*Warning: well-deserved strong language ahead!
“Sometimes madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world; sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forward is to allow ourselves to fall apart.”~ Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted
Some years ago, my therapist gently inquired if I’d ever been raped.
“No!” I answered, horrified. “God, no.” In the moment, I couldn’t imagine having ever had anything but full agency over my body.
When I searched the memories of my sexual history, all I found was…nothing significant or out of the ordinary.
But my body felt differently. Revulsion, guilt, shame, and pain all whirled in my belly.
“Okay,” she said. “Well, think on it a bit more over the weekend.”
As that afternoon wore on, my body spoke louder and louder. My insides churned, swirled, and boiled—emotions such as fear, rage, betrayal, confusion, and anger built up. When they burst, a flood of memories burst too.
Memories of men pushing, coercing, negotiating, and manipulating. Memories of overwhelm and swallowed nos. Memories of times I didn’t get to decide. Memories filled with expectations, demands, and assumptions.
Trauma, long ago buried deep in my tissues, lifted and coursed through my veins. I sensed micro-tears in my energetic boundaries, and vampiric fingers still groping. I felt the loss of agency and my power to say no.
The deeper I went into my own pain, the more connection I made to a collective female pain. Like tracing tree roots down into the earth, and then drawing the memories up into my individual body to feel. Memories of witch hunts, incest, abuse, dehumanization…millennia of women stripped of their humanity all flowed through the cells of my feminine body.
By the time the afternoon was over, I’d been through a box of tissues. How my husband believed me when I said, “I’m fine,” still blows my mind. Maybe he didn’t.
But we had a babysitter scheduled and dinner reservations made for that night, so I thought I’d share these revelations with him over dinner where I could have his undivided attention away from the kids.
I wanted him to know everything.
We’d always been completely honest with each other, that was the nature of our marriage, and I wasn’t about to make this an exception.
I wanted to be seen and heard in my pain. Needed this. I could feel it, the urge to fall apart completely. But a part of me was scared to fall apart—the part of me that also remembered the retribution women face when they do, knowledge that I also received when I connected to the collective feminine roots.
My fear of retribution is best told through a story from an Irish myth:
There was a young woman named Mis whose father died on the battlefield. Overcome with grief, she licked his wounds, hoping to bring him back to life. When it didn’t work, she could not muster up the energy to “pull herself together.” She knew she could not mourne properly, or take over the household duties, as expected.
So she ran off into the woods, as fast as she could, where she stripped off all her clothing. Over time, feathers and fur grew on her body, and her nails turned into claws. She became feral and wild, and no one would dare approach her.
The entire village feared her. Fear was instilled in children about the mad woman in the woods.
The people of the village had no interest in trying to bring Mis home from the woods. They shunned her, forgot about her, gave up on her.
Her madness unacceptable; her inability to cope with loss and return to civilized duties a shame upon her.
This innate knowledge and the fear that came with it forced me to “keep it together” for a little while longer as I tried to order and eat a meal like a civilized human being.
My husband, finally observing my descent into mania, asked for our food to go and paid the bill. I followed him, like an unruly child, to the car.
I was angrier than ever. I still didn’t feel heard. I still thought I needed him to put me back together. I still didn’t think I could do it for myself.
And yet, he wasn’t focused on putting me back together. He was focused only on one thing: getting us home.
Home was the last place on Earth I wanted to go. Doing “home things” was the last thing I thought I could do. Pay the babysitter? How? Brush my teeth? Why?
The impulse to get out of the car and run wild like Mis overcame me. I wanted to tear out my hair, and tear off my clothes, and leave it all behind. I reached for the door handle.
He locked the car doors before I could run out. He told me he would not let me leave. So we sat in silence at a stoplight, the steady tik-tok of the car blinker mocking the turmoil inside me.
All this normal stuff about leftovers and blinkers and bedtime…in that moment, I wanted nothing at all to do with being human. How ridiculous. How unnatural.
