Today's writing begins with the recounting of a sexual trauma and my journey to wholeness.
I'd like to express my gratitude to my mother and friend Bobbi who helped me to examine a false belief that was keeping me small and separate and preventing me from loving myself.
I am writing this post at this time because we have a healing intensive, From Shame to Self-Empowerment: Healing for Women with Sexual Trauma, coming up on August 18 with Leela Haris of Kansas City. We both have worked through sexual trauma using the Dalian Method and I encourage you to take part in this amazing opportunity to find your way home.
When I was a college student at Tulane University, I spent most of my free time with a close friend. Bobbi and I were running buddies, and to some degree we practiced "the buddy system" to keep each other safe while out in the evenings.
One night we went to her friend's house for a beer, a friend who had a romantic interest in her. The three of us were sitting in his den talking when one of his roommates returned to the apartment, obviously drunk. He came over to the couch where I was sitting, scooped me up, and carried me over his shoulder up the stairs to his bedroom. I was laughing and kicking in protest. "Put me down!” I wasn't alarmed until he pushed me down on his bed. He was sweaty and smelled of alcohol. He ripped at my clothing and held my arms so I couldn’t move. I cried out for Bobbi, but she couldn't hear me. I kicked and pleaded with this unknown attacker to please, let me go. I began to cry, and when I was almost completely naked, I whispered in desperation, “I am a virgin.” Something about those words were sobering to him, and he rolled off me and told me to get out.
I felt disgusting, all covered in his sweat and his slobber, and desperately wanted to stand under a hot shower. I found Bobbi still enjoying the company of her friend and with little explanation, I dragged her away–begrudgingly, she came with me outside.
“What is your problem? I’m not ready to leave,” whined Bobbi. “I’m having fun and can catch a ride home.”
I kept walking unable to find words, and we climbed in my blue 1978 Datsun hatchback.
“Why are you acting so weird,” Bobbi demanded. “I can’t believe that you are being so selfish. I really like Steve. He’ll probably never call me again.”
We traversed the few miles back to campus in silence. Bobbi sulking, we parked in front of her dorm.
“Are you ever going to say anything?” Bobbie growled. “What is wrong with you tonight?”
“Steve’s roommate attacked me.” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I told her everything that happened. “I was so scared. He almost raped me.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t rape you. You can stop crying because nothing happened and he let you go,” Bobbi tried to reason with me.
I was devastated; Bobbi believed that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I had been sexually assaulted by a stranger, and my closest friend was minimizing my experience. I didn't tell anyone else what happened to me and tucked it away in some part of me that didn't feel or didn't want to remember. By doing this I, too, minimized the effect this assault had on me.
Later in life, on separate occasions, I was sexually abused by three men that I trusted. Over time it was as if my spirit left my body. Being abused was painful. It was easier not to be home—to dissociate from my feelings. Under the surface, below my conscious awareness, I repressed what I felt. Even though consciously I was not aware of it, these events were affecting me.
I was living my life on a flatline, completely out of touch with my feelings, both the highs and the lows. Melding into every situation or relationship without causing waves, my connection with people was devoid of any real intimacy. And lacking trust in myself, God or other people created a lot of anxiety, confusion, and indecisiveness in my life. I was repressing a lot of anger, sorrow, and pain.
Mada Dalian, the creator of the Dalian Method, helped me to uncover some of the repressed thoughts and emotions concerning these events. Feeling dirty was making me keep myself hidden and separate. I was sad and afraid that people would judge and criticize me for being impure. Those men abused me because of my weakness. I didn’t know any better. The church made me believe that sex was sinful and that God would punish me and send me to hell. These repressed thoughts were keeping me on the outside of life because I was afraid. They were also separating me from my spirit and keeping me from enjoying my sexuality.
Mada also explained that pain and suffering is a message telling us of a deeper potential we are not yet living. Suffering gets our attention and allows us to see something about ourselves. But what was the message in this suffering, and what did I have to learn? Mada told me it had to do with a conclusion I had come to in a previous life. The belief was "I am alone." I was sexually abused because I believed that I was alone. Hmmm… That was a curious thing to ponder. I couldn't yet connect the dots.
I have worked with many great teachers over the years. Raphael Cushnir was one such mentor who I also met at Omega Institute. After attending his five-day intensive workshop "The One Thing Holding You Back,” I participated in a year-long program with Raphael and 11 other participants. We were spread out geographically, so we met monthly for a group call. We also met individually with other participants between the calls and twice we gathered in Oregon for retreats. It was a wonderful experience.
