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x consent history

Touch / consent history of inventor – why { somatic magic } was created:

I began life in a Lithuanian bubble in a forest preserve outside of Chicago, learning English when I began kindergarten. Living in such an isolated place meant that there were no neighborhood kids to play with –  I spent my time devouring books and roaming in the woods mostly alone (and occasionally building forts or wrestling with my younger brother). The depth of my empathy for the earth and its creatures is evidenced by the fact my TV consumption consisted solely of Animal Planet / Discovery Channel and my declaration to be a veterinarian when I grew up.

My capacity for compassion was so all-encompassing that I often lost my sense of self in the presence of another with strong needs. As I learned in my study of psychology, this was likely because in my formative years doing so served a survival imperative - for me to attune to my primary caregiver (psychology parlance for my mother) to remain in her favor lest she abandon caring for me. I was so good at taking care of and pleasing others that I often subsumed their interests and needs into myself - making our needs the same in my mind.

This concentration on what others thought of me was also reinforced by the small size of the Lithuanian community I grew up in, within which keeping up appearances was paramount lest your family be the subject of that week’s wildfire gossip. Over time I became so externally validated that I lost my own inner sense of guidance, allowing those around me to determine what constituted success and setting the agenda for my life. In turn I internalized this hyper-awareness of status and position as a critical and stern internal judge. Another shadow of this extreme alertness was that I would often know what people wanted to hear, allowing me to be extremely manipulative if I so chose – luckily for the world, I am not interested in evil.

School comes first

The Razmas were a small and insular family with a mantra of “school comes first”. Fortunately, due to my penchant for rapid reading and comprehensive comprehension I earned High Honors marks in the academic game. My perfectionistic tenancies which caused me to abandon projects before they developed momentum and I frequently waited until the last minute to write essays, forgoing outlines and drafts for lack of time. These behaviors likely had a common cause in an extremely harsh inner critic. This inner critic also made itself known through destructive physical acts such as dermatilomania (compulsive skin picking) and overeating to self-soothe and ‘trance out’.

In therapy at three

To unpack these personal proclivities and familial snarls I have been attending therapy since I was in grade school (starting with family therapy). Unfortunately, due to my capacity to understand the motivations of others my mind constructed or spun the narrative to match what my listener expected. For me, the therapist’s office was not a neutral place because I was so paralyzed by the fear of the fallout I assumed would come from telling the unvarnished truth - I wanted the therapist to accept me! This tension was heightened in family therapy because my parents would be present and participating in the session itself so it was in my interest to get the therapist to be sympathetic to my cause.

The main reason we were going to family therapy was the tension between my mother and father. A short synapsis of the crux of the ongoing 20+ year argument : Both agreed to the structure in which my mother would end her work as a pharmacist and act as a stay a home mom full time while my physician father fulfilled his social programming as the family breadwinner. My father would wake up early and come home late, and was mostly absent from family life barring his omnipresent filming during family vacations. Alas, this left my mother feeling lonely and emotionally unsupported. Additionally, being a stay at home mom completely consumed her identity, tying her worth in the world to the accomplishments of her children and leaving her feeling personally invalidated, unappreciated, and unseen.

Throughout the time I lived with my parents, I acted as my mother’s best friend and confidant, absorbing her opinions and struggles as my own in my typical pattern as ‘emotional sponge’. This caused me to hate my father even as I barely knew him, and in turn not respect his typically absent artificially imposed authority for which I received belt spankings. As I matured my role changed into peacekeeper and unofficial family therapist when my mother frequently and vocally harangued my father for his absence and lack of emotional support.

A family uninterested in touch

Although some of my first memories are of trading massages with my mom, we were not a cuddly family (my father hates massages). In fact, when my father leans forward in to kiss my mother, she responds by freezing, and he leans all the way in to reach her, almost falling off balance in the process. This familiar physical pattern encodes a message of male pursuit and female compliance. Like a gosling, I imprinted my mother/father’s model of touch, in which physical contact was infrequent and only grudgingly acquiesced to.

This was a pattern I encoded into my own physical nature – never initiating physical contact with those whom I fancied (Was I just shy? Did I assume they would chase after me if interested?). In my young adulthood, it became clear that I was not ‘average’ – never having been in an intimate relationship or having gone on a single date. I self-sabotaged the attempts of others to including me socially. For example, if a friend at lunch extended an invitation to the table to attend an event I would automatically assume I was not included unless my attendance was specifically requested.

People like me ?

