Almost a week ago, I had the privilege to facilitate my first writing circle, through a community based organization that supports survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and trafficking. Intentionally advertised as a chill event, a chance to write together in a brave space, to hopefully take from it another tool in our toolbox of healing.
In the month leading up to the event, Imposter Syndrome was floating through these streets and found a home in me. Who labeled me competent enough to lead this? Who trusted me with these stories, with a somatic release of trauma through the pen and written word? WHO? Even the night before and morning of, my internal dialogue went something like: what if I cancelled? It’s not too late to call in sick, right? They have the prompts they can do it without me… they don’t reaaally need me. Thankfully for me, I chose to enter the space, log onto Zoom and facilitate.
Like with any sort of training I give, I started with explaining what identities I hold and experiences that led me to be here. Whether I was an ally or part of the community.
The two prompts for the circle were 1. what story does your body tell? and 2. how did you learn to love that story? The questions revealed themselves to me because as I’ve physically and emotionally healed from rapes and other forms of sexual violence that made me homeless in my own body, I was laser focused on the end goal of body neutrality, that I could exist without having to think about my body in one way or another (whether positive or negative). Every self-help article I read, therapist I spoke with, thought whispered out loud to myself as I sat on the toilet began with, ‘at the end of it all, I’ll be able to do this.’ I had set a goal and put myself at the finish line without ever thinking about the different parts of the race. It wasn’t until recently that I began to focus on the building blocks of short-term wins that would make up this longer journey, and having compassion for each step that stretched into the next one.
I then led folx through a grounding technique I’ve found helpful when working with triggering info. I intentionally wanted to lead with something that was related to our bodies, given the writing prompts. I also like to orient myself to my body so I can support myself when triggered. We did a body scan to cover:
- Posture: what does my posture feel like- slumped, rigid, flexible?
- Heart: what’s my natural heart beat like? Am I quick or slow?
- Carry tension: does it show up as a knot in my tummy, neck/back pain (Dear God, YES), headaches, eye twitches?
- External/Internal elements: what external or internal things offer a sense of calm? It could be my favorite t-shirt, a tea/coffee drink, a place (for me, it’s being by ideally a waterfall but any body of water), a memory with someone I love
- External stimuli: what things often trigger me? Loud sounds (yup), social interactions (double yup), darkness/night, etc.
We asked ourselves these questions to increase mind/body awareness. I’ve found that when healing from anxiety, or when experiencing emotional triggers, it’s difficult for me to feel like my body is supporting me. In fact, it feels very much against me. But, I’ve had to remember that a key part in becoming stronger is inviting my body to help me and allow it to be a resource.
*Quick Disclaimer*: everything mentioned is about my own experience and what I wrote and shared during this workshop. I’m not even hinting at anything that a survivor that was there mentioned. Everything about who was in that space will be protected. Also, most of this was stream of consciousness and may not make the most linear sense. I’m intentionally keeping it that way- parts are the raw words that I wrote and began to ruminate on.
What Story Does Your Body Tell?
It’s hard for me to think about a story and start with myself. I don’t think any story actually starts with the main character. The first thing I think of is the trauma of my grandmother when she was preggo with my mama- after my mom was developed to a certain point and had all of the eggs she would be born with, one of those eggs would eventually become me. I lived in them both.
Will I carry the legacy of 60s rejection, of blatant racism/classism forever? Of violence to the female body, sexual or otherwise- I wonder if it’s a destiny or prophecy I don’t know I must fulfill –> that’s what it feels like, a prophecy that was placed on me, something I’m chasing without realizing –> but how could I? I was only a child the first time someone masturbated in front of me. How was I supposed to know when this man sexualized 8 year old me, when U.B. grabbed/squeezed/tenderized my butt that it was not my fault.
My body tells the story of misplaced sin, of mislabeled threat- she’s the one that’s going to take your man, your family, stability. She’s the
child chaos. My body tells the story of something, the blame (?), the guilt (?) trying to leave me. Unfortunately it was toxic coming in, and toxic coming out. Scissors and pills aided this quest.
