Recently, I was one of the featured readers Whine Club #14 , described by its co-founder Keisa Reynolds as “a monthly storytelling series for women and non-binary people who enjoy writing, whining, and drinking wine”. Our theme was “Resilience”, and as you can see from the timing of my previous posts, it had been quite a while since I’d written anything for public consumption. During that time, I was navigating a medical leave, a significant trauma, and re-entry into the various points of work (higher ed, Mystic Soul, #EmbodiedRitual project, etc). In this piece, I explore the concepts of:
- Trauma as undoing the illusion of time
- Navigating trauma as similar to “time-travel”
- “Sexting” & nudity as building viable senses of possibility outside of trauma while providing various tools within trauma
- Sauna baptism, strip class exorcism, and charismatic Christian spirituality
This piece happens in Three Movements:
Movement I: Dream Traveling
Movement II: A Timeline Folding in on Itself
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
I’m SO excited to present Movement I and half of Movement II in video format for you! The rest of Movement II & Movement III will be provided in text, below. Journey with me! (CW: Discussion of mental illness, suicide, and religious practice)
Movement II, Cont’d:
When I was a little girl, I gained quite the education about exorcisms. My Grandmother studied them informally. She was a religious woman who had left the Baptist church for a more charismatic experience: one dripping with the unidentified tongue, channeling new forms of ring-shouting, writhing bodies falling to the ground in ecstasy a commonplace sight. She gave up her conventions for the heavy drums, the percussive conga, and the slippery knowing if whether what moved us was “The Holy Ghost” of God, ancestor, shaking loose of chakras, pent up expression, exorcism of grief, the overflowing of thanks, or all of the above.
There was a time when we went from dingy tent to storefront church for what they called “deliverance services”. Congregants came with various ailments. Some said they were grappling with malevolent spirits (and whether those spirits were otherworldly or the strongholds of racism, ableism, homophobia, and the like was not accessible knowledge to me then).
Exorcisms were always such messy business. In my little-girl-mind, it seemed that the congregants’ bodies were made of spirit, bone, muscle, electricity, and mists. They went up to the altar – however formal or makeshift – to allow someone to lay hands on them.
Exorcisms were always such forceful business. The malevolent spirits were directly addressed, commanded to do this or that. Come out! Go back from where you came from! Each individual reaction was different, but it often involved lots of tears, lots of sound, perhaps some rolling about, or signifiers of purging. I was both afraid and intrigued. What had taken hold of this person… and how? How did we know that it needed to be cast out? What could I do to keep from being taken hold by something that I could not control?
I had an exorcism as an adult. I was in the middle of the #ReclaimingYourSexy Strip Class Intensive – I lie to you not – and our instructor told us to strip with the intention of letting go of whatever we felt we needed to let go of. I didn’t feel that anything malevolent had taken hold of me. I just couldn’t make peace with my grief. I couldn’t plan enough. I couldn’t outrun it or out-sleep it. In the middle of my stripping, I collapsed with my face down to the floor. My dance partner circled around me, pulled me into their arms. We sat there for a while, them slowly, consensually caressing my scantily clad and grieving body – completely silent. As my body racked with silent, heaving sobs, I thought, “Could this be a form of exorcism too?” Perhaps the particularity of trauma should also be directly addressed, but instead of commanded – caressed and held for a moment, and then, coaxed away so that the person could be delivered for a moment, a day, perhaps forever. I’m not sure.
Week 6: Friends began slipping larger pieces of food onto my plate. And this time, I ate them. Family came to my doorpost. And I received them.
Week 7: Another month of medical leave. Another diagnosis added to the chart. Another month of experiencing my own breath as the loudest sound in the room. When I woke up at 3 am,I would turn on the music, and do a “shaking” practice. Both my therapist and my meditation teacher agreed: The shaking was connected to memory. Memory trying to make its way through the body. Memory trying to find a place to break down, transform, and re-conceptualize itself. I thought it might be right to create a shaking practice set to music. I’m detoxing myself from trying to do everything right (but that was a damn good idea).
Week 8: A Text. Please pick up these things from the store for me if you can. I’m not able to get out today.
Bath bombs. Either lavender or rose.
Lavender scented epsom salt.
A bag of salad greens
Dried fruit and protein bars
Incense from the store down the street
A green power smoothie
Salmon patties that I can throw in the oven with seasoning
Movement III: The During-After & the Future-Now
“I never thought I would be sending a ‘Wassup big head’ text but… here I am”. They are everything I said I would never entertain. I have no big expectations of them. No desires to carve them into the grooves of my everyday. I have asked only one thing: Add material to the flames of my erotic. I will keep the fire stoked. If Solange sexed it away, then I have “sexted” it away: relishing in the cushion that the distance provides. For now, it is all elusive possibility and perhaps, there is something to be said about the traumatic loss of one possibility and the option to create others – even if they are primarily works of lived fiction. He is a Gemini – as equally real to me as unreal. As equally accessible to me as inaccessible.
The people in my strip class convinced me to get on the dating apps. I scrunched my nose at them first, but 30 minutes of their stories of finding good friends, a husband, and a few friends with benefits got me listening. I was ovulating then and God knows…
Was creating a profile admitting defeat? Was it throwing myself into a void? Would I know if I was being swiped left?! That night, I mindlessly scrolled through the profiles, the swiping motion giving me a welcome and calming activity to do with my hands. My eyelids became heavy after a while as I read the About section of a woman who said that she really was just here to find a third for her & her partner. Half enveloped in my dreams I thought, “How did we all fall here together? And when might we all collide?”
Some days, I have subsisted on cups of coffee, Zoloft, and the prayers of my ancestors. Other days, I have maintained through the texts friends sent, the care package that comes in the mail, the tea offered at my best friend’s kitchen table, and the bittersweet remembering of all of the ways that they loved me. There are other days that I wake up early, attend to the dishes, feed the kittens, and enter seamlessly into a version of the life I used to live. Trauma breaks the illusion of organized time. For months, I have been time traveling in, reality melting around me, doubling its power, reshaping its own voracity. And I am simultaneously strengthened and shattered.