The Experience of Rape Through Yoga Colored Glasses: A Journey of Healing & Integration. ~ Richard Krzyzanowski
Just to warn you, I am going to get a bit graphic in this. If you have a weak stomach or are easily disturbed, you may not want to read it.
I recently read this article about rape culture. It got me thinking I should share my story with others. I have shared it with a few people that are close to me—teachers, friends, family. In the hopes of doing some good and helping others, I feel the time is right to share it with the public at large.
I was raped when I was five years old…by another five year-old boy. You may be considering the logistics of the situation and asking yourself, How does that even work?
Very simply—we were playing innocently enough at his house. It was suggested we tie each other up (I believe he suggested it, but the memories directly prior to, and following the event are understandably hazy). To my innocent, five-year-old mind this was a perfectly normal and innocent sounding idea. So I agreed. He was my friend. I trusted him.
Somehow, I ended up face down on the couch (again, very hazy—maybe he pushed me down?). He was on top of me now (this is where the memory becomes indescribably vivid). He had my hands behind my back, but something told me we weren’t playing anymore. He was being forceful. I was scared. I wanted him to stop, but my face was buried in a pillow, and it was hard to breathe, and even harder to talk.
He pushed all of his weight into his knee, which was on the left side of my low back, right about where my kidney is (I turned 30 this year and I still get pain in that spot when I get stressed or scared). I felt the jump rope wrap around my wrists (it had red plastic handles). He pushed harder into my back—almost like he was bouncing on me as he pulled my hands away from my low back (like a shoulder opener with hands interlaced behind the back in a forward fold or humble warrior. Sometimes, when I’m practicing, and this pose comes up, I get high-def, 3D flashbacks.).
I just wanted it to stop, but I couldn’t fight back. I don’t remember if I even screamed. Then, he grabbed something (I never saw it, but I remember him reaching off of the couch for it. Maybe it was a toy broom?). I know it was long and thin. He put the end between my bound hands and down the back of my pants. I felt the length of it running up my back and between my butt cheeks. Then, he pulled up on the end like a lever and penetrated me with it. And again, harder this time.
He wasn’t pushing down on the end of it. He was pushing on the long edge like he was trying to get it inside of me sideways. I felt myself tear down there (this is where the vividness ends). At some point it stopped. I don’t know how or why or when or how long this lasted, but it had finally stopped.
Even though I wouldn’t have a word for it until almost 25 years later, I understood what violation felt like.
The time immediately following my rape is obscured from my memory. My childhood was relatively normal—based upon what I allow myself to remember. There was little league baseball and football, swimming pools, family vacations, an inhuman tolerance for pain, a complete lack of a sense of self-worth and self-confidence, and a complete lack of boundaries.
At the age of 11, I tried my first cigarette. I was smoking regularly at 15. Marijuana became a crutch at 16. I lost my virginity (consensually) a week after smoking pot for the first time. For a long time, I credited pot for getting me laid. I could never have done it on my own. I had no self-confidence. I had to be stoned to be able to do that. My life between the ages of 16 and 26 were a blur of drug and alcohol- fueled parties. Any chemical that could numb me out was my new best friend, and I had no idea why.
I was an asshole to everyone. I needed to make people feel like shit because I constantly felt like shit. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself and I didn’t know how, either. I guess I figured if I hurt everyone else before they got a chance to hurt me, I could never get hurt like that again.
What makes sense to me now is I wanted to make everyone else feel the pain that I was too afraid to
feel. But, unfortunately for me, other people can’t feel your pain for you.
Right around my 26th birthday, I quit drinking and using drugs as regularly as I had been. It wasn’t really a conscious choice on my part. I was fucking broke and eating seemed like a more productive use of the funds I did have than did drugs or booze. I still felt like shit, I just didn’t have any chemicals to blame it on anymore. I was still lost. I still had no self-confidence. I still had no sense of self-worth. I was still a piece of shit—just one that was sober most of the time now, instead of fucked up all the time.
Walking Into the Fire
Sometime before my 28th birthday, my sister started practicing yoga. It had been a few months since I had last seen her, and she looked great. I asked what she was doing. She told me it was yoga. I told her I wanted to try it. At this point in my life, I was 60 pounds overweight, smoking a pack a day and eating garbage all the time.
I was having raging bouts of insomnia and heartburn everyday. I was having trouble getting a boner, and I couldn’t poop. I hated myself. That’s the condition I was in when I started practicing yoga.
For my birthday, my sister got me a yoga mat and a few private yoga sessions at the studio where she practices. I thought I was going to die. I spent 30 minutes of the 60-minute sessions in child’s pose. I couldn’t breathe. My heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest at any second. My head was spinning. Now that I think about it, I may have been wishing for death at that point. I stuck with it anyway.
