TW: sexual assault, ableism
I have cerebral palsy as a result of brain trauma I suffered as a child. My disability is comparatively mild, but still present in my movement, posture, and balance. I was relentlessly bullied as a child for being disabled; the cruelty quieted down after high school and turned into questions from curious strangers. I am still sometimes mocked or teased, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was growing up.
I practice yoga and it’s a wonderful form of therapy for me. It has made me stronger, more flexible, more open, and stronger. It has also helped me psychologically and emotionally; I am more centered and happy through the practice of yoga. It has helped ground me and given me self-confidence and strength I’d never had before I started a consistent practice. Yoga is now the anchoring force in my life and a cornerstone of my identity.
A couple of months ago, I booked a private yoga class with a teacher for whom I have the highest respect and admiration. We didn’t do any yoga. We just sat and cried the whole time. She told me that she had been through physical and sexual assault, and I deduced that she was trying to relate to my disability struggles by telling me about trauma she’d suffered. I understood her intentions, but I found myself hurt.
My disability is not a ‘bad thing that has happened to me’ like an assault or a beating. It’s also not the only difficult thing I manage in my life or have been though. I told her something I rarely tell people: I, like her, have been through sexual assault. Mine wasn’t as brutal or horrific as hers seemed to be (and it wasn’t a prolonged experience, but rather two separate incidents). I am disabled, but I have also experienced loss, depression, and emotional abuse. I don’t even believe that my disability is comparable to rape at all (though I understand why she told me what she did).
Rape is not a teachable moment. It’s not a life lesson. It doesn’t serve a purpose. It doesn’t make you stronger, wiser, more mature, or more self-aware. It isn’t a positive thing you can eventually learn or grow from. It’s a rape. People say, ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘what you’ve been through makes you who you are today’ but a rape doesn’t eventually better your life in any way. I don’t feel stronger, more aware, wiser, or somehow positively changed by my experience. I never will.
In this case, I think the same is true of my disability. That’s the only way I can correlate the two experiences. My disability has not – and does not – make me stronger, wiser, braver, more courageous, or serve a purpose or life lesson. People often tell me that I am brave, courageous, determined, or resilient, but I don’t think they would ever consider me brave if they took disability out of the equation. I actually consider myself very insecure, quite weak, and too easily influenced by other people’s opinions and criticisms of me.
It took me a while to return to yoga and to feel comfortable again. I’m glad I continued and strengthened my practice. I think that this is where I will wind up drawing the strength I need and having my needs met. My assault and my disability do not strengthen me. My own dedication to therapy and my commitment to wellness will make me stronger.