breastfeeding, surviving sexual abuse

The Body Remembers

I’m postponing the post I’ve been crafting this week because something happened last night. I’ve heard it said that crisis should be taken as an opportunity to heal old wounds. Last night at 2am, I was lying in bed, sleep deprived and in an internal state of anguish and anxiety. Catharsis happened.

My daughter is approaching 17 months and due to a possible growth spurt and new teeth she’s been nursing like a newborn. She latches on all night, making it difficult to sleep. When she does roll away it’s for one sleep cycle – less than an hour – before whimpering, or crawling to me rooting around for boobie, or her latest very direct approach of calling out “Mom! Milk!” So my sleep happens in a few 45 minute chunks. This is how prisoners of war are tortured.

innocent touch

innocent touch

Anyway, by night three of this I was in hell. Every cell in my body and every synapse of my brain screamed “I want my boobs back!” My heart started pounding. I wept uncontrollably. I tried gently popping her off and she cried and became unsettled. I tried comforting her with cuddles, to no avail. “Milk milk,” she cried. I let her nurse. I thought I was going to break down completely and run sobbing from the bed.

I didn’t. Instead I had a conversation with myself. I wondered why I was reacting so strongly. She obviously needed me. My girl doesn’t behave like this normally. She’s usually a good sleeper. There must be something going on or she wouldn’t need this extra dose of mama comfort.

The evening had been spent in a rare meltdown mode. The last time she lost it as bad was when she was eight months old. It happened a few times before we realized that it coincided with me eating a lot of fish. Once again it had been fish two nights in a row that resulted in the loss of her usually playful and easy-going demeanor. That, on top of whatever else was making her suckle all night, had broken me down.

But I kept asking myself, broken down or not, why this particular panic feeling? It didn’t feel like normal exhaustion. It felt like trauma.

A very small voice inside me answered. It replayed images of one of my molesters. Steve Gross (That’s his real name. He lives in Shawnee, Kansas and runs a business called Pro Video in case you feel like giving him a piece of your mind.) took over where my dad left off. Like an actor in a soap opera, as soon as my dad retired from abusing me, Steve filled the role. He was my dad’s business partner. I was 13.

Steve used to pretend to help me with art projects while either digging a finger into my vagina or twiddling my nipples. I barely had any breasts at all, but he seemed particularly obsessed with my nipples, returning to them time and time again as I pushed his hands away. As a result, my nipples went numb. As an adult, lovers would suck and caress them, and it gave me no sensation whatsoever. In fact it annoyed me whenever someone would try to turn me in that way.

I remember a particular moment, too, when my 4-year-old son reached into my shirt and touched my breast lovingly as babies sometimes do. It’s very natural and very innocent. But I turned to cold steel. I could not move. I felt helpless and angry. I felt molested. Frozen in my seat, I said so out loud to my boyfriend who promptly pulled my son away. I cry when I think of how confusing that must have been for him – feeling punished for simply showing his mama affection! Poor baby!

little me

little me

This is why I decided to inquire within, if you will. And the voice who answered was that of a very young me. She cried for the touching to stop. She begged for the touching to please please stop. I cried, a big wet release of tears for that little girl. I reassured her that the abuse was over, that the abuser was far far away. I explained that my breasts were now nurturing my innocent baby – a little girl just like I once was.

The shift inside me was sudden and incredible! All my muscles relaxed. Relief! The panic subsided into a sort of proud joy. The anger evaporated. I felt good! I slept and woke up happy to be holding my baby. This simple inner dialog saved me from collapse. I just had to listen to what was going on.

I’m left with the feeling that our bodies have a memory of their own. These memories are triggered by some feeling that may be totally unrelated to the past trauma. We find ourselves reacting in a way that is out of proportion to what is going on in the moment. That’s a good time to check in with yourself. Something needs to be healed.

Have you ever found yourself being triggered by physical memory? Ever wonder why you react too strongly to certain things?

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