January 6, 2016

Freedom in Bleeding: How Our Periods can Help Heal Shame & Sexual Trauma.

drop of blood

Yesterday, I sliced my finger open while cutting a banana, red drops too proud to stop dripping, permeating the napkin, the towel, the band-aid with a sticky wetness that I’ve always respected.

Blood has always looked deeply royal to me.

For many years I saw the stains in my panties as shameful, painful, and full of guilt—like something in me was dying and I had been the one who killed it. It annoyed me, having to choose between a dry scratchy stick to shove up me or a diaper bigger than my baby sister’s, and having to casually (constantly) check my pants for the murder scene—the one where any pride or dignity is kidnapped and killed.

Most boys won’t hear of it, this mysterious murderous thing that happens between our legs every month. It’s quite fascinating to watch the anger begin to form in them when there are too many details, when there’s too much blood.

For so long I believed them. I believed that it was gross and messy and stopped me from feeling beautiful. Worse than the belly aches, the searing back pain, legs on fire—for at least a week every month I felt hideously, uselessly ugly.

I had let those boys make me feel ashamed for something powerful—something I should be proud of.

About three years ago, my period started arriving with less and less frequency. Months would happen with perfectly dry panties, and I started missing the little red shapes my blood made on the fabric. My breasts would swell, my emotions would hurt—but nothing would come out.

There are many religious texts that deem the menstruating woman unpurified, but it was men who authored those stories because it is precisely our own blood that really detoxifies us each month. We purify by the moon, the red tides of our internal ocean sweeping the suffered memories, the charged energy, the negative ions out through the portal of creation, that messy beautiful hole between a woman’s legs.

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries about three years ago, around the first time I was sexually abused. It happened three times—each of which were with men I knew and trusted. The first yelled at me that it wasn’t his fault as betrayed tears fell from my eyes to the floor—he was just so attracted to me, he said. The second time he slipped himself into me uninvited, unwanted, unfelt. The third time, they asked me if it was okay when it never was and never would be.

These are men that I trusted and loved—they’re not psychotic or emotionally unstable, but their sickness is the most contagious. The viral lessons of our governments and media infests their thoughts in delusional control, and so weakness comes until they choose to exert their power into the insecurities that blossom so easily in their hearts. I just happened to be the recipient of that exertion, my no’s silenced into soundless echoes.

Maybe they thought it was my body that would somehow plug the bleeding anxieties spilling out of each of them, filling them with some sort of twisted magic—the magic that is in each of us, the magic that can only be offered up, never taken.

These are good, honest men, and so each time I’ve fought those same feelings of shame, pain and guilt I felt around my blood, reminding myself I didn’t do anything to be ashamed of, I wasn’t the one who did something wrong.

I have a very disciplined yoga practice, I write, I communicate very openly—most things I can figure out how to deal with and heal on my own. But this last time—that third time—I can’t get heal on my own. The knobby, long-fingernailed claws of trauma won’t shake themselves off. They hide under thin layers of suppression, loaded to explode at anything triggering: a name, a face, a specific kind of tea.

Last week, after inexplicably crying from a chapter in a book I read that lead me to sobbing in the shower which brought me back to the moments after what happened that third time, that time where one of the men who I trusted most in my life shattered any illusion of sense and safety in my world like a thousand falling shelves, where I was finally alone, where no one could hear me, screaming into the tiled walls of the shower, I did what I ignorantly thought that—even after years of social justice studies and activism, only women without any means do—I called a sexual abuse hotline.

I’ve traveled for months with a backpack taking buses in Brazil, I’ve lived in the jungle with tarantulas in my bathroom, I shaved all my hair off.

I am brave.

But as I sat in front of the computer, fingers shaking from the words they were typing, eyes wide from the words they were seeing—I knew that reaching out for help was one of the bravest things I had ever done.

I sat with that screen for a very long time, waiting for someone to talk to me, trying to hold on to what I was feeling for long enough, not wanting it to go away now that it was finally here, seizing me and announcing itself to be dealt with. I was petrified someone would come in the room and see what I was doing, and because still no one was available to talk to me through the online chat, I squeezed my heart even tighter, gripped my chair even harder, and picked up the phone.

As I lost command of my voice, I was able to spit out bursts of air resembling words close enough that eventually I was transferred to a local office that wasn’t sure what to do with me—the moment I heard a voice on the other line I couldn’t stop crying or explaining myself in metaphors. The voice couldn’t wrap my words around her and suggested I make an appointment to come in for counseling, which was free, so I said yes.

My chest broke out in a bit of a rash the hours before driving to the hospital where the rape treatment center is located. My stomach wouldn’t stop hurting and there wasn’t much I could eat. I parked in the hospital lot and prayed I wouldn’t run into any of my friends who worked at the hospital, anyone I knew.

The center was hidden and I was lost, calling the office and going in circles. There was a nice man in a suit with a sandwich who tried to help me, but I didn’t have the energy to come up with a lie or the strength to tell the truth, so I kept calling and walking until I was finally buzzed through the door.

I was frazzled and nervous and way out of my comfort zone. There was an open window, I noticed.

Someone could see me.

I’m not writing this for anyone to feel bad for me, to want to take care of me, to see me as a survivor suffering from an experience where I was taken advantage of and victimized—because the worst part, out of all of this, is how suffocated I feel.

I feel ashamed and guilty for something I didn’t do.

My throat constricts all the way to my heart because there is no one I can talk to, no one I can tell—the worst secret I’ve ever had to keep. Hiding it doesn’t feel right.

