“Bodies have a voice?" And Whatever Makes You Slow Down
2017 and 2018 were expensive years for me, time wise, time off work, emotion wise, financially.
I was already used to spending substantial amounts of money on my mental health, and for the first time entered a year where I wasn’t seeing a therapist.
A few months later during my sister’s birthday party, I was climbing a tree with my five-year-old nephew. The branches were high enough that you needed an outside person to help you reach one, and throughout the part my nephew and I had come in and out of this activity unscathed. My presence was as a spotter, intended to keep tree climbing more whimsy than danger. Until I jumped down, twirled around, and didn’t stand up again, making my debut to the car from a wheel barrow.
This was in September. I was three weeks into an eight-week training class that I was facilitating, and a month back into school programming, arguably not an ideal time to shake things up.
After seeing a specialist that I was referred to, and completing an MRI, it was shared that I’d fractured multiple bones and torn multiple ligaments, each of which would need to be addressed surgically. Between learning this and scheduling surgery I had less than a week to prepare for my first real leave of absence from work, unsure how I was going to pass things off smoothly in the interim. Amazingly things went fairly smoothly, as I entered into a four-month period of being unable to drive or wear two shoes.
As I was going through the motions of three days a week physical therapy after two months in a cast, it became quickly evident that another surgery would be needed to give me back more mobility. That surgery was scheduled for April, right at the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. My leave of absence from work was twice as long, and my days were primarily spent writing. Writing because I was cut off from a physical release, and from work, and socializing, and recovery requires an outlet.
My mom said to me later that my guardian angel was looking out for me when I got injured, not to minimize the significance of what I was experiencing, but to draw to my attention my own stillness.
I was taking a break, and learning how to cope in unexpected ways, purely because my preferences were now unavailable to me.
Instead of self-avoidance I had self-exploration. Instead of mania I had decompression. Instead of over stimulation I had time alone. Instead of a schedule I had open space. And I had a lot of pain and stress.
The role of bringing awareness to something is to spark a connection that motivates engagement. This can take a frenetic form, shining so much attention that our response is to look away. But it can also surface as illumination, where light is captured that brings new visibility, and enough time to look.
As my injury asked me to slow down, the attention that sexual violence was receiving nationally was asking me to speed up. Straddling these opposing urges, my creative-self had to find a way to change my orientation to crisis response, and challenge my own language and preferences.
Alone in my apartment gave me an opportunity to take inventory, both as a patient and as a practitioner, as both insisted that they needed to be my only priority. Both asked to be my focus, and as I tried to give a hundred percent to both, what happened was not that balls dropped. What happened was my drive to ensure that they wouldn’t got held under the light — why are you pushing this hard? Where are you pulling energy from that you don’t have? What happens when your body, working from diminished reserves and heightened limits, can’t sustain you? How does this end if it can’t last?
Those reflection questions spilled out of me during my second surgical recovery, and they’re resurfaced as April has returned. The contrast of holding depletion within the background of Spring is importantly juxtaposed to encourage scrutiny. Scrutiny that absorbs distilled particles so they can be evaluated.
It is easy for harm to feel unreal to us. The frenetic lights we’re shining on what is tragic and rampant in our communities doesn’t often allow for processing, and absent of that it feels theoretical. It feels like a thing I’m talking about instead of something that’s happening to me. It feels like a thing I take for granted, believing it will always happen. I think resilience is one of those qualities.
Resilience is the quality that makes us capable of change, supported by neuroplasticity in our brains. Quite literally, it is the mechanism with which we can integrate stress, and adapt our tolerance for it.
There are a lot of forms of coping that can pass for resilience, and they may be important in buying us more time. But what about when time runs out? What about when our tolerance is tested beyond what our records reflect consciously? What about when our bodies offer us altered freedom to disregard them, telling us they won’t carry us further? What about when our environments are toxic?
This month as survivors share their experiences of resilience and of flailing, don’t take it for granted. Don’t reduce your communal reflection to anticipated outcomes. Don’t disconnect from the labor of our individual and collective change work. Connect to the distilled particles we’ve been collecting, and wonder when we’ll make time to process.
One of the great gifts our bodies give us is that they don’t tell time. They don’t differentiate, they accumulate. This aspect of their wisdom is what reminds us that harm is not theoretical, and it doesn’t just go away. And yet, if we can’t develop ways to release traumatic memories, they will always be too intense to interpret. The useful information won’t be distilled. Resilience is that regathered useful information channeled into a new quality of life, and a skillset to support it sustainably.
This April, how can be offer illumination with space to process what’s important to hold onto?
This April, how can we amplify our collection of distilled knowledge and resources?
This April, how can we honor the suffering creating by sexual violence?
This April, can we honor that trauma takes things, and hurts people, and kills people.
This April, can we invest in a truer inventory of the truths that have been neglected, and may we hold among them the ways we have truncated what we label as healing.
May we let our bodies lead us into spaces that register their points of view as crucial to be listening to.