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There are some people who eat an orange but don’t really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.
Thich Naht Hanh
 
 
Mindfulness, as I described in the prior post, can be applied to eating and for some this can be in a life-saving kind of way.  Those that suffer from body dysmorphia and issues such as overeating, bulimia, and anorexia have trouble with self-love that is so intense, intimate, and palpable that it invades them from every angle both inside and outside of their physical beings.  I have heard people with disordered eating describe a feeling of being detached from their bodies, disconnected from their physical and emotional selves, and a genuine viewpoint of food as “the enemy”. 
 
 
This kind of disordered eating and contorted life view goes beyond just the everyday guilt over indulging in too much chocolate or sigh of remorse when reading a scale that reveals two more pounds in our weight.  Eating when tied with eating disorders becomes inextricably linked with emotion–eating for pain, eating to hide pain, stretching the body’s physical limitations for survival to a masochistic extent becomes more than a preoccupation and turns into a life-threatening compulsion.
 
 
The problem with eating when it is tied to emotions, much like any addictive behavior, is that the satisfaction found in food is only temporary and the pseudo-healing only superficial.  After deprivation, purging, or over-consumption a person is left not only with the original pains below the surface but also new pangs of guilt and shame.  It becomes a vicious cycle and obliterates any chance at eating for enjoyment or looking at food as other than a substance to be despised and obsessed over.
 
 
So, as it seems I always find, a discussion about food leads back to issues of trauma, issues of the mind/body connection, and a desperate need for a present-centered perspective on life.  To be present in the moment means, at least for one second, to force oneself to shed the pain of the past and focus on where the pain is in the present.  In focusing on pain and it’s origins in the present moment there is a way to find the root of unhealthy habits, behaviors and compulsions.  If we can focus on how food is making us feel in the moment, as we eat it, there is a way to break that cycle of pain and betrayal within ourselves and with our relationship with food and find what the real pain is below the surface. 
 
 
Mindfulness, breathwork, and a yogic mindset bring a body/mind connection into work with disordered eating and with any person who might find food or other addictive behaviors as a mask they use to hide from themselves and their inner pain.  Through this practice mindfulness and mind/body attunement becomes a gateway to learning the self better.  I had a client tell me that she yearned to be a yogi for years of addiction because of the freedom it seemed to hold but after achieving a yogic life she still found an inability to connect with it in  a soulful way.  Sometimes we have to start with baby steps, the yoga breath, the quiet mind, the present moment and one day at a time to get to a place where a yogic mindset can be fully appreciated. 
 
 
Whether we are dealing with traumas, addiction, or just emotional pain of any kind there is a struggle to find inner peace and sometimes a feeling of ambiguity in how to get there.  Sometimes it begins with small steps of self acceptance, self-reflection, and an ability to eat an orange for the sweetness of its juicy flesh and not for fear, anger, sadness, or any other emotional cause. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Winston Churchill

Well said Mr. Churchill, although my feminist self would add, “…or the inside of a female.”  Either way it speaks to the profound experience found alongside a horse–stroking their mane, rubbing their flank, staring them in the eyes as you nuzzle their cheek.  There is indeed some silent profundity in a moment like that and something that is intrinsically good for the soul. 

Alongside a horse and face-to-face I have found some of the most challenging moments in creating an authentic self, finding my present-centered mindset, and really being in the now with myself and with the horse.  This is the thing, much as a wise meditative sage, a horse knows when you are lying even about being present in the moment.  People seek far and wide for a yogic guru to guide them to better them, a higher level of conciousness, a more aware state of existence but I would venture to say that I have met no greater teacher than the horses I have encountered.  Nor have I met a stricter teacher than the most wise yogic equus. 

Today I was privileged enough to teach Standing and Seated Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to the most attuned and earnest of students–trauma survivors.  It was a very simple lesson in being present in the moment, being both “calm” and “assertive” at the same time and they were excellent pupils–both in a psychotherapeutic and a yogic context.  They learned how standing could be powerful, strong, and energized.  They saw how being this way would make them more healthfully alert in life and more present both alongside and on the back of their horses. 

Experiencing this moment with them was enriching for me beyond imagination.  My dream of blending these two complementary therapies together was coming to fruition and blossoming fruit and metaphor that I could not have imagined.  My clients are constantly astounding me with their investment in their own healing, their insight into their own souls and the pain therein, and their ability to soak up the tools that can help them.  This is why every session I can I end groups and individual treatment with relaxation and breath (prana). 

I softly whisper to the seated and closed-eyed participants, “Breathe in through your nose all the cool air, breathe out through your nose all the hot air and tension.”  My first meditation teacher, a trained circus clown (no, seriously) turned Buddhist nun taught me this phrase and I found it so beautiful and visual I love to use it.  Please feel free to do this for yourself any time you get a chance, it is a lovely practice to come back to our breath, finding our center–this translates on and off the saddle, on the mat and into the world. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN YOGIC EQUUS PART 2:  Finding the Metaphors

Early pink dogwood flowering heads by Martin LaBar on flickr

Expect the unexpected. 

