We are survivors of not just one but many harms. And as survivors, we are at different stages in unravelling what this identity means to us, if indeed we identify with such a term at all. Responding to and healing from harm is a lifelong journey. This is my urgent invitation to all who have experienced and continue to experience harm: leave conscious and intentional space for pleasure in that journey.
What do I mean by pleasure? Pleasure-seeking behaviours are all too common among survivors – often to excess and with loss of control. This is not the pleasure I am talking about. (1) I’m talking about the moments that make you feel most alive, most present in your body, and that leave you feeling nourished and empowered, rather than fragile and exhausted.
Audre Lorde teaches us that pleasure is a source of power that can sustain us. (2) As survivors, we are too often denied pleasure. Trauma can remove us from our bodies and our desires, can make these aspects of our existence seem dangerous. We deserve to feel pleasure, and in a society that asks us to desexualise ourselves in order to be believed, that uses our pursuit of pleasure as justification for violence against us, our pleasure is political.
By welcoming pleasure back into our lives in a conscious and intentional way, we can reclaim our power from those who have harmed us and from a society that often seeks to perpetuate that harm; we can heal ourselves and our communities in ways that reconnect us to our bodies, the people we interact with, and the world we live in.
I invite you to slow down, to ferociously and intentionally pursue pleasureful activities, from the simple to the complex, be they individual or interpersonal. Remember that your body was built for pleasure and that the capacity to experience pleasure cannot be taken away from you. If you do activist work, connect with other survivors in spaces and ways that leave room for joy and play. Change is urgent, but we must ensure that our communities are sustained and empowered with frequent pleasure. This is part of our collective healing.
A body on high alert is primed to detect predators, not pleasure; gently give your senses the space and permission to come down from that state of tension. Pleasure does not have to mean sex. Start small, if that feels right. In moments when you feel lost, ground yourself by leaning into that which you find most pleasurable. Eat a crème brûlée or sticky sweet fruit, walk in the rain, sing, dance, laugh from your belly, read, debate. And yes, if you want to, flirt, have sex, feel pleasure from another’s touch. Give yourself permission to do these things with intention, to fully feel them. And if in the process of feeling, something swells up in you that says ‘no’, honour that. But don’t forget, too, to honour your body’s ‘yes’. (3)
So for those who need it, this is your reminder: you deserve to feel pleasure, you are capable of feeling pleasure. You will feel pleasure. It may take time, it may seem too intense at first, but you will feel pleasure again, and you will find ways to share that pleasure with others in ways that nourish and enrich yourself and your communities. Move at your own pace. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey – you have an enduring capacity for pleasure. Whenever you are ready, you can tap into it.
1 That being said, no one should shame you for how you cope in the aftermath of harm.
2 Lorde, Audre. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (1978). Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWmq9gw4Rq0 [accessed 19 th April 2020].
3 I draw heavily here and throughout this piece on adrienne maree brown’s body of work surrounding pleasure. You can find more information at: http://adriennemareebrown.net.
Image credit: mahchelle-mychelle, Flickr.