Reclaiming Safety in My Body

I do not know why I ever start a series on my blog because each time I do, a different topic feels important to discuss. From now on, I may wait until a series is complete before I post the first entry. So, here is a detour on words that I felt needed to be written.

One of the most difficult aspects of healing after childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault is reclaiming felt safety in the body. When a person’s body is sexually violated, it feels like someone else has busted the front door down and taken up residence within it. The body may not feel like it belongs to you anymore. The autonomy you once rested in, is stolen.

To complicate matters, one of the prime coping mechanisms for dealing with sexual trauma requires the disconnection between a person and their body. Dissociation. The good thing about dissociation is that it does allow us to disconnect from our body during events that are painful, full of betrayal, and that overwhelm our capacity to function. The bad thing about dissociation is that it allows us to disconnect from our body even when the external threat has subsided. People who have experienced trauma, specifically sexual trauma, often have seasons where they remain somewhat disconnected from the present moment because a perceived threat remains. Sometimes that threat may feel like yourself.

When I was a little girl, one of the beliefs abuse instilled in me was that I no longer had the privilege to choose what happened to my body. I no longer had the right to refuse what my abuser wanted. As my brain developed, that belief generalized to people outside of the walls of my house. I have written numerous times about an incident at a hotel pool area when, as a child, I believed that whenever a man did things like my abuser, it was my duty to “help.” In elementary school, it did not feel like my body was really, truly, my own.

The belief that my body was “owed” to others and an indebtedness persisted.  This belief often holds hands with self-blame (which is what I plan to address in part two of the series). I could justify the belief that I owed my abuser because I was not physically coerced into the abuse. It was what just had to happen if I wanted to watch a television show with him. That message was reinforced by words my abuser spoke and eventually it transformed into a sense of obligation to others. My body did not belong to me and it was meant for others’ consumption.

While one may break the chains of self-blame and obligation to others, re-establishing felt safety within one’s own body has a different trajectory. It is not as simple as telling ourselves, the threat is gone and we are now safe. We can say that to ourselves, but our body is not going to embrace that belief because the dissociation severed the connection. First, we must restore the connection and allow ourselves to feel- period. Many of us will slowly wade into the pool of feelings because simply jumping in is too overwhelming. As we wade into the pool, we begin to feel what we have not felt in a long time. After a while, we start to realize we can swim in the pool of feelings. We can choose which area of the pool we want to visit. We have learned self-regulation techniques so that if someone jumps in and causes a huge splash, we can either embrace the water hitting our face or we can swim away from the commotion to a place that feels calmer. It isn’t until we lay on our backs, allowing the water to hold us up, as we float with the sun hitting our face, our eyes closed, that we feel safe. Safety comes when we trust that our body is not going to betray us, when we trust that no one is going to try and drown us, when we trust that we are not going to sink- that is when we are truly free.

One thought on “Reclaiming Safety in My Body

  1. apologianick January 23, 2023 / 9:35 pm

    Apologies if this shows up twice. I had trouble signing in.

    I do blog series also and change midcourse. It’s your blog. Write what you are passionate about at the time.

    Your analogy is water which makes sense. It’s one I don’t use because I am terrified of water.

    Anyway, when I went through my divorce, it was and is devastating. However, my analogy is gaming. I had to choose in this game I am in. I have no cheat codes and no reset button and only one shot. I have to choose to play to win.

    If I live in fear refusing to live my life because of her, she wins. However, also if I live with anger and unforgiveness towards her, she also wins. She controls me just as much. I have to internally forgive her regularly. I suspect on some level an abuse victim has to also.

    But I play to win and I want to live my life.

    One reason I have talked with the rec center on overcoming my water fear this summer.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s