Before I got married, I chose to participate in a Jewish tradition, a bridal mikveh. I found the ceremony to be very powerful and symbolic, and I knew it was something I wanted to do again. You can choose to immerse for any life transition you wish to mark, and for me, I wanted to participate in a healing mikveh. I wanted something to symbolize the emotional work I’ve done and I wanted to do something tangible to mark my healing from the trauma I’ve experienced throughout my life. It’s still a work in progress, but I felt like I was at a place where I could take this next step in my journey towards healing.
I returned to Mayyim Hayyim, where I had my bridal mikveh, for my healing ceremony. I knew that they had ceremonies to choose from and I looked through them. I had a choice between “healing” and “healing from abuse.” I chose the “healing from abuse” ceremony for a couple different reasons. The first being that it mentioned “Miriam’s Well”* in the ceremony and my Hebrew name (after my grandfather’s mother) is Miriam. I also really liked that the ceremony used the words “safe” and “strong.” Two things that I have worked really hard to connect with are a) the idea that I am safe with my partner, that my body belongs to me and that he respects that and b) empowered to make my own choices and communicate what I want.
And so my ceremony was chosen.
While yes, I’m a survivor of domestic violence, that’s not the abuse that haunts me. For me, it’s the multiple sexual assaults and the behaviors that I participated in after they happened. Most of the shame and pain that I harbor stems from activities that I “consensually” engaged in, though now I am able to see that they were forms of self-harm. It’s been harder to forgive myself for the things that I allowed to happen to me than it has been to forgive the people that perpetrated these acts against me. Through recovery and therapy, I have begun the process of finding compassion for myself and letting go of the shame that I hold onto. The mikveh felt like the right next step.
The ceremony I chose had the following intention to be read before preparing to immerse:
As I immerse myself in mayyim hayyim, living waters,
I begin a time of rebirth and renewal.
From Miriam’s well I draw refreshing waters of strength and comfort,
Waters to cleanse and purify, to sustain and bless.
Holy One of Blessing, welcome me as I enter Your life-flow.
Surround me, embrace me, bathe me in your sweet waters, in your healing light.
The Seven Kavanot, or preparatory meditations, are the same as before any immersion ceremony. But this time, my intention was different. The first time I immersed, I was preparing to mark the transition from unmarried to married, This time, I was preparing to, with the help of the God of my understanding, reclaim my body for myself and to put my abuse behind me. They can still be things that happened to me, but they no longer have to define me or rule me. This ceremony was my way of symbolizing that step forward.
1. Hineni. Here I am.
Take a minute and think about the transition mikveh will help you mark today.
Immersion in the mikveh represents a spiritual transformation from one state to another. In traditional language, your change is from ritually unready (tameh) to ritually ready (tahor). Prepare yourself by writing in a journal, or saying a personal prayer, or reading something of meaning to you. Breathe deeply. Sigh audibly.
I took this time to reflect on what I hoped to get from this mikveh. I knew that I wanted to feel like my body belonged to me. I knew that I wanted to be able to be intimate with my partner without dissociating. I wanted to feel like I wanted to be intimate with my partner. I wanted to no longer be defined or ruled by the things that had happened to me. I meditated on those things before I began the rest of my preparation.
2. Hiddur Mitzvah. The unadorned body is beautiful in itself.
Remove all jewelry as well as makeup, paying special attention to the eyes. Remove nail polish on fingers and toes. (Acrylics may stay on if they have been on for more than a month.)
There is no need for adornment or artifice in the mikveh. There should be no physical barriers between the body and the living waters.
It is still sometimes hard for me to believe that my body is beautiful exactly as it is. Removing my piercings and nail polish makes me feel especially naked and exposed in a surprising way. I really focused on looking at myself and believing that everything about me was beautiful.
4. B’tzelem Elohim. I am made in the image of God.
Remove all clothing, eyeglasses, contact lenses, dental plates, hearing aids.
Each person enters the mikveh as naked as the day of his birth, as the day of her birth. Without rank or status. Simply a human being. Gloriously a human being.
It’s humbling to be completely naked, devoid of all accessories. I looked at every part of myself and told myself that I was exactly as I should be. I touched my belly and the flesh on my hips. I held my breasts in my hands. I cupped my mons. I focused on really feeling, really owning, and really loving every part of me.
5. Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. The soul in me is pure.
Shower or bathe with thoughtful attention to the miracle of your own body. Pay attention to every part of yourself. Wash yourself, head to toe; shampoo your hair, lather your shoulders, back, arms, belly, and genitals. Scrub elbows, knees and heels, removing calluses and dead skin. Wash between fingers and toes.
Relax and enjoy. The water of the mikveh will feel even sweeter after this.
It would be easy to look at this and feel like the implication is that I’m dirty, that I have to wash myself and that my assaults have tainted me. That’s how I’ve viewed it for way too long though. And what I chose to do with this meditation was to envision the washing away of my shame, of my guilt, and of the experiences I’ve carried with me. I chose to think of this as a new beginning, of a cleansing, not because I was dirty but because it was time to rid myself of the poison that I carried with me for far too long.
I chose to immerse this time without a witness. For me, this was between me and God. It felt like something that I wanted to do alone. And so I did. I’ll share the ceremony here, for those that are interested.
Slowly descend the steps into the mikveh waters
and immerse completely so that every part of your body
is covered in the warm water of the mikveh.
When you emerge, recite the following blessing:
Baruch atah, Adonai
Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam
asher kidshanu bi-t’vilah
Blessed are You, God, Majestic Spirit of the Universe
Who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.
Take a deep breath and exhale completely, while gently and completely immersing.
When you emerge, recite the following:
Carry me to new shores, new beginnings.
Grant me the gift of safety– safety of body and safety of spirit.
Grant me a r’fuah sh’leimah, a complete healing and renewal.
Take a moment for personal reflection…
Relax, and let your body soften, as you slowly and completely immerse.
When you emerge, recite the following blessing.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam
shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu, la’zman hazeh.
Praised are You, Adonai, God of all Creation, Who has kept me alive,
sustained me and, through one miracle after another, has brought me to this time.
A Closing Intention
Take a deep breath and walk slowly up the steps, out of the mikveh waters.
When wrapped again, recite the following:
May I remember this moment of being held in safety, surrounded by living waters.
May I be released from the pain of the past as I enter this new phase of my journey.
May I know my own strength and trust my ability to care for myself.
Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazayk
From strength, to strength, I am strengthened.
It was around those last lines about strength that I began to cry,
I know that this is not a magical answer to anything, but for me, it is absolutely the next step in my journey towards healing. Going forward, I am choosing to remember that I have given my past to God, and to trust that He will carry me forward as I continue on this path.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to immerse in the mikveh and nourish my spirit. I’m hopeful as I move forward that each day will be better than the last. I believe that I can heal from this and I know that I will.
*Miriam’s Well, the story goes, miraculously supplied water to the Jews who wandered in the desert for 40 years.