The Physiology of Resilience

The unanswerable mysteries surrounding my “story” of surviving sexual violence, like many survivors, I imagine, are far too many to count. Over the last decade though, it is the miracles that have accompanied my healing that increasingly stand out. While the intricacies of any single event of sexual violence could never be fully captured, even if detailed in a lengthy novel, a film, or on the stage – since words alone cannot depict the magnitude of the experience(s) – there are ways that the heart and mind can grasp individual “chapters” of the fuller experience. One unique component of my story is the significance of the song “With or Without You” by U2, which was playing on my headphones while I was out for a run in a majestic forest and precisely at the moment of my attack. This hauntingly evocative love song was forever changed in an instant. I am not exceptional in having a “trigger” (or multiple) that evokes a strong connection to the event – for some it is a film, a type of food, a season, a scent of perfume, a ceiling fan spinning, a book they’d been reading or the way the light looks on their bedroom walls at dawn. For me, it was an 80s pop song.

Sexual violence pervades all of the sensory organs and then lands in the spirit. “With or Without You” is directly linked to a present moment memory and surge of sensation from that crisp Friday morning in May. I hear the song and I see the exact spot on the trail where I was grabbed. I feel the pressure of an arm across my chest and cold metal on my face. I taste salty warm blood in my mouth and recall wondering – what had happened to my face? I remember the view of a snow-capped volcano, piney treetops and a horizon that had no end. The expansive sound of my screams moving into deafening silence still irritates my ears. For years when the song would play on the radio, in a restaurant, at a party, or in my car – my range of responses included freezing, crying, moving into total silence and then embarking on the losing battle of either resisting or re-playing disorganized images of the scene. Over a span of years, I became increasingly skillful at navigating the delicate balance of how much I could allow myself to feel – in that moment, in that space, in that company. The song has surfaced at pivotal times, but the incident that leaves me with a sense of awe, a feeling of both longing and fulfillment, and total wonder about the purpose of my soul within the space of our endless cosmos, was the day I received my Pegasus tattoo.

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