disability justice
sexual healing
south asian

Connecting Childhood Trauma and Chronic Pain with Prinita Thevarajah

Hi Prinita <3

Hi Fa, how are you feeling?

I’m so excited to talk to you for real. I’m OK! I think today’s conversation will probably be helpful to the both of us. In a lot of ways we are cyclical to each other, our healing paths have intertwined not only because of proximity, friendship and collaboration, but also because our traumas mirror in some ways (and not in others) and those somatic repercussions have a similar resonance across folks who’ve experienced similar things to us, what I’m talking about is CSA. 

Earlier when we were talking on the phone we discussed how (a lot) of abusive people follow a certain script and I’ve found with trauma, especially after reading works like When The Body Says No, for example, you begin to see patterns in how abuse lands in the body and how it surfaces. I’m interested in hearing about where you are with your body and with what’s been surfacing. 

I feel so warmed by you this morning, always, but particularly today after I’ve really spent time completely alone which has been rare for me over the past year. It’s really affirming and comforting that despite our physical distance we’re always on the same page of resonance.

What I am coming to understand about my body is that it is really a never ending journey, it’s like a well with no bottom. I keep unearthing more and more about how I’ve repressed so much within me, and am now experiencing that in one way through chronic pain, endometriosis. 

I’ve been living at my parent’s house for the past two months which inevitably resurfaced so much in terms of hypervigilance within my body. Because the trauma I faced was sexual in nature, and because I grew up in a culture where sexuality is so repressed, expressing my sexuality and sensuality is part of the shadow integration I am now working through. Repressing sexuality is repressing life force energy. It’s like moving through life with a numbed sense and for me that looked like ebbing and flowing through depression and dissociation throughout the past two months. I am still doing a lot of work to cognitively detach from voices that swim in the undercurrents of guilt and shame so, being in a space like my childhood home makes my spirit leave my body. I operate in survival mode. It takes a lot for me to self soothe because the vibration of conditioning that I feel physically in that place is so strong. The past week has been pivotal for me in understanding how my endometriosis flares when I am in boundaryless and unintentional environments. So the choice becomes mine to recognize that pattern and actively detach and cut the cord – which is hard because it’s so counterintuitive for me. 

I really relate, and I know that feeling acutely. In terms of chronic pain and endometriosis I know that these are still evolving parts in your life, things that are perhaps still landing in your body, with my own reckoning of chronic pain and my own chronic illness, I’ve been pretty surprised and saddened by my own ableist attitudes towards my own body and illness. I’ve spent so much of my life coding these things, hiding these things, hiding my constant pain that didn’t just arrive in my body… all these things as to why I forever wanted a massage, why my body is always in knots, makes so much sense now that I’m finally decompressing and seeing the evidence and lining it up. It’s wild to actually begin to witness yourself, which means all the parts. I wonder how your process has felt accepting this new state of your body when you’re giving language (or even finding language) that finally fits. I take so much solace in the acceptance, even if there is grief and anger, as well. How about you?

Yes, internalized ableism is a lot to confront and hold. We’re taking on the voice of those that perpetrate harm and spitting it back out at our own selves. That’s what’s been the most heartbreaking thing for me. It took me so long to get a diagnosis for my condition because I myself initially took on the narrative that I’m probably just “too sensitive”. I didn’t want to take up more space. I didn’t want to play more into a victim narrative that is often attached to people who have chronic illness and disability, and my own dismissal was inherently ableist. 

I’ve become very blunt. I’ve reflected a lot on failed relationships, misunderstandings and miscommunications in spaces that are supposedly meant for care. One thing I can say is, people who experience chronic illness and disability – there’s a different type of consciousness we’re operating with. We experience the world a lot differently. We notice things differently. Like, when I was a child I was acutely aware of when people were racially microaggressive with my parents. I could tell when someone was trying to cause harm.  Our experiences of pain have made us hypersensitive to feeling – whether we choose to engage or disengage is our choice, but there’s no denying it’s presence. I think what I’m speaking to is the intellectualization of care rather than the actual experience of it, is what I became very aware of. 

For most people who did not live through violent and adverse childhood experiences and consequently matured into adulthood in a normative body, they simply do not get it. And I find myself getting more sick trying to explain it to them. So I tell the truth. When people ask me why I can’t be in loud crowds anymore or, ‘it’s just one beer!’, or, just aren’t willing to see me when I say I live my life differently to minimize pain in my body, I literally tell them I lived with childhood sexual abuse and inherited trauma which has consequently resulted in the tissue of my uterus lining to grow outside my uterus because she is so inflamed!

It’s a bit intense but…. I am learning how to embrace my intensity.

