Wheew, friends, it’s been a while. Winter break just slipped out from under me. P had a lot of time off this year and we spent most of winter break together – hanging out at home, watching movies, going for walks, cooking, and preparing for the holidays. Then we spent a week in the Yucatan where we snorkeled, ate, swam, and lounged on the beach. It was spectacular.
Then I returned home and classes started. Despite only needing two classes to graduate, I’m registered for 20 credits. I know, right? Ridiculous. Most of them are pre-reqs for a M.Ed./licensure program for which I haven’t yet been accepted (but I should find out in a few weeks). I was hoping for a relaxed final undergrad semester but instead I’m frantically reading about zoology, cell biology, the history and philosophy of science, among other things. It’s all excellent material, but I’m burnt out and tired.
And then the Sadness returned. It hasn’t been as intense or debilitating, but it’s there, all the same. Although I’m noticing some differences this time on the (no so)merry-go-round. Whereas I’ve previously assumed that the Sadness’ return signaled a regression in my recovery, I’m beginning to believe that’s not wholly accurate.
I realize that the following analogy is probably crude, especially because I haven’t experienced it, but it’s the imagery that’s been in my mind. It’s felt (again, give me a little license) like labor – a difficult and painful process in which my internal homeostasis is disturbed in a sort of positive feedback loop to make way for change.
At first the Sadness haunted the background, making me sluggish and grumpy. Then it increased in intensity until I was having trouble getting through the day. About that time, in a sort of domino fashion, all sorts of internal changes took place. Most are a little too unformed and raw to discuss, but one major event has been, what I’m referring to internally, as “embodiment”.
As a child I learned it’s best to not have a body. It was repeatedly ignored, abused, and tormented. I became very adept at just shutting it down. Nearly all bodily experience could just be flicked “off.” If I had to go to the bathroom and it was dangerous or inconvenient – I shut it off. If I was in pain, most of the time I ignored it. If I was sick – I worked through it. If there was food – I ate until it was gone (despite body signals of hunger or lack thereof). If there wasn’t food – I didn’t eat. The list goes on.
But over the past several weeks I’ve become aware that it’s time to “move back in.” It’s hard to live authentically and wholly when entirely detached from most of the human experience. It’s also impossible to move forward in the healing process when I can’t tune into what I’m feeling and thus interpret what I need. It’s been alarming to realize that often I have body demands that I have no idea what they mean. I’m 30 and I can’t interpret my own feelings and emotions.
The day after I realized this, I awoke to a persuasive image: I experienced “me” as a small shadow living, all folded up, in a small area in the back of my brain. It was the only safe place. “I” (this small shadow) tentatively stretched and extended down my neck and tried to “move in” to my body but I was completely overwhelmed with a powerful sense of terror and lack of safety. Even though I haven’t been in acute physical danger for fifteen or so years, I still didn’t feel like my own body was a safe place to be.
Frankly, I’m struggling with all this. I don’t really want to “move back in” but I also know it’s necessary. As I told M (my therapist) several session ago (I think this has been budding for months) I hate having a body. This is weird for me to write, to admit. But I really don’t like the body experience. It’s burdensome and difficult, it’s demanding, it requires a great deal of care and attention. It has failures and faults, and so much of it I can’t control. It feels unwieldy and hard to understand. It’s vulnerable to far too many dangers. The body experience is often intense and confusing. It carries too much trauma, it holds too many memories, and it’s just hard to accept that this mess is mine and I have to take care of it. I don’t want it – I want to start over. I want to take this little “shadow me” and move in somewhere – anywhere – else. Heavens, it sounds like I’m going through puberty all over again. ha!
If there’s one thing I’m really good at it’s accepting process. I don’t expect instantaneous results. I know I can move in slowly, and that’s okay. I know I can get used to all this gradually and that, one day, I’ll feel at home here.
Currently, my little shadow is sitting around my neck and shoulders. I’m not sure that I’ll ever get used to talking like this – a shadow me! – it feels a little too… weird. But it works. And so I’ll work to accept it. Until then, this acceptance of my neck and shoulders as a “safe place” feels like a sweet, fuzzy cat draped around me and, even I’ll admit, that feels pretty damn good.