“The beauty of “Me Too” is the sense of not aloneness, of solidarity, truth and community”
Well hello again Beautiful Readers,
This isn’t the way I thought I would return to the page. However, if you like me are one of the one in six Americans whose life has been forever changed by rape attempted or enacted, you know that today is not the same old same old.
If fact, if you are one of the one in six, or simply one of the many people who know someone whose life has been forever affected by sexual assault, it feels like the world as we have known it is skittering on the brink of extinction. An extinction upon which the our species depends in order to survive. And from which ultimately we can evolve and create a new just way of relating, rooted in compassion instead of competition.
I narrowly escaped being raped in Westwood after a date in the 1980s with “a nice boy from a good family.” He was good-looking, strong and tall, a UClA football player on his way to med school whose father was a doctor. I was as I am now petite and slender of frame. After he pinned me to the floor of my apartment he began trying to both remove my underpants and force his erect penis into my dry vagina. Only by begging him to look into my eyes so he wouldn’t be able to deny that I didn’t want to be forced to have sex in this painful way did I get him to stop.
The only person I ever told was my ex-boyfriend. It never even occurred to me to reported to the police. But this assault was one of the reasons I left Los Angeles.
Living here again in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein and much-needed “me too” movement, I am encouraged by a sense of recognition, solidarity and of hope. Those of us who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s, and especially those who came of age pre-Oprah and Tyler Perry, would not have been able to believe that the topic of sexual assault can now be openly discussed. And that centuries worth of shame and blame are beginning to be healed.
When I was in my mid-to late twenties and fumbling my way through the lava field of trauma from being the victim of multiple episodes of childhood and adult sexual abuse and assault, I found solace in a remarkable book co-authored by the poet, Ellen Bass, called The Courage to Heal.
Cherished by survivors, and recommended by therapists and institutions everywhere, The Courage to Heal has often been called the bible of healing from child sexual abuse. For years, I passed it on to other women who, like me, sought to be free from the effects of this heinous and shattering form of violence on body, mind, and soul.
To go from being a survivor to thriving is as much a state of mind as a state of mindfulness. It is possible to heal. I am living proof of that hard-won and still delicate peace. As someone with a sensitive nature and a background involving trauma, it is easy for me to become overstimulated and feel overwhelmed.
Working with my senses to create healthy adrenal, cortisol, blood sugar and pressure levels is key to being able to respond to challenges from a place of balance and strength. This means engaging mindfully and regularly with simple practices that nourish the senses and allow for complete and total relaxation of the flight or fight response. The use of imagery, meditation, and body-centered practices such as tapping are particularly helpful.
What I like is that it can literally be as easy as breathing in and out through my nose to a count of four while consciously relaxing the muscles of my face right down to the root of my tongue. Doing this engages the vagus nerve* which might just be the most important nerve you may not know you have.
I thought I’d leave you today with this poem by Ellen Bass, performed by fellow poet and friend of Engaging the Senses Foundation, the extraordinary Kim Rosen. It’s a poem about learning to stop and engage with the mindful moment in the midst of whatever is happening, no matter how dire it seems.
Sending you all so much strength and love.
*”The management and processing of emotions happens via the vagal nerve between the heart, brain and gut, which is why we have a strong gut reaction to intense mental and emotional states.It is related to the parasympathetic nervous system—and controls unconscious body functions, as well as very important things like keeping heart rate constant and aiding in the digestion of food to breathing and sweating. It also helps regulate blood pressure and blood glucose balance, promotes general kidney function, helps release bile and testosterone, stimulates the secretion of saliva, assists in controlling taste and releasing tears, and plays a major role in fertility issues and orgasms in women.”