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Body Language

I have an intimate experience of learning the language of the body. When I was 16 years old, I began having gall bladder dysfunction. But I didn't know that's what was happening. I would double over in excruciating pain, and try to breathe through the worst stomach ache ever. It lasted a few hours, leaving me exhausted. I would go to the clinic on my own, not wanting to bother my parents. I thought I was supposed to be able to take care of myself. The doctors would tell me I had acid reflux. I didn't have any reason not to believe them.

I began experimenting with what foods made it worse, trying to understand my body and what it needed. I started exploring health food stores, and studying nutrition. But still, the mysterious pains still came, off and on, for 5 years. Sweating, doubled over, puking from the pain. The episodes got more frequent and severe. I went to urgent care a handful of times in college, each time being told I had severe acid reflux, and would have to be on an acid blocker my entire life. At this point I had reduced my diet to white rice and cooked vegetables, and nothing was helping.

I remember feeling an attack coming on one day, walking home from campus. As the cramping got worse, I had the image of a porkchop, a pocket cut lengthwise, and stuffed with gravel. The pain was like someone was squeezing this porkchop, grinding my insides against stone. After this imagery, I was able to describe to the next urgent care nurse what I was feeling. I was so afraid of sounding crazy, but I was desperate. She referred me to a specialist who did an ultrasound and found my gallbladder infected and full of stones. Trying to pass these stones is what causes the extreme pain of gallbladder dysfunction. We did emergency surgery that week.

This experience shaped the course of my life. I thought the doctors were supposed to know what was wrong. I showed up, a child, asking for help. They turned me away each time, with a bag of pills and no satisfying explaination. I felt helpless and confused, wondering if it was my fault for not being able to explain what I was feeling. I tried to tell them I had bouts of excruciating pain. I thought they would listen, and take me seriously. That they would do something to figure out what was wrong. Each time I was sent away, I lost more hope that I could be helped, and that anyone cared that I was hurting. I felt scared and alone. Like something was wrong with me and I was invisible, and voiceless.

I was a teenager, and in my early 20's, often worried I would need to be near a bathroom in case I got sick. I was a young adult, making decisions about life path, career path, relationships, learning what I liked and wanted. Very much distracted by this mysterious and painful problem inside of me, and all the stories that were being formed around it in the darkness of my mind.

Once my gallbladder was removed and I was no longer victim to the unpredictable and debilitating episodes of pain, my helplessness turned to embittered rage. I would NEVER trust a doctor again. I would do everything in my power to be healthy and well so I didn't have to be so helpless and mistreated. I took full responsibility for my health, knowing that I could not rely on anyone else to know my body better than myself. I also tried taking responsibility of the health of my loved ones, and anyone else that might be suffering. While also pushing away any support and help, not willing to chance feeling so let down again. Some deep truths and passions began growing in me, but they were rooted in so much pain.

It has taken years to recover my innocence and power from that time. To learn what I can control and what I can't. What is mine and not mine. What it means to support and be supported, to have a voice, to work and live from love and compassion instead of being driven by wounding.

I began this post wanting to talk about the way the body speaks. I want to encourage and empower those who are finely attuned to their inner workings - the body, the mind, the heart, the spirit - to find and use whatever language comes through from these deeper places. Our common clinical or culturally accepted ways of describing what we feel in the body are woefully inadequate. And the space we are given to feel into and describe our experience is equally inadequate.

The language of the body is often symbolic. We might identify color, texture, density, shape, smell, taste, etc when feeling into a pain or tension. A full-color picture film might play out, a memory might arise. We might feel in our pelvis a solid, black, tourmaline egg that is heavy and still, deflecting everything that comes in contact with it. The shoulder might feel like it's wrapped in saran wrap too tight, unable to move freely. Like it's being squeezed, like a balloon being held underwater. We don't need to necessarily interpret these messages. We just need to listen and hear them. This is the body's wisdom. It's not separate from the mind or the spirit, and it includes our energy body. When we are heard, a loosening often happens. Freedom to breathe and move. Shake it off, feel it through and let it go. Or not.

Some people are attuned to this language, and have been shamed for speaking it. Discouraged or shushed, or told that they're wrong. That it's not true or possible for it to feel like your hands are blown up like balloons, and you should stop with such nonsense. We don't know how to diagnose or treat balloon hands. Some of us were silenced so long ago, we feel totally disconnected, unable to get close enough to ourselves to even listen or hear what we are feeling at all.

It is no surprise that the root of my work is offering space and touch to help people contact, feel, be with, and find language for the subtle or not so subtle experiences that come through the BodyMind. I needed to be held with compassion, given space, time and encouragement to feel, claim, and name what was going on in and through me as a 16, 18, 21 year old, suffering from that mystery pain.

I need this still. I believe we all do. Honoring the beauty and the pain of this great holy mystery.


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