believing the body

The body does not lie.
And this seems at first glance like a straightforward sentence, a statement either true or not true, real or not real.

So which is it?

The body does not lie.
But not lying (the body telling the truth) is not the same thing as always knowing the language, knowing the meaning, knowing the translation of a voice submerged in flesh and heartbeats and blood that runs opaque as secrets through the veins.
So I want to say yes. It is true. It is true in and with, for and from me. The body does not lie.
Though I spent a lot of time, years that became decades that became a life, questioning and cajoling, asking my own embodied self to justify and explain and defend every murmur and cold scream.

I would have told you that the body, my body, spoke truth. But I had also pathologized myself. Told myself that trauma had changed me in a way that made my own body’s signals less reliable, somehow skewed in the direction of fear and clamping down closed.  For many years I lived with the roaring fragmentation of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and this has a way of making time warp, the nervous system bent the shape of past harm, and it was here that I learned it can be possible to suffocate not from lack of oxygen but in the too muchness, lungs choking on air. Because of these things, I then made connections between dots to craft cohesive narratives and form a picture of what and why and how come. So the body would feel afraid or feel hesitant or feel guarded, would feel numb or feel vigilant or feel severed. And I would hear this, and though I wouldn’t tell myself I was straight out wrong (embodied lying), I would tell myself that it was somehow misdirected or the signals had become mismatched in a body once beaten and left for dead and so something in me was forever lost in confusion.

It sounded like. . .
I know I am safe but my body doesn’t feel safe and I can’t relax or rest or stop tensing tight.
I know my body is braced and my jaw locked in protective defiance but it must be the haunting of the things that can never be undone, because she really loves you, because he would never intentionally hurt you.
I know I am not being attacked, but I feel silenced when they walk into a room.
I know I am cared for, but my body just can’t receive it (because of the past, because of violence, because of scars and stories of what happened and should never happen).
If you were really healed, you would be able to sleep better or you wouldn’t shake or you the dreams would one day just leave you alone.

The body does not lie, I would think and say and want so much to fall into.
But what I really told myself in my own responses to the language she spoke, was that my body could not be trusted, could not be believed.

(And I was not alone in this. I had others tell me this too. Tell me that though my feelings were real, my body was not based in reality. Because I had no reason to not feel safe. Because my skin was speaking about what happened years ago. Because they, the teller, were trustworthy and loving and so it must be my body that was wrong for not opening up and letting myself give over to their goodness.)

Then something happened. I had an embodied experience (hours and days and weeks of them) that let the cracks break wide enough and I slipped through, into the other side of something. My body began responding, began speaking, in a way that made all the other claimed confusion now the eloquence of clear truth. Here, I was safe. Here, I was loved as I had always needed to be loved. Here, I was known and known and known. Here, I was not asked to defend or prove or strive, to fix or mend or make better. I was not asked to be anything at all. I was not told I was safe. I was not told I was loved. I was not told I could trust. I was not told I should loosen my grip and let go, that my body was betraying me by not believing another. My body, all on her own, spoke. My body came to rest, the nervous system no longer ranting and raging. I felt safe, because I was safe. I could breathe with ease, because I was not being watched or monitored or assessed. I could hurt and be held. I could remember and not know the intrusion of interpretation. I could laugh and light up and feel my own skin on the inside of the thigh wake up with a whisper of a touch from a hand I know as intimately as my own while cloud cover came and passed over.

This re-writes everything about consent I once thought and named as known.

The body does not lie.
My own body had always been telling me the truth.
It is not important that I understand it all or make meaning or decipher the code. It does not matter if I articulate in verbal speech or classify it correctly or can give a list of reasons and whys. The body speaks. I believe her. It is this stripped down, clear and complete.

So it happens. You have an experience that lands soft and firm inside your whole body, and you know new. Your embodied truth had always been speaking true, and something shifts in a way where the inked key now knows where it belongs and the parts come untethered and you are complete. You keep thinking back, to that time, sitting there by the water, and how didn’t know why, could not in any way have explained or made it make sense. Because it did not seem reasonable or rationale. But you felt it so fully. “I am afraid,” you kept saying. “I am just so, so afraid.” And how you were told you did not need to be afraid. Told that you were safe (which is to tell the body it is lying). Told that it was hurtful to say you were afraid when they were, they assured you, so safe. And you tried more, for weeks and months and one time even for years. You tried and you worked to make it work, to not let the body’s language take over and to tell it that it misunderstood. Except, it doesn’t work. The body knows what it knows, and speaks as it speaks. And so later, and sometimes it is much later. Later, in a moment where your body now knows what it is to relax into a complete release, to come and to show up and to shudder and to have your whole self and be loved. Later, you will remember back to the lake, to the fear, to the inability to get your body on board with the decision you had made for how things were going to be. And you will remember what came after. How things you had shared in moments of opened trust were taken and used against you, hurled out as accusation rather than the intimacy of another’s story spoken. How you were now told you were unwell, pathologized as if your fear was a symptom of your own ailment and not a diagnosis of the reality of what was there in the room and the spaces between breathing. And then. Then you would remember. I was so afraid. Not of attack. Not of assault. Not because another was bad or cruel or seek harm. But because even so, even if and when there is love or desire, it was also true. It was not safe. You were afraid. Because it did not feel good.

The body does not lie.
Now, I go about the work of reconciliation, hearing in myself all the times I dismissed and told myself to get over it or carry on or soldier through or that I should be happy or that I should be grateful or that there was nothing to be afraid of or that I must be mistaken.
These past months, I’ve been making amends with this body of mine.
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
I’ve been doing the hard work of repair.
Never again will I not believe you.

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You can trust yourself. Real.
You know now what home feels like. Real.
It hurts when you open your jaw all the way. Real.
You can say whatever you want or need to say, and it is also true that you are not required to say anything at all. And still you will be known, will be loved, will be held in the heavy breathing and the whimper sounds made right before falling asleep. Real.
There are a great many things that can never be resolved, metabolized, made sense of. Real.
The body will still pound them through the blood’s memory and cell’s awakening. Real.
Not knowing you are alone can save your life. Real. Attaching in completeness, now no longer alone, will save your life again, the line drawn so clearly between before and after, altered. Real.
You are ticklish in undetermined and always different places. Real.
You will fight for your kin, your beloveds, and when you can no longer fight you will let your limbs be carried. Because we need each other. Real and real and real.
Your body was not lying. Your body was telling the truth. These are separate but connected things. Real.

Never again, I hear myself say under my breath, still shaking off the aftermath of not listening or dismissing or listening and telling myself I had somehow misunderstood. Never again.
Now, I believe myself. Now, I know different. Now, I breathe with a breath that belongs to me.
This is my body.
This is the body of the world.
This is the good body and the broken body and the body believed.
This is my home, my refuge and my resting place of return.
This is my compass and my north star.
My body. Which knows and is now known.

* Photography by Stacy de la Rosa