 

I had an entirely different post planned for today and then I found myself in my new doctor’s office this afternoon and all that changed.  I guess I should have learned this far into the living process that we can never assume, never predict, always just be prepared (like a good boy scout). 

 

It is always difficult to find a specialist for a chronic illness that does not have its own day or pin or charity of note.  So I held my breath as I waited to meet my new endometriosis specialist especially as I was at a particularly frustrated point, having spent the last week in fairly severe pain (or, medically speaking, about a 6 on a pain scale).  I had a constellation of thoughts sparking and shooting through my brain.  I was not sure what my next step was but I was fairly certain decisions would have to be made. 

 

I had my exam, lets pass over the details, and then I met with the doctor in his office to discuss things in a fully clothed state.  I found this doctor to be a refreshing anomaly already.  When dealing with a male doctor dealing with female issues I tend to walk with trepidation, assessing for a complete lack of empathy or bedside manner, but he had a jovial quality and a softness with a side of humor.  I already liked him.  Then I walked into the office for the “serious business” and sat down in the typical dark wood  office chair.  He began talking to me seriously, frankly, and in a way that was both frighteningly and refreshingly honest. 

 

“Endometriosis is worse than cancer, really.  It would be preferable to have cancer.  You treat it and it’s gone.  With endometriosis there is no cure it just continues to grow and all we can do is manage it long enough so that you have the time you need to have children, if you want them.” 

 

The follow-up inference of that statement is, “Before it all disintegrates in a painful sequence of  internal explosions till, like a building with detinators in the foundation, the entire structure collapses into dust”. (My paraphrasing of the inference later discussed at length with the doctor)

 

I sighed, maybe even audibly.  Finally, someone just said it how it was, and understood what it meant to have and live with this condition.  I needed a qualified person to validate my own hypotheses I had been mulling over this week. After not even a year following my first laparoscopy procedure my pain was returning to the same pinnacle point and I knew it was not a sign of internal wellness. 

 

After finding out in my first surgical procedure that the past 15 years of being told “it’s just your normal cycle, you get bad cramps is all,” was completely lazy diagnostics, I got the official stamp of “Endometriosis, Stage IV“.  There are four stages of the illness and four is the most severe and pervasive.  I knew even a year ago that, that was not a prediction of good to come but I had hoped for at least a couple of years between surgeries.  Now, sitting in that office, hearing the realities I knew I needed to know what was going on in there and there might be more decisions beyond just surgical maneuvers that would follow the “knowing”. 

 

 So, here I sit at home with a bit of medicine meant to mollify the pain beginning to make its way into my system system, along with the bread I use so that I don’t vomit from said medication.  I am preparing for my second laparoscopic surgery on Friday and pondering the information confirmed by my new doctor/surgeon.  I knew it would come to this but having the internal conversation that follows “knowing” is really frightening.

 

How badly do I want to physically have children? How soon am I willing to do that to keep it a possibility? And how do I discern both these things with a clear head and not rash sentimentality? 

 

The first question is: How long do I have before my internals liquify to use my inner pieces to procreate?  The follow-up question is: How soon am I willing to begin trying to have children to prevent losing the chance altogether? 

 

People sometimes ask the theoretical question, if you could know the day you might die would you want to know?  Is it better to know a fate or not.  If you can predict your potential for life, or to create life, would you really want to know?  I find the knowing that I have limited time is like a huge weight pressing on my airway, making it impossible to breathe let alone think clearly on the matter.  At least tonight it feels that way, full of bread, medication, and pulsing pain surging through my abdomen, back, and legs. 

 

Babies.  What are my thoughts on babies?  I am definitely of two minds.  They are messy, and poopy, and needy, and wake you up all the time, and need, and want, and must be constantly watched, and even if you do all the best for them there is no guarantee they will be ok.  They are so much responsibility, but conversely, they are so much love.  They smile, and laugh, and play, and love life in a way that could, potentially, remind you of how much there is to love in life. 

 

Why must I decide now though?  Part of this decision process makes me uncomfortable as an adoptee in a family that is mostly not genetically related.  There is no reason why my decisions, or my body, needs to prohibit babies just because it inhibits procreation.  And is making a decision with such importance about procreation diminishing to all the other ways to have and love a baby?  I never wanted to be a pained and yearning woman amid fertility treatment where it was biological or nothing, but conversely I feel a pang at the idea that I may never have the option for the biological even if I were to choose the non-genetic version of a family regardless. 

 

So, I have surgery the day after tomorrow and my husband is rushing his return to Florida to be here Saturday morning.  I have to get through one night of post-surgery pain alone.  That I can do.  The rest of it, perhaps, I will also leave up to my post-operative brain to coordinate.  After I find out what the present state of carnage is in my potentially womb-less womb. 

 

Make way for ducklings by shoothead on flickr

“True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.”

