Your body, believe it or not, remembers everything. Sounds, smells, touches, tastes. But the memory is not held in your mind, locked somewhere in the recesses of your brain. Instead, it’s held in your body, all the way down at the cellular level. Ever notice how, on a stage full of professional dancers, everyone still moves in their own way? That’s because our cells store memories – information – about our experiences, habits, sensations, everything. We are all unique and it’s in our bodies – our skin, muscles, tendons, nerves – which we actively participate through our day to day experiences; good ones and bad.
Sometimes, the memories that our body stores are not always memories that we consciously, as the survivor, remember. You may have been too young to remember. You may have blacked out. For whatever reason, you don’t know what your body knows. As Renee Fredrickson, Ph.D. says in A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse, “The traumatic and the trivial are the two kinds of information your mind represses.”
Yet, your body remembers.
Your body may tense up, protecting you. “I don’t like that,” it says. “I remember that touch, sound, smell…and I don’t want it.” However, for a survivor of sexual abuse that has overcome and healed from the abuse, you may think you’ve done all the work to be done. You’ve healed. You’ve moved on.
Yet, your body remembers.
Respect that. Respect that memory, no matter what form it comes in. The trauma wasn’t just emotional. It was experienced on a cellular level. Respect that. There’s stored memories there. Don’t turn your back on it thinking it’s crazy. Nuts. Healing comes from accepting and being, open, honest. Transparent. There’s a hurt and you need to acknowledge it. Only then, can the healing begin.
Body memories are involuntary.
Body memories can take a long time to heal, most likely because they are the last memories to be addressed. To be respected. To be listened to. I mean, really. My body remembers, at a cellular level? What is this, the Science Fiction channel? “When the body remembers the traumatic incident at a different time from when the mind remembers the incident, it can feel very crazy making,” says Discussing Dissociation’s Kathy Broady, LCSW.
Remember, memories, flashbacks, in all their forms, are our body’s way of getting our attention. If we don’t accept, honor, and deal with them, no matter how crazy they may seem or feel, they will return again and again. Why? Because you need to heal. Your body lived through the same experience. If you are dealing with body memories, your body is telling you, “It’s time we heal this. Together.”
Healing Body Memories.
Think about it this way. Your body and you, although one in the same, are two separate beings with two separate set of memories. Some intertwine, some are exactly the same. After all, you’re you! Yet, there are some areas of grey. Some aspects of your life’s experiences that your body remembers and your mind was too young to understand it, strong emotions deny it or your mind didn’t consciously experience it at all.
Therefore, you’ll have to approach this from an ‘outsider’ perspective – speak to yourself as someone somewhat separate from yourself. Like you, as a counselor or a friend, speaking to you, your body. “Okay, body,” you might say. “We need to talk.”
And you can do this anywhere, of course. You don’t have to be all zenned out, seated on a mountain top with upturned palms. Although, if that works for you, go for it. Wherever you find peace, peace that you can feel within you, that’s where you can open this conversation. You might be out hiking, inside reading a book on the couch, laying out on a beach under the sun. Wherever you find your cool, peaceful, quietness, this is where you can speak to yourself – your body.
Start by reminding yourself – your body – about the most important fact: “We survived. It’s over. It won’t happen again.” You can do this all in your head or you can say it out loud. Either way, the message will be sent. Just visualize who/what you are speaking to. Your body.
After you feel the message of, “we’ve already survived,” being accepted, tell your body, “We want to thrive now. We are in control. We want to live now, free of this trauma.” Keep sending this message to your body, all the while reaffirm that you – all of you – is okay. Only in safety, can we feel free to move on.
Now, what about when you’re actually having a body memory moment? Well, ask yourself this, are you ready to accept it? Honor it? Deal with it? If so, do this visualization-conversation with your body while you are having a body memory.
Note: You’ll have to be more forceful, yet still compassionate, to get your message through. Your body is having a flashback, living through a memory, whatever that may be. It doesn’t consciously know it’s over. That’s where you come in.
You need to talk it through the flashback – the body memory. Tell your body it’s okay. “You’re okay.” Say it out loud. “You’ve already survived this. It’s over. We are in control now. We survived.” Be stern, yet understanding. “We are going to make it. We are going to thrive!”
Be confident. Be positive. Be understanding. This is you you’re talking to, remember
So, go for it. Heal yourself. All of you. Open the conversation, the willingness to accept that, yes, your body knows something. And it needs to heal.
This article was originally published for The Survivor Manual in November 5, 2011, and has been reprinted with permission in Advances in Bereavement Magazine.
Lia Mack is the author of Waiting for Paint to Dry (Pen L, May 2015), one woman’s quest to reclaim inner peace, take back her life, and stumble into love… Mack has also seen her creative non-fiction writing in various publications such as The Washington Post, Nickelodeon Jr. Magazine, Advances in Bereavement Magazine and Nesting Magazine.
You can visit her online at www.LiaMack.com.