Muscle Memory

Teacher. Friend. <3

Teacher. Friend.

We all have untold stories, pieces of us that for whatever reason remain buried, unseen.

But that doesn’t always mean they should stay there, hidden.

I am an advocate of sharing stories as a way to heal — both self and others. And yet, there are some I’ve been reluctant to voice, to name, to claim.

Fear of judgment, perhaps? Fear of rejection? Of disapproval? Yes, all of those and more.

But I have shared these stories in smaller circles, and the response has always been the same.

The response has been “Thank you.”

The response has been “I’m not alone.”

The response has been “Me, too.”

I’m a hypocrite if I’m not willing to share it all — the good, the bad, the indifferent.

Given the opportunity, I would not change any of my stories. Not one. They are my composition. They are the lyrics to my song. They are the blood in my veins.

To change them would be to change me.

And I’ve grown rather fond of me.

These scars, I wear proudly. This one for strength. This one for kindness. This one for empathy. This one for love.

~ ~ ~

“Muscle Memory”

She is something to behold, elegant and bold. She is electricity running to my soul.” ~ Vance Joy, Georgia

~ ~ ~

“I can tell you’re a former athlete,” my Pilates instructor said after my first private lesson. “You have a lot of muscle memory. Your body is used to performance.”

I looked at her body, lithe, strong, stunning, and I wondered how she could see any semblance of strength in my own.

She was just my Pilates instructor then. Today, she’s my beloved friend, my confidant. We’ve spent numerous hours consuming oaky Cabernets and discussing the mind/body connection, our kids, our grandest ambitions, our lovers.

“It’s funny, though,” she said that first day. “You have a little issue with control. I’ve never had so much trouble moving someone’s feet into position.”

We laugh about it now, this resistance I didn’t even know I possessed. When Colleene needs to readjust me, she gives me ample warning.

“I’m going to move your feet now,” she laughs.

“Are you okay with that? Are you going to let me move them?”

~ ~ ~

As a young child, I was molested regularly by a family friend. When he asked me to kiss him down there, when he showed me what to do with my small lips and hands, when he gave me beer to numb the experience, I acquiesced. I knew it wasn’t really a kiss. I had just turned double digits. I was compliant. I was a good Catholic girl, unwilling to say no, barely cognizant of the notion that I could. And when he and I were together, I simply rose from my body like a Phoenix, suspended in the damp and fetid air above us.

My mind focused on other things… the tangled hair of my Crissy doll, Kraft macaroni and cheese, the Ranger Rick Club, my new softball glove, the most recent bag of hand-me-downs from my cousins.

Some of the dresses still had tags on them.

~ ~ ~

In high school, I was a three-sport athlete, pushing my body beyond every reasonable limit. I ran until I threw up, shot free throws until my fingers were numb, exercised too many hours a day. When I felt the need to lose weight, I stuck my fingers down my throat. I took laxatives to make sure the job was complete. I stole Dexatrim from Hook’s Drugs when I could not afford to buy it.

My then-boyfriend, now-husband supported my fragile weight when I had damaged myself into submission. I did not yet trust his gentle hands. I leaned on him for balance, but I didn’t feel the sincerity in his skin, did not recognize it in his eyes.

I looked away.

Sometimes I still do.

~ ~ ~

Shortly before my 21st birthday, I was raped by a stringy-haired stranger. After a late night campus run, I unlocked the door to my apartment, and he caught it with his foot. Sweaty, spent, and distracted, I didn’t even know he was there until the knife was on my throat, pressing with insistence.

“Don’t scream, Katrina,” he whispered in my ear. “Don’t try to run. I will kill you if you do.”

He knew my name, but I didn’t know him.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t run.

I rose.

Suspended on the ceiling, I watched what was happening below. I glanced at the framed faces of my friends and family and silently begged them to look away. I focused on the Purple Passion carpet stain. I pondered whether or not Hedda Gabler was insane or just woefully unaccountable. When the phone rang and Chris’s voice echoed on my answering machine, I closed my eyes, pretended there was nothing of him in that violent night.

I tore and bled, but I did not feel any pain.

~ ~ ~

As a singer, it was always challenging for me to breathe diaphragmatically. My opera professor at IU would push my fingers into her belly. “Do you feel what I’m doing there?” she’d ask, red hair spilling over tiny shoulders, tight abs bending to her will. “That’s what I want you to do.”

I could feel her breath, but not my own.

Songs sprang from my throat, beautiful but unsupported. The notes rained down on me, but I did not feel the power of them.

