Lesson Twenty-Two: My body is my truest ally, my oldest friend.

Both of my therapists had recommended Belleruth Naparstek’s guided meditations. My favorites are the one for sleep and the one for trauma. One of the most difficult mantras that I worked to own was about my body.

Belleruth would slowly talk about my body relaxing into my pillow. My body being my oldest friend, supporting my mind and my heart. I would lay in bed and cry. Crying exhausted me, which in turn helped me sleep, so it was highly effective.

I had more layers of betrayed feelings around my body after Lyra. Some of those I’m still sorting out.

I had been working with memories for years. There was a solid foundation of body mistrust from the abuse. I hated that I would orgasm without any consent of my own. If someone; horribly, if anyone touched my body in specific ways, I would respond. I spent hours working on masturbation and control. On being able to touch a partner and not have a flashback. I studied porn and worked to address my feelings on what messages were being sent out through that media. I talked more about my sex life than any twenty-something I knew.

My body was where the abuse happened. I carried the location with me, brought it out for extra attention in the most intimate moments.

It was always going to be work to have sex. I would always need to be on high alert, and watching to make sure that the room is still the room I remember. I would always slightly fear my male partners. These were facts, I told myself, that I must accept.

In that context, I reexamined my body feelings. If sex would be difficult, what about just being sexy? Perhaps body fulfillment existed on some previously unknown plane and by dressing up, I would find my pure woman self. Or something. I started on Halloween and dressed as a sexy sailor. I got a slave girl Leia costume for my then-boyfriend to see in private. I bought lip glosses. Halloween went over well, and sexy was something I started to play at on occasion.

My therapist recommended yoga. I knew Megan did yoga on DVD. I went to the Borders on Vets Memorial and bought a box set starring Rodney Yee. I did yoga with Rodney every morning for years. It was slow going. I didn’t realize how numb my body was until I had to try and find a specific muscle to stretch. I found that yoga breathing was similar to the meditation breathing. This was another side to the therapy coin, I decided. It was like body therapy. Like eating well and sleeping, I need to move my muscles and make sure I’m physically aware. When I could find awareness, I found grounding much easier. Reality was within grasp more frequently with body work.

The view I had of my body was not positive or correct, physically. I would project inaccurate images of myself into my mind. I knew what I saw wasn’t true, but I still couldn’t see what was true. I’d been watching myself bleed when I was completely fine for years. I saw Jim yelling at me and Preston in my bedroom weekly, at least, and that was just in my mind. Not believing what I saw around me was normal. Still, if I wanted to feel good about how I looked, it was important to understand how I looked.

I started taking a lot more pictures. I could use the background, foreground, and other people as scales. I took a lot of time folding my clothes, noticing the sizes I clearly owned and wore. I stayed away from weighing myself and the numbers behind my body.

I was gifted with an invitation to Midsummer Mardi Gras, where I did body painting with my college roomie Katie and Craig Tracy. A man I’d never met before named Mark painted my whole body while I wore a bra and shorts. I was terrified. I’d never had someone see that much of my body without sex being moments away. It was paramount to a bikini, which I hadn’t worn since I was twelve. I looked around the room and saw that on average, it would take two other women duct-taped together to equal my normal size. I was huge in comparison. I told myself how stupid I was to compare. Negative self-talk continued for the first hour or so.

As the day went on, other artists came by and added touches to my look. Compliments abounded in all directions. I painted Mark, and others came by and added to him as well. Katie was bright green and had made friends with some matching pop-art-painted girls from Russia. Everyone piled together against Craig’s wall as several people snapped pictures. I was being photographed, nearly naked, with a couple dozen people I barely knew. Surreal.

That night we all went out and danced in the Quarter. The lights were blurred with tipsy edges. The night was a thick blanket of humidity with bursts of conditioned air slipping out from bars and galleries. Bold colors paraded down Bourbon, being cheered by festive folks who were also celebrating. In a city of music and mud, the colors rolled through, encouraged and inspiring themselves.

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