Tom Robbins

Pain by Michelle Brea on flickr 

“What is truer than truth? Answer: The story.”

Old Jewish Saying and repeated by Isabelle Allende in her TED talk.

 

There is a lot of my life from 18 to 20 years of age that I just don’t remember.  Most of it in fact.  In retrospect and following therapeutic training I know that to be a form of trauma related repression.  I just hit overload and shut down.  I remained on autopilot for two very self-destructive years during which my rampant PTSD symptomotology took a front seat and my conscious self was somewhere locked in the trunk. 

 

I built a shell around myself so I could block out anything hurtful or scary at a moment’s notice by shutting down, but in truth the shell was a mirage of my own making–because instead of feeling nothing I felt everything–I was so sensitive I was raw.  I shut down constantly and in that I lost a lot of my current day perception of what happened when and many details are lost altogether. 

 

I would block out and black out (technically known as dissociation) and not really be sure what happened after: it was like watching a blurry movie of myself from a short distance–sound was dulled, images were faded, it was often like living a half life.  It helped me survive but not live.  I was nothing but shell with nerves exposed underneath. 

 

I was raped for the first time somewhere between 18 and 19 (again time is not so clear during that period).  The second time, by another perpetrator, was somewhere between 19 and 20.  I no longer blame myself for the second rape, but I know professionally that my downward slide following the first incident made me more vulnerable to another assault and my autopilot living added to that vulnerability.  Following the second assault I could no longer regulate any part of myself: I was up and then down, I was isolative and then explosive, I was spiraling and dizzy and petrified of the world. 

 

Escape, escape, escape.  That was all I did.  Long before I fled New Jersey I had fled myself–the Teresa from before my assaults was somewhere deep inside and the shell grew so thick and heavy that I could no longer remember what came before it.  I was hiding inside myself and from myself.  I was locking my memories so far down that I choked on them. 

 

My trauma clients often reference the visual of a “box” or a “closet” where everything painful and traumatic is crammed in and locked away and when it accidentally opens you push it back in with all the strength you have–that is definitely an apt description. 

 

When you are stuck inside your trauma all that seeps out is your traumatized symptoms and all the unhealthy and unpleasant behaviors that follow, all you can see is survival.  You want to make it to tomorrow without snapping and that is the only goal.  You cannot live.  You cannot love.  You cannot think about moving forward.  You are locked in the “box” you created living under the illusion that you have somehow contained the collateral damage. 

 

From 18 to 20 I was in the thick of it all.  When I moved to Colorado at twenty I thought I was making a big step and a change that would change my brain and free my body.  The only thing that really changed was scenery. 

 

I loved the mountains that rose as if heaven bound.  I loved the clear, crisp air and views of horses running wildly in fields, but inside my mind–when I paused too long or closed my eyes–there I was, still in my box, still petrified, still clinging to my shell. 

 

I woke one day. 

 

I woke in a loud clap of thunder and a moment full of sound and fury and everything I had been avoiding.  I was sitting in a class on Front Range Community College Campus in Fort Collins.  I had decided to go back to school and finish up that bachelors degree I had abandoned during the period of my first rape—part of me thought, since nothing else had worked, if I could just pick up where I left off I could erase the past that had taken me so far from anything resembling a future.  I was sitting in some Sex Ed type class and tapping out my boredom with my pen.  It was one of those banal required courses in the degree curriculum and my anticipation was learning something akin to high school health class.  Then it happened.   

 

The teacher began discussing sexual assault and sex crime “victims” (can I mention I still hate the word victim and all the implied vulnerability and helplessness it imbued in it).  He spoke about acquaintance rape and the incidence of sexual assaults in college aged women. 

 

After that I don’t know what he said because all I knew was that I felt dizzy and nauseous and my extremities went numb.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was only by the time I reached the bathroom, leaning over the toilet bowl with my knees on the floor and my hands shaking and pale, that I realized I had, had a panic attack. 

 

That was the moment I woke up. 

I realized this trauma thing I had tried to avoid was real.  The rape was real.  My state of frozen-in-symptoms-rampant-PTSD was real (although I could not identify it diagnostically at the time I knew it was trauma).   And most of all I realized with a great oomph of panic attack finality that I could not avoid any of this thing inside of me anymore—not even in a benign antiseptic classroom environment.  I realized I didn’t want to spend my life wondering when I would have to fall onto a bathroom floor again.  So I went home that day, looked up a Sex Trauma Therapist, and, still somewhat skeptical and grudgingly, I went to the appointment. 

 

The night after my first session with that therapist I had the worst nightmare I have ever had.  

 

It is for that reason that even before I knew much about the therapeutic process, early in my graduate school internships, I would forewarn my trauma clients about a potential “outbreak” of sorts in their PTSD following their first session.  Opening the box held tight and controlled for so long can create a sort of allergic initial response.  Your mind is a clever thing that often has a mind of its own when it comes to trauma—it has been protecting you for so long from your own memories and emotions it becomes startled by an opening up of all that was hidden.  Before I knew enough as the trauma therapist, the trauma survivor in me knew to warn my clients of this occurrence.  Since then, the trauma therapist in me learned and now understands the many onion-like layers of “why”.  

