Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Intimate Violence: Don't Touch My Face

I went to Washington, D.C. this week--it wasn't a planned trip, but the last couple of months haven't really been planned as much as they've been lived. I decided to take public transportation instead of driving, since there's a bus stop in front of my apartment and lots of ways to get from Trenton to D.C. I walked out front and waited a minute, and sure enough a bus pulled up. I said to the driver, "Does this bus go to the transit center?" He rolled his eyes up into heaven and told me to sit down. He'd tell me when to get off to catch the bus to get me there. This blog post is a bit like my trip. It wanders a bit before it gets to the point.

So off I went on my little adventure, flying (as it were) by the seat of my pants. I love wandering about the world without a plan, a little lost, anonymous. Most of my experience with violence and trauma has come from people I know--family members, friends, lovers, etc. Blowing about like a dandelion is a chance to withdraw into myself in a way that is not possible when I am home. Every now and then I just need to hit the road.

I know when it started, this habit of withdrawing into myself. I withdrew a long time ago until it felt mostly like I lived behind my eyes. I didn't really realize this was true until I gave birth to my first son. That pregnancy forced me to acknowledge the rest of my body that I had ignored for many years. The loss of control I experienced in pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing sent me into therapy. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I don't live only in my head--that I inhabit the whole of my body.

This is why I don't like when people touch my face. I don't like it at all. I had to learn how to make eye contact, and I still become uncomfortable if I have to maintain it too long--it feels like an intruder in my house. So much happened to my face that I am very protective of it. 

Tonight I was driving with the boys in the car. Another car pulled up alongside me on the highway and kept pace with mine for a few minutes. It's a bit creepy when people do that. I glanced to my left, annoyed that the car stayed alongside me even when I slowed down, and I was startled to realize that the car's passenger was staring at me. I felt violated. I felt scared. I doubt he meant anything by it--how could a stranger know how I feel about my face?

A friend of mine talks about retreating into her cave when life gets painful. For me that space is behind my eyes. I've learned two things over the last ten years:

--It is possible, when I think about it, to inhabit my whole body. That's why I'm learning to dance. It feels strange to move like that--with my whole body instead of just my head. But I'm learning.

--I have a rich interior life, and I like to invite people into that space. I just wish people would take off their shoes and tread lightly when they get in the door. I think this is why Moses took off his shoes.


  1. funny, I often look at people's faces if we're stuck at a red light.

    Also, I think pain reminds me that I inhabit my whole body. For instance, yesterday, my toes were feeling weird, as if I had curled them strangely while sleeping. I had to open and close them a lot before work until they felt okay, and even then, I was grateful that it was warm enough to wear sandals.

    I love that you are learning to dance. And I think you are so brave to have been pregnant twice. I can't imagine doing it even once.

    Here's something I think about, which has to do with the body and privacy but folks don't think it seems to matter: sex. Go too far with me and you are going to get broken up with, and I won't be able to explain it. It's so INTIMATE.

    I watch those movies where people meet and have sex right away and I think, oh, I wish that could be me, but I know it couldn't b/c I am so scared. (I guess when I became a Christian the one thing I was so grateful for *was* the don't sleep with someone you're not married to.)

    So, I get it. I'll try not to stare at your face. And I always take off my shoes.


  2. Thank you, SL. Was hearing crickets chirp :-)

    Christianity does serve so many protective functions. Sometimes I think it gives us the strength to risk again too. But I know what you mean. A friend once told me, "For all you talk about sex, you sure aren't very promiscuous." And I think that's true. For all that I am determined that people have the right to determine they wish to have sex, I am equally determined that they have the right to choose not to.

    Marcella Althaus-Reid once wrote: " my case, I am a woman who prefers to choose sexual companions..." She was pushing against a tendency to portray poor women as identified with the Virgin Guadalupe and a resulting "Virginal liberation theology." There's a book's worth of pondering in just the one paragraph, but her words "I am a woman who prefers to choose sexual companions" come to my mind often.

    Anyway, thank you for choosing to be here this morning. Good to know I'm not alone.

  3. Just want to say that I really understand this post--particularly the last paragraph. I see much better with my inner eye than I do with my physical eyes. It's a struggle to bring inside & outside, mind & body, into balance.

  4. You are not alone. Maybe some have just taken off their shoes and treading so lightly you can't hear them. Maybe some are still afraid to come out of the shadows of their past. Maybe some don't have the words they need just yet to give voice to their own stories. But in an case, you are not alone.

    Let me add this: You are one of the bravest people I have had the privilege to meet.

  5. I feel deeply honored to be invited into this space, Katie, and am happy to take off my shoes. But even then I confess that I worry a bit about accidentally doing something clumsy and making a mess--maybe even breaking something. I think part of the silence you reference must surely be related to those of us (especially the introverts?) wanting to err on the side of caution, because we know that this is indeed sacred space, holy ground. Doctors aren't the only ones who should "First, do no harm." And I am mindful that so very much harm has already been done.

    In general, I'm one of those people whose tendency is perhaps to say more than I should. But intimate violence is a topic I feel the need to do more listening about. When working with young singers, I often remind them to, "Listen harder than you sing." In this particular case, I want to listen harder than I talk.

    I do recognize, however, that listening is only a starting place. My response to intimate violence cannot and will not stop there. Still, I am grateful for this opportunity to listen, even if I don't say much (or say it poorly) most days. I'm hopeful that one of the things I might discern after following your blog this month is how to make things better--and what my role(s) in that process might be.

    I don't mean to sound as though I'm making it your job to educate me or let me know what to do. I'm not entirely new to this cause. In fact, the last 5 years or so have been particularly eye-opening for me, and I have become more active as a result of some of the things I've learned and experienced. More often than not, however, I still feel very uncertain about how best to proceed. So reading thoughtful, insightful--yet accessible--writing like yours on this topic is helpful.

    I will read every October post, even though I won't read each day. (I've always been more of a hare than a tortoise, including with blog reading, so I sometimes let a few days go by and then read a cluster of entries.)

    Thank you for piercing the silence with your stories, Katie. I admire your courage and appreciate both your candor and your compassion (not to mention your beautiful writing). I intend to savor each post.

  6. Your articles are making me think about my behavior and mental state as it is now. I feel an epiphany about how to get better coming slowly, from reading your articles...
    It's just so very easy to ignore my surroundings. Especially when it hurts and causes panic inside.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Sharing the hurt makes it lessen, at least for me.


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