I already built a wall. I started building it when I was five years old. That was the first time I felt stuff I didn’t want to feel: anger, shame, rage, betrayal, confusion. It was a particular blend of aliveness that felt so big - maybe it was more than what my five year old body was built for. Maybe that’s why it hurt. It hurt and so I did what we do when we hurt. I built a wall.
My body built it. Starting right here, in my gut, at the site of the pain, and continuing along here around the side of my body, to the back, cutting off my left side. The wall cut my torso off from my left leg. And another wall that came up here, up the front of my rib cage, towards my heart.
The wall helped me not feel the pain. It also cut me off from me. From my body. Not entirely, but in parts. Maybe that’s why my low left side of my back was weak and got injured in that yoga class. Maybe that’s why my spine grew into the shape of a question mark. Maybe that’s why my right brain stopped singing and I became reliant on my left brain for language and my right writing hand and my logic making. Maybe.
My wall cut me off from me. It cordoned me off from the paining and the experimenting and the messiness. The wall put me into judging and rationalizing, which became my next survival methods, my next lines of defense.
There is a fire.
A fire pit.
And a circle of women sitting around this fire. They sing and laugh and pray and talk and grieve and listen to each other. The fire comes from the center of the earth. The fire is life, or an element of life. It is a transforming element. It’s where we make gold. This fire makes magic.
The women gather around the fire not to make magic but to show others how to transform using their own magic. They are eternally patient and empathetic. There is no story they have not already heard, not already lived. They have given birth to the world’s stories around this fire. This is where the first flood story was told for the first time.
This is where music was born.
This is where murder was invented. And laughter.
These women and this fire - they watch and they listen and they transform.
I take my wall here, to the circle. I stand before them, with my five year old holding my left hand. We cry. We tell them our shame. That we felt rage, confusion, betrayal. They shame of feeling so alive and confused and mixed into these feelings. The shame of having built a wall because of these feelings. We weep. The women watch and listen and nod. They begin to hum. They begin to sway.
We show them our scars, the wounds from digging into our own bodies and piling up the dead scar tissue in mounds that made a wall, a wall that rerouted the flow in our bodies and brains. We stand before the concentric circles of women, weeping with us, for us. They show us their scars - they all have scars. All of them have scars.
We step closer to the fire. My little girl lets go of my hand and I feel the heat of the fire burn up an entire layer of grief and shame. Like tissue paper in a fireplace, the layer bursts and shrinks and transmutes into black ash and is carried up and out of the circle, floating into the forest where it will float and land on wet moss and bring nutrients to the outermost ring of women, the ancient elders.
I’m standing in front of the fire and I turn to give the flames my wall. My sliced up scar tissue wall. They heat of the exchange between the fire and my body rips something away in my brain and leaves space for something true to rush it, like a balm, a salve applied by the rings of medicine women who know where the sap runs and how to find pure water.
The truth rushes in and it’s such a simple knowing: “It’s good to feel your body. Your body was made for feelings. Thank you for your wall. You don’t need it anymore. Your wall helped you not feel the scary too-alive feelings that were too big for your five year old self. Now you have permission. Full permission to feel the aliveness and the pleasure in your body. Come visit us again soon. We are always here.”
Sarah Elovich is a writer, performer and humorist based in Oakland, CA.