 

I woke from my nightmare shaking with the vision of a shadowy figure moving in front of me through my bedroom.

 

All I could feel was the moment following my first rape.  I was lying in the wet grass on the earthen floor of a park in New Jersey, afraid to breathe.  I was nauseous and numb and my hair was wet with dew.  My insides were shaking but my body was frozen and my fists were clenched.  I could hear the frogs and the crickets and see the dirt path that led out but I couldn’t get there.  I could smell his breath and see his smirk and hear his mocking voice saying words I’ll never forget, “You’re not going to tell people I raped you or something, right?”

 

I closed and opened my eyes and I was back in my apartment, in Colorado, 4 years after that night in the grass.  Tears were on my cheeks and sweat was covering my body.  I began to tremble and cry as if I were purging all the memories of those nights I had held from my conscious memory for so long.  My eyes adjusted to the dark and the shadow faded from view.  I steadied myself against the large oak posts of my bed. 

 

I jolted up, turned all the lights on in my apartment, and spent the rest of that night on my bathroom floor. 

 

I knew something cataclysmic had occurred.  I felt like these ghosts that had been following me had to be exorcised out of my mind and out of my internal closet before I could start fresh.  Something about the palpable nature of that nightmare made me believe that was the door to my locked closet swinging open and something new opening up inside of me–something alive.   

 

 Ego is not a dirty word by Michelle Brea on flickr

 

I have had nightmares since that night, but never one like that again.  I have never had to sleep on the bathroom floor or see shadows that weren’t there hovering over my bed.  I never went back to that park distilled in my mind or had to find myself lying in the grass without warning. 

 

I never had to go back to that park, until I wanted to, and then I did. 

 

I was in graduate school when I went back.  I had come so far and I felt so unburdened from so much of my traumatic past.  My life was no longer governed by rampant symptoms, but rather by the course of my chosen path: A life path that had taken me through an undergraduate degree in English with a Minor in Women’s Studies.  I had explored all my man-rage via feminist courses, empowered myself in my womanhood, and come out a very healthful, non-raging feminist at the end. 

 

I had written out my story, written both my stories actually, and realized after I finished that much of the details didn’t matter.  I realized that I was the story—the testament to my own survival and I didn’t have to write every painful minute of rape I could recall to prove that to myself.

 

I had found my way into graduate school for a Masters in Clinical Social Work.  I fully immersed in the coursework and quickly found my focus and passion—traumatology and trauma therapy. 

 

I had found a way to master my pain and give my experience a meaningful purpose.  I had found that my empathy and understanding of trauma as a survivor, without all my own symptoms to bleed all over myself and others, brought me to a place of usefulness in the field.  I understood trauma from the inside, from the belly of the beast. 

 

This combined with my intellectual and academic capacity to absorb all the psychology, biology, and behavioral aspects of the disorder made me both trained and intuitive, simultaneously, when it came to working with traumatized persons.  I was passionate about the work and I knew it was going to form my life’s professional pursuits.

 

I had begun to live.  I had begun to love life.  But I had not yet begun to love anyone else, at least not a man.  And every time I was in South Orange, New Jersey I always drove every way I could to avoid going past that park.  The park where so many things began and so many more things ended. 

 

And I had one of those moments of epiphany where I knew I had to go back.  I didn’t want to remain afraid of anything—not even one solitary park in a small town in New Jersey. 

 

Of all the things that had gone from my memory in a blaze of anguish, like what time of year it was when the assault happened—was it Spring or was it Fall?  Or what year was it—was I 18 or 19 when it happened?–I remembered the park. 

 

I remember how he parked his car on the slight slope on the side of the hill.  I remember walking on the dirt trail that wove through the brush into the open field.  I remember the tall grasses tickling my ankles and the sounds of night turning into early morning. 

 

So I went back. 

 

I walked down the dirt path and felt the grass on my legs.  I walked into the clearing to see not a dark early dawn, but a bright sunny afternoon.  The sun hit my face and grass tickled between my sandals.  I walked into the field to approximately the spot where he had put his blanket down for us to sit on. 

 

I sat in the grass and then I lay down.  I looked up into the sun and heard the sound of cars pulling up.  I heard a child and her mother laughing.  I smiled and I breathed in the grass scented air.  My hands touched the earthen floor and I felt the soft tickle of wildflowers under my fingertips.  I made a fist and pulled a few up from the soil.  I pulled them to my nose and breathed in and then breathed in deeper.  The air and scent of flowers filled my lungs and I smiled.  I could breathe again.  In that grass where I lost my breath years before, I could breathe again. 

 

I may not have returned to who I was before that night, we are always changed by our experiences, but I found something there in the grass that I had lost.  A piece of softness and bliss that I thought I could never retrieve. 

