Lessons From The Body

We all have memories tied to different sensory experiences. The sight, sound, or smell of something can take us on a ride back to a memory that left a lasting impression. This is a gift when we are reminded of a loved one or of an experience we wish to treasure in our heart forever. Yet it is a curse when these experiences are attached to memories we wish to forget. In these moments we are swept up from safety and thrown back into the grip of despair – all in response to a simple benign sensory experience that enters our awareness.

In my teen years I was routinely sexually abused by my high school coach. The vast majority of these experiences of abuse occurred in his car. It was through his calculating planning of offering me a ride home from practice that he found opportunities to hurt me. He regularly found new secluded places to park his car away from the eyes of bystanders in order to take what he wanted from me. To this day, the sight of a car parked discretely away from others or with the windows blocked in some way elicits a strong feeling within me. When I first started acknowledging and speaking about my abuse these responses overwhelmed me. I could feel my heart pounding and this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that held this toxic concoction of fear, pain, disgust, and shame. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings so I would quietly hold and stuff the panic deep down inside of me. With the help of therapy I have since then learned to safely process and move through these experiences more effectively. Now when I see a parked car that triggers this nervous or panicky feeling I can both acknowledge the triggered parts of me and keep myself grounded in the safety of the present. Quietly to myself I can say words like, “of course that is scary to see”, followed by words like, “but it is just a car and you are safe now.” I don’t know that I will ever be free of these triggering moments, but by learning to safely move through them I can keep myself from being entirely swept away into the horrors of the past.

Recently, while working with my therapist, I have noticed a desire to physically “get small” when difficult feelings arise inside of me. At first this felt like a very natural, comforting, and self protective response for me – to tuck my legs in close and wrap my arms around them squeezing my body into the smallest space it can occupy. I have been expressing myself this way through art for as long as I can remember. It feels like home.

Yet in my therapist’s office, each time I allow my body to move into this position it desires, I feel an immediate sensation of relief and comfort followed by a barrage of memories of where the need for this position first emerged. These memories contain moments immediately after being abused when I would curl up my naked body and weep. So here I am in the present day trying to provide physical comfort to my body in the safe presence of my therapist, but the position I default to is one attached to trauma. It’s no wonder I can’t seem to stay present once I allow myself to move into this curled up position. I am instead swept away to a time of complete powerlessness.

Much like I learned how to safely respond to the sight of parked cars, I need to learn how to offer my body a new feeling of physical comfort. I need to learn to identify when my body wants to get small and begin to learn from it. What am I feeling inside that signals this need? Why does it feel that need right now? How else can I soothe this ache from within? Perhaps through careful curiosity I will uncover new ways to help my body feel safe today.

38 thoughts on “Lessons From The Body

  1. hello Sara.so very well done for talking about Abuse .EVERY THING IS SO SENSORY .results in flashbacks .nightmares..i take part in a lot lot Research .THIS IS VERY RARE ABOUT ABUSE .yet it is SO EFFECTING .my story of a9buse is in a Authors Book ..Different Adults took turns on me ..it HELPS a GREAT DEAL TOO HAVE A GOOD CRY Runny Snotty Nose ,my blog.http;//mark-kent.webs.com twitter.supersnopper MARK

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      1. People complain about Headaches .Sexual Abuse is a MILLON TIMES MORE PAINFUL,peoples views/judgements about Sexual Abuse are Very SNOTTY NOSED .,Mark

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  2. You write so well Sara, expressing things which I’m sure have no always been so easily expressed. Sharing your art and the trauma behind it.. wow… it is an honour to witness.

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  3. You express yourself beautifully, in writing and especially in art. I really understand what you say about needing to be small. A few years ago I painted something similar, although it was in Christian terms (as I was a Christian at the time). The feeling behind it and meaning for me was the same…https://jofoxadventuresinart.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/lovessacrificefin_web.png

    I value the courage you have to speak about all of this.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this very personal experience from your life. I can understand how hard it must be for you. Your artwork is breathtakingly beautiful too. Alot is said in each one of them.
    Stay blessed and may you find the peace and comfort you seek. Thank you for following my blog. I hope it gives you some peace.🌻❤️

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    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing these thoughts, Diana. It really means a lot.
      I’m glad to have found your site, and I look forward to reading more from you. 💕

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  5. I’m so late to read this post. Thank you for sharing such difficult moments and sensations. I can do relate. It feels like trauma takes everything even our ability to find safety in our body long after the abuse ends. You’re so brave to be able to move into those positions in therapy and risk feeling what arises. I am in awe of you.

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that you can relate to this. It’s pretty frightening yet very powerful work to venture into reconnecting and finding safety in the body. I have a lot more work to do.

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