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My body remembers

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[TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and Abuse]

As many of you know, in highschool I spent a year in an abusive relationship. Some of my memories of my abuse are vague and foggy. But then other memories I remember well. The ones I remember the most clearly are the ones I remember not only in my mind, but in the rest of my body as well.

As I think about my connection with my body, and I think about my commitment to reconnect with and love my body for Lent, I also have to think of the ways my body has been hurt.

And I have to take care of it.

Because my body remembers.

Somehow in my path to healing I got the idea (though I don’t remember where from) that the pain from the physical abuse I’d suffered had healed already. Therefore, it was the verbal abuse I had to worry about.

After all, one only hurt my body. The other hurt my soul, right?

So, until the past two years or so I’d avoided even thinking about it.

But no matter how well my physical abuse has healed, verbal abuse isn’t the only thing that sticks with me. Again, my body remembers.

There aren’t any scars except the ones I gave myself–and those are fading. But even those are part of the body that is me now.

The body that carries in it the experiences that are part of who I am.

My story.

My survival.

Most of what my body remembers can’t be seen. My face remembers the stinging pain of the one and only time he slapped me.

My arm remembers the time when I tried to walk away from him and he grabbed it so tightly that it left a hand-print-shaped bruise. The bruise is gone but sometimes I still feel that hand, gripping so tightly I wanted to cry.

Sometimes my brain tricks me into feeling his hands at my sides ready to tickle me until I couldn’t breathe and started to cry. And I think about it and start to laugh and my ribs start to scream out in pain.

My body remembers when he forced me to perform fellactio on him and how he held my head down. It remembers the taste and how it felt when I threw up afterward. And I still carry mints or cough drops everywhere because sometimes I’ll just be at school or at the store and I’ll remember and the taste will be so real and so awful that if I don’t have something to help me forget I’ll throw up again.

Sometimes I’ll just feel his body on my body, hurting me all over again. I’ll feel his hands and I’ll want to push them away so badly but they aren’t there, and so I end up looking like I just walked into a spider web.

Physical abuse, like verbal abuse, goes deeper than the scars and bruises. My body remembers tastes and smells and touches–some that my brain can no longer even attach to a specific event.

And in my attempt to separate Me from My Body, I’ve dismissed the pain I’ve felt as something in the past. I’ve let myself feel ashamed for still feeling pain that is not “real.”

But today, for Lent, I’m affirming that pain. It’s real and it’s legitimate, even if it’s just a phantom.

I can cry over it. I can hurt from it. I can carry my cough drops and use them when I need to. I can tell Abe to stop touching me if his hands are reminding my body of another set of hands.

I survived with my body and I remember with my body and somehow, I’m going to learn to heal with my body.

I can say to my body, “It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to hurt. You are a survivor too.” 

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On being a female body at a Christian college

[I wrote recently about learning to love my body for Lent. Part of that loving so far has involved some deep contemplation about where the fear and hatred come from. And I’ve realized something.

Part of my body hatred, and by extension part of my self hatred, comes from the fact that oppressive people have used my female body  to justifying oppressing me.

I hate my body and myself because, deep down, I blame my body (and thus myself) for the ways in which I’ve been hurt by others.

7128_173502622984_2193630_nTwo examples stick out clearly in my mind. Both from experiences at my former Christian school, Grace College.

It was the first week of my freshman year. We had a meeting for everyone in our all-women dorm to go over the basic rules. Don’t burn popcorn and set off the smoke alarm. Be in before curfew. No sex, drugs, or rock and roll (okay, maybe rock and roll was okay. Just not during quiet hours!).

During this meeting, the husband of our Residence Director came in to talk to us ladies about, you guessed it!

Modesty.

He started out by telling us to never let any Christian man blame us for their sins. Then he proceed to…well, blame us for his sins.

He told us of his own porn addiction and of the porn addictions that other men on campus have talked to them about. He was blunt, and even made subconscious hand motions while talking about masturbation.

And what was his point?

