There was a time when I would count my bruises to figure out how bad things were going in my relationship. Under 3 meant they were going reasonably well. Over 5 meant that we should try to avoid going to social events together, because I hated to argue in front of people. None meant that I should lay low and be extra careful with my words, just in case I might awaken the beast. He was like Jekyll and Hyde, all sweetness and snuggles one minute and depression and rage the next. The bruising was, I told myself, the price of admission. Bruises would heal. He just needed a place of his own, I would tell myself, he just needed therapy, a job, a job he liked, more lovers, more friends, more more more. If I gave enough, we could get through it.
It took a long time until I could look at a bruise caused by another person and feel anything other than shame. I had to rethink my relationship to them, to realize they did not have to mean violence or ownership, that violence could leave no marks and that marks could come from play. Learning how to be in a healthy relationship feels like when I tried to learn how to ski and ended up on my ass, going downhill fast, one ski having fallen off and announcing my plummet by ricocheting off other people. Picking myself up, shaking myself off, and trying again has been scary when the price of failure has been so great. But growth can be painful, and scary, and it's still worth doing.
Slowly I stopped trying to cover up my various hickies or the black and blue left from fingertips during a particularly rough fuck. I began to not count my bruises, but to lovingly stroke them, smiling to myself as I remembered how each one was made. I have one right now on my neck that was a lover's orgasm, one on my thigh from being pulled down the bed for easier access during a fingerfuck that left me drenched. My breasts are now often covered with purple teeth marks and I couldn't be happier about it.
Of course, now that they come from hot sex, and I'm not ashamed of them, now is when I'm asked if I'm ok, no, really, am I ok at home. I'm glad that they ask that. I wish they had asked when I was in an abusive relationship, when a stranger expressing concern might've caused me to re-examine the situation I was in. Now I don't wear long sleeves or too much concealer. I ask for these marks, now, because they aren't there to scare people off from asking me out or as indications of fights gone physical. Now they're physical reminders of consent. of asking for what I want and getting it. I can watch them heal and know if I never wanted another bruise, that would be ok, too.
Healing from abuse can be so, so hard. I have to remind myself that my partners are not my exes. I startle easily, still, when someone moves too quickly or touches me without me expecting it. It will likely take years to unlearn that survival strategy- it did serve me well for some time. But as I watch old bruises heal and new ones form, bruises that now symbolize lust and desire and coming into my body instead of disassociating with me, I feel confident that I'll get there. My past with an abuser will not take my kinks or my body from me.