I can’t remember a time when my body belonged to me. For years, I have battled over territory that should have been mine from the beginning. Some conflicts were lost; others won. It is only within the last year that my body has truly become my own.
My earliest memory of body awareness is when I was eight years old, fell off my bike, and knocked out my left front tooth. Before that moment, I had the vague sense of invincibility, unaware that pain and injury were even possibilities.
What’s funny is what I don’t focus on from that accident: I had amazing presence of mind for such a young child. I gave my name, address, and various phone numbers. I didn’t cry when they reinserted my tooth without anesthetic. I possessed an inner strength, but the impression I received was the world was dangerous and my body was a fragile thing in its clutches.
This feeling followed me throughout my life and bad experiences blinded me from my strengths. At boot camp, not only was my body not mine, the army drill sergeants told me it belonged to them and Uncle Sam. “Property of the United States,” they joked. I graduated boot camp but it was hard to feel pride in the accomplishment. I was not my own.
Then I sat sobbing in a hospital, trying to convince the nurse to not report my rape, and once again, my body wasn’t mine. It belonged to the people who were invading and humiliating me all over again in order to obtain evidence. It belonged to my rapist, who had taken my virginity. It belonged to the cop who told me to think carefully because I “might ruin some guy’s life.” It belonged to every guy I slept with in an attempt to gain control over a body that didn’t seem like mine.
Trapped in alcoholism and an abusive marriage, I tattooed my body as a defense. The tattoos were a symbol of inner strength I did not possess. I hoped they would give the impression of strength as I stumbled through the bars and dodged my then-husband’s verbal blows. I look at these faded images now—permanent reminders of a girl struggling to take control of the body that others took for granted. Permanent reminders of inner strength I possessed in order to survive.
Survival was crucial when I became a mother. During both of my pregnancies, but especially the second one, my body was not my own. Breastfeeding my daughter made me feel like I was in even less control. My body belonged to this small person who constantly needed me and it was traumatic. Even though, for the first time, my body was needed for a positive reason, I felt like I was again being used. In an attempt to take back my body, I shaved my head.
It was around that time that I started yoga. I was a runner but an injury had set me back. I felt betrayed by my body and furious that it was not working the way it was supposed to. Running had shown me what my body could do but it was yoga that made me love myself. As my body, broken and abused, healed and grew stronger, I began to master the difficult poses. I realized that I was beautiful; that no matter what my body had been through, no matter what others wanted it to look like, I was capable of strength and beauty.
I am now twenty-eight years old and, for the first time, my body belongs to me. I am married to a man who loves and respects me. I am able to look at myself in the mirror with love and recognize all of the things that I have accomplished: pregnancy, breastfeeding, a marathon, a triathlon, difficult yoga poses, and above all—survival. My body bears the marks and scars of battle and it is beautiful. My body is mine.