I started practicing once a week—on Wednesdays. I started feeling better. More importantly, I could poop! (Pooping is my third favorite bodily function after breathing and orgasms.) I was sleeping better, too.
I started going twice a week, which quickly snowballed into a six day-a-week habit, sometimes with multiple practices a day. For the first time in my life, I felt good about myself. I was starting to like myself. I was dealing with stress in constructive ways. I was eating better. I wasn’t smoking as much. I was starting to feel my emotions as they came up. I was dealing with my emotions. I was talking to people.
In the fall of 2011, I signed up to learn how to teach yoga. This was a huge step for me. I was being vulnerable, to some extent, for the first time in my life. I wanted to learn how to share what I had learned with others. I was trying to give of myself for the first time. I wanted to help people to find the gifts yoga had given me. It was a cathartic three months, to say the least. I figured out what it is I am supposed to do with my life.
At the end of my teacher training, I was assigned to close our final class together. I had worked out some things to say and I read a passage from one of my favorite authors (Hunter S. Thompson). After I read the passage, when it was time for me to say a few things, I froze up. I got scared. I couldn’t open myself up and say a few meaningful, heartfelt words to the wonderful people that took the journey into yoga with me.
I said a hurried, “Namaste” and left it at that. A few days later, my teacher, Claire, approached me after class and asked if I had a minute to talk. Well, of course I did. We sat down on a bench, she put her hand on my chest and said, “You need to be more vulnerable.” We talked for a half-hour or so, but I couldn’t tell you another thing that was said during the conversation.
She had crushed me, completely. I went home that day and wrote for seven hours. I decided I was going to find authentic vulnerability, come hell or high water.
A few weeks later, I was in an insomniac (it still happens occasionally) writing frenzy. I was in the middle of an email to Claire and it just came up. For the first time in a long time, I remembered being raped. I relayed the story to her. It was the first time I had ever made mention of it to anyone. It scared me. It still does. I was conscious of it, though, and that was a good start.
Healing and Integration
My dear friend and teacher, JP Sears says, “In order to heal the pain, you have to feel the pain.” I was finally feeling my pain. I started to think about it. I think about it a lot. Being raped affects me everyday. But I wasn’t ready to deal with it just yet.
I sat with my pain from January of 2012 until May of 2012. In May, I started taking a class called, Going Beyond Self-Sabotage over the phone with JP and a group of his students. On May 30, 2012, we were discussing our different ego parts (Mother Ego, Father Ego, Child Ego and Adult Self) and how our siblings and childhood friends might fit into the different ego parts.
It was right about the time the class began that day, I started thinking about what my little friend had done to me. I started feeling unwell. Literally. I got a horrible tension headache. My low back started to hurt (right about where my left kidney is located, oddly enough). I felt like I was going to puke. I was in so much physical pain I just laid on the floor waiting for JP to open up the line for questions.
The memory of being raped kept replaying in my head. The pain was getting worse and worse and worse. Finally, the line was open for questions, but I hesitated. Did I really want to do that? Really?! Before I knew what was happening, my finger was moving to my phone to un-mute myself. My thoughts at this point were: Oh fuck, this is a really bad idea. I really shouldn’t be doing this.
Then, I was talking. I felt myself dancing around what I really wanted to get to. I was trying to buy myself some time so I could talk myself out of dealing with having been raped. That last sentence sounds absolutely bat-shit crazy to me now. At the point that I thought it, it was the sanest thought I had ever had.
So there I laid, on the floor, talking. Nothing was changing. My blood pressure was so high I could feel it in my temples. I could feel every single beat of my heart in my fingers, toes and all the way up my arms and legs. This is the point where my current level of discomfort exceeded the level of discomfort that I would feel if I moved on (this is an amazingly empowering feeling, even though I felt like dog shit).
I said it for the first time ever—out loud—I was raped when I was five. Almost immediately, those words took the power away from the pain. It was as if my attacker had suddenly started to shrink, and his grip on me had loosened.
JP walked me through a ritual of things to say to my five year-old self and to my attacker. I felt lighter and more open than I could ever remember feeling before. The final words that he offered me to say to my attacker were, “I wish you well.” As I was saying them, I was crying because it felt like I was breaking up with an old friend. I felt like I was crying because I was saying good-bye to an extremely painful, brutal relationship, and I was mourning the death of it.
There I was, laying on the floor. I was alive (probably more so than ever before). I could feel the blood pumping through my veins. There were rolling waves of warmth spreading over my body. One wave would start at my throat, run down my arms and legs and exit through my fingers and toes. As soon as one wave was gone, another would start rolling down my body.
