Guest Posts, Trauma

MY GHOST BODY’S THOUGHTS

November 29, 2018
ghost

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault and eating disorders

By Cyndie Randall

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
– Fred Rogers

“Survivors feel unsafe in their bodies. Their emotions and their thinking feel out of control.”
– Judith Lewis Herman

The carpet was bitter this morning. It jammed itself between my toes – the first resistance – and burned the skin on my knees like tiny pin pricks.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I never say “Amen” without remembering the empty, sweaty hands I’ve held in countless circles of healing.

Several complex galaxies were pushing on my back by the time I stood up, each so heavy that I went looking for my daughter and apologized to her immediately.

“Why are you sorry, mama?”

My body told me I’d be crawling back into bed after tea, so I answered her by giving an advance on the second apology.

The third one came a few hours later – “Oh my! Sorry!” The clock read 1:30 p.m. and I was still wearing a tattered nightgown when her friend bounced up the driveway and to our door.

My child grinned and shrugged at me. “Hey! There’s no shame in that!”

She announced it like a motivational speaker, like her unconscious had been waiting years to spill a lesson it had absorbed from someone wiser. That’s how unlocked she is. Every feeling or experience has a home on her planet and is allowed to come and go with ease.

What a truth-teller, I thought. Maybe I’m doing something right.

During a Michigan summer, it’s best to walk around your home with no pants on. The wind blows east and lifts the water right off the lake until it blankets your strength almost to death. The afternoon feels like pushing through a hallway of tongues or sticky gum. Forget about a satisfying breath for your lungs, but if your thighs are smothered with thick memory, they’ll appreciate an escape from any and all fabrics.

The world wants to know where the details go and why girls don’t come forward. It demands from each survivor a da Vinci-grade flow chart of provable rape algorithms, yet it cringes at the telling of a single story. “Too unthinkable. Not him! Too dark,” they say. “Plus, even if it is true, those details should be kept private – they are just too hard to hear.”

Weight. I’ve gained 40 pounds in the last year. The wicked scale reads the same number it did the day I birthed a human. I eat my feelings, see, and they all taste good. I call myself a food addict because I am one. Or some kind of addict.

If the world finds the details too hard to hear, what does the world think it’s like to live through them? “Weep with those who weep,” they say. But what do they do?

I should mention I can’t move much lately. Sick holds my ankles and wrists all day, every day, and Sick hates exercise. Chronic illness and I are waiting for another surgery, waiting for any relief at all, waiting for the new normal to feel normal. Waiting.

Like I said, it was 1:30 p.m. when my daughter’s friend skipped across the street to knock. The two girls regularly stand just outside the kitchen door and trade secrets about their lives. I happened to be slouched at the table, hovering over my plate of high fructose corn syrup, so I overheard by proximity. The friend’s voice turned pensive like a confession.

“Our family is leaving our church soon,” she said. “It’s just not good for us anymore.”

Cue my child’s plan: “I’m sorry. <pause> You should come to our church! My pastor, she’s a girl.”

Food as an addiction is not like alcohol or heroin because you cannot live without food. You cannot divorce it or flush it or abstain from all intake after deciding on a new you. Opening your eyes in the morning begins the frantic search for ways to have a healthy marriage with the life source that doubles as your killer.

Daughter’s friend: “I have never seen a girl pastor before! <pause> Well, the thing is, we have to find a church that is the same as what we believe.”

Daughter: “I feel God when my girl pastor speaks.”

How do you know when you feel God, or when you want to? Does God feel like groping hands all over you? I’ve had enough of those, but if God will look me in the face and say my name without a hint of guilt, I am all in.

When you possess something – when you own it – you clean it up when it gets dirty. A boss twice my age used to wash my body in the shower when he was done using it. He spoke my name a lot and professed to love me, but I’ve learned to spot the men who take and take and take because they never look you in the eyes while on top of you asking if you like to be raped.

When it comes to clothes, a few pounds is the difference between a hug and a pinch. I’ve nothing much to wear that fits me, and no money to change that. Even my underwear are overworked and angry. I show up to everything wearing t-shirts and yoga pants – so afraid to be seen, and still so hungry to be seen.

Many religious folks will find holy-sounding ways to spoon-feed you shame and blame for what exploitative men did to you. While you’re chewing and choking, they’ll also insist you stow away your body and suppress all sexuality lest you become the great tempter and destroyer of every man’s soul.

