“The body remembers what your mind forgets.” -Martha Manning
A few months ago I was interviewed by Tara Gentile on her podcast, Profit. Power. Pursuit. I immediately felt that I had done a very bad, really not great job in the interview. I had meandered and lost the thread.
I had, as they say, a moment.
In the interview we talked about the work I do and the book, POSITANO, that my husband Hal Wolverton and I finished production on this fall.
After the interview, I had what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” Hal said “I’m sure you were great. Don’t worry about it.”
But it went live, and I listened. My instinct had been right. I meandered. I lost the thread. The rush of anxiety hit a high as I listened to myself talk about the book. It was out in the world. I started feeling dizzy.
I worried about it being a bad interview, that it sounded like I didn’t know what I was talking about. And I felt sick that I had talked about the book.
The dizziness became more frequent. I worried more. I let Hal know that I was worried. I spoke to my doctor. I was transparent with him that I thought the dizziness was psychological, that it had all started when I started talking about the book. He gave me a prescription for anxiety drugs, just in case, and suggested seeing a cardiologist for an echocardiogram and such, “just to rule things out.” All the doctor speak made my heart race. The dizziness got worse.
Within weeks I was dizzy all the time.
Since my instinct was that it was emotional and not physical, I began seeking help from someone that understood the connection between my mind and my body. While the dizziness got worse and deadlines for the book going live clicked by, I started yin yoga. The teacher, a fascinating woman and fount of knowledge on trauma and the relationship between your brain and your body, made a recommendation for a somatic therapist, someone that concentrates on the physical manifestation and expression of emotion.
When I was preparing to be on the podcast, I did research about Tara, reading her book Quiet Power Strategy, a terrific book that I highly recommend.
A simple question in her book niggled and niggled at me: “What conversation do you want to be in?” It niggled at me because I couldn’t answer it.
Surprisingly, the dizziness was my way in, a glimpse into answering it.
I was raped when I was 5. The physical response to this kind of trauma is talked about as fight, flight, or freeze. Most children experience the freeze response. Leaving their body, or dissociation, is the healthiest response a little kid can have. That trauma response is a complex system of interactions between the brain and the central nervous system.
Working with the somatic therapist and yoga teacher, I have begun learning more about these specific long-term physical effects of childhood sexual abuse — the long term impact on the nervous system, particularly the vagus nerve and the digestive system. And I’ve learned about the physical actuality of leaving my body, the dissociation.
“The body remembers what your mind forgets.”
I have memories of being raped. All of the visuals of those memories are from about ceiling height, looking down, seeing myself over the tops of my own toes. My abuser — my grandfather, my father’s father — is on my left in those memories, as is my dresser and the door to my room.
One day in yoga, in a moment of intense dizziness, it occurred to me that if I were in my body, my grandfather would be on my right, not on my left. It finally sunk in that I was “seeing” the scene from outside my body.
I imagined the physical move I would have to make to get back into my body. I imagined tucking my right shoulder under and curling in as I executed the turn to rejoin myself.
What was on my left — the dresser, the door — was now on my right. I was in my body.
I have used that insight to orient myself in space when the dizziness comes. There have been times where I simply could not visualize doing the turn, so I have physically executed the move, sitting at my desk in a chair that spins around, ducking my right shoulder and turning counter clockwise in the chair until I’m facing 180 degrees the other direction. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not, setting my heart racing in an outrageous way.
Specific language comforts me, and so I am learning the official language for what is going on — the science of a life lived after childhood sexual abuse. I am learning ways to engage with and manage the heart racing panic (the cardiologist says my heart is strong and my arteries are normal, which means the work ahead remains orchestrating the symphony between my mind and my body).
And through all of this, I have come to understand the conversation I want to be in.
I’m so proud to have been on Tara Gentile’s show, I’m thrilled to have been influenced by her fine work, and I am on fire to openly, wholeheartedly be in conversations that shed light on the facts of the long shadow of childhood sexual abuse. Conversations that promote body safety for children to prevent abuse, and conversations that spark activism around the heartbreaking truth that once abused, that same, sweet little kid is more likely to be raped in their teen years. It’s a pattern I would like to be part of breaking so that kids can go on to live a rich, joyful life.
That book, the one that makes me dizzy being out in the world, is part of it. It’s called Positano: Ad Occhi Aperti. It’s part of the conversation, it’s part of me figuring out how to live a rich life, anyway.