woman in the woods

Up early reading, our girl stumbles upon this: “In truth, few of us have been well-touched.” And, a bit later, the term dysfunctions of touch. Naturally, she starts thinking about the many stories of groping/rape/physical abuse that have been popping up everywhere, about the “dysfunctions of touch” that women, in particular, have endured. The stories have become so common, in fact, that it’s been suggested that the women who step up to tell them may have an ulterior motive/hunger for attention, or maybe that their stories are fiction/just a pack of lies/part of a vast conspiracy.

Here’s another theory: The stories come forth only when they’re good and ready, and certainly not for the satisfaction of standing in the harsh glare of a judging public to call out some aggressor/predator/pervert/narcissist, but because some woman somewhere has done and is doing her work.

The story of how a woman attunes/attends to the dysfunctions of touch that have left a mark upon her—of how she does her work—is infinitely more interesting than the lurid particulars of the violation/transgression/crime itself. By work, I mean the enormous challenge of recapturing a sense of aliveness/agency/vitality/joy in a body that’s been bound/frozen/collapsed by shame/fear/anger/grief, a body that still keeps the score even though she thought she was in a new place/game/life/relationship. These uncomfortable emotions are the malingering sidekicks/gifts that keep giving of dysfunctional touch.

Because she has so many conscious and unconscious strategies for avoiding these emotions, the work of recognizing them/fighting her way clear of them/reclaiming a healthy sense of self can take a very long time, perhaps ten years/one’s whole life/several lifetimes. This is what women everywhere are doing in the yawning gap between the violations/injuries/traumas and their reemergence as a story.

What looks like no story might, in fact, be going along/not letting that other rumpus be the story because, frankly, who wants it? Maybe, just going along, our girl gets a degree/has a career/has a job/gets married. Perhaps she has children/cooks/cleans/does laundry/volunteers or, maybe she does nothing at all. Maybe she just sits around self-medicating/self-destructing/self-soothing with drugs/alcohol/shopping/sex/Dove Bars/exercise/cleaning, whatever it is that makes her forget/feel better/you fill in the blank, until suddenly she is found out/called out/caught out/worn out and the jig is up.

Then maybe she sees a shrink/shaman/acupuncturist/Rolfer or gets a decorator/organizer/lover/disease. Or she takes up tennis/Pilates/yoga/dance/running/hiking/biking with a vengeance. Seeking out alternative therapies, she tries Watsu or Shiatsu massage/is rebirthed in a sound tank/wrings it out in a sweat lodge/tries hippotherapy/hypnotherapy/aromatherapy/color therapy. Feasting/fasting/traveling to far-flung places, she finds a guru, maybe, studies her dreams/the archetypes/philosophy/mythology/bioenergetics/Tantra/the Tarot.

Maybe our girl’s latest book recommends, a “Top Down/Bottom Up” approach to working with the not so great feeling that she still, in spite of everything, carries with her from time to time, and she undertakes a psychoeducation just to get a grip on what Top Down/Bottom Up even means.

She becomes conversant in developmental and relational trauma/self-care systems/adaptive survival styles, maybe, or in shame-based identifications/pride-based counter-identifications/early environmental failure/diminished aliveness/distortions of the life force/thwarted drives/impaired connection to self and others/dissociation/repression/projection/acting in/acting out.

While all of this is helpful on some level, working in this Top Down way—trying to learn/understand/analyze/figure out—makes her head spin/gives her migraines/a general feeling of overwhelm. Her body, with its symptoms/blocked emotions/points of weakness/rigidity, begins to call her deeper into another narrative of healing. Now she’s in up to her knees/waist/eyeballs, exploring from the Bottom Up the ground of her phenomenal existence. And that story/memory/trauma lodged in her body shows up variously in her hip/armpit/neck/knees/feet/lungs and every time she thinks she’s caught up to it, it picks up and moves to a new place.

She learns, eventually, that each part of her body has a story to tell and also how to listen/hear/embrace them: her hamstrings whine about attachment and disconnection/her heart wails about love and betrayal/her shoulders complain about burdens borne quietly or alone.

She learns, maybe, how to sing/speak/chant/find her authentic voice and have the gumption/wherewithal/conviction to say, in no uncertain terms, “Get your hands off me.” Maybe that’s something she was never able to say because of still earlier dysfunctions of touch that left her vulnerable to future reenactments or enraged/unclear even about where her own physical boundaries began/left off. Maybe those things happened before she even began to lay down memory tracks, so they aren’t available to her, or maybe she has not had sufficient external support/grounding in her own body to safely explore/express/tap into/differentiate/learn to handle the awesome and terrifying range of emotions she may or may not even know she has.

Maybe she who is doing the work has to find a measure of healing before she can even step up to tell her story, that story so deeply hidden and guarded by shame/anger/fear/grief. Maybe the road was washed away/a bridge had to be built/landing strip had to be cleared/wilderness area had to be penetrated, or maybe there was non-stop construction/a detour that took her so far off course that she couldn’t even remember where she was going when she set out.

This is the story of how our girl turns that yuck into a personal triumph, the story of how she heals after she’s been groped/raped/beaten/you fill in the blank, but don’t stop there/keep going/tell the story.

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Lindsay Fleming

Lindsay Fleming is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops, Room to Grow and more. She writes Little Magic...

5 replies on “Our Girl’s Mad Libs”

  1. This is so timely/relevant/bittersweet/emotional/beautiful. I felt all the emotions/feelings of rage/grief/sorrow/hope/courage. Thanks for writing this very necessary piece!

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