Yo I was living in London in 2001 and had just finished my master’s thesis in feminist performance. I had left the printout at my new boyfriend’s rented flat and was on my way there to pick it up and deliver it after a doctor’s appointment for an oddly late case of chickenpox.
The flat my boyfriend had just started renting with two young women was in West London, at the top of an old building with a spiral staircase and a creaky lift. As he was walking me to the door with his key in his pocket, a stranger asked me for some water. I got goosebumps because he had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, and I cheated that I had lost the key and instead offered him a bottle of water that I had in my bag. He seemed satisfied and turned to go.
I made to get into the flat as fast as I could and when I put the key in I felt the cold steel of a knife at my throat. Assuming he was going to steal stuff, I did a quick scan of the room as he shoved me in: stereo, maybe a laptop or two upstairs. Nothing that can’t be replaced. But then he pushed me to the ground and started to cover my head, tying some kind of cloth over it and repeating “shut up” as I protested.
Standing up with the knife firmly to my throat, he said he wouldn’t hurt me if I did as he said. We began a sinister trek down the stairs, and I realized this was not going to be your average robbery. A silent inner panic set in.
Later, with my clothes in a pile on the floor and my face still covered, I joined the ranks of people who identify themselves as rape survivors. I also learned the ability of disassociation, a blessing and a curse, and from then on my psyche called on it frequently. I would experience an unpleasant “out of body” sensation, as if I were looking at the world through a long tunnel, disoriented, closed off, and distanced from my surroundings and everyone around me.
My trust in people was also shattered, and my sense of the city as a place of possibility and excitement was replaced by the threat of potential danger everywhere. The footsteps behind me became intolerable. The cupboards had to be checked every night before bed when I was home alone. The sight of a knife brought with it a cavalcade of unwanted smells and sensations. Childhood trauma awoke and aggravated. My body and the world around me were no longer safe or predictable. I had a little window into what evil can be like and it changed everything.
My journey back to trusting people, trusting myself, and trusting life in general was slow and not always steady. “I will love you through this,” my boyfriend told me. Twenty years later, he is now my husband and the father of my three children and it was true, he did and he does.
I also started practicing yoga. I had heard about how it could help to unite mind and body and how they could be separated after sexual violence. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I went to the local community center to try out a class. I came out of that first practice finally feeling comfortable in my body, and it was a relief and a joy.
I now live in Victoria, British Columbia, and although my working life began in arts education, it gradually changed to working for many years as a program director at yoga disclosurea non-profit organization with a mission to expand access to trauma-informed yoga programs.
We work with social service facilities, prisons, mental health teams, addiction recovery centers, community centers, and halfway houses for women and children who have experienced violence. me teaching for people living with complex trauma, and train practitioners to use yoga as an empirically validated clinical intervention for complex trauma or chronic refractory PTSD.
My work now is driven by the hope that anyone who wants to explore the sense of safety and greater calm in their bodies that the practice of yoga has given me in my own healing has the opportunity to do so.
Yoga is by no means the only thing to which I attribute my recovery. Healing is a complex journey influenced by many things. I have privileges as a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman, I have access to therapy, and I have loving relationships in my life. Some people don’t have these. However, yoga gave me the ability to find my feet on the ground when I felt like I was floating and untethered. He allowed me to breathe when I needed to come up for air. It has allowed me to feel here in the world when it seemed as if everything I knew to be true was turned upside down. And for that I am very grateful.