I was sure I was going to vomit. I threw my head between my legs and opened my mouth, but instead of vomiting, I screamed.
One long, primal, ancient overdue scream. I surprised myself by the depths from which that scream came. By the rage in it—it wasn’t only mine. Once that first one was out, the next scream came more easily, and from an even deeper, even more collective place. And the next, and the next.
I wasn’t just screaming for me; I was screaming on behalf of all women. And not just of our time, but of all times.
I screamed down and up the line—for raped and abused children, for little girls married off like prizes, for women not given agency over their own bodies, for women who live a tidy life on the outside but are suffering inside.
Deeper, and deeper still, scream after scream for long minutes as we waited at the stoplight, my husband a silent statue behind the steering wheel.
After those screams left my body, the threads of connection from me to these men of my past severed forever. I could actually feel the holes in my aura knitting up.
There are some life events that, when they happen to us, the thought of “pulling ourselves together” is so abhorrent we can‘t imagine just getting out of bed, getting dressed, making a meal.
There are some things that can only be felt by going so deep inside ourselves that we fall apart.
That we let ourselves tear our hair out.
That we let ourselves scream a primal scream.
That we let ourselves drop so deep and far away from civilization so that we can heal properly like the animals we are.
Some pain demands we fall completely apart.
Here’s what happened next, in the myth of Mis.
The King offered a reward for any man who could bring Mis back to civilization.
One man agreed to try.
He went out into the woods and stripped off his clothing. He sat down on a stump, careful to arrange his legs in such a way that his generous genitals were on full display. Then he began to play his violin so gently and beautifully Mis couldn’t help but peek out from between the trees (and she couldn’t help glimpse those genitals, either!).
Slowly, patiently, he courted her like the wild wolf she was. He gave her food. He played her music. And then, when she was ready, he made love to her in the wild, in her wildness, day after day, never demanding anything from her.
He encouraged her into the water, where he washed her. He began brushing her fur until it changed back to her black hair and trimming her claws until they returned to human nails.
One day, Mis said she was ready to return to the village. And that is when they returned, together.
Until the time was right, this mythical man contained, he saw, he humanized, he respected.
My real life man did this, too.
He didn’t throw “clothes” on me and tell me to pull myself together. He didn’t condescend to me, or tell me I was overreacting. He didn’t tell me that was all a long time ago and I should be over it. He didn’t say anything at all. He focused on holding space for me to feel into the depths of my pain. He kept me safe while I descended into my wildness.
When we talked about this later, he said, “I saw you going over the edge. All I wanted to do was keep you safe.”
He did keep me safe, so I could go in and down and do the shit I had to do—alone. The shit that can’t be done in therapy. The shit we can’t write out. The shit we can’t talk about over drinks with a girlfriend.
The shit that we can only free ourselves from by screaming it the fuck out.
After there was nothing left inside me, I sat back up. I felt newly born. A wildcat’s smile played on my lips.
Some pain demands we scream. Some pain means we have to go beyond what is safe. Deeper than what is “civilized.”
With some pain, we have to run into the woods and let ourselves go wild. We have to howl, scream, rage. We have to heal. We cannot return to civilization until we are done.
Like Mis, I never needed my husband to put me back together. It’s not his job and it’s not fair to ask. We just need someone brave enough to witness us in our pain body—without judgment, without expectations, for as long as it lasts. We need someone to sing to us, to feed us, to make love to us, to see us in our wildness and our humanness.
When we finally did arrive home, my husband went inside to pay the babysitter while I waited in the car, unsure of what would happen next.
What is supposed to happen after someone screams out rage at a stoplight in downtown Minneapolis?
Will he have me committed? Divorce me? Hate me? Fear me? Take the kids away from me?
The fear returned as the threat of “normal” approached.
He came to my car door, stretched his arms out to me, and I crawled into them like a child. He carried me up to our bedroom, where I poured out the rest of my tears and stories and anger until I was emptier—and simultaneously more whole—than I ever imagined possible.
Afterward, we brushed our teeth and got ready for bed.