Everything that happens to us happens to our bodies. Every act of love, every insult, every moment of pleasure, every interaction with other humans. Every hateful thing we have said or which has been said to us has happened to our bodies. Every kindness, every sorrow. Every ounce of laughter. We carry all of it with us within our skin. We are walking embodiments of our entire story.Nadia Bolz Weber
Recently, I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that she’s been doing yoga. I said, “Oh, I didn’t know you practice yoga!” Her reply knocked me back on my heels:
“I am finally making an amends to my body.”
You know when you have one of those before and after moments? Like, there was a before I heard that thing and an after I heard that thing, and turns out, they’re gonna have to be different. I have a love/hate relationship with those moments because they always require me to change.
I just passed my sober anniversary. In some parts of the country, they call it a sober birthday. I like that better. It means so much more to me than my actual birthday, which was just given to me. My sobriety date is the day I decided to live. When I began to fight not just for survival but for healing and peace and joy.
A few years ago my Favorite gave me a year’s worth of massages as a gift. I know, great right? He gave me the same thing the next year. I had a serious lower back issue. Debilitating, life impacting. I could not bring myself to see a doctor- which is a total survivor thing. It is one of the most common things we hear from our community and from the women who attend our workshops. We will leave medical issues untended for so long that minor, treatable things become catastrophic. In particular, dental care and reproductive health. Anyway, it is something I have always done. No preventative care, powering through. “I’ll be fine.”
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. We take care of the things we value. We take care of our homes. We don’t spend a lot of time and attention on or in unsafe, hated places.
I drink to separate my body from my soul.Oscar Wilde
Anyway, my back was one of those things, hence the massages. I think he thought he might trick me into getting it addressed medically. Amateur. I frequently couldn’t lay in one position long enough to complete the session and I couldn’t let anyone anywhere near my lower back. It was recommended that I see a reflexologist, which I did. The reflexologist asked me where my pain was. I told her and she said, “Lower back pain is impacted by your first and second Chakras. They represent sex, money, and control.” I believe my response was, again, “Shit.”
I recently read an article by Mona Gabel on prevention.com that said this:
The root chakra is located at the base of the spine. It represents your foundation and feeling of being grounded. It is connected to the beliefs you were taught as a child, your identity, and your values and is also related to emotional issues such as money and survival.
The sacral chakra, also known as the womb chakra, is centered in the pelvis, lower abdomen, and lower back. It symbolizes creativity and sexuality and is also the chakra of feeling and of your early childhood.
I said something to her about how several members of my immediate family had undergone back surgery and that I knew I would eventually have to do the same but I wanted to forestall it. She then said, “You know, you can choose to heal differently.” Ok, Yoda.
I stuck with the reflexology for a while and it helped. It gave me some relief from what had become unmanageable pain. Eventually, I found a massage therapist who is very intuitive and has made an enormous difference. Going to the same person week after week rather than just whoever was available has been important. She’s gotten to know me, know my body – probably better than I do in some ways. She says things to me like, “You know, just because you can endure a certain level of pain doesn’t mean you need to.” “You know what to do with pain.” “You carry a lot of pain in your body.” She’s also the one who told me that my face doesn’t register pain. That she can do something she knows is painful and there will be no way to discern from my expression that anything is happening.
Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.Bessel van der Kolk
Anyway. I heard what my friend said about making an amends to her body and I couldn’t unhear it. It just kept following me around, nipping at my heels. The truth is so freaking insistent. I met up with a new sober friend for coffee the next week and told her about it and she got teary-eyed. I said, “I KNOW.” Then we both cried at Starbucks.
I’m super fun. We should hang out.
In sobriety, at least in my recovery community, we talk a lot about amends. What does and what does not constitute a real amends. What I was always taught is that it is not a real amends if the behavior in question is the same going forward. A necessary component of a proper amends is CHANGE. A willingness to live differently.
Making an amends can be daunting. Sometimes you have to work up your courage. Some are done quickly, some take years. I was also taught that you cannot make an amends until you have worked through any and all resentment toward the person/place/institution to whom you are making it. Because until you’ve done that work you cannot be in the right space, that you will look to defend or justify, or “but YOU” and none of those things have any place in it. You go in unarmed. You go in peace.
