The Re-Wounding of Healing

It is early May and I am sitting with my best friend in an outdoor cafe in Cartagena, Colombia. I’ve dreamt of traveling to this city for years. It is hot and humid and even the 5pm sun can still bake the plaza bricks and deepen the color of our flesh. A disheveled hippie woman with an honest face approaches our table and asks if I would like a psychic reading. I am in South America, I am 26 and I am totally open to everything, so of course I reply with an enthusiastic “Sí.” The reading begins and almost immediately she becomes visibly upset. I am worried about my translation skills and what I might be missing when she explains in Spanish “Be careful! You are going to be terribly harmed by a man!” then runs away into the boisterous crowd. I don’t even remember if I paid her and I certainly cannot comprehend how to interpret her comments. How could I?

One week later I am back in the neighboring Andean country where I live and I have finalized a decision to place a tattoo on my sacrum representing my connection to and experience of the lush, green land I had lived in for nearly 3 years. Its texture and color held my developing identity as a woman, an explorer, a daughter, a sister and a lover of nature. It is beautiful and it is powerful, and one of my dearest friends will apply it. It is a Friday and this moment marks my continual merging with my adopted home and the incredible community I have connected with in this international city.

Two weeks later, the large tattoo is still very much a wound when I am attacked while running in a park, held at knifepoint and taken deep into the woods where I am raped by a stranger whose body, scent, hands – even the shape of his teeth – may never be forgotten. My identity is thrown into a state of limbo. My questioning of everything and everyone around me keeps me constantly dizzy, while the energetic and physical ache in my lower back now pulses in pain. My tattoo, however personally affirming the intentions behind it, soon becomes a daily reminder – a forced and remorseful pause in the mirror – of this tragic and life-altering event. These two separate wounds somehow fuse.

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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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