Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hello, Gorgeous!

What an Entrance - Bruce Holwarda

I was given a tremendous gift this year.

It didn’t come in the way I would have wanted. It didn’t come pretty and neat and easy to open. It came disguised as misery. It came wrapped in grief, in illness, in pain. It was difficult to unwrap. It was hard to unravel. It was messy and tiresome and grueling. It didn’t feel like a gift at all, in fact. It felt like punishment. It felt like torture. I was confused, frustrated and tired. I didn’t want it. But one cannot give away this kind of gift. One can either accept it, and do the work, or sit and cry and be burdened, miserable and sad. I first chose the latter.

But that’s okay. Grief sucks. I thought I knew how I would feel when Eddy died. I thought I was prepared. He’d been sick for so long and was deteriorating. Our relationship was challenging, and, despite him nearing the end of life, we fought. Now, looking back, I see how he must have been angry, being stripped of everything, his job, his wife, his children, his life. I understand that he didn’t know how to do it, to be sick and die. No one does. And so when he died, all my feelings began to unravel. And my body began to flush everything out, it was all too much for my system.

Diarrhea. For five months. Cramping, night-waking, stabbing, urgent, painful diarrhea. Sleeplessness, anxiety, unrest. And slowly I deteriorated. I got sicker and more tired and had days I couldn’t get out of bed. My mind became increasingly foggy. My body became increasingly fatigued. By the time I’d done all the stool samples, blood work, scopes and scans, I was tapping the mat. Done. Worn out. Shot. More than anything, I was discouraged. And angry.

The psychiatrist diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which sounds like BS, I know. I’m generally anxious? What does that even mean? But all the symptoms were physical symptoms. My body was taking all the stressors from my life - work, kids, house, death, grief, family, my own mind - and it was doing what it could, doing what it was supposed to do, protect me from harm and send signals that something was wrong. Suddenly, years of aches and pains and digestive problems all seemed to make sense. My body had been trying to tell me there was a problem for years.

But since my body had always been the enemy, I didn’t listen.

I’ve been angry at my body since I was thirteen - for being bigger, for small boobs, for thick thighs, for callused feet, for veins and stretch marks, for knee pain and vaginal pain, allergies and a torn hip flexor. I’ve always complained and been angry. “I need a new body,” I’ve often said. I felt ripped off, cheated and angry that I got this crappy fixer-upper.

All the while my body has been plugging right along taking care of me, protecting me from harm and warning me that things are not right.

I started on the anxiety meds. And I started acupuncture. I found this woman who takes insurance and does health coaching along with the needles. She said that her goal is to work herself out of a job. She wants me to learn a new practice so that I don’t need to come back. She is marvelous. And through her I unwrapped those final grimy layers and discovered the gift within, my body.

I finally saw it for all the good it’s been doing. And I finally saw all the harm I’ve been doing to it. I’ve been poisoning myself with food and with thoughts. I’ve been sabotaging my own health with destructive thinking. And the most destructive of all is the beating myself up for not doing better and having better thoughts.

“That first step is difficult to notice, that you’re hooked because of ignorance, but also hard to get beyond that and choose a fresh alternative because at that point, when you see what you’ve done, to be hard on yourself is one the most habitual chain reactions that gets set off…When we work with ourselves we have to acknowledge that there’s this tremendous tendency to get stuck in self condemnation, thinking that we’re bad, that we’re wrong, that there’s something imperfect about us.”
– Pema Chodron

Mary, the acupuncturist, has helped me see that when I start down a path of anxious, unhealthy thinking, I can say, “You’ve been practiced in that way of thinking for a long time. Let’s try something new.” No judgment. No self-flagellation. No anxiety over the “shoulds.” Just, a gentle hand-holding guidance onto another path.

My body is very good at giving me accurate information, if only I will listen. And the more I listen, the more I care about this good friend, the more I want to care for it, to feed it well, to honor it and treat it gently.

There is no “mental” illness. Our bodies are reacting to our world. And some bodies are sick. My body gets easily keyed up by stressful situations. My body reacts and gets sluggish and painful. My body knows when it’s had enough, and it forces me to stop and rest. This isn’t “in my head,” and my body isn’t doing anything wrong. There is no need for judgment. There is no need for embarrassment. There is no need for criticism. My body is not the enemy. My mind is not the enemy.

And so, my gift, this wonderful body I’ve been wrestling and hating, came wrapped in physical illness, grief, fatigue and stabbing pain. And I am extremely grateful. I’m not just saying that. I am sincerely so grateful.

Monday I start an elimination diet to see if there are certain foods that are contributing to all of my symptoms. And, for the first time in my life, I am excited about going on a diet. Because this diet is not about fixing something that is BAD but taking care of something that is GOOD. This is about respect and not about trying to change.

It’s going to take me a while to learn a new practice of loving and caring for my body, but I am so grateful for this tremendous opportunity. I am hopeful that this will be a watershed moment and that I will continue to find real freedom from the oppression of SHOULD I have lived with for so long.

“To the degree that we can acknowledge what’s happening and develop an enthusiasm for cutting that chain reaction, to the degree that we can see what’s happening and become enthusiastic about no longer sowing the seeds of suffering, to that degree we begin to tune in more and more to the profundity and openness and basic wisdom and goodness of our own heart and mind, the basic openness and wisdom and goodness of our own being. This isn’t just about solving a problem of habits, this is that every time we follow that habit, which we all do, it’s like we’re cutting ourselves off from our true nature, cutting ourselves off from our basic wisdom and basic openness of our being. It’s like it’s here and can manifest in any moment, but the way we follow that habitual pattern is taking us away or blinding us or making us ignorant to who we really are or what our potential really is.” - Pema Chodron

The quotes from Pema come from the video from  a course specifically focusing on this lesson I’ve been learning - the freedom to choose something different.

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