My body remembers


[TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and Abuse]

As many of you know, in highschool I spent a year in an abusive relationship. Some of my memories of my abuse are vague and foggy. But then other memories I remember well. The ones I remember the most clearly are the ones I remember not only in my mind, but in the rest of my body as well.

As I think about my connection with my body, and I think about my commitment to reconnect with and love my body for Lent, I also have to think of the ways my body has been hurt.

And I have to take care of it.

Because my body remembers.

Somehow in my path to healing I got the idea (though I don’t remember where from) that the pain from the physical abuse I’d suffered had healed already. Therefore, it was the verbal abuse I had to worry about.

After all, one only hurt my body. The other hurt my soul, right?

So, until the past two years or so I’d avoided even thinking about it.

But no matter how well my physical abuse has healed, verbal abuse isn’t the only thing that sticks with me. Again, my body remembers.

There aren’t any scars except the ones I gave myself–and those are fading. But even those are part of the body that is me now.

The body that carries in it the experiences that are part of who I am.

My story.

My survival.

Most of what my body remembers can’t be seen. My face remembers the stinging pain of the one and only time he slapped me.

My arm remembers the time when I tried to walk away from him and he grabbed it so tightly that it left a hand-print-shaped bruise. The bruise is gone but sometimes I still feel that hand, gripping so tightly I wanted to cry.

Sometimes my brain tricks me into feeling his hands at my sides ready to tickle me until I couldn’t breathe and started to cry. And I think about it and start to laugh and my ribs start to scream out in pain.

My body remembers when he forced me to perform fellactio on him and how he held my head down. It remembers the taste and how it felt when I threw up afterward. And I still carry mints or cough drops everywhere because sometimes I’ll just be at school or at the store and I’ll remember and the taste will be so real and so awful that if I don’t have something to help me forget I’ll throw up again.

Sometimes I’ll just feel his body on my body, hurting me all over again. I’ll feel his hands and I’ll want to push them away so badly but they aren’t there, and so I end up looking like I just walked into a spider web.

Physical abuse, like verbal abuse, goes deeper than the scars and bruises. My body remembers tastes and smells and touches–some that my brain can no longer even attach to a specific event.

And in my attempt to separate Me from My Body, I’ve dismissed the pain I’ve felt as something in the past. I’ve let myself feel ashamed for still feeling pain that is not “real.”

But today, for Lent, I’m affirming that pain. It’s real and it’s legitimate, even if it’s just a phantom.

I can cry over it. I can hurt from it. I can carry my cough drops and use them when I need to. I can tell Abe to stop touching me if his hands are reminding my body of another set of hands.

I survived with my body and I remember with my body and somehow, I’m going to learn to heal with my body.

I can say to my body, “It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to hurt. You are a survivor too.” 

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  • Slow, standing clap, Sarah.

    “But today, for Lent, I’m affirming that pain. It’s real and it’s legitimate, even if it’s just a phantom.” Amen. All the way into passion week, all the way to being nailed onto a cross, all the way to resurrection on the other side. Whenever that may be.

  • Hugs.

  • Oh, wow. I understand this so well. Carrying mints… All of it. I’m still trying to figure out how to heal, but I think you’re right. I can’t just ignore it.

  • I get those “body memories” when I wash dishes sometimes and sometimes when I take a shower. They happen more for things I don’t really remember well visually, if that makes any sense and now that I know what they are and have recognized them, they are starting to fade. My Dad often hit me while I was in the kitchen and he yanked me out of the bath and would hit me too, even when I was too old (not that there is any age where that is right!) for him to be doing such things. If you want to bring yourself back to the present when those body memories happen sometimes, lightly digging your nails into the palm of your hands seems to help.

    • I do deep breathing, and that helps me remember that I’m in control of my body.

  • So sorry for the pain you are experiencing. I hope that by taking this journey with Lent you can find a deeper healing than physical healing.

    I often find my body remembers better than my mind. Since my sexual abuse happened when I was very young, my “verbal” memories are somewhat cloudy, but long before I knew the name to give those fuzzy memories, I had extreme vaginal pain–so much so that the doctors gave me antibiotics because they thought I must have a uti or yeast infection based on the pain that I was experiencing. After repeated visits they finally did a whole string of tests to find out where the infection was and everything came back negative. They told me there was nothing to explain why I was having such constant pain and that there was nothing they could do. I finally faced the possibility that it might be linked to the past. Once I started addressing the memories, the pain started to subside somewhat. It still comes and goes, but now I can recognize it as a cue that my body is having a flashback even if my mind isn’t. Now I know that it’s a sign to be kind to my body as it goes through its process.

