Reclaiming This Body: Re-sensitizing the Desensitized Body Pt. 2
I have felt numb for a long time. One day I realized I wanted to feel again. I wanted to be fully alive.
For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty taking a deep breath. As I got older, I realized that I was nearly hyperventilating for most of the time I felt like I was suffocating on my air. When my stomach would get into knots, my breath stays caught in my chest and my body begins to feel panic. I first started to gain awareness of how much my breath is connected to my body when I was attracted to yoga in the middle of my college career.
In the yogic asanas (poses), the body is often resistant to the position. Through my yoga practice, I became aware of the tension in my body as the instructors would guide the class to focus on our breath first, and once we had a rhythm going, would gently ask us to check in with our bodies. With my eyes close and quieting the monkey chatter of my mind, I discovered these aches and pains that I was oblivious to in the rushing and stress of life. About the same time, my interest in having a healthier diet gave me insight into this vessel I was inhabiting and was unfamiliar with. It was discovering my lactose intolerance that for the first time I began to notice how food made my body feel.
These first insights into paying attention to my body as it was affected by my eating habits and my life led to learning more about how psychosomatic the human body is. Psychosomatic refers to having physical symptoms originating from mental or emotional causes. The easiest way for me to understand this at first was understanding the correlation to how my stomach would clench up when I was anxious. I began to observe the way my body would react to my emotions and understood how much I did not know about being in my body. An important catalyst for shifting my perception of my womanly body was a workshop I attended towards the end of college that involved sharing our menarche (a girl's first menstrual cycle) and talking about the ways this society has demonized a woman's reproductive system and functions.
I started to read more about healing the body. I began to realize that I carried many internalized myths about being a woman and my sexual expression. This sparked an interest in learning more about this womanly body I was in but didn't quite understand. It was also a hard time for me, as I became frustrated with myself. There was much of my body that felt numb, and the more I learned about the ways that women carry emotions in their bodies, the more I began to wonder how to come alive again.
A lot of this preliminary inquiry set the stage for my work at Casa Atabex Ache, a healing space for women of color to heal from internalized oppression and trauma. It was there that I learned about the realities of being girls and women in the South Bronx. I had known the community that the space was located in as La Tercera growing up, so it was an eye-opening experience to see the everyday life of a place previously known to me as a shopping district. Working with Casa gave me a lot of information on the challenges women face, such as mental health, sexual and domestic abuse, addictions and many other circumstances. I learned from the women there that systems of oppression and traumas dramatically impact our health and our ability to have control and power over our lives. I learned how to name the sources of the oppression. Through being a part of and being trained to hold space for a healing circle, I began to learn how to come back into my body.
The work I did in a healing circle space dislodged many emotions that I was holding onto. Up until that point, I felt an incredible amount of tears trapped inside me. I wasn't even aware how much rage I had inside until I was invited to let it out. It was then that I discovered how good it felt to scream out frustration. Doing this work of feeling old emotions, I learned that our emotions cause illnesses physically, spiritually and mentally. It was an echo of the knowledge I gained during my brief time studying to be a holistic health counselor. Come to think of it, my entire experience at Casa was one of deep remembrance. Of bringing to the surface traumas and memories I did not want to deal with. Of realizing how out of my body I had been. It was a deeply enriching part of my journey and in many ways, the beginning of many endings that were necessary to birth my Self. My true authentic Self. An evolution, integration and maturation of a woman.
I started to dance to African-inspired rhythms because I felt alive, sexy and powerful, not to mention that there was a lot of releasing happening when I would dance for long periods of time. In my dancing, I met an extraordinary woman who taught me that dancing helps to open up our hips and release womanly trauma from our wombs. I started to incorporate that knowledge into creating a relationship with my yoni. In connecting with my body this way, I discovered that I learned what it felt like to notice the sensation of ovulation. I paid attention to the way my body felt at different points of my cycle to the point where I can feel my menstrual cycle about to begin, with a nuanced sense of awareness.
It also opened the doors for me to continue doing the healing work of deep release and organization of the interior world. I was encouraged to go to therapy and seek the advice of spiritual healers while I did my alchemy. Of doing the transformative work of turning a base metal into gold. Of performing magic on my Self. Recently I have come to realize the Process that was initiated was one of re-sensitizing the desensitized body. I feel so much more present in my body these days. Discovering the true essence of the erotic opened up new world of deeply feeling and sensing the world that I had no idea was available to me.
When I first thought of the word, "erotic", I automatically think pornography. After being introduced to Audre Lorde's essay, "Uses of the Erotic", I began to understand the erotic as a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feeling. Of experiencing and feeling deeply the knowledge given to us by our own internal cycles and the mysterious gifts of our bodies. As my exploration of my womanly body was enhanced by this essay, I began to understand that there was an innate knowledge in my body and it felt connected to my reproductive system. It was also a bit intimidating to start to explore the erotic, as I had been merely doing the act of sex and suppressed feeling connected to the event.
A lot of coming back into my body was re-framing my views on my sexuality, body and discovering the internalized negative messages around my sexual expression. Having sexual experiences that were healthy allowed me to understand my body more. Whereas in my earlier sexual experiences, I was used to checking out mentally, as I discovered my own sexual impulses and vulnerability. I learned how scared I had been this whole time to be vulnerable. To share my deep secrets and notice the way they felt in my body. I began to engage my whole being. Being sexually violated was another opportunity to leave my body. I left for a while, because it was too painful to remember. I was afraid to have sex with anyone else afterwards. What I found is that intimacy has been the biggest catalyst to heal from that trauma and my childhood trauma.
I have felt comfortable relaxing my body and allowing my self to stay in the moment. With this comfort, I let my emotions ebb and flow in sharing intimacy. I learned that sex was a space to open up to primal, sensual and honest feeling. It was in being able to cry deeply that I understood how sex could be more healing than scary. Enjoying loving sexual experiences made me present to how unaware I was in the past. Of how I had denied my self from fully experiencing my body in sex because of my traumas and staying in my mind. Turning my head and avoiding eye contact in previous sexual relationships was a way to check out emotionally. Of not being fully there to what I felt, physically or otherwise.
Receiving a professional massage sparked my interest in the healing power of touch. Getting a massage allowed the tension in my body that I've been carrying for so long to release. I felt like I could be more fluid in my body. Around this time, a sister friend gave me a small tidbit that stayed with me. She told me to treat myself like a goddess, to pay attention to rubbing oils and lotions into my skin and to honor that time as an opportunity to love my body. Taking this advice has produced hours of marveling at body parts that I had neglected before. Where I find my self in my healing journey is discovering more and more what it is to be back in my body. Therapy and all the work I have done has made me understand that losing the connection with my body was my body's way of protecting itself when I was experiencing trauma in the past. It is with the work of learning to touch my self lovingly, allowing others to engage in loving and positive touching (hugging, cuddling, embracing, etc). Most of all, it has been appreciating and honoring my body as my vehicle in the world that has caused a deep level of compassion for it.
To resensitize my body, I had to have a deep desire to feel fully. Feeling fully is scary and yet, knowing what it is to be numb, I wouldn't have it any other way.
*excerpt from my forthcoming book