Memories Our Bodies Hold
By Katlyn Lindstrom
I have always had a contentious relationship with my body. It is what I have always chosen to punish for the pain of trauma, seeking control over a body, whose only fault was giving me a vessel in which to exist, through anorexia, obsessive exercise, occasional self-harm, abusive self-talk, and so many other angry actions.
Most women learn early on that their body is not entirely their own. We are taught to hide, to make ourselves small, to constantly seek ways to mitigate the risk of violence against us; we carry pepper spray to walk the dog, slip keys between our fingers to walk through a parking ramp alone, text friends our location and plan times to follow up when meeting someone new.
Despite how well we prepare, many of us still encounter violence, abuse, and assault, simply because we exist as women.
My therapist once described triggers to me as memories our bodies hold that come alive in present day. This is something I began to understand through eating disorder treatment as I uncovered the profound interconnection of my emotional and mental state, and my body.
I began to see how I was punishing my body for feelings of uncontrol throughout my life. It was heavy with memories of friends who groped me in my sleep, trusted adults who groomed and exploited me, and partners who manipulated my trust to weaponize sex and intimacy.
Part of me thought finding ways to control my physical body would help release some of the heaviness I had accumulated over the years, but anyone who has turned to self-sabotage to cope knows it only adds more weight to the load. It wasn’t until I experienced arguably the most “minor” of my sexual assaults that I let myself feel the weight instead of fighting to push it down.
In 2019, I was assaulted from behind on a run. It was “only” a slap from behind by a biker, and initially I didn’t even internalize the experience as “assault” because all my clothes stayed on and it lasted only a few seconds. It wasn’t until I saw him in court, along with three of the other four women he attacked, that I realized our pain doesn’t need to hit a certain threshold of severity to be meaningful.
In that courtroom, I was sixteen again, being groped in my sleep and told it was my fault because I looked so good in that blue dress, so what was he supposed to do? I was eighteen, being called a child by someone eight years older than me because I turned away and insisted he put his pants back on when he revealed himself to me.
I was twenty-two, being told by a gynecologist that I needed to “figure out” the involuntary spasms of vaginismus that prevented me from using tampons or making it through a Pap smear because “don’t you want a boy up there someday?” I was twenty-two again, moving into my first apartment, being yelled at because “when will you be ready to have sex already?”
Triggers are memories our bodies hold, that come alive in present day.
The assault on my run brought all these memories alive in me again, but also gave me a new one to carry. What was different this time is that I was unknown to my assailant. I was chosen not because of a bond of trust, but because I was there. Because I had committed the crime of existing while female near someone who wanted to exercise control over a female body.
It’s a new kind of heaviness to carry when you are reminded that your body is not your own and nowhere is safe. That any random person can decide they want a piece of you to feel the thrill of power over someone deemed lesser. It’s a new kind of heaviness to carry that the next time, it might be worse.
The work to acknowledge and heal through our heaviness is, unfortunately, never done, especially as we are given new pain to hold and heal through as we work through the old. Some days, it’s easier to claim my body as mine and be compassionate towards my physical self. Other days, it’s incredibly tempting to fall back on the comfort of control habits, even though I know there is fresh pain waiting on the other side of those actions.
The world often asks us to carry so much more than we should have to. One way I’ve begun to repair my relationship with myself and with my body is to remind myself that I won’t always feel like I love myself, but I can always be my own ally. Being a good ally to myself has meant acknowledging the memories my body holds, and to remember that a trigger coming alive is my body’s way of protecting me, even if no present-day danger exists.
Our bodies hold the memories of our pain but also the evidence of our strength, and it’s ok to work on your healing and celebrate your inherent worth in the same breath.
Katlyn Lindstrom is a lifelong resident of the Lansing area, and currently focuses on equity communications, digital marketing and grants management with the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). She enjoys being outdoors, practicing and teaching yoga, and spending time with her fiancé Rigo, Boxer dog Miles, and cat Tigger.