the body

[image: Ana Manso, Eye Massage]

As seems to happen frequently, a Twitter conversation brings me here. I have recently had some reflexology, and had the extraordinary experience of right at the end — feeling an inexplicable but distinct ‘lightening’, like something leaving me. It was remarkable.

It occurs to me that many who read this blog may not be acquainted with how a Child Sexual Abuse survivor feels about their body. We are by no means the same, or feel the same things, but to a person I reckon we all have issues around our bodies, one way or another.

I have posted before about how dance kept me in my body, shifted trauma for me, something I was not aware of until recently. Alongside this though, I have had to re-learn (learn for the first time?) about physical boundaries, and about my body belonging to me and no one else.

Boundaries are extremely complicated (there’s that word again) in CSA. As a victim, I ‘knew’ what was happening wasn’t right. If so, you may wonder — why didn’t I tell someone? Why didn’t I stop my abuser and say No? Because: the abuser always has authority. The victim may ‘feel wrong’ — but the abuser is always ‘right’. The abuser has the power. Always. The power of the victim to exact the physical boundary, to draw the line, doesn’t exist.

Right through through my 20’s and 30’s I made sure never to wear anything which could be interpreted as ‘revealing’. Or which showed ‘curves’, or ‘skin’. Which could ever, by anyone, be interpreted as ‘inviting’. Given that I was married, had children, and was by all measures of such things really pretty happy — it’s striking that my relationship with my skin ‘in the world’ was completely missing.

I think this is a common experience among trauma survivors of any sort. Specifically and of course, bodies of CSA survivors often don’t belong to them in some fundamental way. Our bodies are not ‘ours’. In fact, we would rather not have bodies, because keeping our bodies’ memories — and ourselves, our inner selves — away from each other is exhausting. If we are lucky we find ways to enjoy intimacy and sex, we make a space to be touched. If we are not, none of this comes to us. Because our bodies are not ours.

Which is why massage can be so fraught, and/or such a release. Survivors usually feel that being touched is either dangerous or meaningless. ‘Getting in touch with’ being touched is huge. Accepting touch which isn’t freighted with expectation or fear is quite a thing. But when it happens, when it does so without feeling unsafe — it can be so healing.

I want to reiterate the Contents Warning for this next excerpt from my memoir Learning to Survive. It plainly shows the coercion with which physical boundaries are transgressed, and how children are helpless to protest. I am 10 or 11 years old when this scene happens.

*

Conversion

[My stepmother] is out. He has been helping me with my homework. He invites me to the sofa.

            Have you started your period yet?

            I am mortified. I shake my head.

            I want you to be able to tell me anything.

            He reaches over, starts to unbutton my shirt. Checks with me, ok? I do not know if I respond.

            He unbuttons my shirt, reaches inside my trainer bra, and rubs my barely-there breasts. It hurts.

            After a minute he stops, and allows me to button up my shirt again. Thank you, he says, and laughs a little.

Not long after, [my stepmother] tells me that I will no longer be sharing a room with [my siblings]. She is excited about the basement conversion; she will get a sewing room again, and everyone will have their own bedrooms. My father adds that as the eldest, I will get the new bedroom, alone downstairs in the basement.

2 thoughts on “the body”

    1. Thank you. There is a lot of work now being done around trauma informed care – including anything gynaecological or to do with obstetrics. It’s a huge area and a source of profound triggers for many, indeed.

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