I can’t stop coughing.
A dry weird cough. Uncomfortable. Unfamiliar.
I never get coughs.
A cough that came a week after I felt one of the biggest breaths of my life. A cough that is getting me intimately connected with pieces of my lungs as they sear and light up—sections of them that I had never felt before.
A cough that has now been with me for almost four weeks.
I have, not in this order, downed large quantities of ginger tea, gargled apple cider vinegar (I got desperate and starting testing online home remedy tips), slept with hot packs on my belly and chest, applied Vics vapor rub and tiger balm liberally to my upper body and face, analyzed the state of my heart and grief, had a few hard cries, given up and canceled clients, bucked up and given several sessions a day while feeling exhausted, and consulted a psychic medium.
A few days ago someone asked me what happened when I got the cough.
I know…I came out in a magazine: Trip para Mulheres/Trip for Women in an edition on Violence Against Women.
I told my story to an editor and she re-told it in Portuguese and edited. They sent a car to take me to get photographed. I gave a television interview.
This was no easy process. Unexpected emotions stirred, pain spots revealed themselves in unknown places. Insecurity arose as I realized that I didn’t know how my story would be perceived.
I have tried to put these events behind me—it’s not so easy to say that, but we do try to move on. I have tried to heal from them, and not create an identity out of them. My life path has been shaped by these events, yes—I would not be who I am today without them. They swept me into yoga. They no doubt instigated my sense of freedom through my body. They ignite my passion for working with women.
But I do not want to be known for them.
The magazine came out.
Every other time I have come out in a magazine, I have been really excited. This time was no exception, until I realized that it’s not like you just announce on Facebook: Hey everyone, I am really excited to come out in this awesome magazine in an issue about violence against women. Go get a copy, you can learn about some of the most difficult and painful events of my life!
It requires introduction, warming up, breaking in.
Instead of doing that work, I bought a few copies of the magazine. I read one, gave two away to close friends whom I had already told about the raw experience of the process of disclosure and unexpected vulnerability.
Since then, one person has called me after reading the article—and otherwise I have let it fade into the background, unannounced and uncelebrated.
Today, I realized that I have searched in every place I could to try to understand this cough, except the fact that I have not completed the process of owning this part of my story and owning my own courage in sharing it publicly in a magazine here in Brazil.
That’s why I am writing now—maybe I can write this wedge out of my throat, this gremlin that has settled in my right upper lung opposite my heart.
I cry a lot. I cry when my friends move away. I cry when I feel deep love. I cry for causes I believe. I cry for my younger selves who were confused, misled, innocent. I cry for all that I have been through.
Sometimes, it feels like a long road for 39 years. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel the vulnerabilities of the younger selves who presented themselves in these abusive situations and I see what I have learned.
Can I say that in some way my soul needed these lessons without betraying women?
Why go through this? Why stir things up when life is good and I have resolved the major “issues” that came with having major life turning points be sexual violations?
In my life now, I trust my intuition; I have great sex; I feel at ease in public. Memories of these transgressions do not dominate my mindspace.
I want to say that I do it for all women—the truth is that I do it for all women, including myself.
I declare my own history to myself through being public about something that is deeply private; not to be defined by it, but not to abstract it either.
Twenty years later after my first sexual experience, which was an assault, I remind myself. In reminding myself, I offer my face and my voice as a potential mirror and invitation to another woman who is suffering silently with a secret. I share to splice the shame—both my own and another’s.
Here is the translation of the text:
I turned to yoga to help me deal with a sexual assault that I had suffered at university.
After 11 years of studying yoga, I went to India. I met my teacher who I surrendered to as a guru. For three month, I lived in the ashram with him, following the tradition. We slept side by side so that he could wake me up at any hour to test me.
But things became strange.
He began to touch me, and I would move his hand away I asked him if he was romantically interested in me, and he said he required surrender of all his relationships. It was not my rational mind that gave me the courage to say “no.” It was my body—I began to feel repulsed by him. My body would not allow me to betray myself.
I said “no” and he refused to teach me. So I left.
It took me nine months to recover physically and mentally. My body screamed—with infections, coughs, and mental crises. Thank God that I was able to listen. I began researching ways to deal with this type of trauma. When we suffer sexual violence, generally we freeze to leave our bodies to be able to deal with the pain. Returning to a relationship with the body and our own internal power is critical for healing.
Here are some measures that can be useful:
- In daily life, notice how often you say “yes” when you really would rather say “no,” out of habit, or not to make waves, or to make someone else happy. Practice saying “no” when you don’t want to do something. Notice how you hold yourself and how you feel in your body when you say “no” and mean it.
- Find an active, explosive activity, like boxing or martial arts, where you can safely find and channel your anger. When you access your own aggressive side in a safe environment, you have the opportunity to move out of the victim role.
- Share your story. It can be in a group of people who have shared similar experiences or with a trusted friend. Feeling ashamed or guilty are common effects and given voice to your experience can help untangle them.
- Look for a psychologist or therapist. It is not easy to reorganize yourself on your own.
- Respect your limits. Don’t force yourself to confront people or places that are too uncomfortable. Listen to the cues your body give you to show you if you are comfortable.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise