spent years and years hating mine to the point of … insanity? How can you call it insanity if those are the messages you’re fed your whole life? To the point of compliance perhaps?

    I have no suitable word for this travesty.

    My body and I are on much better terms now. It took me getting very sick and wishing desperately to have my ‘old’ body back before I could even sort of being to forgive myself for having it in the first place. This road will probably never end for me, but at least it hasn’t been the same old uphill battle for the past year or so. I’m really grateful for that.

    Being raped, just the one time, fucked me up for a lot of years. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be abused repeatedly. Can’t imagine even more having this happen as a child.

    I’m so, so sorry that happened to you, and I think you’re very strong to have made it this far, to the point where you can talk about it openly. I’m not sorry in an apologetic way. I’m sorry in a “we’re in the same ballpark” way. The kind of sorry that comes from sadness, and compassion, not guilt. Sorrow.

    You seem strong. I don’t know exactly where you hope to be with your body someday, but something tells me you’ll make it there. My body and I have a much longer story than simply the effects of my rape, which would take up volumes in and of itself. I never thought I would, but I’ve managed to come to a place where I’m infinitely less mean to myself in regards to my body. I appreciate the things it tells me now (usually that I’m working too much) and I am amazed that it works, now that I’ve experienced and illness that left me disabled for a year.

    Some people have to fight for every inch they get in life. But there is still much joy to be had.

    • *hugs*

      My body craves (non-erotic) physical touch. It’s just what I need, and where I want to be with my body — in the arms of someone who understands me.

      And that really is one of those joys in life, isn’t it? Hugs, fist-bumps, handshakes, cuddles, and high-fives?

      Love and respect.

  2. Haven’t they proven scientifically that we all need physical touch? Not just you, everyone, hey?

    The arms of someone who understands you part…I think that’s something the vast majority of us want. Not easy, not impossible. I can work with that. You too?

    Thanks for your post. And thanks for actually working on yourself instead of becoming a serial killer. No one would have blamed you.

    • Not sure about categorical statements about human beings and physical touch. Some asexuals may differ in how much they express or experience the same need.

      And FTR, everyone would have blamed me if I became a serial killer.

  3. I wouldn’t have blamed you.

    Do asexuals not crave non-sexual physical touch? I wonder. Just thinking about that study that was done back in the 40’s I think. They did an experiment on babies. One they fed and cuddled and were affectionate with. The other they only fed. That baby died.

    To be fair, physical touch has a lot to do with development when we’re that little, but does that ever completely go away?

    Not sure.

    At any rate, I’ve learned a lot reading your blog for the past little while. Thank you for being so open. I’ve had an easy road when it comes to gender identity, so I’m grateful to be able to learn about gender from your perspective.

    • Asexuality is as diverse a set of orientations as what people typically mean when they say “sexuality”. There is no generalized answer to the question of whether or not asexuals crave non-erotic touch. It’s just not all that clear, and tends to vary from one person to the next.

      I will say though, that a majority of asexuals actually do not experience a life as turbulent and hostile as mine has been. It is simply who they are.

      I struggled to identify whether or not I am even asexual, when I just started to completely lose any sort of sex drive I once had, late last Summer. But I don’t struggle with that any more, I think I just have never had truly fulfilling intimate contact with another person, because I never felt before like I could tell them what I really want. Now I struggle with “how to add gender to orientation?”

  4. Pingback: Dissociative Identity Disorder « HaifischGeweint

  5. I’ve found that i crave human contact. I ask people to pet me like they would pet a cat. I want to lie with my head on someone’s lap, having them play with my hair and stroke my back.

    The term i identify with is ‘skin starvation’. Growing up, the only human contact i remember is associated with pain. I have no recollection of ever being touched in an affectionate manner.

    Next time i come over i’ll hug you for as long as you let me.

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