Photo credit: Daniele Franchi / Unsplash

To protect herself from the assault, Y froze. Trauma was beginning to set in. But once she was in
a safe space back at home, Y’s roommate L led her through movement therapy, and trauma
ultimately did not set in.

The difference between freezing and not freezing – doing or saying something, anything, like
shouting – is the difference between claiming your power and agency and letting someone take
that from you. This is what I learned when Y and I talked about what her experience was like for
her – what a huge difference it made that L’s help prevented trauma from getting indelibly
lodged in Y’s body and soul, and why it was important to Y that we (the Asian-affinity meditation
group that Y and I are members of) take self-defense rather than martial arts classes as a
response to the hate crimes that she and other members of our group experienced since the
COVID-related rise in anti-Asian hate. The goal for us wasn’t to learn what martial arts can offer
(an artform of mind and body, the skills to kick ass, etc.) The goal was to learn to protect
ourselves, not just our physical bodies, but, first and foremost, our human dignity.

I had read articles in the past about how much time self-defense classes spent with participants
screaming “No!” again and again. In talking to Y, and remembering these articles, it clicked and
became clear to me – self-defense was an empowering practice of self-protection of our very

So, our group worked with Impact to organize self-defense workshops that we participated in
together as a group. We only had time to learn the basics, but we’re now better prepared to
defend ourselves in the future.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that it’s also possible to use the spirit of self-defense to heal from
trauma. To go back to those past moments of harm, and to scream “No!” to those who once
harmed us. To retroactively defend ourselves in past moments when we didn’t yet have the
ability to defend ourselves.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to take a time machine…

Time Machine

Growing up, when I was the subject of bullying,
I froze.
And I dissociated.
I had so much I wanted to say back to the racist bullies at school, and to the bully in my home.
But the words couldn’t come out.
My heart froze.
My mom had no advice, other than to say I should ignore the school bullies.
I did that, to my detriment.

My sister told me that I can tell my brother to “stop.”
I did that, he never stopped.
Maybe, I thought, it was my fault, something in the way I said it – “stop” – it wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t enough, I didn’t say it in the right way, I didn’t mean it when I said it, I didn’t, I didn’t, I

In the end, it didn’t empower me…to protect myself.

I’m sorry, to that child who was failed by the adults in his life, I’m sorry.
I didn’t know this then what I know now, I wish I had screamed NO!
When my brother assaulted me, I wish that I had gotten angry and told him to F*CK OFF with all the boiling rage and anger, anger that is useful, not to harm anybody…but to protect myself; My sweet, inner child, who used to be so quick to joy, and affection, and love. To protect what is good in this life. To protect life itself. I wish I had gotten angry…and said F*CK OFF to all those kids, who abused me at school, and made me feel unsafe, and unseen.

I take a time machine back, and I get angry, I scream, and I hold my inner child’s hand and
together we say NO! NO! You get away from me! You respect me! Because I respect myself!
So, you leave! And get the f*ck out of here, until you learn some f*cking manners and respect,
and then maybe, just maybe if I choose to forgive you for what you tried to do to me, if you’re so
lucky as to receive that kind of compassion and grace from me, then maybe you can come back.
You can’t do this to me. You can never do this to me again.

I belong here.
I deserve to exist.
And to be who I’m meant to be.
I’ll never let anyone tell me otherwise.

And then, once clear and present danger is gone,
then I turn to hug my sweet, inner child,
to tell him, my child:
You’re safe now.
Let’s both remember…that the world is not all pain and suffering, violence, and apathy. No. This
world has love. This world has joy. This is why we get angry. To protect this – our right to be safe.
Your right to be loved. My right to love you. Because I want to live. Because I want to live.
Because I want to live. Because I want to live. Because child you exist. Because child you are

Because we’re here for each other, and I love you, and I have your back.