 

I felt a freedom in my own breath as I let go of one last strand of that petrified fear—I opened the box and let it all go.  I let the park go and I walked out the way I came—into the sunlight and into my future. 

  

(Below) Photo of me as a child, breathing in the scent of park grasses and enjoying the bliss of wildflowers.

distilled

 

Although the world is full of suffering,
it is also full of the overcoming of it.

 
Helen Keller

 

 

Caution Tape by Picture Perfect Pose at flickrCaution Tape by Picture Perfect Pose at flickr

 

I have learned a lot about lizards these past few weeks.  As of this morning I can add to my credentials “One who knows what dead lizards look like in my entryway”.  Tonight I can certify that I know what amphibious mortis (please forgive my rudimentary latin translation of dead lizard) looks like after a day on an entryway floor.   They deflate…rather fast.

 

Now, you may be wondering why would I wait about 12 hours to remove said lizardus corpus (ok now I am just making my own version of latin up).  There is a two prong approach to my reasoning: 1) I was not certain that being upside down with legs in the air was a definitive diagnosis of amphibian death so I wanted to give it some time to see.  2) 7:00 am is just too early in the morning for me to brave the task of scooping up and disposing of lizard remains.

 

I believe the dead lizard, “John Gecko Doe” is The Lizard Formerly Known As “Shower Lizard” .  He was meandering nearly lifeless around the bathroom floor at abnormally slow lizard speeds the last couple of days following the day I thought I had drowned him with my shampoo toxins.  Apparently I had caused him a much more sinister and drawn out death sentence.  I feel awful and I gave him a tiny lizard prayer as I scooped him up, flattened and scaly, and placed him into my garbage can.  Thank goodness for trash Wednesdays. 

 

But my short lived friend once fondly called “Shower Lizard” has helped me to create my own parallel from his death to my life. 

 

 I was in a little bit of a funk yesterday.  My pain had reached an all time high by sunset to the point where I felt the familiar sensation of shooting sparks of fire rippling down from my abdomen into my thighs–if you had not guessed, this is the bad end of the endometriosis pain spectrum. 

 

On top of that I had  begun work at my new office, having completed a week of prerequisite orientation off-site, and felt the sinking feeling of “First Day of School for the New Kid” with a sense of just having been thrust from my place as well-respected innovator to unknown, anonymous, new person with no history of much consequence.  Whether this perception was just my New Kid mindset or anything besides is irrelevant it was simply that feeling of being set off kilter and humbled by the death of one life and the start of another. 

 

Rebirth–professionally speaking. 

 

Death precedes rebirth.  Nature does it.  Faith and religions talk about it.  Our human lives exhibit it.  We are in constant cycles of renewal whether by catalysts we create or those we have inflicted on us.  We are made to adapt and change along with those things in our life that require it: stagnation can happen but it is in our own best interest to constantly stretch ourselves. 

 

My move, my new job, my new locale were all things I put into my life by choice but feeling the growing pains of that change in action is a learning experience which brings me new surprises at every step. 

 

I did not know that I would have such a moment of mourning at letting go of my old professional sphere and the comfort of the known I had found in it.  I did not know that I would be separated from my husband for this long and that the distance would bring with it unknown pains and unanticipated appreciation at a deeper and deeper level for what my husband means in my life and in my heart. 

 

Change brings with it struggles with the unknown, with our own insecurities, and the growing pains that bring us out on the other side changed but evolved in some way.  The death is always rebirth of some kind and fear can becoming invigorating awareness, although always with some struggles along the way.

 

I am appreciative of the distance and time apart from my husband (on my better days) because it has allowed me the blessing of knowing my love for him in a far more dimensional way than I had ever known before.  I am thankful for the new opportunities in a new place, a new job, and the new adventures that might be on the horizon as a result.  I, as all of us do, fear the death of the old but know that what is being born is not just a new life but valuable lessons about myself along the way. 

 

I thank my fond friend of only a few short weeks “Shower Lizard” for reminding me of the cycle of life.  I hope he finds all the shower drains his little heart could ever desire wherever he has gone to.  And I really hope he is the last deflated amphibious mortis that I have to scoop for a while.  It is a disheartening side job.

 

Life is change.   Growth is optional.  Choose wisely. 

AUTHOR UNKNOWN

 

Boken by MSIChicago on flickr

Boken Egg by MSIChicago

Starting Life by jimdeane at flickr

                                                     {1}Starting Life by jimdeane on flickr

 

Bathtubs, Holmfirth by tricky at flickrBathtubs, Holmfirthby trickyTM at flickr

 

One thing I dream for pretty consistently may seem an insinuated pleasure to some, a bathtub I can take a bath in; a big old, bubbles and whistles (well not literal whistles but you get the gist) bathtub that one can luxuriate and decompress in.  I often wonder what my life and perhaps my anxiety level might be with the addition of one of those–I have heard good things about such decadence.  Instead I have meandered through numerous years of rental living with one manner of unlivable bathing equipment after another.  And each time I think I have hit the bottom of the drain I am confronted with another even more extensive effrontery to human cleanliness. 