Each month we had a theme or topic and specific exercises to do. In the eighth month the topic was sexuality. Raphael described the exercise for this topic using the analogy of "being danced." When you are "being danced,” you only move as the music takes you, not by choice but rather by surrender to the flow and beat. Likewise, in this exercise we were to allow ourselves to make love in this way.
Raphael gave us a few other instructions. The first was to set an intention for the experience. Another instruction was to prepare a luxurious space for the exercise that could be done alone or with a partner. The last was to tune into the flow of energy and see what happened when we invited Spirit to move through us, unfettered and uncontrolled. There was no goal other than to allow the experience to unfold.
I was in a relationship at the time but decided to do the exercise on my own. I prepared the space with specially selected music, a candle, and lavender lotion. I had never before prepared a romantic setting for myself, and it was nice. I rubbed a small amount of lavender lotion on my belly. I liked the way that lavender smelled, and the lotion felt nice on my skin. After some time, I became aroused and started to explore my body in a tender way that was uncustomary for me. It was both erotic and loving, very tender.
The experience was entirely new and different for me. It was like making love. Lying there afterwards, I listened to the music playing softly beside me, and then quietly, I began to cry. I cried for the little girl inside me who never understood why her mother wasn't able to love her in a tangible, nurturing way and for the woman inside who felt she had never been made love to. At some point I put my hands on the side of my face and pulled my skin taunt, wiped away tears, and attempted to hold back further emotion. My hands slightly brushed against my hair, and the sensation reminded me of how comforting it felt in the past when someone gently pushed a tendril of hair away from my face. Maybe I could console myself in this way.
Instead of holding back tears, I gently stroked my hair, and it was comforting. In time, my tears stopped flowing, and I lay there quietly with one arm draped across my body. Without any thought my hand was gently stroking my side, like one would do perhaps if they had their arm around a loved one. For the first time in my life, I had loved and nurtured myself in a very tangible way. It felt good. There was something very freeing and healing about knowing that I could care for myself in this way. This experience and realization has enabled me to give and receive love more freely in relationships. I needed to love and nurture myself before I could love and nurture another.
I was able to see things and learn things through my suffering. Through a parent who wasn’t equipped to express love in a physical way, I eventually learned to love and nurture myself. My experiences of sexual abuse helped me to begin to challenge the notion that I was alone. I was never an outcast. People didn't think that I was dirty. It was the social and religious conditioning I was exposed to and my own repressed beliefs that made me think this. I was the one withdrawing from people, judging myself and keeping myself separate. By suffering through these experiences and feeling on the outside, I was forced to take a look at my separateness, see it in a new light, and wake up to the realization that I’m not and never have been alone. The universe was reflecting my belief about myself, and the suffering that it created was providing the impetus that I needed to learn and to grow. At the time of this “being danced" exercise I only had a small seed of awareness. It was an opening though, and it would continue to grow throughout the coming years.
Before I had started the exercise, I prepared a canvas and set out brushes and acrylics in my kitchen, which I had been using as a studio. The idea came from a visionary art workshop in which we began each session with a mindfulness practice. After meditating we painted as an expression of our experience with Spirit.
the line work that the words created, overlapping geometric shapes took form. The process continued with alternating layers of line work and form. At some point I became stuck and quite literally hated what had developed on the canvas. Hate may sound like a strong word, but it is accurate.
I try never to leave a work in progress when in resistance to it, so I moved forward by laying down intersecting lines of masking tape all over the canvas. The next step involved a technique called tubing, in which small strips of different colored paint were squirted randomly around the canvas like toothpaste on a brush. A palette knife was then used with varying degrees of pressure to spread and mix the color over the entire surface. The result was a mostly opaque textured surface. While the paint was still wet, I removed the masking tape, and the original painted surface created the lines that are now visible in the painting.
Without any conscious awareness I covered or buried the vibrant colors that I originally painted because I hated them. When I pulled back the masking tape though, I could see the beauty that lay beneath. Perhaps this is a metaphor for life or a happy coincidence for this chapter. We are all innately beautiful, but because of self-hatred or low self-esteem, we become disconnected from our very essence. We cover it up with layer upon layer of repressed emotion and negative thoughts. We all have to undergo the work of peeling back the layers to find our way home. The journey is different for everyone. For me the work has not always been easy and there have been ebbs and flows. The transformation has been very rewarding, and I have been able to reveal much of the beauty and joy that resides within me and feel compelled to continue the journey of uncovering the layers and embracing both the bitter and the sweet.
If you have experienced sexual trauma, suspect that you have or regard your sexuality with fear or shame, please consider attending our upcoming healing intensive, From Shame to Self-Empowerment: Healing for Women with Sexual Trauma on August 18 with Leela Haris. Private sessions are also available with both Leela and Madeleine.