The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who—still whole in spirit—will accept no compromises or excuses. And it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth. –Alice Miller
A few nights ago, Brendan and I were discussing how I feel whenever I’m given the chance to discuss my childhood wounding with my mother. As you might imagine, my feelings are complex and it hasn’t always been easy for me to distinguish which of those feelings are for ME and which are for HER. Which ones are about how I’m currently feeling and which are about how she will feel in the future as a reaction to what I might say or do. Because, as a co-dependent child, it was often important to my safety and well-being that I consider her feelings before mine. In the hierarchy of emotions, hers were more important because she controlled the resources.
Let me be clear: I say this not to blame her personally. If I’m leveling any blame at all, it’s at the violent patriarchal structure that created her and all the women who came before her. The oppressed and ultimately sadistic women who contributed to who she was as a woman and a parent.
Historically, one of the most prominent feelings I’ve had when thinking about my childhood and my mother’s role in it, is anxiety. Because I’m not sure if what I remember experiencing was true. I’m not confident in my ability to justify my position or powerfully back up what I’m saying. And if I can’t prove it, then I shouldn’t even say it in the first place, according to my patterns and programming.
Because I was thoroughly indoctrinated to not believe Me. My body was appropriated for the release and satisfaction of adult males. My mind was appropriated by the public schools that told me I should only learn what I’m instructed to, not what I’m driven to discover on my own. My spirit was appropriated by the church that told me, as a human—and especially as a female—I was born evil and could only find redemption by surrendering to male authority.
So how, exactly, was I going to prove my experience when I had difficulty believing it myself? How was I going to offer The Truth of my life when presented with the chance to plead my case to my mother? How could I stand up for my self and its experience when she couldn’t do that for her self? When she crumbled in front of me because my accusatory words hurt her? When she was herself a victim of the very same structures as I?
You can hear all the judgmental language in this, right? Proof. Truth. Blame. These are all concepts of oppression and minimization, meant to annihilate the inconvenience of personal experience and expression.
And then, on a Tuesday evening in February, my body finally Got It, to use that famous Landmark phrase. This isn’t about me telling The Truth. It’s about me telling My Truth.
I don’t have to *prove* anything. I’m not standing before God, offering up my life as evidence of my worthiness or rightness or blamelessness. This isn’t about me earning my way into Heaven or Harvard by getting all the right answers. This isn’t about me having to convince my mother that my feelings do, in fact, count just as much as hers.
It’s about me sharing my experience as I remember it. I’m telling my stories. I’m not telling The Truth because I can’t. I don’t have that omniscient perspective and never will.
This may seem straightforward and obvious to you, but it has never been obvious to me. Not ever. So, to suddenly find myself free of the expectation that everything I say must be the provable, incontrovertible truth was awesome in the literal sense of the word.
Excited and a little dizzy, I shared my new-found insight with Brendan, and he offered me a wonderful perspective about what a person’s stories are. He said “Those stories are your body’s songs, Baby; they are the sound of Life as it’s filtered through you. Your songs are beautiful and are worth hearing. As are everyone’s.”
As a person whose body has been locked down, tight, and armored for as long as I can remember, what he said struck me as rather revolutionary. Because I’ve spent my life ignoring my body, its signals, and its needs—either because someone else found them inconvenient or because I did. Until I gave birth to Avery and his head stretched me wide open, destroying everything I thought I knew about embodiment, I hadn’t been IN my body at all. Everything below-the-neck was something my brain found inconvenient or ugly, something that occasionally hijacked my experience because it needed immediate care or consideration.
I had internalized the message that my body was for other people, not for me; so why would I listen to what it was telling me if I couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t want to listen anyway?
The more time I spent really listening to my body, decoding her strange yet beautiful language and signals, the more clearly I could hear her stories. After a while, I couldn’t hold those stories in any longer. Because as my bodily intuition developed, my voice also became more capable, stronger, more clear. My voice wanted to speak, to sing. I began to believe that my story was worth telling, that I had something worth sharing with other people who maybe had experienced some of the things I had.
These stories are my experience; my unique experience of the world as it’s played through me. They are my songs, my perspectives, my feelings. Which is why I started the blog: because my voice was ready to tell the stories that my body was sharing with me.
This started for me as a way to heal my wounds; to free myself from the oppressive ideology I was handed; to become a sovereign woman in a world that hates women, and seeks to keep them hobbled and in service. It has since evolved into an exercise in community healing. A community built of women who want to know both themselves and one another, intimately. Deeply. All the way down to the core. All the way back to the 4-year-olds. Because for many women living in this world, that’s when we were first wounded. Maybe even earlier.
The world we live in forces us to wound one another to survive. I want us to heal those wounds by loving one another and listening to the stories. By singing our songs.
I’m not trying to tell The Truth because that would be impossible. I’m telling My Truth because that’s the only perspective I have. I believe that by doing this I’m setting an example for other women. I believe that by sharing my experience I’m essentially giving you permission to know your body, to tell your stories, to sing your songs. You have a wonderfully beautiful body that’s dying to be heard. It’s time to let her sing.
Dedicated to Louise, Theresa, Gladys, Phyllis, Stella, Helen, Vicki, Lynnette, and Michelle.