When a person is sexually assaulted, the body, and through it, the world that can be experienced, is irreparably changed. What once might have been a safe and secure world is no longer as safe, as secure, or as gentle and whole. Those traumatic feelings, these frozen experiences, are not solely in the mind, for they arise in and through one’s body.
The effect of sexual assault on the body is long lasting. For some people who are sexually assaulted, the ability to trust one’s own body, and one’s own experience is also damaged. A warm gesture from a friend, the simple sound of footsteps, first date stomach butterflies, a kiss on the lips, even sex with an old and trusted partner, can in their own way bring up physical memories that are unexpected and unwelcomed. In its own way, the body hold’s onto experiences, because that is the language of the body.
Am I saying that a person who survived sexual assault will forever endure the experience of being assaulted? No. I do not believe that sexual assault is the defining moment of a person’s sexual or physical self understanding, but it is a defining moment: a moment that sometimes gets reawakened; a moment that casts a very long, if diffuse, shadow; a moment of hurt that must be healed; a moment that can be remembered tightly or held loosely. It is also not a moment that time will erase, for time doesn’t heal all wounds.
With sexual assault, the body is forced into an experience, so the very physicality of an act of assault becomes seared in the body and also into the person.
Getting to the personal and emotional place, where one’s body feels safe and secure, and whole, may not happen to a person that has endured sexual assault. I do not say that to be downcast, but to be honest that reclaiming one’s sense of safety and security is more of a process than a fixed point. The process, as I like to think of it, is a physical process of learning to hold onto the experience loosely, rather than being stuck, and physically trapped in that frozen, helpless moment. It is a difficult and challenging process to heal, and to come back into one’s body after such a wounding.
As much as we hold onto our trauma and pain, it is possible to hold onto those experiences not as tightly. With being gentle with one’s self, with being tender with one’s self, without hiding from one’s self, the body can heal.
(originally written August 4, 2012)