“When you wear those tight jeans, your brothers in Christ go home and masturbate to you. Your selfish clothing choices make it hard for your brothers in Christ to break their addictions. Thanks to God’s grace, it’s been weeks since I’ve looked at porn, but it hasn’t been months. And the way women on this campus dress doesn’t help.”

I talked to many women who were present in that meeting who expressed that they left feeling ashamed and dirty. I know that every time I passed that man on campus from that day on, I wanted to turn invisible. I’d tug my skirt down and pull my jacket over my chest, and I’d resist the urge to get sick to my stomach thinking about him masturbating to me, and it being my fault.

My body was shameful. It was dirty. It could ruin lives and marriages just by existing.

This is the first thing I learned about my body at Grace College.

It was the second semester of my freshman year. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, so there I was. This week we were learning about relationships between men and women, how they were often broken in this world, and how we could fix them.

We did this by learning our roles.

And we could learn our roles, not just from Scripture, but from our bodies.

The speaker told the Biblical story of King Joash (and I’m still to this day not sure why). “Joash drilled a hole into the box,” he said. “Joash femaled the box.”

According to this man and his strange desire to associate being female with having a hole drilled into you, the reason men and women can’t get along is because men and women (mostly women) are rebelling against the nature revealed to us by our bodies.

“Men are supposed to give the life-bearing seed of the gospel to all the world,” he said, while making disturbing hand motions from his crotch to the audience. “Women are supposed to receive that seed.”

The moral was that female people were trying too hard to give when they were made to receive and weren’t letting male people to what they were meant to do (which is apparently to spiritually ejaculate on everyone).

Female bodies were not built to give life (apparently child birth doesn’t count and we’re just the incubators) but to be fulfilled in receiving life.

It wasn’t patriarchy holding me back, according to this man. It was my body. This is why I could not be a pastor, or a spiritual leader in my family. This is why I could not speak my mind too loudly or be too bold. Because I had a vagina, and vaginas are not for giving.

But I fell for it for years and years. I saw myself as stuck in this body with its sinful breasts and its useless vagina.

I saw my body as a prison.

And in seeing my body as a prison, I blamed myself.

Oppression is tied to bodies. It often happens in bodies and to bodies. It often comes from other bodies. And oppressive people use the bodies of the oppressed to excuse it.

Loving my body for Lent means recognizing that it is not my body’s fault when I am treated as “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that others have used it to tell me I am “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that those people were lying to me about my body.

Loving my body means affirming that they don’t decide what my body means. They don’t decide what I mean.

[Note: Though I learned some harmful things at Grace College, it was also at Grace College where I began the process of loving my body. That may be a post for another day]

 


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As a former fundamental Baptist, this is only my second year of observing Lent. Lent, when I was growing up, was one of those things that Catholics do because they don’t really believe in Jesus (I don’t think most Baptist preachers actually know any Catholics) and so they are enslaved to law and to rules and boundaries.

I thought, as a Baptist, that I was so lucky to not be enslaved to rules like those Catholics were.

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Photo by me.

Funny, considering the fact that when I was thinking this, I likely had on a skirt that had to go past the bottom of knee and a shirt that passed the “two-finger” test. I probably wore a silver ring on my left hand that bore the words “True Love Waits.”

Sitting their with a beam in my own eye, judging the Catholics and their Lent, I could not see how bound to rules I really was.

How bound to rules my body really was.

“Don’t cause your brothers to stumble.” 

“I was addicted to porn because the girls in my youth group wore tight jeans.”

Music should speak to your heart, not your hips.”

A Christian man will be able to tell if a woman is not sexually pure. A good Christian man will not find an impure woman beautiful.” 

When you give your body away, it is like letting someone test-drive you like a car and crash you.”

You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” 

Skin is sin.”

These are the words I heard over and over growing up. Skin is sin. Using my body is sin. My body itself is sin.