I looked up at the ceiling fan spinning overhead. The blades looked like they had little tails hanging off of them (for those of you familiar with psychedelic drugs, I felt like I was tripping). I was shaking. Uncontrollably shaking. I am still half-way convinced that I was levitating for a second or two. I realized I was exhausted. I fell asleep and immediately fell into a remarkably lucid dream.
The dream was incredibly mundane. I was walking around a restaurant. In my dream, I was employed there. Everyone else that worked there was running around in a panic, staring at me wide-eyed and wondering why I wasn’t freaking out. I said to myself, Fuck this! I’m going to the beach.
I was immediately watching the most beautiful sunset. I woke up. I was hungry! This wasn’t any normal sort of hunger that I had ever felt before. It was deeper. It was bigger. I didn’t need to eat. I needed to feed. I had some pulled pork going in the crock pot. I walked over and ripped chunks of it off with my fingers and ate until I was satisfied.
For the first time in my life, I hear five-year-old Rich. He is dancing around me screaming about ice cream (he loves ice cream). I don’t keep ice cream in the house. I did have some raw cow’s cream, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, honeycomb, cinnamon, and bee pollen, though. I made up a bowl of that for him. He was happier than a pig in shit!
Later that day, I had to teach a yoga class. This wasn’t anything new. I teach yoga. I had never planned nor do I ever plan on teaching a yoga class on psychedelic drugs. Yet, I felt like I was under their influence. What the hell was I going to do?!
I was thinking about this as I drove to the studio. All of a sudden, five-year-old Rich is jumping up and down in my backseat yelling, “I got this shit! Let me teach!” And I said, “Alright, little homey get yours.” He did it. I like to think that he did a good job, but he is a mischievous little fucker.
I was buzzing and shaking for almost two days after. I felt like the world had opened its beauty to me. Everywhere I turned, I noticed something that made me smile; made me stop and stare.
The shitting—I’m a regular morning pooper. I get up, have breakfast and a cup of coffee, and I go. I did that on the day following my break-through. I also went again after yoga, and then again after unch. I don’t mean to be gross or over-share, but these weren’t loose, liquid poos. They were the normal kind that come out in the morning. All that shitting got me thinking about how much shit (both physical and metaphorical) we carry around with us without even realizing it.
How Does This All Relate to Yoga, Rich?
I’m glad you asked. Yoga gave me the gifts of self-confidence and self-awareness. If I had never found yoga (or if it had never found me), I would never have believed in myself enough to jump off of the cliff into healing. I may claim that my journey started on May 30, 2012, but in all reality, it probably started on that first day I ever took a yoga class when I was laying in child’s pose wishing for death.
I feel like there is nothing I can’t do anymore. I still have that voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m a piece of shit. But now, when I hear it, it serves as reassurance that I am making the right choice (usually).
Some Things I’ve Noticed About Myself
> When I walk in groups, I tend to walk behind everyone. I’ve noticed myself watching over the pack in case of ambush by unknown assailants.
> I over-sexualize everything.
> I have boundary issues. I’m learning how to set healthy boundaries for myself and others. I’m learning how to choose when to enforce and when to ignore the healthy boundaries I have set.
> My relationships have gotten better (and worse). I’m not afraid to connect with people on intimate, non-sexual levels. I’m also much more aware of when I am sub-consciously (or maybe consciously) avoiding connection with someone.
> I’m learning how to parent myself. Being violated at such a young age steals childhood innocence in some regards. I think at that point, I turned into a five-year-old grown-up. Five year-olds don’t know how to be grown-ups. It is weird for me to say—but I think I have grown up more in the five months since I faced that demon than I had in the 25 preceding years.
> I really love me. A lot.
I want to extend my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of the people in my life who have helped me along my journey. You may not know it, but you’ve made a difference! If I’ve ever hugged you, you’ve probably done something that made me a better human.
Specifically, my thanks go out to Claire Mark and JP Sears. Claire is one of the most present, objective sounding boards that a student could ever ask for. Thanks for believing I could do this, and for encouraging me to walk up this rocky slope.
JP is my homey! He is quite possibly the best emotional teacher that has ever lived in the universe—ever. My brother, thanks for holding my hand and walking into the fire with me time and time again. I promise that at some point I am going to put down the can of gas and book of matches that seem to accompany me on so many of our journeys together.
Rich Krzyzanowski is a yoga instructor and holistic lifestyle coach that likes to focus on meeting his clients where they are. He is most interested in the role emotions play in our everyday lives. Rich is a lover of hip hop, slam poetry, food and yoga and a celebrator of life in all of its weirdness. You can connect with Rich via facebook. You can find him on the web at www.naturalevo.com.
Editor: Nikki Di Virgilio