The non-religious world will often spotlight the other side of the coin: “Act sexy for them anyway. Kill your own spirit to please. Your worth is proportionate to the pleasure your flesh can provide. Be porn girl, because that’s how you will,

  1. become a woman
  2. be chosen, valuable, and special
  3. survive”

Incurable illness means incurable. No cure. Hordes of good people ask me if I am feeling better.

What I think: No. I feel stolen.
What I say: “I’m doing ok.”

Waiting.

To recap: You can perform sensual while your spirit is being killed, or you can play God-honoring Young Lady With No Clitoris. It seems generations of women have had to dissociate, feign orgasm, or endure a kind of sexual circumcision and obedience, and all to either avoid being thrown away or to achieve “holiness.” Both options are a manifestation of patriarchy – of male domination – and both options kill. If there exists a whole world of other choices, or even just a third way to genuinely be, my dripping wet, stiff-bodied 20-year-old self had never heard of it.

Life is paradox. We are all decaying faster than we can bear, dying from the moment we are born. Meanwhile, the human heart is ever searching for and moving toward wholeness and life. An abused woman must learn to live in her body again, to claim it and come home to it; a sick woman in pain must learn to leave her body if she is to live with it. Perhaps purgatory is just a group of assaulted, ill persons, unable to reconcile themselves to themselves, forced to exist as ghosts.

We toured a possible new home yesterday. The clever 11-year-old directed me toward a hook in the kitchen ceiling.

“Look, mom!” She winked and knocked my arm with her bony elbow. “A place to hang your dead plants!”        

A place to hang your dead, I thought.
A place to hang.

She held her breath for every cemetery on the way back into town, and slugged her father in his arm when she spotted the VW Beetle. She is bursting with life. I tried so hard to keep those plants alive along with her. She doesn’t know how hard I tried, but I just couldn’t remember them.

A ghost fork is feeding me potato salad right out of the container in this very moment. A ghost fork for a ghost hand.

My head was wrapped up in my pillow last Wednesday. That was the day I lay still and downloaded 45 minutes of material from God. One of the things God said? – “You’ll be healed, so hang on.”

Or something like that. It may have been Tuesday.

I envy people who know their days – the day they were “saved” by Jesus, the day they quit drinking, the day they said to themselves, “Never again.” I envy them in theory, but that kind of certainty is dangerous, so it’s not been in my wheelhouse. (If I know the day, I can ruin it.) It was modeled for me that powerlessness is my most attractive factory setting, and hopelessness is my wisdom.

I’m looking for a new education.

This weight gain doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. It also bothers me enough to hide my days away. Some moments I fold my arms over my own belly and pull the extra me into a hug. I also imagine slicing off the alien love handles with a turkey-carving knife. Kindness vs. violence – Show me a woman who has never swung wildly across that spectrum, who has never stalled out to suspended in that dead center.

Seriously. Please introduce us because I’d love to talk with her.

The skin rests thinner around my middle and spreads into purple valleys of stretch marks. That baby pushed it right up to the limit, but not through it. Something about me took over before she reached 50 pounds in utero. My body worked how it was made to work, maybe for the first time.

Bodies can be betrayed by other bodies, and they can also betray themselves.

I never learned to say, “NO.” It is not my first instinct, nor is fight or flight. My default is freeze.

Freeze and allow.
Hold fast.
Be quiet.
Go along with.
Mirror.
Follow his lead.
Don’t upset.
Smile.
Suck up all the shame in the room – yours and his.
You did this.

In a 2004 interview with radio host Howard Stern, Donald Trump asked this question: “How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?”

Howard: “They’re looking for love, they’re looking for positive affirmation, they’re looking for a father-figure who will tell them they’re wonderful…”

Perhaps we could talk about the deep troubles of those men – how they look for girls and women like me, girls and women who hold innocent longings the size of the ocean, girls and women who have been groomed since forever, who have been trained to be objects by being made objects since childhood. These men, drunk on power, bank on the limp of the fractured – on the vulnerability within legitimate need – to get off and feed on their chosen meat.

They do it without shame. They do it without consequence. Oh, but it’s coming.

Diets do not work. Apart from when they are necessary in order to avoid serious illness or death, they are unsustainable. Are you using phrases like, “I fell off the wagon,” or, “I’ve been so bad?” If so, close up that shop and run for the hills. Run away from that plan and that “nutritionist.” Run toward your freedom. But hell, don’t follow me – too many detours on my path to the sea of food tranquility. But I am walking, am I not?

Limping along, I am and always have been the perfect target for a predator. I was the perfect target.

We bought a new clothes dryer. It sings a song when it’s finished, and gets my juices flowing because it sounds like the ice cream truck. Maybe I don’t even want the taste, but the warm, wild joy of chasing it with my bare feet.

