Content warning: mentions of sexual abuse and disordered eating
When I’m in the ring, I am body and breath and total presence, and when I walk out, I feel alive. This is my love letter to boxing; it has healed me more than years of therapy, and much more than my ill thought out cocktails of prescribed and self-prescribed medication ever did. Through boxing, I have reclaimed ownership of my body. Because I box I know my body is my own, to give and receive pain and to give and receive pleasure.
For the first two decades of my life, I lived in a body that felt as though it didn’t belong to me. I was sexually abused as a child and a teenager and these painful experiences manifested into deep feelings of shame and disconnection. I successfully internalised the story I’d told myself: that my body was not mine and I didn’t have to care for it. So I responded to my trauma by trying to exist as some kind of floating head; an attempt to completely separate myself from my bodily sensations. In short, doing this felt like the only way to handle the intensity of my emotional pain.
“I remember crying on my flatmate’s shoulder, not because I was hurt, but because I was angry and competitive, full of a fire that I’d been trying to put out my whole life.”
As it often goes, my survival systems began to unravel in my early twenties. I was experiencing episodes of paralysing depression and cycles of disordered eating. I look back now and know that my body was trying to break free, and even then a part of me knew. I fought against it, numbing myself with alcohol and chaos to supplement the medications my psychiatrist prescribed.
After many years of physical and psychological therapy, I slowly began to unpack the pain of my past. I started to understand my queerness and found joy in my body again. I began practising yoga and meditation, and I was gradually able to stop using medication. I still felt an uneasiness in my body though. I was constantly alert, tense, ready to run. I was still fighting myself, unable to feel the full spectrum of pain and pleasure. I was trying to control my body the way others had.
Then I walked into a boxing gym in Leeds. I went there to get fit, but quickly became intrigued by the advanced students sparring inside the ring whilst I tapped away at the heavy punch bags. After a few months, I built up the confidence to ask my coaches if I could spar, and was equally delighted and terrified when they said yes.
“Boxing gave me a space to process the emotions held in my body because when I put on my gloves, and jab and slip and dance, I re-enter that body as a new being.”
The feeling was instant. As soon as I stepped through the ropes. A steely presence blurred only slightly by the nervous excitement I still feel every time I put my mouthguard on. The first spars were hard and unpleasant. I remember coming home after taking a particularly hard punch to the jaw and crying on my flatmate’s shoulder, not because I was hurt, but because I was angry and competitive, full of a fire that I’d been trying to put out my whole life. Boxing was giving me a place to burn, to feel and to finally be present. It felt like coming home to the person I was before I knew the pain of abuse – I felt fresh, excited and free.
The impact of boxing on my life was powerful. There were the subtle external shifts; I started walking taller, sleeping better and meeting people’s eyes when I spoke to them. But within me, everything had changed. I had learned how to feel. Boxing gave me a space to process the emotions held in my body because when I put on my gloves, and jab and slip and dance, I re-enter that body as a new being.
“As a queer, brown person, my body often feels like a battleground, but when I box, it becomes a potent weapon.”
I moved to Nairobi last year, and began training harder than ever with a brilliant coach who has taught me to trust and to breathe and to hit really hard! In the ring, I’ve developed an awareness of every tiny movement between me and my opponent. The stakes are high because if I’m not totally present, I’ll get hit. I’m forced to really know my physical, mental and emotional patterns; feel the pleasures and pains of my body and develop a precise awareness.
Boxing is my way of speaking to the world. I stand face to face with my deepest vulnerabilities and harness all of my strengths, I have to know myself. Win or lose, I know that I am a fighter, a survivor.
As a queer, brown person, my body often feels like a battleground, but when I box, it becomes a potent weapon. This has transformed my relationship with my gender and my sexuality. Boxing is a language, a way to express all the pain and pleasure of living, and to fully inhabit this battered body and make it feel whole, make it feel mine. It’s art. It’s homecoming, and it’s freedom.
Rose Miyonga (she/they) is a boxer and student researching for an MA in Race and Resistance. She is based between Nairobi and Leeds. @rosemiyonga
Aurelia Magazine is self–funded. We rely on reader support to secure our future. If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a member on Patreon, or donating a couple of quid to our PayPal. Thank you!