 

This time it is well water and lizards.  This is a new experience for me.  I have had plenty of tubs growing mold, potentially once sites of some kind of violent crime, or the tub that never was in my Manhattan adjacent apartment (ie Hoboken, NJ) where there was only enough space for a standing shower with toilet in the bathroom –see sink in the kitchen for further sanitation. 

 

But there is something about trickling well water that just doesn’t scream clean.  And even if it did the not-so-faint odor of rust that emits from the water itself and the washee following bathing in it leaves one with the feeling of needing to shower to wash away the shower.  I am more than ever thankful for very potent body lotions–which of course is additionally mosquito bait but between rustiness and bug bites my sensitive nasal cavities choose to offer me up to the tiny vampires of the south. 

 

Anyway, besides the fact of never feeling quite clean maybe I am thinking about this particular area of loss right now because it has been a particularly bad pain weekend.  I have cramping like mad and not at all sure why–besides faulty genetics and disorganized systems of reproduction.  Enemy thy name is Endometriosis.  And what I could use to deflect some of the enemy’s force might be a relaxing bath–or so I hypothesize as I bemoan not having the ability to find out. 

 

Endo as well as erratic Florida rain also inhibited my ability to take part in my first ocean view beach yoga class.  I am hoping that I can make up for that by taking one of the sunset classes this week at 6:00pm following work or try again next weekend…all depending on my pal Endo and what she has planned–we often conflict.  She’s always wanting to spend long days on bathroom floors, or in beds with heating pads on abdomens while I would rather do anything but those things.  She usually wins. 

 

Body as the enemy, and a woman.  Again I lead back into the multitude of issues related to internal or external trauma and the female elements of dueling within ourselves.  I would love a bath.  I would love a pain free regimen of care for my condition.  I would love to not have to go anywhere with backup pain medicine, just in case it gets too bad.  I would love a lot of things that are not within my grasp or within my power…like having my husband living with me in our home in Florida and going to sleep knowing that my whole family of two plus dogs was under the same roof. 

 

What I have learned in the brief period of time since the move to Florida with more clarity than ever before is that as much as we want to try to control the elements of our lives or our bodies sometimes it is just not possible and in those moments we just have to let things go.  “Let Go and Let God” is a constantly used mantra of AA programs but the overall sense of it is useful to all.  My friend Marisol over at Homefront Letters discussed the other day her own struggle within herself to want what isn’t possible and her method of giving it up to something greater than herself. 

 

Whatever we believe in and whatever spiritual path we follow sometimes it is necessary to let everything go: our pains, our wants, our control (which is often more just an illusion of our own imaginations than actual control).  We must let everything go and give it up to something bigger than us.  We can only carry so much and we really control so little.  Sometimes letting go is all we can do, otherwise we will drive ourselves mad trying to fix the unfixable or change what is not in our capacity to change. 

 

I am learning that with more clarity every day.  And sometimes the realization itself is a painful process of recognition.  Giving everything over to something that is not ourselves sometimes feels against our own instincts.  In truth it is more of a learned and acquired capacity but one that is much healthier for us in the long run.  To be able to let go of things that happen in our lives enough so that we are not ruled by them.  And also enough so that we can get enough distance and perspective that we can deal with the life issues that come up.  Again it is an acquired capacity and one that is not easy as I learn struggling with it daily. 

 

I will try to let go of the fury that wells in me when the cramps erupt and the frustration at my trickling well shower.  And I will continue to smile at my shower lizard when he pokes his head out of the drain…hoping desperately that I am not drowning him and apologizing profusely as I douse him with my shampoo run off.  He seems to take the whole experience far better than I am so far–but I guess it’s all a learning curve. 

 

Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.

Zen Proverb

 

The Last Shower by winterofdiscontent at flickrThe Last Shower by winterofdiscontent on flickr

 Woman in the Mirror by MCSimon on flickr

  Woman in the Mirror by MC Simon on Flickr

 

My girl puppy has a habit of looking herself in the mirror and barking ferociously.  I doubt it is because she hates the sight of herself, or she is angrily eyeing the bit of fat under her chin.  Most likely it is the fact that she is a dog and she thinks the dog in the mirror is an oddly similar looking intruder that she can’t quite get at.  All the same, the sight of my little girl, all dressed in fur, looking curiously at herself in the mirror often leaves me thinking, “Et tu Gaia? Et tu?”

 

Ecoyogini’s blog post yesterday entitled “Feminist Yoga” reflected on body image and sexualization issues as they impact even the yogic sanctum.  Her post led me back to a book I have loved and kept for well over a decade minding the body: women writers on body and soul which discusses issues of body images and the correlating sentiments of women writers. 

