Two and a half weeks ago my abuser, who I haven’t seen in almost 6 years, sent me a Facebook friend request. The worst part was that he changed his profile photo to one where he is with me.
I blocked him instantly, and that was it.
Only it wasn’t.
I went into dissociation.
I, my body, and my emotions, separated in a split second and I couldn’t stop it. It has been two and a half weeks and I am just starting to slowly come back to myself.
Dissociation is a normal response to trauma (in fact, my therapist explained to me that all people do it in a certain extent. You can read information provided by professionals here). By dissociating, my body and mind protect themselves from the feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.
I ‘learned’ to respond this way as a child, which is very typical. When you have little to no control over your environment, you adapt. It’s as easy as that.
This time, however, is very different. Now, for the first time, I actually know what is happening to me and why.
The most noticeable manifestation is my complete and total disconnection from my body. When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. It is not me, it is someone (or something) else walking around in my body. As if I do and say things not because I decide to do and say them, but for reasons I can’t explain. Experiencing it is as awful as it sounds.
I came up with a little test to check up on myself. I wiggle my fingers. If I do not feel like it’s me that is making my fingers move, I’m still in dissociation.
Being so detached from my body led me to reflect on my relationship with it.
When I am dissociated, it is so easy to hate my body. Because it’s not me. It’s a collection of separate parts that can be criticized. It’s the little details I am ashamed of and try to hide. It’s a disappointing thing that I compare to others. It’s a burden that prevents me from finding love. It’s the ‘but’ and the ‘except’ when I think about my self-worth.
I can tell you about so many things I missed out on because I hated myself so much.
When I was in college, I went to Budapest. One of the things that you can do in Budapest is visit Szechenyi Bath. It is one of the biggest natural hot spring spa baths in Europe. It’s over 100 years old and is quite nicely decorated inside. And I LOVE water and swimming.
But I didn’t go. I didn’t even consider going. The thought that someone, anyone would see me in a bathing suit, paralyzed me.
Over the last couple of years, things have been changing.
I have been practicing being grounded in here and now. I have been learning to experience emotions as they come and not suppress them, to embrace my painful past and to forgive myself for it. I have been trying to treat myself with compassion and patience. I have been vulnerable with people that I trust.
All of this allowed me and taught me to come back to my body, to feel that is me.
Which makes it very hard for me to hate anything about it.
A dear friend of mine featured me in her article for Cosmopolitan about Ukrainian women that moved abroad.
When I received a scan of the article, I noticed that my photo was photoshopped to make me look skinnier. No one asked for my consent. My friend, the author, wasn’t consulted either.
As unpleasant as this was, it didn’t take away from my joy of being a part of this project. What mattered to me was that a woman I respect and admire chose to share this creative process with me, and that my family and friends get to share this experience with me.
But this photo caught me in the raw state of gradually transitioning out of dissociation, and it allowed me to fully register and explore it.
I could not recognize myself because of how alien my body is to me right now. The thing behind my eyes kept staring at the photo, trying to find a familiar feature.
And, at the same time, I felt as if my integrity was threatened. Someone dared to (re)touch me. Someone thought that they could ‘change just this little thing’ to make me look more beautiful. But it doesn’t work that way. Because it’s me. All of it is me. Changing something, assuming that this is what I want, felt nothing less than violence.
I am going to leave you off with a mantra I picked up from Osho that resonates with me deeply. I have been reminding myself of it often in the last couple of weeks, hoping that it will help my mind and my body feel that they are safe and cherished.
Here’s how it goes: I am whole, I am healed, I am holy. Holy. Healed. Whole.