content warning: domestic violence
My body has been screaming at me for days, every muscle pulled taut like a rubber band on the edge of breaking. Friday there were unexpected construction noises from next door at one of the locations where I teach. The sudden intermittent pounding kept my nervous system under siege for the duration of a class I spent largely cowering in the corner, trembling with fear. Every time I heard that sound I flashed back to my abuser beating his fists against the gun safe. I struggled to breathe and keep speaking–and I got through that class. Though my PTSD is not my fault, I bear the responsibility for it. I’ve struggled with shame that my illness spilled over too far into my work, with fear that it will happen again, with guilt that my students had to deal with it. I’ve continued through the brutal exhaustion that accompanies an episode like that. It hurts.
I’m lying on a massage table. My intellect, my understanding of muscles and bones are not up to this task, and I’ve been drowning in frustration as I try and fail over and over again to break through my own defenses. I lay there and accept that someone else will do this for me. When she begins, I feel my tension begin to soften, and as she continues I release just a little at a time. She applies deep pressure expertly–it is enough to push through my resistance and not so much that I fight it. There are places that I work to breathe very deliberately through the intensity. What is most striking to me as Robin patiently works are the unwinding of my emotional turmoil and the revelations of my own intuition. Suddenly, things I’ve struggled with begin to break loose. A lot of these awakenings are deeply painful, but I breathe and accept the undoing of each barrier.
I see how tightly I’ve held to friendships that don’t feel good right now, how I’m struggling to hold on though I’m not the same person I was when we created them together. I grieve, weeping quietly as Robin works on my shoulders. My shoulders that hold on to everything adjust themselves eerily a few times, and then it feels like my arms are finally properly attached.
As she works my arm, it occurs to me that my abuser and the court system will never give me the apology, restitution, reparations or dignity I deserve. I can fight or accept this, but neither will change anything. I cry some more at the stunning insult of all this; it is a deep and unrelenting pain I can’t see the end of. Lawyers are the furthest thing from healers. I wish with futility that my abuser would work toward healing instead of continuing to hurt me. I cry for the wounded child concealed by his elaborate disguise of toxic masculinity. I cry for the inner truth of the person I shared a bed with but do not know. I feel Robin gently shake my arm the way I do when a Thai client won’t let go. I let go.
This woman holds me, and I feel safe and loved. Then I see Christian, the friend who’s been most comforting through all of this. I’ve struggled with men all year; I want to feel safe with them and I don’t. I’m constantly paranoid they’ll hurt me or abandon me. Christian, my chosen big brother, does neither.
Robin re-drapes the blankets in a way that feels very secure. It takes minimal effort and there is no particular compulsiveness about it. Compulsiveness over boundaries chafes me. I remember a psychodynamic therapist from my early 20s, Janice who I didn’t really know. She was compulsively punctual. This did not feel good to me–rather like I was being held at arm’s length, possibly with some disdain. I see Lisa, my therapist now, who doesn’t ever actually tell me “time’s up”–rather, she begins to slowly collect things and turns the conversation more casual. I know some things about her family, and these less rigid boundaries make me feel valued. I think about how my closest female friends have been warm, kind women I’ve loved and trusted–always just busy enough that they feel too far away. I cry some more over feeling alienated, separate, inadequate. My face is hot.
Robin pressing into my foot soothes me.
I feel valued now. How much compassionate human touch have I given, and how much have I received in turn? I remember being soothed by the touch of Ariel, my own yoga teacher who I haven’t practiced with in years. I remember how I would process my pain then with him holding the space–how similar these two experiences are. I miss Ariel. I cry some more. I’m pretty sure I’m dripping snot on the floor. Ew.
I am a healer. I came to this work because of the profound shift I noticed in myself. That shift didn’t happen in my home practice–but with the guidance and love of the kind man who was my teacher. That shift happened as much from secure attachment as from the asana itself–if not moreso. There is nothing unusual wrong with my body. It’s just doing what traumatized bodies do–it’s working to defending me against a threat. My brain is working overtime fighting the same losing battle. I can’t be objective with my own tortured organism. I cannot do this work on myself–though I know it well, though I am gifted at performing it with others. I need someone to help me care for my body right now.
As she works on my other leg I think about how running has always felt like the thing I was made for. I do it well largely because it’s exactly the activity abuse has denied my nervous system. How many miles will it take before I’ll believe I’ve gotten away and the threat is gone? How badly did I want to convince myself that running would propel me out of the past and into something better? How much has it felt, all this time, like I’m thrashing around in cold water trying desperately not to drown? I have thrashed myself into oblivion. I need to let go, and I need for someone else to help me do that–the same way I help others. If I truly value my profession, and I do, I need to allow myself to be held like this.