These were the words which kept me afraid of the body that was mine. The body that was me. These are the words that made me afraid of the awesome mass of cells and energy and chemical reactions that was my body. These are the words that made me afraid of any emotional or physical actions or reactions that were considered bodily. 

Sweating.

Crying.

A need for touch.

Dancing.

Exercising.

Sexual attraction.

I hid my body under layers of clothes. I crossed my arms and my legs and made myself as small as possible. I didn’t touch. Didn’t dance. I beat myself up whenever my body reacted to someone I found attracted. I heaped on guilt and shame and self-hatred whenever I touched myself.

And when I met my first boyfriend, and he began to treat my body like it belonged to him, I didn’t think I was allowed to stop. After all, my body didn’t belong to me, and I couldn’t use my body to fight back.

I carry over so much baggage from those years of disconnect from my body, from myself. Though I spent my years as a fundamentalist bragging about the freedom I supposedly had in Christ, that freedom was for my soul alone.

Not my body.

Never my body.

Yet, as my blogger friend Suzannah Paul says in this wonderful piece (made even more wonderful because of a reference to one of my favorite genres of music):

Our physical selves were knit by God to be wholly entwined with our spirituality, and the latter doesn’t trump the former. In the Nicene Creed, we affirm the resurrection of the dead. Even in heaven we’ll have bodies, and it makes little sense to live spiritual lives divorced from our bodily ones here on earth. [Emphasis mine]

So, for Lent this year, I’m setting my body free.

I’m setting it free from the hatred that I have directed toward it for years and years. I’m setting it free from any responsibility that the church tries to put on it for the sins of men. I’m setting it free from Platonic associations with the carnal, the base, the non-transcendent.

I’m embracing my body for what it is–one of the amazing manifestations of a universe filled with divine wisdom. Also, me. My body is me. 

I’m loving my body for Lent. I’m letting me be me.


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I’m giving up hate-reading for Lent!

I used to be a self-injurer. Once or twice a week for six years, I had a date with a razor-blade. Then, last October, I started taking medicine to treat my depression and eventually my self-injuring tendencies went away…

…sorta.

I don’t hurt myself physically anymore. In fact, it’s rarely even a temptation now-a-days, which is a great accomplishment for me.

But, sometimes I wonder if I have simply replaced my razor blade with a thing I’ve heard called hate-reading.

A couple times a week I’ll find myself wanting to indulge in misery (an emotion reminiscent of my self-injury days). And go I’ll go to Mark Driscoll’s website, or the “Counsel for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” or the comments section of Relevant Magazine.

And I’ll get angry. I’ll soak in the hurtful words and let myself sink into a dark place of hatred.

I call it research. But it’s not. It’s emotional self-injury. It’s my new-found way of indulging in an old addiction. 

So, I’m giving up hate-reading for Lent!

I’ve never actually given up anything for Lent, but since I’m on a religious journey right now, in which I am seeking new religious experiences from traditions that I am unfamiliar with, I thought it might be interesting to try. I think you’re supposed to give up a luxury, and I’m not sure if over-indulgence on rage-inducing blog posts counts as a luxury, and anyways, you’re probably not supposed to write blog posts proclaiming the things you’re giving up for Lent. So, potential fail on my part there, but I think doing this will be healthy for me regardless.

Obviously, as a blogger and a women’s studies major, I am still going to engage in and critique the world around me–I’m not going to lock myself in my room and hide from things that make me angry.

But I don’t have to spend hours reading through the archives at Boundless.org, nor do I have to engage with hateful commenters on Relevant Magazine (I can’t anymore anyways. I got banned for calling someone an “a-hole.” Not my proudest moment, but it was that experience that inspired this decision!).

I’m not going to change the world through hate-reading. Hate-reading only leaves me burnt out and miserable.

I hope this experience will help me learn how to draw lines between constructive criticism and emotional self-injury. I hope it will inspire me to find more creative and positive means of activism. I hope it will free up my time for prayer and reflection and action.

So, I’m giving up hate-reading for Lent!

Here’s to forty days of peace!