My stomach holds the scars of food binged and purged, of fists knotted, of ropes whipped, hairy dicks wielding power and snaking into my lovebox. **But, it wasn’t love coming in, it was evil. It was power.
I was Injected with the loss of me.
But why does the story have to just be about my trauma?? I’ve always been praised for how much abuse I’ve endured, the strength and emotional labor I can provide for someone else. Mayhaps that’s part of the prophecy, to live out those Strong Black Woman stereotypes that existed even back when granny was pregnant with mom. But it’s starting to feel dehumanizing, to only be the sum of these different types of abuse, to add me up and get how I can be of service to you.
Who am I outside of something someone else did? Can’t it be my hair, a story of
self bravery, of love? What if I’m a river- water is either raging and dangerous, or is calm and illuminating serenity. Depending on where you stop along the river, which one will you get. —- Maybe you’ll see all of my JOY. You get the snapshot of my light & can hold & take that with you. When you pick it up, will it reflect back to me. When it’s safe, when you’re a safe person, you hold my happy up to the light and it reflects.
Even though my story starts with burning through generational trauma, at some point I’ll be able to claim my generational strengths. Ancestors gave me more than pain, no?
Not today, but one day it’ll be second nature to remember my body belongs to me. It doesn’t exist to please men, or anybody else. My body is here to carry me through life, to be strong, to rest, to heal, to create, be nurtured, to be HOME. To be comfortable with the space I take up in the world.
How Did You Learn To Love That Story?
I mainly doodled for this section, then went back and labeled, tried to create some sort of sub-category. I did jot down in the corners of my journal that it was bold to assume I had learned how to love that story. And got frustrated at one point because I had forgotten how to draw a flame.
- Start –> Spiral –> I know it’s going to be up & down but subconsciously think/expect I can do linear –> STOP. Goddammit. OK, we can do this
- Started doodling. Think that’s an act of embracing my inner child & love for art, for self-expression without limitations
- ACKNOWLEDGMENT: my labia folds are like a cocoon of protection. What happens when the fortress has been penetrated? War! (this was the point I got frustrated with myself for how long I tried to sketch the perfect fire flame and couldn’t conjure a picture in my head. Maybe I also needed a distraction from thinking about what exactly I was referencing/writing about). I was at war w/myself for a long time. I thought my fortress breaking down was the problem, not the actual invader.
- CHANGING SELF TALK/SHIFTING THE NARRATIVE: it’s not an enemy being hunted. I’m back in my cocoon, but now to protect my inner childhood self, to let her feel joy, to ask ?s, to learn.
- Loving the story is different than acknowledging or having compassion for. Love the complete pic to love your body?
- CONNECTING: connecting w/myself and w/community. Knowing myself to know what communities I want to be part of. Connect to parts of myself that I use to hate—_____—– hair, bushy eyebrows, wide nose and not a defined nose bridge/shape, big lips, heavy breasts, stretchies. I still had all of these at a size 6/8 soooo the issue was my innards, not my dress size
I left the circle with a somatic exercise for when we get triggered, and how to release that pain from our bodies. I also wanted to tie it back to the grounding exercise we did in the beginning. There are 6 steps:
- Notice: inhale. Exhale (I usually hold my breath when I get triggered, so seriously- exhale). What do I feel in my body and around my body.
- Think back to safety: think back to a recent moment where you felt calm, and most like you
- Identify: identify when/which parts of your body began to experience stress/pain
- Replay: if you’re able to, replay the situation from calm state to stressed state, as if watching a movie on a screen. Think about people, conversations, objects in the background, folk’s behaviors that stand out or make you uncomfortable. In all honesty, I don’t think I’m at the point where I can do this step. I still skip it.
- Tune in: if you’re able to do #4, then also tune in to your body sensations as you recall events. Slow down and notice if there is any shift in your body, a tensing, numbing.
- Healing hands: our hands have power, y’all. Place your hand on the area that has experienced a shift/change, and breathe deeply. If it’s an overall feeling, you can always place your hand over your heart. This allows the body to process the somatic experience, and can help create a passageway to release tension.
What story does your body currently tell? Are you satisfied with this story? Holla at a homie 🙂
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