Just when you think you’ve got your shit together, your life slowly unravels to reveal a new area that needs your attention. I’ve spent the last four years working through post-assault trauma and the highs and lows that are reminiscent of the worst ride at the fair; the one that looks like it was made before you were born with latches and locks that slide much too easily in and out of place, the one where it’s very possible that imminent death awaits. Yeah, sort of like that.
I thought I had moved into a really positive space just a few weeks ago. I was feeling more confident and secure in the decisions I had been making and where they had brought me to mentally and emotionally. I slowly started to get back into reading and writing about sexual assault after taking a short hiatus and picked up the new book edited by Roxane Gay titled, “Not That Bad”. I dove into the book the way a good book draws you in, reading it during every spare moment I had. I pored over the stories shared by writers whose words spoke so true to mine. To this day, I still struggle with the need to have my experience validated by others. This is likely due to living in a fucking dumpster fire of a society that reinforces rape culture at every single pace, but I digress. Whatever it is*, I often feel as though my experience “wasn’t that bad” and therefore isn’t deserving of the love, care, attention, compassion, and sympathy that others do (yet another symptom of rape culture). We stack ourselves and our experiences against one another in an attempt to determine their worth and validity, which in turn silences most of us with the belief that because others have experiences that we perceive to have been far worse than ours and therefore more deserving of said love, care, attention, compassion, and sympathy.
The truth is, it’s all that bad. Every single part of it. I often say that the physical abuse I experienced doesn’t come close to measuring up to the trauma of healing and the process of trying to put yourself together again. Abuse dehumanizes you on a level that’s difficult to comprehend without the first hand experience. It leaves you questioning everything you ever thought you knew and cherished about yourself and is one of the most lonely places in the world.
After over 200 pages in 5 days (I’m not bragging here, I’ve never proclaimed to be a speed reader, I’m just saying the book is good and when I normally take a month or so to read a good book because I’m so easily distracted, this book kept my attention so fiercely that when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it) I knew it was time to take a break. Actually, I didn’t know, but my body did. I had just one paragraph left in a chapter but could barely see through the tears that had welled up in my eyes and I could feel my arms going limp as I struggled to keep the book in front of me. My body fell into what I can only describe as an abyss of nothingness and that haunting feeling of sheer abhorrence filled my insides. Before the panic set in, I went back to some of the tools I’ve gained to cope with these episodes before – deep breaths, talk it out, say what you need to say, lean into the discomfort, really feel it, don’t run away. I curled my knees up against my chest and went into my “safety shape” (the way you position your body when you’re feeling unsafe or afraid that’s likely been with you since childhood but since no one has ever pointed it out to you or noticed the incredible ways we protect our emotions as human beings, you’ve been completely oblivious to it…until now – somatic therapy I tell ya, it’s a magical thing) to bring myself comfort and remind myself that it was a safe space to let go.
I sat crying in my bath tub until the water was cold, held up into that shape until I could breathe normally again. Previously, during a session of breath work, I was instructed to speak my feelings out loud. It was incredibly uncomfortable at the start, but the more I spoke, the lighter I began to feel. Just as writing allows the words to course through my fingertips from my heart onto this screen, the words that I speak out loud when I’m lost in myself allow me to slowly come back to life. I’m surprised with what comes out of my mouth sometimes, as if those words had been inside me this whole time, festering and taking up space, without me noticing them at all. It’s only when I say them out loud that I feel that space clearing up, a space I didn’t know I could feel or had ever existed.
It’s always a mixed bag of emotions after an episode like that. I’m exhausted from the physical act of crying and the release of emotions, I feel lighter after having gotten them out, I feel disappointed in myself that I’m not better yet (whatever that means), and I feel frustrated that I’m still having to move through it all. I can sometimes come out of it, only able to relish in the satisfaction of it for a brief moment before I send myself down into a spiral of self-doubt and shame, worrying that I’m never going to be myself again and that I will always be haunted by the experience that took so much from me. At least I’m not alone.
*it’s because we life in a fucking dumpster fire of a society that reinforces rape culture at every single pace