To Love a Body

TW: rape, trauma, all that stuff.

I’m taking voice lessons. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s probably also the most painful, and I think that’s probably necessary.

Yesterday I mentioned feeling disgusted with my own body. Not with how it looks, but with that it exists, with what it’s experienced, and with what it craves. That’s a pretty broad idea. I guess that different people will read that in different ways, and I guess a lot of those ways would be valid and quite likely fit, somewhere, somehow, inside of the complexities of my relationship to my physical self, but when someone responded, in an attempt to relate, that “human bodies are gross and the maintenance is too high, I can’t wait until we can just exist as digitized consciousnesses”, that hit me pretty hard. I meant a lot of things by what I said, but no part of me meant that. Bodies are treasures, and they should be cared for and loved, fully and thoroughly. I can’t do that for mine, nobody else has ever done that for mine, and that’s a source of great sorrow.

I don’t know if I should or even really can explain, but I’m quite sure that I want to at least make the attempt. I feel I lack the language for it, and perhaps I really do need to try to find it. Nobody can speak what they don’t feel, but I often also wonder if we can really feel the things that we can’t name. When I say I feel disgusted with my body, I can paint a vague picture of that. I can tell you that that body was judged, violated, raped and spat on. I can tell you that it gets excited, that it wants to be touched, but that it can’t associate those things with anything but the torture it endured. I can tell you that that makes me sick.

I can also tell you that I think bodies are soft and fragile and that I want to love and protect mine. That I want to nourish and care for it. That I want to let it feel gentle things, warm things, pleasant things, and that I don’t know how to do that. That I would like for it to calm under the comfortable pressure of a hug, to warm in the sun, to melt into a kiss, but that it can’t. It’s as if my body can’t identify what it senses, only what emotion and memory it wants to expell.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become painfully aware that I don’t want to name my body parts. It’s not often so bad that I can’t, but I really don’t like to. Some parts are more difficult than others. I’m not sure if there’s a pattern to it. I can say “hands”, or maybe also “leg” or “shoulder”. Often “fingers” is fine. Depending on who I’m speaking to and in what context, I can get away with saying “chest” pretty well. Other words are torture. When I do say them, I feel myself check out, in a way. Mouth. Tongue. Lips. Throat. Stomach. Pelvis. I feel anxiety just typing them out. There are ones that I find I can’t even type right now. My fingers literally refuse to form those words in this moment.

I cannot tell you how those parts feel. I’ve been repeatedly confronted with the word “sensations” recently and it makes my skin crawl. Thinking about that word drains the blood from my face. It’s easier for me to say “rape”. If you were to ask me to describe what I’m sensing in my body, I wouldn’t often be able to tell you. Sometimes because I don’t feel it, sometimes because I’m not sure what I feel, but sometimes because I don’t have words with which to describe it because even thinking them in my head makes me wish I could disappear from existence. If I had to tell you why that is, I would default to “I don’t know”, but if I allow myself to think about that for a while, then it’s because those parts of me are just associated with the harm that I usually will only describe generally, vaguely. Safely.

Maybe it would be easier to convey the nature of my experience of my body if I explicitly told you how opening my mouth feels like degradation. That being aware of what my tongue is doing, makes me feel the anticipation of a dick being forced down my throat. That paying attention to my lips is thinly veiled code for feeling the hands that were pressed over them, the teeth that bit them, other people’s body parts that were pushed between them. That discerning if I feel a vibration in my throat makes me feel strangled and choked and reminds me of screaming. I sing to cope and own my body because these are the things that I feel when I do it, because it allows me to choose when I feel them and purge them from myself just for a minute. I’m not sure how to say that to anyone and not sound fully insane in the process.

I think I was unaware, or in denial, about how violent an experience it is for me to use my voice. The fact that I did use it this way, is the reason I’m alive to tell you about it, but perhaps it only served me well as long as I wasn’t required to really think about the process. It was always like sticking a needle into an infected cyst and not looking at the pus as it ran out. Relief, catharsis, but too triggering and ugly to pay attention to. I made myself functional. I gave myself a controlled way to fall apart so I wouldn’t have to at any time, every time, become unhinged in ways beyond my choosing, and in that way it’s been precious to me, and I daresay somehow beautiful. I love it because its torture isn’t anyone else’s to inflict anymore.

I am accutely aware that I want it to be something else. I need it to not be just this anymore. I started this path and now I’ve lost my wilful ignorance. I’m stripped of my ability to pretend I was fixed, and I don’t think I was ever this exposed. I’ve reached the part where I know too much about myself and my own trauma and how this all works to ignore this or claim that it’s fine, that I’m well enough. Part of me wants to say this is as good as it’ll get and that there’s no point in trying. That there will never be a day when I don’t die inside when I’m asked to pay attention to what sensations I’m feeling when I sing and that I’m doomed to forever live with feeling hands grab at me and the inability to say that out loud. I also know that’s a lie and I’m afraid of what’s going to happen when I surrender myself to the process of healing more than I have so far, but I want it. I’m tired. I want to move on.

This is a state of vulnerability that I’d left far behind, albeit not deliberately, if I’m fully honest. I’ve avoided thoughts and actions and language that made me uncomfortable and the resulting decrease in anxiety was baptised “progress”, but it’s a farcical joke. It’s served me, to a point, and now it doesn’t. I want to sing and feel and remember it, not just go through the motions of reliving the worst things that were done to me and be briefly relieved to let them out. I want my skin to be less thick, my muscles to be less hard, my bones to be less stiff. I want to be water, not stone. To burn, not freeze. I want to flow and sway and bend with ease and stretch out and roll up. My body is cracked and tense, encased, trapped, and it is so, so numb. So much more numb than I’ve allowed myself to realise. I can let it feel things sometimes, but it just elicits melancholy and hurt and disgust. I don’t know how to let things be pleasant and enjoyable and peaceful.

I don’t know how to say out loud that when I think about pleasure, all I can feel is shame. I am not outwardly that person, on the absolute contrary. Things which feel nice are things I experience as dirty. When I say I feel “good”, that means I’m not actively feeling bad. My “good” is often very, very neutral. It’s extremely void of anything. I’m so incredibly angry. So many people worked to take this away from me. All of my life has conditioned me to be afraid of and appalled by physically feeling nice, pleasant things and I hate it. It makes me profoundly, deeply sad.

I’ve started taking voice lessons and at some point last week, I almost said that it broke me, but I don’t think that’s the right word. I think I’m being dismantled. I’m being dismantled, and it’s the only way I can get a real look at all my pieces and put them back together right. I think I might get all the things I want, despite the shame with which I carry the desire for them.

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