Isn’t an addict just a soul grasping for a way to bottle up or to kill, all at once, life’s urgent beauty or its torturous burn?

In my early 20s, I lived a total of eight months in an eating disorder hospital. Not once did I have ice cream. When you are in the re-feeding stage, your belly bloats. We used to line up – a row of skeletal girls – to take pictures of our food babies. I still have a food baby. It is called fat. No hour ticks by in which I am not ruminating about food – planning, hunting, gathering. Overeating is the most socially acceptable eating disorder. I am no longer bulimic or anorexic, so no one is afraid for my life. No one has just called my father to tell him I am breathing again. They all feel safe now. We’re sharing the fries. Whew, she made it.

When a predatory man has selected you for his next conquest and is more powerful than you in every conceivable way, he may wash your flesh as obsessively as a kidnapper hand-making a ransom note. You are his young, beautiful, naive play thing. His prized trophy and ego-builder. There is nothing more about you that matters. Nothing more. Not one thing. Only and always how you make him feel. Lust and possession and addiction and dark infatuation blur and sear the conscience enough to name it all love. A girl who freezes can rarely push back against such a force. But she can

  1. become a woman
  2. be chosen, valuable, and special
  3. survive (see above).

Trauma is like ivy. No, it’s an actual snake that suffocates and devours. It winds itself up and around every part of your life and squeezes all of your dreams and relationships. It oozes into your cells and hides there. When you think you’re moving on, an alarm goes off somewhere in the cosmos to remind you of the days your soul was shattered. Your partner’s hands become the powerful men’s hands; your rage becomes the same rage you managed to so quietly contain when the concept of consent was invisible, impossible. You tell your partner to stop because you can. Because you’ve got to get a heel on that snake. Control.

When so many people in this world die because they don’t have access to food, it is tempting to dismiss the suffering of a woman who refuses to eat or who eats too much. My roommate in treatment – my traumatized best friend – is in the ground now. Do you suppose if we had reminded her to be grateful for that cheese pizza instead of throwing it up, we could have made her well or fed the starving children?

Cosmic alarm: I’m doing gentle exercises on my living room floor one minute, and the next it’s 20 years earlier, I’m naked on a similar carpet, and his jealous, angry, relentless pushing into me is jamming my shoulder up under the couch, bending my neck. He does not look at my face, not once – it will reflect his darkness back to him, and he knows it.

And that’s how I miss half the yoga poses: The snake.

“It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” they say. Maybe so, and I say a hamster cannot run on a wheel forever. Never again will I wrangle myself into a cage of depravation and call it discipline. Today is my never again day. Cautiously, of course.

A tricky thing about addiction: When you decide to change, you want change now and all at once – same way you related to your drug of choice. But part of change is learning to embrace a process, to endure and explore suffering and need, to finally bear the steady, crushing weight of kindness.

We objectify ourselves when we demand our bodies be and look a certain way before we will treat them well and call them good. But we mustn’t be like Shower Guy. There is a universe between enjoying and honoring someone for who they are, and manipulating them toward what they can do for you.

That goal weight I have cannot provide the love and acceptance I am searching for. It can’t because it does not have a heart. But I have a heart.

And these pulsing proclamations of mine, they keep coming from no where and from everywhere. (As ghost thoughts do.) They are a hushed but hopeful purge, and mostly unsure of their audience, not unlike a woman reciting the Serenity Prayer. I’ve been inviting them to stay so they can dance together, make sense out of each other. I think that’s how a person learns their insides – whose toes are bruised, whose are doing the stomping. All of those parts need remembering. So many thirsty plants to water.

My dog and God are the only ones who have seen this whole day, so I trust their opinions. When I looked down, just now in this moment, Happy’s tail was wagging for me, just because. Surely Jesus once declared, “If a dog can love you that much, how much more must I love you?”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I feel a thick stomach rolling over on itself as I write. Those purple stretch mark valleys across the landscape of that skin? – the predators never traveled there. Those are the scars my body made, the place my daughter first called home, the place she lays her head to find home again. Before she burrows in, she pats and pats to find the softest wave. “My belly,” she whispers.

Cyndie Randall is a writer, therapist, and song-maker. She lives with her nature-loving family in a little town on Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. You can connect with Cyndie on Twitter (@CyndieRandall), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/cyndierandallmusic/), or at cyndierandall.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Memoir-Waking-Listening/dp/1524743569/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539219809&sr=8-1

Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here. 

 

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their WRITING & THE BODY RETREAT. Portland April 5-7, 2019. Click the photo above.

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