Reclaiming the Body & Reclaiming the Self
When one recalls the memories of sexual trauma it perpetuates some of the most acute emotions and extreme behaviours that a human can experience. The oscillation in mood, caused specifically by the niggling of an unresolved trauma that the subconscious is repressing causes behaviours that are seen to be ‘out of character’,’ detached’, ‘destructive’, and ‘strange.’ These range from fear, anxiety, hyper-stress, depression, suicidal ideation and sexualisation, to violent or destructive behaviour. The ‘too muchness’ of emotion seems to stifle other emotions which cause the person to appear and to feel disconnected from themselves, their body, others and the world. This leaves a residual emptiness and detachment; a loss of the body and a loss of the self. By not knowing how to process or make sense of traumatic memories, certain parts of the memory are obstructed from our consciousness rendering them inaccessible and thus repressed, and instead personified by malevolent emotions and behaviours.
Furthermore, the ‘too muchness’ of emotion in contrast with lack of emotional connection gives rise to omissions and distortions in memory which mean the self is fragmented by the divergence in consciousness between those memories that are recalled and recollected, and those which remain uninterpreted and repressed. An individual may feel that what they are experiencing is ‘real’, but there is a persevering layer of the self which is damaged and distorted that challenges an individual’s engagement with reality. Until the balance of consciousness is resolved through bringing the specific repressed memories to the fore, an individual may remain in denial and pretence, in an inauthentic state of being. The longer that an individual inhabits this dual-consciousness, the further the individual is from recreating the self and reclaiming the body.
After my own experience of sexual assault, I sought support in the forms of counselling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as well as in antidepressants. All of these had their part to play in my recovery, however MDMA therapy has gone the furthest in allowing me insight on my repressed experiences, and by way of a perspective shift I have started to reclaim my self and my body as my own.
Research strongly suggests that MDMA, in controlled amounts, can allow an individual to access traumatic memories in way that does not overwhelm the
individual with a sense of fear, threat or grief. This allows the individual to overcome their introspection and instead vocalise the memory. MDMA is also reported to increase feelings of trust, compassion, empathy, whilst also allowing the individual to have a greater sense of clarity and perspective.
I don’t think I knew ‘what’ it was that was niggling at me unresolved until I began the session but after a short while of digging around the issues it struck me there was something I had been previously unable to vocalise and express. I knew it was there, but the memory was incomplete; I could see snapshot images of it but I was unable to grasp on to it in its totality. By altering my consciousness, the broken and fractured memory became accessible and allowed the possibility to work through it in a way that wasn’t emotionally overwhelming. Expressing the narrative of this from start to finish for the first time meant I saw what I hadn’t seen since the assault happened.
Though MDMA therapy is not a prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, nothing has been so powerful and poignant in helping me reclaim the authority of memories that I believed would continue to torment me. For now at least, that memory has been sorted through and compartmentalised and it goes some way in helping me to reclaim my body and reclaim myself.
The Normalisation of Negativity
In response to the idea of ‘reclaiming the body’, I was reminded of something that’s been playing on my mind recently. Why is it that it has become so accepted and normalised for women to be critical of their appearance?
Now, I know this is isn’t a gender specific issue. Obviously personal insecurities are not bound to one gender, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that they are. However, I would say that in the world of beauty ideals, the standards for women are set especially stupidly high and with poor consequence.
To ponder whether there really was any substance in what I’m trying to say, I had a look at a few leading women’s magazines websites:
What irritates me about these articles is not necessarily their content. I’m all for a healthy lifestyle and see nothing wrong in disseminating information on how to pursue one (and of course the acknowledgement that Bar Refaeili is smokin’). Instead it’s the implication, if not the assumption, that there is something about your body that you are, and should be, unhappy with.
It’s the negative implications associated with appearance which can make hanging out with girls sometimes feel a little too reminiscent of this. Girls seem to be increasingly unhappy with themselves, magazing negative comments and implying they need to improve themselves. This is, of course, a massive generalisation, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen beautiful girls complain about their appearance. Beauty is so subjective that setting a bar of attractiveness to aim for is pointless. It’s not really okay that anyone should feel as though they have to make negative comments about themselves just for the sake of it. Self-deprecating humour can be used effectively and humourously, but when it becomes more than a joke (especially one that goes uncorrected), it can become damaging (although let me use this time to point out humour no longer covers the tired old joke of ‘Night in with my two boyfriends… BEN AND JERRY LOL!’. Please can we let this one die now).
The normalisation of self-negativity among women simply encourages poor body image and low self esteem. It’s become so generally accepted that nobody thinks to tell the person promoting low self esteem that they’re wrong, thus allowing that person to believe that they really are justified in this ludicrious negative body image. Nobody should have to feel like they need to justify what they eat, what they wear, how they look, why they’re not wearing any make up, why they didn’t go to the gym, etc. etc. It is your body and therefore you should be able to do whatever the hell you want with it and if that entails a 5 mile run then good for you but if it entails a 5 minute walk to fridge then good for you too!
It encourages other women to agree by putting themselves down too, and quite frankly, I don’t really see the point anymore. It’s not empowering to read that beautiful celebrities can feel bad about themselves too, it’s just quite sad. The beauty industry needs an overhaul into something which approaches health and self-improvement positively, with a goal of self-confidence rather than size 0 (the bombardment of which is implied in a brilliant advert by Dove here). The general women’s magazine sentiment of ‘hey you’re so empowered and women are great and we totally support feminism but at the same time here’s 20 pages of diet tips, for to be empowered you must be super hot’, is tiresome and old, and does not reflect the world in which women should be happy with themselves for whatever reason they like. In reclaiming the body, you can reclaim your right to be openly positive about yourself.
Thoughts on exhibition. By Louisa Ackerman
Ownership of our bodies is a funny thing. Going through anything which makes it seem like your body is not under your own autonomous control, it is easy to lose a piece of your identity. This could be through an assault where someone has taken it upon themselves to treat your body as though it belongs to them, rather than you. This could be through mental illness, such as self-harm or an eating disorder. If you feel you have lost control of your body, that your body, the most physical representation of yourself is not your own, how do you come to terms with that?
Even to look at ‘the body’, particularly the female body, from a societal standpoint, it is clear that we are not expected to think, act and behave as though our bodies are our own. It becomes a national news story if a well known celebrity gains weight, loses weight, has plastic surgery, has a hair cut… with the press inviting people to comment and pass judgement. This ultimately seeps into mainstream culture, and it becomes difficult for any girl or woman to escape the scrutiny of their bodies.
That is why it is so important to reclaim our own bodies. To stand up and make a fuss whenever its suggested that our bodies do not belong to us. And to talk, most importantly. To seek help if we truly feel our bodies are not in our control, and to encourage others to do the same. The artists and poets who contributed to this project have begun a fantastic discourse on Reclaiming the Body. Now the rest of us just need to join the discussion.