 

As I begin a new job I find myself standing in front of the mirror a little too long every morning weighing multiple issues: do I look professional enough, do I look appropriate enough, and yes, am I showing “too much” flesh.  From a feminist perspective those thoughts link back to a much bigger issue than me–or my puppy–in a mirror.  These inflicted restrictions on the self come from a larger determining body–culture, society, and yes, gender perceptions and stereotypes. 

 

We all coexist in a society plagued by issues of domestic violence, sexual violence, and external abuses that are more often inflicted on women than men.  It is just statistically true.  They can lead to body dysmorphia, and subsequent body issues from anorexia and bulimia,  to cutting and trichotillomania (hair pulling) as well as other masochistic behaviors which women inflict (statistically much more than men) on themselves, on their bodies in a horribly punitive way. 

 

1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 

17.7 American women have been victims of  attempted or completed rapes.

Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.

Roughly 33% of girls and 14% of boys are molested before the age of 18.

 

Some women who have survived sexual trauma or abuses will gain weight as a protective shell, to try to avoid sexualization by hiding their body within their own body. Some will become overly sexualized and sexually active as a way to take power back over the act that betrayed their innocence and their bodies.  Some will carve into their flesh as a means of eradicating emotional pain by distracting themselves with the release of blood and ache in a physical way. 

 

Many others will use the cutting, other self abuses, and weight gain or particularly loss (as in anorexia) as a self punishment for abuse in their lives they blame on themselves.   The use of overeating, undereating, and purging (bulimia) is also used as a method of control over the self when other things in the world have not been controllable for that woman– such as the abuses or control inflicted on them by some external force. 

 

Women intake all the world’s garbage and bile about body image and take it in or purge it out in ways that can be deadly.  And even when it is not physically deadly it can be catastrophic for a woman’s self image, capacity for self-love, and ability to take care and heal themselves.  These disruptive and unhealthy coping mechanisms woman have used as shields to protect against future harm. 

 

And as minding the body explicates on our image of ourselves, our perception of what is “right” or “good” for a woman, and what we “should” be is not limited to the self-abuses inflicted following being abused by another person.  Our bodies can be our abusers. 

 

I think of my endometrioisis and the pain it brings me.  As I sit here now I feel the ripples and spasms fluctuate through my body and I try to list what I did or what I ate today that might have, on my part, contributed to the ache.  minding the body also references issues around infertility, cancer, and other physically, biologically inflicted wounds that jar and mangle the parts of ourselves we see as “woman” or as “beautiful” by the standards and precepts we have been given to judge ourselves.

 

Some days I hate my body.  For its shape with thick bold curves and an ever expanding waistline with every year.  For the pains it brings me.  For how I look in my clothes or the parts of myself that seep out of even the most professionally geared garment just due to my biologically endowed physique.

 

On days like today, when I probe into the whys and hows, I feel frustration at having those moments of self-loathing.  I feel that I should “know better” but of course knowing is not feeling and we all have to work constantly not to submit to what we have been taught is the only acceptable perfection as a woman: to be overly dramatic the image of a Stepford wife pops in my head, devoid of any emotional depth or ache, a perfect chef, with a non-existent waist , and whispy blonde hair. 

 

So how do we love ourselves when it feels that so many images and perceptions of beauty tell us, for one reason or another, not to?  For the everyday body image issues of a cursory lack of self-satisfaction I would say taking into account all of these external forces and maybe applying a little of the perception piece I talked about yesterday can be a starting point.  But often the pain of the body and hate of the self can be rooted so much further than skin deep.  It can come from pains and aches that are far below the surface and far beyond the reach of what can just be seen by the eye or in a mirror. 

 

 The premise of body-oriented studies and therapeutic treatments is the opposite of self-loathing and idolizing the impossible; it is meant to be self-embracing.  It is a potential holisitic antidote to the pain many women contain within their hearts, minds, and bodies.

 

Yoga and body-oriented therapies can work to mend some of that pain by creating a safe and healthy relationship with the body and a way for someone to love themselves and care for themselves by learning how to enjoy what their body is capable of.   Yoga is being used and spoken about more and more in reference to trauma (as I have talked and written about before) and for eating disorders.  Other methods that access our bodies to help us love ourselves and heal include dance therapy and anything else within the arena of movement arts. 

 

The body is the entry point for so much pain and for many women it is where their trauma entered them, invaded them, and brought them to an emotional place where they feel hate, shame and blame for their own selves.  The body is a place of much trauma and pain for many women and is a place where healing can begin.  Yoga in particular can teach us to breathe again, teach us to move with empowerment, and can bring a sense of love for the body that contains so many memories of pain and hate. 

 

The practice of yoga must be touched on lightly and often, with trauma, I think if someone is going to try yoga or body therapies as a means to healing from trauma they should work slowly, work with someone who knows trauma, and often starting small and individually  before entering the often bombarding sphere of a classroom.