No wonder it has taken me so long. I’ve waged war with my body for my entire life.
Sometimes you get an invitation, though. I had that happen recently. An amends that I initially thought I would never make, and then thought I would never get the opportunity, just sort of unfolded. All I had to do was be willing and paying attention.
I have decided to pay attention to the invitations my body keeps issuing. I will look at the messages my body sends me not as demands to be ignored or judged but as invitations to be different. I will honor what my body needs rather than punish it for not doing what I want or being what it is. I will remember that the answer to exhaustion is rest, not martyrdom and caffeine. I will remember that hunger is neither an emergency nor a threat. I will remember that when I speak violence to and about my body I become my own abuser. I will remember that my body is more than what happened to me.
Last year I was given another invitation, this time by the incomparable Lenora Rand of The Plural Guild. For the past several years my favorite event at Goose has been the Wild and Holy Late-Night Communion put on by The Many. Lenora is the beautiful writer behind much of the liturgy and lyrics that accompany these experiences. There’s a theme every year and last year it was about our bodies. She wrote a beautiful song for it, which she sent me. I sobbed as I listened. She asked me to create something for the communion (pro-tip – if you fan-girl relentlessly, sometimes something great comes out of it.) and this is what I wrote:
By the age of eight, I wanted to leave my body. I hadn’t even been there all that long when you think about it.
This body. God-given. Beloved, necessary, enough.
Built for me to inhabit. Frame of bone, walls of skin and flesh.
The only home I can’t run away or be evicted from, and yet.
Before, I was a skinny girl. I ran and played and danced with abandon. I was scrappy and fast and free. My body was just that. MINE.
But the world told me otherwise because men want closed borders, except. when. they. don’t.
Sit in Santa’s lap. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared. You’re crying and you’re saying no and the adults are telling you to smile pretty. So, I smiled pretty.
Give Grampa a kiss. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to. It’s not nice to say no, and little girls are supposed to be nice. It will hurt his feelings if you say no. We can’t have that. So I kissed.
One day, Grampa takes me for a walk, which is special, right? He doesn’t ask anyone else. I go with him to walk the dog – he knows I love dogs. We’re walking through the black-eyed Susans, and then suddenly there is a hand up my shirt and down my shorts and he says, “Let me feel your little body.” I think, “This is weird” but I don’t tell because I’m an obedient girl, a nice girl, and I’ve learned that this body is not really mine anyway.
I’ve always been a quick study.
And then it happens again, and again. My home, my body becomes a little less mine. It feels a little less safe. A dangerous neighborhood. I learn how to be outside my body. It becomes a recurring problem because he won’t. stop. trespassing. It stops being weird and starts being scary, but I don’t tell because I’m a good girl. A nice girl. And anyway, how do you make someone leave property you don’t own?
Then one day, I say no to Grampa. I tell him to get off my property. I’m not being very nice. But he doesn’t listen because he doesn’t think I’m the homeowner. And so, he storms in anyway. He takes whatever he wants. There’s a home invasion on the cold linoleum floor. I look at the bowl of wet cat food by my head, hold my breath, and try very hard not to die.
So what do you do when you wake up every morning inside your own crime scene?
Well, you don’t spend much time there. You float away. You starve it, you numb it, you exercise it to death. You let people use it as a playground. Why not? It’s public property. You take showers so hot your skin is scalded, but you’re never. quite. clean.
I spent most of my life trying to make it pretty, decorating it, downsizing it, putting up tidy white picket fences. Trying to make it nice enough that no one would notice the crime scene tape across the front door.
Coming home to God took decades.
Coming home to my body, this body. Built for me to live and love in by God. Frame of bone, walls of skin and flesh. Beloved, Necessary, Enough.
That’s taking longer.Laura Parrott Perry
It has taken longer. It has taken my whole life. I’m forgiving myself for all of the harm I have done to my body and accepting the invitation to live differently in it.
Time to come home.
and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.Nayyirah Waheed