Let me know when I’ve got room to run

willingness, living with chronic pain

Even at 34, there are still days when my body feels alien to me. I don’t even have to look in the mirror. The dysmorphia isn’t about a specific shape, wrinkle, or scar - it can feel alive inside of me. 

It’s one of the few things I feel (personal/internal) shame over because my body should be mine alone. If anything, it’s the only thing that is truly mine besides my soul.

There isn’t much I can do about this feeling cognitively: I can normalize it, remind myself that it’s typical of survivors with similar histories to mine. And just as importantly - I have to make room for grace to flood in, which means not holding on to anything - especially complicated shame and grief.

One of the most helpful healing things for me has been to recognize that this alien body doesn’t stop talking to me, it speaks differently, and I have to tune in to that subtle language so I can respond accordingly. When combined touch-repulsion and starvation feel like I’m living in a room full of knives - I have to move my body into the warmth and light. I can kneel in my garden, or the grass and run my hands over the earth. I can go on a night run. Climb another mountain. Meet a friend for breakfast. I’ve had to re-learn how to actively engage with the world around me instead of disassociating on default.

Living in a traumatized body can be exhausting; an unhealthy (physical) pain-management mechanism I adopted when I was 19 was to leave my body to avoid the pain (caused by my spinal hardware). But my escaping forced my body to absorb that pain alone. As I started to reconnect to my body, I had to reconnect with that pain, and the fact that both were and are conscious in ways that I hadn’t thought were even possible.

Pain doesn’t just sit there when we ignore it or run from it - it gets louder till we give it attention.

The other week, when I was back home, my nephew was chasing our pups outside and fell and scraped his knee. It wasn’t a bad scrape, easily washed and cleaned - but he was crying regardless, he needed me to hold him, and remind him that he was ok. It’s not just that he needed my love. He required a boundary around his experience. He needed to know that his hurt could be contained and addressed - and it wouldn’t be limiting his whole being.

When we fail to put boundaries on our past, when we stay disembodied, our pain and trauma don’t go away - they become more unmanageable. I’ve learned and am still learning how to lean into that initial discomfort and suck. I have to remind myself to work through it daily. It’s like getting into bed after spending all-day rock-climbing/hiking or running a half-marathon. I push myself a little harder and further than I think I can go, I climb that cliff that I’m scared of - and at the end, it’s just something I fall into. It feels good to come home, to come back into my body, but only because I made that effort.

There’s this bit in yoga - just at the beginning - because I’m so new to it, and my range of motion is limited - that I try to incorporate in my daily life, where the instructor asks us to take our arms and stretch them over our heads. Straighten our arms. Straighten our arms and stretch out through our heels. They’re asking us to grow.

I know that’s exactly what I have to do when I want to make myself small or invisible, and especially when I want to shed my own skin.

Un-metabolized pain doesn’t scare me anymore because I know I can process it. Overcoming the terror from abuse has endowed me with the tremendous excitement of living because I have been equipped with the strength to bear it. There are only two options: we grow older, heal from our trauma, and transform our lives - or we don’t. 

I’m only interested in one.