 

This is also why I think it is so important to have more trauma-oriented yoga professionals because as a teacher you never know who will enter your class and what they will bring with them as well as what the class, with its access of the body, may bring up for them in a powerful way.  It is also why I think it is important to have more and more training for yoga professionals, mental health professionals, and persons from a trauma background that explain the nature of trauma and the relationship to the body and mind as well as a way to use yoga in a healthy way for traumatized persons.  Whether the trauma is internal–illness or injury–or externally inflicted there is a need for all people entering into this field of mind/body connection to be as educated and aware as possible. 

 

That is why I have begun formulated and giving such trainings for professionals of many fields and persons who are suffering from trauma.  If you want more information on my endeavors please see the “Trainings” Section of my website Embody (W)holistic Mental Health or for information on trauma and yoga you can look at the articles on the same website. 

 

I want to thank EcoYogini for focusing on such an important issue as body image on her blog and giving me the inspiration to focus on this area that is so important to me.  

 

My thoughts and heart go out to anyone suffering from trauma and pain emotional and otherwise.  I want every woman to know that I am thinking of you as I write this and the pains you might have suffered.  Love yourself in some way today.  Do something for yourself because you deserve it. 

 

 I plan to eat some cheese and stretch.  Because I love cheese as much as a mouse and stretching as much as a cat. 

 

 

daring by MC Simon on flickr

 daring by MC Simon on flickr

 

You use a glass mirror to see your face.  You use works of art to see your soul.

George Bernard Shaw

 

by SmallRaffaela

by SmallRaffaela

flickr photo “hide and seek” by SmallRaffaela

 

 

Good thing I believe that my body is just the fancy (or not so fancy) outer casing for much more valuable goods: my soul, heart, spirit.  If I had higher expectations for my “casing” I might be more inclined to really resent the one I got handed to me from the cosmic assembly line. 

 

Although, in truth, I have some body resentments.  Between chronic rhinitus, psoriasis, and endometriosis (all conditions correlated to immune system dysfunction) I vacilate between fevers, abdominal spasms, and scalp burning and itching; each condition exacerbaterated by the next.  Last week rhinitus was center stage and today endo has come out to play. 

 

Curled over on a bathroom floor doing my lamaze breath to placate my angry belly which writhes and stabs and contorts from the inside out I find myself swimming in my own pool of self pity–and then resenting myself for my thoughts. 

 

I can remember back in November sitting in the office of my reproductive endocrinologist with my husband and having him tell me that during my laprascopic surgery they found “Stage IV” of endometriosis invading my body. In non-medical terms “Stage IV” is pretty much an internal warzone the like of maybe the battle for Troy.  My organs were fused together and my fallopian tube was blocked shut with endometriosis, not to mention a giant cyst wedged between the carnage like a giant grenade.  I imagined something close to a Dali painting going on in between my hips; an abstract distortion of what innards should look like. 

 

He also told me that I would probably have to have the surgery again within two years, I guess something like an ovarian detailing, and that if I wanted to get pregnant, due to the damage to my fallopian tube, I was at risk for tubal pregnancy which can require pregnancy termination due to the dangerousness of the situation.  I left my appointment with photos of my internal carnage, a prescription for birth control to take daily indefinitely, and feeling completely betrayed by my body.

 

Today is one of those days I revisit that same sense of betrayal.  I have, over the years since I hit puberty,  become accustomed to days spent writhing on the bathroom floor, alternating between cursing and praying, and drowning in my own self-pity.  As I become more expert at this particular ailment I come to terms with the pain as a piece of my existence, just an element of my story that will persist at the very least until I remove all the pesky troublesome organs.  I live with it.  But the pity still creeps in from time to time. 

 

I work to live in my body, love what I have, and forgive it its flaws–and just as I do that I know I have to do the same for myself emotionally.  Forgive my moments of pitying weakness and allow myself to feel as I feel, give myself permission to be human.  

 

It is hard to have a cohesive and complimentary relationship with one’s body and one’s mind when they seem to be at odds.  When you feel that your body has betrayed you in such a core way, and as a woman in such an essential and intimate part of your anatomy, in your female center. 

 

But as I stare down at my body and run my fingers across the surgery scars that flank my navel I know that wounds, and aches, and scars, and all, I have to love my body.  Because although it is only the casing for the raw materials that define my “self” it is also a collaborative experiment, this human existence thing.   I have to work with what my body has given me and accept it’s flaws, accept my emotional moments of weakness, and be able to acknowledge my scars without hating them. 

 

I continue to struggle with this tug of war and some days I lie on the bathroom floor breathing deeply and sobbing.  But other days I don’t.  And all of that is also part of the human experiment that is my life; finding the balance and making my way through my own ebbs and flows.  And give myself permission to not be perfect and try to constantly remember not to expect the illusion of perfection that doesn’t exist for anyone anywhere anyway. 

 

“Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for each is the work of the other.”

Henry David Thoreau

dream on by smallraffaela on flickr

flickr photo “dream on” by SmallRaffaela

 

 

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