Saturday, August 10, 2013

Greeting the Stranger in My Skin

My father is giant. He must be at least ten feet tall. Even now that I am grown and am at least an inch taller than he is.

This is what I remember: hugging him when I was only tall enough to wrap my arms around his knees; sitting on his foot and wrapping my arms around his mid-calf, clinging desperately to him as he gave me a "ride" around the house; sitting on his shoulders and stretching up, up, up in an intense effort to touch the lintel of the doorway between the kitchen and dining room.

Today I can stretch up on my toes and touch the ceiling of my bedroom, another person's shoulders unnecessary.

My father worked construction and the shoulders on which I sat were ten feet wide and strong, built of solid ropes of muscle.

An abusive alcoholic, my father used his tall and broad muscular body as a weapon against those much smaller and weaker than himself. I do not remember when the physical abuse of my family members began. Perhaps it was always a part of our family culture.

Because of this, I have come to subconsciously equate size with power. It does not matter whether that size is height or width. It does not matter whether someone is larger than me because they are more overweight or because they have more muscle mass. The simple fact is, at some point, the difference between my own size and another's is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst.

Even with those I know and trust and love. Even with those with whom I am totally secure, totally confident, with whom I feel totally safe. My diminished size has left me feeling weak and vulnerable and those who were previously the same size or smaller than me, now being larger than me, evoke feelings of discomfort and anxiety.

My own body leaves me steeped in feelings of discomfort and anxiety.

Trauma lives in the body. It's like muscle memory: train a muscle to respond to stimuli in a particular way, and it will become second nature. 20,000 hours of practice is what it takes to master a skill. 20,000 hours of muscle training.

Trauma beats out training. It is kind of instantaneous. Traumatize the body and that trauma lives in the body and continues to function as part of that body. The body remembers that trauma.

As my body has shrunk, the traumas I have experienced have not. They continues to live and thrive within my body. It is like another entity sharing space, except the space is smaller, and because the trauma is not, the trauma has become proportionately larger. It feels huger and more significant. No amount of self-talk seems capable of silencing the voice of trauma.

The best I seem able to hope for is acknowledging its presence and redirecting the anxiety it provokes. The best I can hope for is being able to manage the symptoms, because the trauma will never go away. Like a broken bone, the fracture, though healed, will always be present.

Giants terrify me. Be they people or emotions or traumas. When faced with giants, I respond in the same way every time: terror, anxiety, flight.

In the world of fight or flight responses, I have never been a fighter. I have always been one to flee and hide.

What happens when one cannot run from the giant living in one's own skin? What does it means to live each day with that giant inside of oneself? How does one function in a near constant state of terror and anxiety?

How does one find peace and rest?

Can one learn new responses? Is it possible to re-frame the current experience, giving it new boundaries, new shape? Can one possibly divorce the current from the former and learn to interpret the current experience outside of trauma?

When I feel my body is changing and I do not know what it means, can I choose to rejoice in transformation rather than hide in fear? When I see the changes, can I choose to embrace them rather than mourn them?

When I feel alien in my own skin, can I welcome myself with hospitality, as I would a stranger, and extend an invitation to deeper knowledge? Can I learn to learn myself in the ways I might learn a new friend?

Can I choose to view these things as transformation and rejoice in a sense of renewal?

Will my new body perhaps one day be a body that does not know the trauma of my past?

I am a stranger in my own skin, and I am learning myself all over again. It is discomfiting not to know my own body, to feel such a divorce between my mind and my physical form. But, perhaps as I learn my body, my body will also learn me, and together something new and beautiful can be created.

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