The Mighty Logo

How a Massage Triggered My Past Sexual Trauma

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

This week, you’ve moved into my body with a vengeance. An interjection of events of an earlier occurrence, an interruption of my normal day by inserting your grainy fingers vividly not only into my mind but into my body, into my lungs, around my neck, through my belly.

• What is PTSD?

You bring the war back into my soul unexpectedly, and by that I don’t mean Iraq or any other desert — I’ve never been there. I can’t say it loud, but sometimes I wish I had lived through a war of people rather than the sexual war I lived through. Maybe then I could speak about you more in groups — people would understand better. Instead, I spend most waking moments consciously working to keep you in check.

People don’t typically focus on how many breaths they take per minute. How often I hold my breath and wonder, “Why am I so dizzy right now?” then grab the counter and gasp when I realize I’ve been holding my breath. How often I realize how often I feel awful and realize it’s because you have caused me not to leave my room all day and I need to eat.

Massage is one of the only places where my main job is to breathe, to relax. It’s also the place you make me work the hardest. For months you have been poking at me, knocking at the door of my brain just waiting to jump out. Only once before have you come out to play, and you scared me. This week I was unable to keep you put away in your little box. My feelings were at the surface, I was working so hard just to keep myself together generally that once I got on the table, I realized the whole 90 minutes were going to be hard work to keep you at bay. My feelings started swimming at the surface immediately before she even came back in the room. I became hyper-aware of every single noise. Every person around the building became my rapist, every voice, the one who was going to come get me. Once she came back in the room, I felt my focus go extremely inward to manage you. You started immediately when she touched me. You started teasing me with small little memories. Some were benign compared to others. Little lead-ups to the “Big T” — trauma. Then in one quick moment, you hit, as if physically, and I had no control any longer.

I’ve been able to keep you in check for months, but yesterday I was totally helpless to keep you in your box. “Little t” traumas either in Charlie Chaplin black and white skipping silent reels will play, where I can’t keep track of where you are leading me or when you will stop. A mix of “little t” and “Big T” traumas will play in mini cartoon style where you insert sound or feelings and my body will start to react. My hands and body will start to shake and my breathing will start to alter. In the largest situations, “Big T” traumas will play in full film or even 3D fashion, where you just move right into my mind and hijack everything. This is the scariest part.

I have a deep fear that people around me can’t cope with you, mainly because I can’t cope with you. I can’t imagine what it is like to watch someone experience a flashback from the outside, as I just know what it feels like inside. The way you make me feel is so out of control. I can’t breathe, and I’m suddenly thrust into 17 years past like a horrific Christmas ghost of trauma. I told someone this week, “you can’t handle this.”

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Getty Images photo via MilanEXPO

Originally published: February 4, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home