If You Feel Disconnected From Your Body After Sexual Abuse, You're Not Alone

by Arielle Egozi

I watch myself from the clouds, no longer in my body. It's much easier to navigate the streets, and much easier to navigate my emotions. I no longer have to have any.

I can kiss his hands and smell his neck. But once I leave, I don't hear his voice. I barely remember his face. I watch the moon and see her silver, but I can't bathe beneath her like I used to, with my body glowing along to her light.

I can open a door, but I can't seem to open my heart. It doesn't tighten, expand, cry or shout. Now, it seems I've lost where it is.

All my plants are dying. Their flowers are withered and their roots are dry. Only my succulents are surviving. My stagnant emotions are unable to release. Their hard edges are retaining and withholding.

I draw a smile on my face because it's all I know how to do. When things are hard, I smile. I'm brave, and now everyone can see it, too. But it's the corners of my lips that are tired. No longer do they wish to invite strangers in for conversations. They don't think that story is funny, and they don't wish to pretend everything is OK.

Everything is not OK. I'm not OK.

Perhaps it's myself my heart is running away from: the girl who is always so happy, filled with life and afraid to disappoint the world. But mostly, she's afraid to disappoint herself. In life, there could be spaces of piercing pain, searing skin and hollow scabs of tragedy.

Observing myself from above relieves me of that space. I can't feel hurt if I can't feel anything.

I can't feel anything. There is no pain when there is nothing. But there's only nothing. I don't feel the trees or hear the stories. I don't feel the wind, and I don't feel his whispers.

I've been numb for weeks, but it gets worse when I'm with him. He triggers me even though I trust him. He triggers me even though I know he's not the one who hurt me, violated me and shattered me. He hasn't hurt me.

But maybe he could. Maybe he will. So I float away, up and above myself, where my heart stays safe, sealed and solid.

Disassociation from the body and reality are commonly triggered by extreme trauma. It's something I kept rejecting. I had experienced this when I was sexually abused.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depersonalization is "an alteration in the perception or experience of the self so that one feels detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of one's mental processes or body." It "is explicitly linked to derealization, in which the individual expresses that mental activity, body and surroundings are changed in quality as to be unreal, remote or automatized."

I'm my own puppeteer. I'm saying and doing things I never would have before because now, there's nothing to fear. But there's also nothing to feel. Sometimes, I'll get a sliver of empowerment -- a burnt corner of pride -- but it's not really me. It's the me above me.

Sometimes, after my yoga practice and after sex, I cry. The spigot spins left for a moment. Then, there's an ounce of relief.

But the ocean is dammed behind it. I fear I'll drown in the waters, and be swept away from my own surrender. But until I swim in her, dive into her and float above her, I'll never stop floating above me.

I've lost the way to my heart, and I've lost the way to the pain as well. Raindrops fall from my eyes, but it's the eye of the storm I want to dance in. So, I've started dancing: consciously, spiritually and under the guidance of the Prayerdanse community.

Space is held for two hours as a moving meditation and devotional practice in self-love, self-discovery and self-sanctification. All I have to do is dance. I begin to feel. I begin to giggle. I begin to cry.

My hips drop and sway, and all of a sudden, the puppeteer in the sky can't keep up. She has to drop in too. She has to dance. My belly breathes as my throat expands, and my prayers burn into wetness: sweat, tears and sticky skin.

For at least a beat, I'm back: full, aware and present. I am the moon, the earth and the stars before I slip away again: back to the clouds, back to the distance, back to nothing.

I float away again, only farther. After I open, the closing is much stronger, firmer and tighter. I feel less and less, until my body surrenders to the music and surrenders to itself. I leave, and at the first instance of vulnerability, cold metal shutters encase me, protect me and imprison me.

I'm in a cage I've created for myself. It's perhaps the worst punishment for something I didn't do and never deserved. But I'm trying to be patient with myself. I understand I'm doing it because I think it's also the best protection.

Nothing can reach me now. But if I want the light, I know I must dance through the darkness: literally this time.

The windows of my heart deserve to be open to feel the silky breeze, the sweating sun and the salty ocean. My heart deserves to be swept away in his conscious touch and gentle caresses. My heart deserves to feel free.

Rape culture and its harrowing statistics are becoming more visible in the media all over the world. While this is a huge feat, done (mostly) by brave women, no one seems to want to talk about what happens after. Awareness is being accomplished, and talking about the messy world that every little girl who will turn into an adult woman must navigate is now much more commonplace. But what about its prevention?

What about the skills we women must learn, to not freeze like so many of us are socialized to do? What about the one in six women in America who will be a victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes? What about the 293,000 who will be sexually assaulted this year? What about the 17.7 million women who already represent the victims of attempted or completed rape?

We don't speak about the after-effects, either. Beyond the damage that can be done to the physical body, the mental and emotional bodies shatter all at once. Often, it is only much later when one realizes how far the pieces have scattered.

We don't talk about how to heal from such a violation, or how to regain the trust that has been stolen. We don't talk about how to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder. It doesn't only affect war veterans. It affects veterans of life: people like me and people like you.

We don't talk about how our bodies no longer feel like they belong to us, or how our emotions no longer seem to fit us. We don't recommend songs to listen to or books to read. We don't tell each other that baking cookies can help, that moving the body in any way can help or that sitting alone with a notebook and pen can help.

We don't tell each other anything because we don't talk about it. So instead, we feel alone like I did. We feel separated like I did. We feel removed from even ourselves, like I still do.

You are not alone. You are not separate, and if you feel disassociated from your body, your feelings or your mind, it's normal. If you're all the way up there, floating in the clouds too, please do come find me. We can hold each other until we come down together.