Despite all my introverted characteristics, I was surprisingly in relatively good social standing, likely due to my aptitude as social arbitrator - acting as the neutral counsellor resolving spats that emerged between friends and couples. Starting from age 10 I was also well-received as a photographer, delighting in documenting occurrences through stills, video, jottings, and doodles. However, even if someone I fancied would express their romantic interest in me I always decided it was ‘not worth the energy’ and potential downsides. I would mentally calculate the ‘cost / benefit ‘analysis of what may come of the potential relationship and decided my time was better spent engaging in pursuits beyond what I judged to be simply ‘wasteful’ pleasure. I was consciously cutting off expressing my sexuality because I was uncertain of the effect voicing it would have on others (would they feel pressured?) and I was fearful that if I let it out I would never regain control over it. I was also on alert to avoid hurting my vulnerable heart: what if my love was unwanted, rejected? The safe choice was channeling my Eros into art, creativity, and mind-work.

I kept to myself in the realms of love, feeling it to be safer to be alone and alien to it all then enter the fray and risk damage. Unfortunately, my personality patterns selected out for the nice folks and selected for self-focused men only interested in their own pleasure. These men would doggedly pursue me, uninterested in whether their advances were met with receptivity. When alcohol entered the mix, times grew dark.

Stolen first kiss

My first kiss was taken by a male friend in middle school who, when on a hike deep in the woods, spun me around, pulled me close, and stuck his tongue down my throat. This, in a place that I was acutely aware that no one would ever hear me scream, and after a conversation about the most painful way to die (he informed me it was burning to death because all the fluids in your body must burn away before you lose consciousness). My body responded with repulsion and I immediately ran home, tearing through brambles and underbrush like a startled deer as he shouted ‘Wait…wait!’. Later, as a semblance of an excuse to his behavior, he claimed he had ‘done a few shots’ before our walk (although I had not tasted alcohol on his breath - I think it was an excuse to save face in our social circle). To this day, I am completely dumbfounded as to why so many people enjoy kissing on the mouth.

Sadly, this was not to be my last unwanted sexual advance – I had several close calls due to alcohol. In my first in high school, I was brownout drunk at New Years a male friend loomed over my body when I was lying on a hotel bed, saying he “wanted to be inside of me”. As he groped at my nether regions his desire was only deflected by the girdle I was wearing. Several subsequent experiences in college occurred where, even as I was slurring my words, frat boys plied me with the promise of more alcohol in their rooms. Slowly, after realizing I was alone with them, my hazy mind realized the unstated intentions behind getting me away from the herd and I would rapidly try to flee, hurriedly excusing myself several times as they casually stood in front of the door, denied the validity of my statements, and insisted that I stay.

Although I escaped from these encounters with little more than hangovers and lost articles of clothing, my final experience at a frat had me tumbling down a flight of stairs and permanently scarring my shin. The scariest part of that night was the morning after, when I woke up feeling like I had been run over by a dump truck with a terrible black gap in my memory leaving me clueless to the cause. Fortunately, that night my roommate had gone out with me and when she noticed the advanced stage of my intoxication, had pulled me away from the frat boy feeding me alcohol and escorted me home when I promptly fell down the frat’s long staircase. That day I committed to being a teetotaler, deciding that alcohol was not an expanding or enlightening substance for my body/brain chemistry. However, alcohol’s possession of males claiming my body did not relent regardless of my own abstinence.

Maidenhood mishandled

I lost my virginity to rape a week shy of my 21st birthday. This was a case of near-stranger rape, as I had met him two days prior. He had been a friend of a friend of my housemate and had asked for my phone number which I gave to me, startled by his forwardness. That weekend, I had been commanded by my parents to babysit my 19-year-old brother at my family’s condo in Chicago and felt unsafe alone in the city. This new-to-me man had been incessantly texting me for the past two days and so I, thinking him a new friend in the making, invited him to keep me company on the trip downtown from Evanston where I was attending Northwestern University. We had a pleasant train ride downtown and he followed me to the condo where he proceeded to consume most of a bottle of wine he had brought as a gift to me (a testament to how little he knew me, as I had not been drinking for 2 years at that point).

After my brother had left the condo to party with his friends late in the night (I could not stop him even if I wanted to – he’s huge), I announced that I was tired and going to sleep. My guest claimed that he wasn’t sure if the trains were still running (implying he was stranded with nowhere to go) and asked “can I sleep over?”. I retrieved a blanket and pointed him to the couch in the main room flatly stating “well if you need to you can sleep over, but I am going to sleep now”. I went into the bedroom and he followed me in. I had had a very long day, and lying down I said “I’m exhausted and going straight to sleep”. Everything from there happened so fast. My exhaustion combined with the speed with which his weight was on top of me left gave me no time to process. As he penetrated me, I gasped in shock and my spirit fled my physical vessel – where I watched from the ceiling.

Had he asked I would have said no – no way! Alas, I was never asked. I was astonishingly naïve and inexperienced sexually for my age, having said no to all suitors and never having been in a relationship. This was nothing close to my reverie of what ‘making love’ could be and I felt immense guilt and sorrow at losing my virginity to someone I did love or even know.

