Compromised, my body abandoned me. Humiliated by its inability to protect me, it disconnected from the rest of me and fled. Broken into, manhandled and then disposed of when the fun had been had, the only response my body could come up with was to freeze. Aware that it had let me down, that it could no longer be trusted, it shut down. From the neck down I went into hibernation, my knowledge of my body was severed and my senses became dormant. I did not want to know that it remained attached, I went numb, dead to all feeling and all sensual perception. The physical world meant nothing to me any longer. I went to great lengths to cover up my flesh, to disguise it and hide it from myself (and not just from my actual eyes but my mind’s eye, too). Bathing, dressing, undressing became oppressive, distressing activities. I contrived all sorts of maneuvers to avoid catching sight of myself, to ensure I was not made aware deliberately or inadvertently of my corporeal reality. I chose baths where I could hide my body under excessive mounds of bubbles and limited my clothing to a few bland, grey, loose items that drew no attention. I could no longer associate with my body, it was simply too risky. I became an abstract being, a ghost, dispossessed, disconnected, disassociated.
It was summer when it happened and I’ve always loved summer. Basking in the sun, reveling in the heat, summer brings me alive, fills me with a pure, glorious joyfulness that is simply attributable to the weather. I am always greedy for summer. And yet, this year, I have no memories of it. I do not recall the feeling of the sun’s warmth travelling through me or the sensation of beads of sweat sliding down humid skin. I can’t recall blue skies or gentle breezes or stifling heat. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the summer of 2010. Nothing. Almost half of this year is completely absent for me in that regard. I can recall all the tasks and procedures, the medications and reports, the interviews and appointments. They are seared into my memory. Outside of the things I’ve been forced to recall, however, there is nothing. I did what I was told, the rest of the time I sat patiently (I think) and waited for the time to pass. For months, pleasure was anathema. It was simply not possible. Life was grim and bleak and bland. I struggled to distinguish things, mostly one moment blurred into the next and little could be said to make anything remarkable from anything else. Food was swallowed in painful gulps, just got through with a vague cognisance of dread that refused to be acknowledged as nausea. The only feelings I really remember are the headaches, which seemed endless, but even they seemed to come from a distance. I was aware of them but they didn’t really disturb me. They were just another dull drone to be endured in a world of ceaseless monotony.
It comes down to control. At the crucial moments, my body had been compliant. I had not been prepared. I had not seized an opportunity to act, I had commanded no authority, I had not managed anything. Neither flight nor fight kicked in for me. I could not have given a better rendition of ‘deer in the headlights’ if I’d tried. The consequences of this loss of control were so devastating, so complete that my body felt it had no choice but to surrender unconditionally. I recall no moment when this decision was made, it just happened. The price of submission was set so high, only I didn’t know that until it was too late. Afterwards, from my defeated position the only options left to me were negative: to feel unbearable pain – just as my attacker would want – or to feel nothing. Again, I made no decision. Some unknown survival mechanism took over and relegated feeling, along with everything that had been me up until that moment, to the past. Clearly, ‘I’ was not capable of handling things any longer, ‘I’ (and feeling) would have to go.
Our body is our home in the world. No matter your philosophical position, there is no existence without physical existence. We have no choice but to live through our bodies, whether or not we value them. When your body has been taken from your control and used against you, used by someone else for their ends at the cost of your safety, integrity and dignity, how do you continue to exist in the world? The very site from which you must experience life has been brutalised beyond recognition, seared with pain, inscribed with terror and danger. How do you set out to salvage a self from this wreckage? There are no easy answers. Somehow, slowly, cautiously you must start anew. Consider yourself somehow risen from the ashes. Not quite new, the past will never leave you, you will always be aware of what you had (and don’t have anymore) but you cannot access it. You have no choice but to build the foundations of your life from hereon on unstable ground. It is not ideal, you know that, but it is what you have. That volatile, inhospitable terrain is yours. Despite someone’s best efforts it has not been wrested from you. It may not be what it once was, but it is what it is and it’s yours. Do what you will with it and be proud. You have every reason to be.