~ ~ ~

“What in the hell are you doing with your feet now?” Colleene laughs.

I laugh with her, but I can’t answer. My feet do what they want to. My hands, too. Sometimes it seems like they are not even attached to my limbs.

“You’re so cerebral,” she says. “I need you to get out of your head and feel what’s happening in your body.”

But my body has not yet proven itself to be a safe place.

~ ~ ~

Growing four babies inside my belly was a surreal experience. Sam kicked me from the inside, and it took my breath away. Not because he kicked so hard, but because I could feel him. Those tiny, forming feet, those starfish hands. I rested on my back and watched my stomach undulate with the movement of him.

I forgot to breathe as he swam inside me, somersaulting under my ribs.

~ ~ ~

“When I say inhale, I mean it,” Colleene laughs again. “And when I say exhale, I’d like you to go ahead and do that, too.” But until she spoke, I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath.

I’ve spent much of my life, I think, holding my breath. Waiting to exhale. Afraid for anyone to see my chest rise and fall with life, to claim my space in this world.

But Pilates – and my beautiful, passionate friend, Colleene – are teaching me how to inhabit myself again, to find awareness in my sinew, my bone, my essence.

I trust her to guide this journey.

As pounds melt away and my limbs stretch and lengthen, this shell of me feels foreign. Weight has been my sword and shield.

I’m not certain who I am underneath it all.

I’ve always felt deeply with my heart, but I’ve never felt my own heart.

There is still so much for me to learn, so much for me to surrender. But my muscle memory is strong.

This body – taken, battered, bruised, abused, and ultimately, sweetly and kindly loved and protected – has always known how to survive.

~ ~ ~

Tomorrow, I will let Colleene move my feet.

First Communion

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About Katrina Anne Willis

Author, friend, lover, dreamer, drinker of red wine.
This entry was posted in Me Myself And I and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Muscle Memory

  1. There is so much I could say about your courage & strength. There is so much I could say about the tears I cry for the little girl who shouldn’t have had to feel anything but love, safety, and trust. But one thought overpowers my mind more than any other as I read this through a writer’s eyes. This piece of your soul that you are offering took months, years, decades to be here for us all to read and for that, I celebrate this day. This is a momentous day. The magnitude of this offering, of this single piece of writing, is not lost on me. This is the beginning. This is truly the beginning and all your beautiful scars are going to impact this world in ways we will never comprehend. I celebrate this day with tears for the freedom that comes with these words for you … and for each scarred soul that reads them and sighs with relief. We are not alone. Love you.

    • Oh, my sweet friend, what do I even say? You are such a rock for me, and I would not have done this without you. You know that, right? Your love strengthens me… in every possible way. I’m a better writer, a better friend, a better human because of you. Thank goodness we are not alone. XO ❤

    • This is the response I would like to have written, had it not been said so beautifully, already! What grace and courage, what strength, Katrina, to share all of this… to put these words to page and begin to move through these broken places. I don’t believe in “letting go” of the things that have forged us, painful as they might be… but we can soften around them, move through them, gently… you are on that path. This is indeed a big day, and a big post. Hugs, and love, sent your way. xoxo

      • So much love right back to you, Dawn. XO ❤

      • K, you have been in my thoughts since NYC, but since reading this post, you have really stayed with me. Know that I’m holding you in my heart, and I’m so proud of you for sharing this very dark time in your life. We really do move forward, when we shine a light on our pain, and own our strengths. You are a strong mother, a strong wife/ friend/ writer; you are a strong woman. I’m proud of you, and grateful to know you. xoxo

    • Dawn Pier says:

      Beautifully put…yes, I too am celebrating.

  2. Tammi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I send compassion, love and healing blessings to you Katrina. You are strong, you are beautiful and you are loved sister!!!

  3. Jana says:

    Thank you…thank you for sharing your story. I haven’t dealt with all of the same things but some I have. It’s hard to open & share & I admire your courage & willingness to be open. I pray you will find new strength, peace & power.