I met the counselor with the nice smile. She told me she was proud of me for writing to him. She validated my experiences and prescribed me nothing more than to continue my routine yoga practice and to keep writing.

We made another appointment for next week.

I haven’t been able to sing since it happened. It’s difficult for me to hear my voice in the freedom I was so used to—I sing from my heart and my heart is hurting and can’t celebrate enough to open my voice. She said to try, so when I got back in the car, I put on my favorite mantra and I sang as I cried—ugly, distorted, and garbled. Our voice comes from our throat, and as long as it stays closed, we can’t say yes to all the wonderful things we want, and we can’t say no for all the things we don’t. Use your voice.

Open the door you’re trapped in. Let your fears fly out with the strength that comes from hearing yourself, knowing yourself, and trusting yourself to be strong enough to say yes, and certainly strong enough to say no. Sit in your car, pick a song that speaks to you, and open your heart by opening your voice.

Maybe you’ll laugh, perhaps you’ll cry—but I promise you will begin to feel powerful.

These words are my first song about what happened – how I felt, how I’m doing. I needed to write them, I need to open my voice, get it back, and not let anyone take anything else that’s mine away. No one can unless we let them, and I had let those distorted men teach me those lessons because I needed them.

The fight or flight response may be instinctual, but freezing is the response we learn, and I had learned it well.

No one talks about the freezing—the emotional numbness, the silent eyes, the stiff surrender. It’s the weakest reaction, the most passive, what the nice girl would do—it’s exactly how women were brought up to react, and so while men have their sicknesses, we have ours.

We were brought up to fear the power that starts in the curls between our thighs and takes root right below our belly buttons, to be ashamed of anything that happens there, to feel guilty when anything comes out—and even worse, when anyone comes in.

We don’t talk about our blood—what it looks like, how it smells, the way it feels when it drips onto our fingers, the shapes it takes when it drips onto the floor. We hide tampons in our pockets as if they were band-aids to clean up the embarrassing mess we made in our pants.

We don’t talk about our sexual trauma—what it looks like, how it happened, the dark faces that take shape in the drawers of our dreams, and so often, our days. No one mentions the impatience, the frustration, the explosions that emotions become, setting trusted relationships on fire because the tenant of trust has been kicked out of its house in our hearts, left homeless and hungry on the busy street of skepticism, carrying pain over its shoulder in a plastic bag.

We hide stories about our bodies in our pockets too—close enough that we can still feel them as we walk, close enough that we know no one else will ever see them.

So today I choose to talk—about my blood, about abuse, and about all the shame that has always surrounded me about both.

I don’t want to be frozen: I want to feel and heal and react.

Pain isn’t scary to me, but to know it is in vain is terrifying, so I will learn these lessons and help the way I know how—bleeding sentences and similes until it makes a beautiful stain like the ones in my underwear.

This morning I woke up with red doodles in the fabric between my legs, a brilliant design left on the toilet paper, my body finally finally beginning to open itself up to release all these stories and feelings and dark faces.

An unwanted touch can slice deeper into our souls than any slip of a knife cutting a banana.

An untold story screams, shaking the chords of throats until they stiffen and suffocate, or until the speakers break—the song amplified at full volume, ready to be sung, ready to be released.

Blood is the currency of the body, and today I will revere mine as the sacred place it is as I watch the little red river trickle down the side of my leg, whispering its magical secrets to the outside world, a world that can never really taste all the mystery that happens inside a woman’s womb.

Today I am beautiful. Today I am powerful. Today I have a voice.

I am these things everyday, but today I have blood.

You are beautiful, you are powerful, and you too have a voice—use it.

Scream it or sing it, but please, never stay silent. Never stay suffocated.

You are too important to let any experience hold you back.

Start exploring the royal red that you may have rejected before. Give yourself the chance to embrace your power of creation and purification, embracing you in confidence and community, knowing almost every woman holds the same phenomenon of the womb. Using a menstrual cup instead of tampons has allowed me to connect more deeply with what’s going on inside me, and to realize the sacredness of what I used to just throw away in the garbage in crumpled toilet paper, as if it was the most contagious sin.

The cups are much safer for our body and the environment. They also let us see and interact with our blood, reminding us that this is beautiful, that this is what holds all the fibers of creation. We can spill it into our plants and watch how it will strengthen their stems and make their leaves shine— feeding blood to plants can help us understand how our periods are life giving and magical.

We can let ourselves feel power and beauty that our blood can offer, and we let it help is speak—like it helped me write this today.

Too many of you will relate too well to the brief sentences I mentioned about the assaults. You’re not the only one and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of—we can create community as long as we can speak up. A quick google search can guide you to various sources and organizations that can help you depending on what you need.

I called RAINN’s National Sexual Abuse Telephone Hotline. The experience wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped, but it did get me to do something about it—to talk to someone, to tell my story, and to slowly start unlocking my voice.

Call someone or you can absolutely e-mail me—we’re all in this world at the same time and it’s the most wonderful coincidence.

The only thing we have to do is feel free enough to sing about it.





What every Sexual Abuse Survivor Wants You to Know.

Claiming our Power to End the Shame of Bleeding. Period. {Photography Series & the Picture Instagram Wouldn’t Allow}

Claiming our Power to End the Shame of Bleeding. Period. {Photography Series & the Picture Instagram Wouldn’t Allow}




Author: Arielle Egozi

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Josh at Flickr 

Read 5 Comments and Reply

Read 5 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Arielle Egozi