I was taught almost as soon as I could make conscious decisions for myself to take care of my body. It’s why my dad would always got so mad at me when I was a kid if I fell and scraped my knee. My body is precious and fragile, I learned -- like a temple. I had to treat it as such.
Like every other *Pilipinx American I knew, I grew up going to church every Sunday. Corinthians 6:19 asked me, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
My existence in its most physical sense is marked by the very body I have here in this world. Here I am with my black hair, tan skin, eyes and nose essentially copy and pasted from my mom, smile from from my lola -- who both make up the roots of my being.
This body is supposed to be a temple, honoring its existence and the dynamic traces of history behind me. But it often seemed no matter how many times I repeated that message to myself, it came without any sincere resonance. Truly, my body as a queer, Pilipinx American, has felt more like a battleground.
I grew up with trauma centered around home and forces that flattened the folds and layers of my existence. I stayed quiet while those I loved warred, because I needed to find some semblance of refuge. All the praying in the world that I was told could help me find sanctuary never seemed to materialize in this unsafe space.
But although I couldn’t control the state of my anguish, I could control my fragile body and this supposed temple, right down to every mark on it -- just like I was taught.
I remember exactly when I started harming my body. I was 13, locked away in my bathroom. It felt all parts cathartic, punishing and numbing at the same time. Even though I acknowledged it wasn’t healthy, it gave me more refuge and control than I ever had before. Mental health was not an open dialogue among my Pilipinx American family, so the fact that I could instead channel my anguish into physical manifestations gave me a complicated sense of autonomy, no matter how much it hurt me. I was quiet about my pain, but I was “coping.” I became strategic about it too, only harming parts of my body that wouldn’t be exposed to the naked eye. Every mark would lay underneath my clothes, hidden around the corners of my body -- there was still a veil of shame.
I didn’t start challenging the bodily impact of my mental health until into my twenties, and I didn’t realize how heavy that veil of shame was until I became intimate with my partner. I was shy about exposing my scars and having to explain them. I was ashamed of what I had carried with me. I felt found out. I felt like I couldn’t hide anymore. But truthfully, I wasn’t sure I wanted to either. It was healing.
Not only did I feel like I was in a space where I didn’t have to hide anymore, but I was in a space where my body was beyond the battleground it was tempered to be. Instead, I’ve learned that it can be a place of solace. The fact that I could love and receive love, no matter my trauma and the scars that represent it, made me feel safe. The fact that I had the space to be authentically me -- mind, body and soul -- gave me the exhale I needed.
No, I haven’t gone a full year yet without harming myself. It’s almost become automatic when I fall down a rabbit hole, so I have to actively stop myself in my tracks to mitigate my next decision. Still, everyday I go without harming my body is a victory. Every day is a fight to reverse the script that my body doesn’t deserve nourishment, love and care. My wellness has been a journey of love and acceptance, right down to every scar on my body, and even every impulse to go down a certain rabbit hole when I fall into any anguish.
I’m learning better ways to use my body to cope with my mental unwellness, because I’ve discovered that my body is more resilient than I’ve given it credit, and I can be at peace with it. It’s my temple after all, and I intend to treat it as such.
*Pilipinx is the gender-neutral and inclusive alternative to Pilipino/a. Additionally, switching the F in ‘Filipino’ to P celebrates identity in the larger frame of decolonization.
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