Yes I’ve seen you bloom, love. I’m so moved by how you are evolving and accepting these parts of yourself and taking up space in your own life. One thing my friend Tayyeb has recently been asking me a lot is, “Babe, are you taking up space?” It’s so antithetical to the ways in which I assume both of us have been socialized — to minimize our pain but also, and even more so, our presence. Those things are such revealing signals when you start engaging with pain that’s in the body. Recently, just thinking about how spatially I exist, and how that interconnects with how I spatially do (or don’t) exist in my body has been really confronting. Do I participate in my disassociation and if so, how can I advocate for myself (even to myself) when I’m not even fully engaged? I think when you’re in highly traumatic moments, like being in proximity to the very space where you were abused, those things are even more top of mind… So, how do you advocate for yourself, for your pain, for your illness now? Or at the very least, how do you negotiate things with yourself? 

I’ve stopped apologising for needing space and taking space and time to accomplish things – whether that’s my daily routine or my goals for my practice as an artist. Patience was only ever modeled as self sacrifice to me. Martyrdom has always been revered. Fuck martyrdom. I am really attempting to embody a fierce protector for my inner child, the child me who sacrificed her own body for the sake, reputation, ‘legacy’ of my heteronormative family. 

Advocating for myself looks like responding to text messages only when I have responded to my own needs first. Putting myself first in all ways and not having guilt for that. As a Libra who was raised by two Librans, codependency is a real issue for me. Codependency and community has been conflated through trauma bonding in the culture I was raised in. So really knowing deeply that I can only surround myself with people who are equally committed to their own liberation, instead of being saved by structures, authorities, institutions, is a way I advocate for myself. I’m learning how to detach from toxic and abusive people emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. 

And then very simply, if I want to experience something that will make me feel safer with myself, and hear a voice of self deprecation and self harm lurk up to dissuade me from making that choice of safety, advocating for myself means calmly quietening that dismissive voice. 

What has been clarifying about your endometriosis diagnosis? I imagine it’s been helpful to have answers… 

Honestly, the endometriosis diagnosis initially felt like I was being finally backed up. For once my pain wasn’t being dismissed. And having the diagnosis means that if anyone does dismiss me, I have an institutional diagnosis to challenge them with, lol. It was more about being valid for me before it was a framework of how I could heal. 

Endometriosis is essentially chronic inflammation. I think about that holistically. Emotional inflammation means avoiding emotionally volatile environments. Mental inflammation is having a clear boundary with work and labor. Spiritually, I know that if I’m not responsible with cleansing and protecting my energy, I’m going to flare up. Engaging my base chakras has been really healing during flares. So bodily, if I don’t stretch to release tension, sleep and eat well, I’ll trigger a flare. 

It’s interesting though because this time last year I began my journey with Ayurveda because of my skin issues (which I now know is an endo issue), and that was the entry point to healing my body. My diet according to ayurveda and my endometriosis cross over completely. That’s been pretty transformative in the faith I have in seeking out healing that is more aligned with my values. It’s been wholly intuitive for me, the science coming later to validate what I’ve been feeling all along. 

Does that resonate for you? Being led by your body first?

Absolutely. Yeah the ayurveda + diagnosis connection is pretty wild. Or how ayurveda often intersects with TCM as well and that’s usually connected to the blockages of the chakras… it’s always moving (and affirming) to see how holistic this work is. 

I think the only way is to have really clear boundaries with yourself and others. Recognizing why I eat the way I do, use the ingredients I use and acknowledging that this attention to detail wasn’t just a quirk, but an intuitive connection I had with food and thus my body (inherently understanding what I could/couldn’t eat) has been suchhhhhhhhh an illuminating as well as FRUSTRATING saga. I guess the hardest thing is that this path is not linear. After figuring out these things in my early 20s, in my early 30s there’s still such a stop and start motion of implementing things full time and not getting cocky about my own health… I guess that’s an integral thing about this path, how uncomfortable it is and how it’ll throw you out into the deep end sometimes. But I guess I’d rather be here—with all this clarity—even if it’s uncomfortable, than to be in the dark. 

What’s advice you’d give folks that are wanting tenderness with themselves? How do you find tenderness on this never ending journey to healing?

The non linearity humbles me. Like being back at square one now that I am physically closer to my the site of trauma, being back in that place where I am a child again and now knowing I can use the skills I’ve learnt to protect myself, but this time I am more aware of the danger that exists more hidden below the surface, in the patterns. 

Tenderness to me has become synonymous with slowness and quiet. If you are craving tenderness due to a heightened sensitivity, chances are, you are taking on energies that don’t belong to you. The only way for me to really know what I want is to stop and be still. Even if I am fighting the stillness, that is an indicator for me that I am distracting myself from something. 

Stillness and moving slowly allows me to come back to my breath which in turn allows me to come back to my body and that’s where I am able to tap into the abundance of tenderness I have for myself. 

Tell me five things that you’ve been doing to nurture softness

1. Combing my hair in the morning with neem oil & giving myself scalp massages
2. Sleeping in 
3. Going for long walks in areas I do not know and connecting with the trees along the way
4. Turning notifications off my phone
5. Dancing, every day