The following essay was written by various members of our system, as the “we of me” had an internal conversation about the nature of a body, and of a person’s relationship to their body. To learn more about our multiplicity, please see the About page. Thank you for reading.
What is my body? Is my body my property?
No. I would never refer to a living being as property.
But then again, is my body only alive because I am in it? Would my body not be a living being if it were not for me?
When I was young, I was often directly told that I existed only because my abusers existed. I was only alive to feed their lives. My existence was intended to be in service to them—full, unconditional, accepting, childlike loving service, to the criminals who were breaking my heart. And breaking my bones.
I did not have an existence of my own. So now I sit, wondering, whether my body’s existence has the right to be universally cared about, whether I am occupying my body or not, or, whether I treat it well or not.
I do not wish to be an abuser of my own body—ever. Yet, because of almost three decades’ worth of enslavement and abuse, sometimes I struggle to connect with my body and hear it. This makes me feel like a neglectful parent.
And at times in the past, I have hurt it myself. Now, without going into self-blame, I am trying to stay with these questions, because they are leading me to wonder how much I have treated my body the way that my abusers used to treat me.
I know, on some level, that my body is unconditionally accepting of me and my circumstances, and it will do its best to handle whatever happens to it, and return to a healed state, if it can. This is exactly the way I responded to my abuse. I was too young and vulnerable to do anything but love the abusers, accept their treatment, and strive to survive.
I work in partnership with my body now, trying to feed it healthy foods, movement, sunrays, and air. But at times in the past, I have neglected it. I have hurt it. I have wanted to feel physical pain and injury rather than be in layers of pain and injury in my mind.
I think that because I am a mind control survivor (and was still being victimized at the time), I had a belief that the internal state of my mind did not matter to others, especially when they could not see it. Growing up, I saw that not only did the adults in my life not care about my mental and emotional anguish, but they organized significant portions of their lives around creating this anguish in me. Meanwhile, ordinary people could not see these wounds. They were too well hidden.
I felt that my mental wounds would never have value to anyone. I did not believe that my body had much value either, because it was being violated, shamed, and battered so much. Except sometimes I was told that my body did have value, such as when I was being forced to carry children. The many experiences I had of abusers wanting my body, but neglecting my mind and heart, sent me even more complicated messaging about myself, and the different aspects—body, mind, spirit–that form my existence.
I also knew that physical wounds show, and mental wounds are easier to miss or to ignore. Experiences of self-inflicted bodily injury, or overexercising, or neglect, also did not feel as complexly layered as the emotional pain, confusion, and grief that I held inside. Years later, at this stage of my recovery, I have a better understanding of my relationship to my body than I have ever had before. I knew that it was wrong to hurt any other person, but it took me many years to start to understand that it was also wrong to hurt me.
But while I try to take care of my body every day, I feel out-of-control when I consider the idea that I should be able to do whatever I want to it, or with it, because it is my body. That reminds me of what my abusers did to me when I was a child. What about listening to what my body needs or wants?
Though this may seem strange, even my pierced ears are making me wonder. Did I pierce my ears in partnership with my body, or despite my body? I honestly do not know. But I can sense a feeling of appreciation inside of myself, for the conversation the we of me are having inside about our body. I sense that my body is finally feeling included.
I try to treat every member of my system with the kindness that they have always deserved and needed. But I noticed, some time ago, that I could not do the same for my body. I felt too much hatred toward it. The feeling was so strong, and the more I sat with it, the stronger it got. Tuning into my memories of abuse, I came to see that it was my abusers’ hatred of me, of themselves ultimately, that I was remembering, and feeling, as if it were happening now.
Then, I realized I was also feeling the agony of being physically imprisoned in so much pain, trauma, and illness. Well, I had felt that my whole life. That was my story. That wasn’t my body’s fault, it was the perpetrators’ fault. I am now gradually learning to direct my feelings at their source—the people who hurt me—rather than at myself, and my innocent body.
Someone suggested to me that I can begin to consider my body to be one of the members of my system. This changed everything. All of a sudden, my body mattered. All of a sudden, my body held a place of value within me, a precious place of value that I reserve for each member of my system. All of a sudden, I realized it had been victimized, too.
Furthermore, it was the only member of our system that was never able to leave, to dissociate from the abuse. It withstood all of it.
I had been feeling as though, with its old injuries and illness, that it was victimizing me, and not listening to me, until I finally realized that this was not true. The closest true statement would perhaps be, that it was reflecting back the deep and thorough victimization that I had been put through—a victimization I can seldom actually acknowledge.
In my recovery, I had somehow been healing emotional wounds while simultaneously refusing to believe the story of how they got there. My body’s injuries are indisputable. So is my fragmented psyche. I have been harmed from a very young age, and I have been struggling not to push away the proof.
I feel that no one should have more ownership of my body than I do. But, I do not feel that I can claim full ownership of it either. It is a body. It works with a mind, and a soul. These are all parts of my experience, but my body has its own wisdom, and I do not feel that I have the right to exploit or mistreat my body simply because I can. There are many actions toward bodies that are legal, but harmful.
Even more unfortunately, there are also many actions toward bodies that are illegal, harmful, and not prosecuted—such as the many violent actions that were done to my body. Ultimately, as an adult in recovery, I am in charge of ensuring that my own actions toward my body are loving. Even if there is never any prosecution of the crimes against me, I will do my best to give myself reparations.
I am starting to realize that my body is not bad. It has suffered. It carries the effects of years of suffering. I have also caused it suffering, but I know now that it was never in my true nature to do so. In my mind, I see the faces of the criminals who taught me to take a hammer to my own arms. I see the lifetime of “teachers” who told me I was dirty, gross, bad, a punching bag. They taught me that I wasn’t one of the beings who should be protected from harm. I was taught to harm myself.
This deepening understanding of my own compulsions and self-neglect has been the very thing that freed me from my own harmful actions. Now, I strive every day to bring my body healing. I am starting to now see it as sick, injured, and abused, rather than guilty, lazy, ugly, dirty, bad. I am taking loving actions toward my body. I am deepening my respect for it. I am listening to it. I am setting an example for the young parts of my system. Now, having freed ourselves, we can take actions we have never been allowed to take.
We can take the opposite of the actions that were taken against us. We can take the opposite of the actions that we were forced to take. Now we finally can, and oh, have we been longing to.
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You are so wise and so brave. Thank you for your poignant words and your courageous honesty. It offers healing to others.