Sangeeta Pillai writer and founder of the South Asian female power platform https://soulsutras.co.uk/, creator of Masala Monologues® and the Masala Podcast came to me for swimming lessons a few years ago.
I asked her to write a piece for my blog about her experiences. She kindly agreed. Here it is.
Trauma. A small word with the biggest impact on my life. I was born into a traditional Indian family, where being female was a life-long sentence. My earliest memories are of my mother being battered on a nightly basis, my father being a drunk, scary monster and me being a terrified, cowering young girl.
Trauma is in my DNA, in my breath, in my body. It dictates how I function, jumping at every loud sound or raised male voice. It is this silent yet all-powerful beast, stalking me for most of my 46 years on this planet. Yet I wasn’t aware of its existence until two years ago. I’ve been battling to take back “control” of myself, but trauma…she won’t let me go.
Except when I’m in water. You see, in water I’m weightless. Nothing holds me down. Floating. Darting. Moving. Lady Trauma can’t get her hands on me there.
It’s the strangest sensation, swimming. Or rather learning to swim. I’ve been trying to learn for the past 20 years or so. Utterly unsuccessfully.
Because trauma make it very difficult. Every time my head is in water, Lady Trauma tells me that I’m going to die. Each time I find myself surrounded by water, each time my feet can’t feel the ground, she convinces me this is the end. So my body responds as it has learnt to do during all the violence of my childhood. My body freezes. Panics. Heart racing. Breathless.
I’ve finally found a teacher, the lovely Jane, who seems to instinctively understand my panic. And she works with it, rather than pooh-poohing it like every other swimming teacher has done so far.
Jane talks about moving in water, dancing in water. She talks about letting the water take me, heal me. I love the sound of letting the water hold me and heal me.
I know this isn’t going to be easy. Jane & I have been teaching my body and mind to be in water. And I can now do that without believing it’s going to kill me within seconds. And that’s huge progress.
I remember the first time I swam the entire length of the small pool. It felt unreal, like an out of body experience.
I have started to move in the water, swim even. But I can’t seem to figure out the rhythm of swimming and then coming out for breath. You see, holding my breath in fear is what I have done my entire life. I watch all the other swimmers in the pool, they seem to do it so effortlessly. To me, it feels like figuring out rocket science.
But, but…here’s the best bit. Thanks to Jane, my body has started to love the feeling of being in water. I’m fluid like some languid sea creature, effortlessly slicing through water, splashing around with joy.
Like an Indian mermaid finally at peace, deep in the ocean floor. The world of pain and panic high above her, not really touching her.
One day, I will swim properly. I will emerge for breath from under water, like everyone else. I will swim in the Arabian sea, maybe off the beach in Goa. I will feel the salt on my skin, the sun on my body. I will be free.
Until then, I will let the water hold me…heal me a tiny bit each time.