My Body Keeps Your Secrets – Lucia Osborne-Crowley

It’s been a week since I finished reading this book and I’m still no closer to being able to figure out what I want to say about it. Writing about trauma and shame and the way they show up in the body, the author details her own experiences as well as telling the stories of some of the people she interviewed for this book.

A lot of the content is very difficult to read and at times it felt like I was being intrusive, as though I was sneaking a peek into the author’s journal.

I feel like I’m phoning it in here but rather than waffle on when I really don’t know what to say, I’m going to share some of the quotes I highlighted.

On shame: 

Shame is the emotion that compels us to keep secrets. It comes from the outside, but it lives within. 

What I learned from the interviews I did for this book is that to know you are one thing and be told you are another is a singular form of shame transmission. It is the same thing I keep coming back to, again and again, in these interviews: it is the horror of not knowing what is real and what isn’t, of being taught not to trust yourself, of never knowing who to believe, of knowing that your own reality won’t be trusted if you dare to speak it aloud. 

The false self, Dr Joseph Burgo tells us in Shame, is about escape. When shame is transmitted to us, we become convinced that our authentic self is somehow not good enough, somehow worthy of whatever shameless acts we endured. So then our instinct is to escape that self. To hide from ourselves, to lie to ourselves, to erase the person we were when the first bad thing happened. 

On self destructive behaviours: 

The thing with habits meant to punish is that each time we become accustomed to them, they become normal and no longer bring us enough discomfort to fit the brief. 

On declining conviction rates: 

Some would say that as rape is being spotlit for the rich and famous, it’s being slowly decriminalised for the rest of us. 

On chronic pain: 

So here’s the kicker: ignoring women’s pain not only inhibits the process of healing, it actually makes it more likely that the pain will become permanent. 

I keep coming back to one statistic: that 70 per cent of all sufferers of chronic pain are women. That chronic pain is a disease born when acute pain is ignored. Could our illness be, in part, a product of our society’s belief that we ought to care for others instead of ourselves? 

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic abuse, eating disorders and disordered eating, mental health, miscarriage, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. Readers with emetophobia may want to bypass pages 129 to 131.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It occurred to me that the thing that made me the sickest, the thing that made me suffer most, was the fact that I felt so compelled to hide what had been done to me. Because I believed it was all my fault.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley didn’t tell a soul when she was raped aged fifteen. Then, eighteen months after she was attacked, her body began to turn on her – and what followed were sudden bouts of searing, unbearable pain that saw her in and out of hospital for the next ten years.

At twenty-five, Lucia for the first time told the truth about her rape. This disclosure triggered an endless series of appointments with doctors, trauma specialists and therapists. Meanwhile, Lucia threw herself into researching the shadowy intricacies of abuse, trauma and shame.

In My Body Keeps Your Secrets, Lucia shares the voices of women and trans and non-binary people around the world, as well as her own deeply moving testimony. She writes of vulnerability, acceptance and the reclaiming of our selves, all in defiance of a world where atrocities are committed and survivors are repeatedly told to carry the weight of that shame.

Widely researched and boldly argued, this book reveals the secrets our bodies bury deep within them, the way trauma can rewrite our biology, and how our complicated relationships with sex affect our connection with others. Crafted in a daring and immersive literary form, My Body Keeps Your Secrets is a necessary, elegant and empathetic work that further establishes Lucia’s credentials as a key intersectional feminist thinker for a new generation.

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