Listening To and Being Guided By My Survivor Body

Grief struck me without apology as I lay on the bathroom floor and wrapped my hands around my waist. Breathless hiccups echoing off the walls in a cacophony of pure pain. It was a horrible sound. I was no longer human, just heartache and war. I didn’t want to be responsible for this work. I didn’t want to do this healing. I was exhausted. I was done. My brain was screaming out, unencumbered by its usual survivor-bred calm, questioning how unstable the health of my body already was. That it couldn’t take more. It pushed back against the incoming waves of despair. It stood its ground and chained its feet to the floor in an act of protest on my behalf. It resisted, persisting in its logic that we couldn’t do this until my body won.

For the past few months, as my body declined, my ability levels have shifted a lot of how I am able to respond to the world around me. Though my brain is still wired to be the one who bears it all, does it all, and fulfils all needs, my body speaks another truth. My body places boundaries on me and my actions that my mind never could. Tensing itself against old narratives, the places I used to feel safe as I fulfilled old survival roles, and forcing me to recognize the disembodiment in them. The harm in the valid survival attempt of harm-reduction. One random, weird, powerful bookmark exists within the relationship I have with our new puppy, and the growing inadequacy I feel towards being one of his caregivers. Especially now during his adolescence.

I get it. It may sound odd, given that this is a puppy, but the level of daily grief that it has demanded is very real. I cannot be everything to him, I cannot hold my old role, and I certainly cannot bond with him the way my partner does. I am a trainer, the alpha, the teacher. I am the one who educates, guides and instructs. I provide a lot, and I do it well. However, I cannot run in the grass. I cannot jump and dance with him. I cannot hold my cries as he rams into my shins. I cannot cringe as he makes noises that trigger me. I cannot pick him up and cuddle him on the bed as my body writhes in pain. The once safety of animals being challenged in my present body. The confusion of that, the frustration of it, is no match to the exhaustion. I fulfil a role and then both because of my lack of ability to meet him elsewhere, and my physical symptoms, I am left alone because of it. Furthering the isolation I choose in daily life and forcing me to do more work with the lack of safety I feel with humans.

Last night, my grief on the bathroom floor invited me to meet this work in an entirely new way. Because there, in my grief, I met the inner child of my mother. The mother whose hands struck me, whose actions abused me, whose cruelty destroyed me. I sat there, in agony over the loneliness and pain I felt over Andy, the loneliness and pain I felt with others, and felt deep compassion for her. Like me, she was sick and her sickness kept her isolated. It pushed her into a corner where she felt she only had one choice, one option. It led her into a relationship with my abuser father. It directed her actions in the abuse she laid out upon me. It destroyed her love of art. It stripped colour from her. It undid her. It shifted her role from victim to abuser.

Without my body, this piece of intergenerational healing is something I don’t know I would have ever been able to access. My privilege of choice, of option, shapes the very world I walk amongst today. My mother lacked that, and her inner child is in anguish because of it. Last night, I healed with her. I held out my hand to the isolated little girl, kissed her forehead, and forgave the woman she would become in new ways I never had access to previously. Her sickness does not absolve her from the choices she made, and it never will. There will always be accountability in our actions, and the residual impacts of them on ourselves and others. However, the little girl in her is still wounded. She’s still a victim. That vulnerability, that truth, is real to me. I have access to believe it because of this work, and I have access to end what it created in her.

I am not an abuser, but I am a victim. I filled and fill the role well. I fill the survival role exceptionally. Being human is a different story, one that I am still working on. It’s a daily practice, a healing art, a tender trauma-informed existence. I used to express powerful freedom in my movement, through this body. Dance was my sanctuary. I undulated with the current of my emotions, felt empowered with the thrust of my hips, and slid safe hands over skin that bore the memory of cruel ones. Dance was my pulsating melody of healing, and today I can barely move. Today, my work looks drastically different. My body is breaking down, screaming out, wrought with illness and ceaseless chronic pain. Yet, it holds the same importance. Requiring more compassion, and much deeper respect, the way my body speaks now narrates just as poignant of a story as it did when it was healing through poetry.

It’s my privilege to listen.