Late one stormy afternoon, I was driving along a winding country road, into the hinterland of the Tweed Shire towards Mount Warning.
I was on my way to my friend’s house to help her set up for her 40th birthday party, feeling excited, ready for a relaxing weekend of friends, amazing music, community and nature next to the mountain.
As I came to a particular stretch of the road, I noticed an uneasy feeling come over me suddenly. Then, for the next 10 minutes or so, every time I had to steer to the left at all, I froze up.
I could feel my body tensing and contracting. I tried to stay focused on the road, on driving. I told myself that it’s ok, I breathed deeply and did my best to relax… I know what helps in these situations, but I couldn’t stop it from happening. Also, I knew WHY it was happening. It’s happened before.
Actually every time I drive down that windy road and go around left-turning bends it happens. It’s because I had an accident on that road nearly 3 years ago.
I used to live in that area and I was driving home one night in the rain. The road was slippery, it was dark and I was distracted listening to a podcast (damn you, David Deida!).
I was going around a left bend a little too fast and the car just slid out from under me, zig-zagging madly along the road as I tried to regain control and failed. The brakes locked up completely.
It all felt like slow motion as the car went into a fast, diagonal slide towards the edge of the cliff. I spun the wheel wildly and desperately in both directions.
After what seemed like an ETERNITY of sliding, the car slid haltingly to a stop, next to the road, as if I’d just pulled over to the side.
The engine cut out.
I sat there. Stunned, silent and in shock.
I had been bracing myself for the collision that never came. Luckily there were no cars coming the other way, I didn’t go over the cliff and I didn’t crash into the embankment.
I just… stopped.
After a few minutes, I gathered myself together and tried to start the car. It started fine, to my surprise, and I drove the rest of the way home, very slowly, shaking and unstable.
Even though it’s been nearly 3 years since that happened, whenever I’m driving on that particular road and steering around a bend to the left, my body still remembers it. I get more tense and contracted. I feel slightly nervous and unsafe and I have moments of doubting my driving abilities.
At those times, I feel like Zoolander, the male model who couldn’t turn left!
Ben Stiller’s voice rings in my head “I can’t turn left… I’m not an ambi-turner!”
(giggle, such a classic movie!)
Lately, it’s slowly affecting me less and less – the first few times I drove that road after the accident were horrible. Then after that it was bearable but unpleasant… and now it’s just an uncomfortable bodily response that I can handle easily using breath and conscious relaxation.
But it’s fascinating right!?
So, what does my weird-ass left turning Zoolander thing have to do with anything?
Basically, I’m using this very real example of how trauma gets stored in the body and comes up again and again until it’s completely resolved.
When I say that trauma can get stored in the body, I literally mean In the tissues, muscles, cells and organs of the physical body.
(Of course there’s a mental component to it too, which is beyond the scope of this article)
So how might this relate to sexual trauma?
Let’s compare this to an experience of a woman who, like most women, has experienced some form of sexual abuse or sexual dishonouring.
We’ll call her Megan. Maybe Megan has experienced rape. Maybe child abuse from many years ago. Maybe she’s felt pressured into sex when she didn’t feel like it. Maybe she’s had lots of sex when she was drunk or just told not to touch her body because it’s ‘shameful’. For the purposes of this exploration, it doesn’t matter exactly what she’s experienced. (Plus, she’s a fictional character!)
The point is that, in this case, impacted by some of her her past experiences, Megan has learnt to associate sex and intimacy with trauma. So whenever she wants to be intimate with her partner (who she actually loves and feels very safe with) her body has a trauma response.
Her breath becomes shallow, her heart rate increases, she disconnects from her body. She starts to feel stressed and anxious. The muscles of Megan’s pelvic floor clench and contract in response to the perceived threat – even though she’s safe with her partner. She begins to fear intimacy because she doesn’t want to deal with what happens in her body. Either she avoids intimacy completely or pushes through the discomfort and has sex anyway.
Do you think Megan will be able to have beautiful, heart-opening intimate experiences with her partner if she’s having this kind of response to sex and intimacy regularly?
It’s probably also quite a challenging experience for Megan’s partner, who just wants to connect with her and might not know much about addressing trauma held in the body.
So how could we address sexual trauma that impacts the body?
Luckily, we live in a world where there are many different avenues that embrace body-based healing from trauma. Here are some ideas I’ve personally found to be helpful, used in combination. Obviously you need to see what feels right for you, and consult a relevant professional if you’re unsure.
(Note some of these suggestions are for women specifically, but some could also be applied to any humans with bodies!)
Unresolved trauma tends to be less of a challenge or major obstacle when we are deeply connected to our bodies through movement and other embodiment practices that bring us into the present moment. Here are some embodiment practices that I’ve benefited from at various times:
- Dance Therapy
- Ecstatic Dance / 5 Rhythms
- Non-Linear Movement
- Shiva Shakti Dance (for women only)
- Dancing Eros (for women only)
- Chi Kung
Self Exploration Practices:
When we have an experience of our sexuality being dishonoured or disrespected, there’s an incredible sense of empowerment that can arise from learning how to honour own own sexuality and our bodies on a deep level. Reclaiming our genitals as our own, through touch and exploration (without necessarily having the goal of sexual pleasure).
For that I recommend:
- Yoni Massage (which we teach in The Yoniverse workshops for both men and women)
- Cervical exploration: The Self Cervix program is a great place to start for that.
Therapists or Practitioners:
Sometimes trying to work things out on your own is complicated and it’s beneficial to see a therapist, psychologist or practitioner who could support you on your journey. Here are some ideas:
- Body-oriented Psychotherapists or Psychologists – those who have specific training in working with the body
- Somatic Experiencing sessions – Dr Peter Levine’s amazing modality for working with trauma (with practitioners all over the world)
- Yoni Mapping Therapy – The Bliss Method (The pelvic wellness modality that I created and train practitioners in – offered for women and by women) Practitioners are trained to work with education, coaching, bodywork and hands-on internal pelvic massage and mapping to connect with their body on a deep level.
These are a few books that I’ve found helpful in learning about how the body stores trauma and different methods or approaches for releasing it.
The internet is amazing for quick fixes and basic surface level stuff, but for well-rounded, clear information on various topics, nothing quite beats proper published books. You can publish anything these days though, so healthy discernment is still required!
Dr Bessel van der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score
Dr Peter Levine – Waking the Tiger (and actually all his books!)
Gabrielle Roth – Sweat Your Prayers
I hope this was interesting or useful – It’s a huge area to explore and something I’m loving learning more about!