  • I have body memories like this too. This is such a wonderful thing to be doing for yourself for Lent. I’ve been listening to Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body on my iPod….learning to inhabit my body with love and move through and past the pain. I hope that you will find whatever will help you do that too.

  • Sarah. . .what a courageous statement. . .I agree wholeheartedly with you that the smells, tastes and touches are real and they are part of your body. You can’t separate them one from the other. I applaud your post and am glad that you have written your pain because others who have had similar experiences will find some comfort in your words.


  • Thank you for sharing your story. I tell everyone I work with everytime you share who you are and your story it is a gift. It took me hours to read this post. I would read and walk away and cry. I was there. I understand this. Thank you for sharing. I understand the phantom pain.

  • Definitely can sympathize and understand here. People don’t understand why I freak out and sometimes get violent when people tickle me. They don’t understand and they look at me weird until I tell them that I was almost suffocated before with it, that I almost blacked out. It runs so deep as to someone poking my sides and I jump. The abuse always stays, but its how we use it that matters.

  • I wish you peace and transformation in your journey back to your body.

  • Jim Fisher

    As the cross of Jesus teaches me, as Good Friday teaches me, I must sit with my darkness rather than try to outrun it. I must yield to this loss, this suffering, this pain, in order for it to transform me. But rather than passing through it in order to emerge a whole person on the other side, to yield to suffering or loss is to absorb it into my soul—like the dirt that absorbs death and decay—and from that rich soil to then emerge as a new person, a new creation. Somehow deeper. Somehow fuller. Somehow larger. Somehow like Christ, because of the cross. Somehow I must allow my past to be planted deep within my present, sprouting forth into new life and rebirth. (Inspired by a sermon by Daniel Harrell … and maybe a little of the Holy Spirit).

    I pray all of this and more for you, Sarah … along with Preston and all the others.

  • Mer

    Love and prayers to you, Sarah! As a survivor of verbal and emotional abuse, I know how memories get stuck on replay. Sometimes I imagine waves on a beach, washing the nastiness away.

  • Lynn

    This post…
    Leaves me nauseated and oh, so validated.
    It’s been years and I often feel something is
    wrong with me because, still, the horrors, the nightmares…
    Thank you for this. For being brave. For putting my own feelings into such eloquent words. For making such a lonely place a little less so.

  • My word for 2012 was Sanctuary. Specifically, I wanted my body to be a safe place for my soul to live. I had meant the intention to address my years-long chronic illness and the depression that goes with it. My body had other ideas. Last March, I began to realize that I’d been sexually abused in childhood. A safe body came to mean something entirely other than what I had begun with.

    This year by word/phrase is Live Out Loud. I want to stop flinching and cowering in unconscious silent fear of the past. I want to stand up straight and tell my story. Only I don’t really remember my story. Not in any narrative, plot-driven sense. Only the body memories, the flinching, the spacing out during sex, the vaginal pain without current cause. The pain.

    My Lent project has been to stop using all the many habits I’ve developed not to remember. Food being the biggest cover-up. I have taken my diet down to the boring-est possible, least inflammatory, foods. There are like six things I can eat. With still three weeks to go, I am going to have to move on to my other habits (sigh). I want to strip away all my defenses, draw the naked Self out of the dark, bring the stories to the Light so that I can tell them.

  • I really can’t put into words how much this post resonates with me and I want to thank you for your bravery and for validating these feelings for other survivors. I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through and the way it refuses to relent but know that you are not alone in this.

  • Let me just say that you are right where you need to be to heal! Keep sharing your story and keep working with your body (and with Abe) to give it the space and time it needs! There is no magic number, but let me just say that it took me over 10 years for my body to forget and no longer react in ways very similar to what you describe. The most random things can trigger these traumatic body memories and while I cannot tell you how I finally healed from my own bodily trauma, I can tell you that I DID and I pray that gives you hope and strength to carry on! You are so strong and so brave! I pray you know this! 🙂 My heart aches with empathy for you!

  • Reading this post was so, so hard for me. But so, so good at the same time. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable.

  • Moustache De Plume

    Thank you for this.

  • Thank you. I’m starting to remember things I hoped I’d never remember. It’s shocking to face something that is no longer there as if it were immediately present … to face it in a way I couldn’t then. Perhaps my body had to save the full effect of those wounds for now, when I have the awareness and support to heal from it, since I can’t make it not have happened at all.