Why did I freeze ?

Through processing with therapists, I began to understand on an intellectual level what had happened to me psychologically, but the trauma was still stored in my body as cemented energy. I fiercely guarded this raw place full of mistrust and old deeply carved patterns as if I was a wounded animal – assuming the worst intentions of those around me. I realized that being raped was simply the last in a line of traumas that had begun before I was born. The most ancient trauma was the historic inter-generational tragedy of Lithuania’s occupation during World War II which saw my relatives captured and deported to certain death in Siberian concentration camps for attempting to preserve our culture through Lithuanian book smuggling. Fearing for their lives, both sets of my grandparents fled Eastern Europe for America. This mistrust of the world was transmitted to me through the worldview and beliefs of my biological family- that everyone was out to get you and the only person you could rely on was yourself.

This deadening paranoid view was compounded with the Western cultural ‘norm’ of judgement and pervasive body-shaming aimed at women. Topping this was the classic Roman Catholic guilt around original sin, the baseness of the body, and the judgement of pleasure as frivolous and impure. Through unpacking these layers in psychological counsel, I began to comprehend why I had responded by shutting down emotions, freezing, and dissociating from my body –I had a belief that my body was not my solely my own, and merely an instrument for the fulfilment of the desires of others. Therefore, with sovereignty over my own space rescinded, my body became an unsafe place when actions that I did not consent to or want were bring inflicted onto my physical vessel. This coupled with the belief that my Godly goal was for the body and its desires to be transcended left me feeling confused and guilty about the complex emotions coursing through me, overloading my circuits into shocked stillness.

How I healed from rape

I was first able to open myself to understanding the factors leading to my rape through the help of a transpersonal psychologist named Rami Henrich in Evanston. My favorite aspect about Rami’s style was the emphasis on embodied knowing where I could connect to my animal body through movement and drama. I also chose to study psychology at Northwestern University to meta-analyze my own mind and understand my family’s dynamics. My favorite courses were in the subjects of group dynamics, developmental psychology, and children’s culture. I dived deep into my own psyche and got as far as I could through an intense combination of my therapist’s compassionate presence, words, and bookish studies, but I still felt shut down in my body.

As much as talk therapy helped me understand intellectually what had transpired, I was only able to heal my body and shattered sense of boundaries through conscious movement practices. I was fortunate because I relocated to the mecca of therapeutic movement – the Bay Area - to attend graduate school for transpersonal psychology / expressive arts therapy. In remembering how to celebrate my body the curative effect of contact improvisation, radical bodywork, and relationships in which I was listened to and respected by those touching my body were paramount.

This process - of allowing myself to feel fully free in body and safe sharing skin and sensation with others - was reinforced by participation in evolutionary cultural zones openly sharing tools to advance our collective evolution. Some of the most alchemical include : alternative healing rituals, Burning Man, Ecstatic dance, the west coast conscious/transformational festival circuit, the Bay Area’s deep contact improvisation scene, BDSM, kink, permaculture, artist collectives, housing cooperatives, intentional living communities, sacred clowning, social justice performance, and grassroots media production. Through participation these in cathartic cultures, gatherings, and events I was able to contribute to creating a world that was moving closer to one that I wished to wake up in. I was fortunate that those whom I danced, interacted, and grew with in my formative years were (for the most part) conscientious and respectful, modelling a new way of being with others. However, even though ‘we have it good’ in such communities, there is still a gap between the all-pervasive beauty and compassion that we know is possible and the systems that we are embedded in. We still have work to do on ourselves and have a duty to practice and evolve techniques to support the realization of our highest hopes.

With the inertia of this history flowing through time I feel the weight of responsibility in sharing what I have been privileged to learn through my personal healing process. This frame helps me harvest motivation from my trauma – that I lived through this so others would be spared – perhaps even because in the fire of that trial my strength, resilience, and compassion were forged. Due to my own personal experience with sexual assault I am moved by sadness, righteous indignation, and the desire to do all I can to create and embody a new future that celebrates consent through teaching somatic attunement.

So many of my first physical experiences of intimate connection with others occurred in spaces where I felt unsafe, was not initially asked (nor checked in with either verbally or somatically), and was not given abundant (or even adequate) space / time to respond. Through the { Safe, Loving Touch } program I teach tools that help establish a safe foundation of consent and boundary identification / management that is essential to supportively engage with other humans. I seek to consciously create a safe container in which people can put their guard down and re-imagine their relationships to their own bodies as well as the bodies of others. These workshops are a space to explore and gauge what you do/not enjoy, the specifics of how you do/not enjoy it, how to express your needs & boundaries, and how to read the expressions of others and support their needs. I have invested significant amounts of time, energy, and resources into my healing path, and my offering to you is of the most effective and concentrated methods to move into post traumatic growth.