  4. Chris says:

    Just love, Katrina, flowing your way. Just simple, healing love and acceptance. Thank you for having the strength to share your story. ❤

  5. So glad Laura pointed me to this brave, beautiful, goose-bump inducing post. Much love to you.

  6. lizamryan says:

    You are amazing to have done all you have with so much injury of all sorts having been done to you. Laura would say, baby steps…and she would be right. God bless and protect you from any more harm. ❤

  7. As the father of nine (six ladies) and the g’father of 16 (10 ladies), your story is emotionally captivating. A Phoenix, Purple Heart survivor, Olympic Champion, Wonder Woman, Mother. Sometimes it doesn’t get any worse or better than that. May God continue to keep the wind at your back. (aboiler)

  8. Chris Bonney says:

    I opened this post while sitting at work. Little did I know that tears would be filling my eyes by the time I reached the end. I’m still not sure what to say other than thank you for your amazing courage, for your beautiful way of expressing such deep emotion and most of all for just surviving. xoxo

  9. Thank you for sharing, Katrina. Your words, your heart, your bravery, your ability to share these words honestly …just beautiful. I always look forward to reading your posts. May these next few weeks refresh you, and provide you the opportunity to inhale and exhale.

  10. You are brave… for telling your story, for living and pressing forward, for entertaining the idea of letting her move your feet. I know so much of what you speak… and thank you for speaking it.

  11. Elastamom says:

    Thank you for sharing. Much love to you.

  12. Tammy Soong says:

    That was amazing. Amazingly truthful, amazing writing.

  13. mandy says:

    I’m so very proud of you, Katrina, my survivor sister. For your courage in saying it out loud, telling your truth, which will help so many others do the same ❤️

  14. Jenn says:

    Katrina – Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your story. Your words resonated in many ways for me, and I’m still fumbling my way through a story I’m not certain how to tell. But one day I will, one day I will know how and when, but for now I draw strength from reading others’ stories of survival. If you have a moment, please look into the Younique Foundation, and consider applying for their weekend retreat. xoxo

    • Jenn, thank you so much for those words and for pointing me to the Younique Foundation. It took me many, many years to learn how to tell my story. I’m still learning. Wishing you peace in your journey. XO

  15. elainebeautifulbooks says:

    Amazing writing about such incredible feelings. I’ve found Pilates to be a healing place too. Allowing someone else to manipulate your body is an incredibly hard thing to do when you’ve been controlled without permission in the past.

    I love the strength that I read in your piece. The strength of honesty. Of vulnerability. Of learning how to be free.

    Keep writing and living free.

  16. Jackie Harris says:

    Im humbled by your honesty and grateful to you for giving me words and sentences to explain my own story – I’m this week on a journey of learning a vocabulary to explain my emotions, so thank you

  17. Dawn Pier says:

    Kat, Thank you for sharing what so many others cannot. And your strength and self-acceptance and love come through particularly with these lines:
    “Given the opportunity, I would not change any of my stories. Not one. They are my composition.” Truly the sign of someone who’s on a healing path. I know that writing and sharing this is another step in the process towards healing. And the writing? Well, like you, it’s beautiful. I love the way you juxtaposed the past and the present.

  18. Rhea Lukehart says:

    As I read this I exhaled….a long glorious outpouring of grief and relief, for your story, for my stoy and for countless others’ stories. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability.

  19. teamrowlands says:

    Thank you for sharing here. Peace and love to you…..

  20. Jill says:

    Admiring your strength and courage and as always, your amazing words. Wrapping my arms around you even from miles away. XOXO

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  22. Thank you for sharing your pain. My EFT coach once told me that in order to kill the demons, we need to bring them out into the light. I am sure it was hard to share this post with the world, but many out there will benefit. Blessings and healing to you on your journey.

  23. Feels very strange to have someone else’s story feel so intimately related to mine.

    I feel honored to have read these words and a little less ashamed to have lived some similar ones.

    Thank you.

  24. I am both grateful and saddened to read this.

  25. Marsha says:

    Thank you for the sharing. I’ve finally told some propel close to me, what I went through as a child. It has helped me to deal with it. But, I’ve also found in the last few weeks, that I seem to be holding my breath!! I cried when I read your words. It helps to know I’m not alone. May God richly bless you.

  26. Sincerest thanks for sharing your truth. There were a few places I had to pause and remember to breathe. The most profound line, for me: I’ve always felt deeply with my heart, but I’ve never felt my own heart. {breathe} I hope there is a line just waiting to be written that moves beyond this hard, yet very important truth. For you, for me, for anyone who’s been locked in this space. Until then, we can hold each other up with genuine, mutual respect and love.

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  28. Barfbag says:

    Dear Katrina
    This brave, raw beautiful post moved me, shocked me, and made me feel sad and angry and enlightened all at once. I am relieved you found places to go to out of your body when it was the only way to survive. You’re right, your body, you, are true survivors and I’m ever so grateful we have you in the world.

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  30. Kelei D. Baker Waltz says:

    I treasure you Katrina!! I am thankful for your bravery that speaks for all of us!! Love you bunches!!

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