A Theatrical Dialogue Between Consciousness, Unconsiousness, and Body Wisdom

I am often angry when I write blog posts. There are so many things to be angry about in our current social-political climate. Anger often fuels my drive to say something. But today is different. Today, not only is there an absence of anger, there is an abundance of joy and happiness. In fact, I have been joyful and delighted most of the time for the last several weeks.

Why?

Body wisdom.

To fully understand the magnitude of this phenomenon, I must include some backstory:

2016 was a tumultuous year for many individuals, myself included, as well as whole groups of people and countries. Electing Cheeto Head was the proverbial cherry on top of a rather craptacular year for many of us. My year sucked so badly I went digging into the archives of history to find a year that sucked worse; 1348 was none too good. The Black Plague had reached England and was rampaging towards its final death count of 50 million people or 60% of Europe’s population. That was a sucky year and I’m glad I wasn’t there… or glad I can’t remember it if I was. My year of ending a relationship, the loss of beloved pets, moving four times in eight months, the death of a friend, bike theft, and the most profound grief I have ever experienced due to a major loss wasn’t as bad as the Black Plague. Thank you, Perspective.

So why am I so happy now?

Because half way through the year I started listening to Body and I am now reaping the benefits of that practice.

It is no secret that I have struggled with an eating disorder for a very long time. Growing up in the dance world lends itself to food trauma at an early age. After a decade of extreme restriction, I got some treatment and started to heal. For the next decade, I had years of healthy eating, followed by some months of unhealthy eating followed by months of healthy eating…the revolving door of health just kept turning. This will be a familiar scenario to those of you who struggle with disordered eating or other addictions.

My last bout of unhealthy eating surged in early 2016. I was under an extreme amount of stress at home and at work. I didn’t mean to stop eating, it just sort of happened. Two therapists and a nutritionist later, I learned that food restriction is just a response to stress. It does not mean I’m a bad person. It does not induce psychosis or otherwise cause poor judgment. Some people binge watch Netflix or drink beers when they’re stressed. I stop eating.

The other thing I learned about this pattern of unhealthy eating is that it is my body’s way of getting my attention. This is incredibly important so I am going to repeat it for clarity:

Food restriction is my Body’s way of saying WAKE THE FUCK UP

So are cravings for drugs and alcohol.

Carl Jung often noted that there is opposition between unconscious knowing and conscious awareness. Consciousness helps control the wildness of the unconscious while the unconscious keeps consciousness from ignoring everything besides rationality (that was quite an oversimplification. Check out Jung for more detail).

This last bout of disordered eating reared its beautiful head at the end of a period of years during which I lived a life that wasn’t mine. It is so easy to fall into the trap of following the normative script we are given at birth because the plot is beaten into our consciousness from that moment forward. You’re familiar with the lines: get your gender assignment at birth, grow up according to that gender assignment, go to college, meet people, get a job/forge a career, fall in love, marry that person, buy a house, have kids, retire with a pile of money. Or some version of that outline. If you’re a person of color, queer, disabled, not a member of the professional or owning classes and/or any combination of those social identities, you are still expected to follow the normative script but you’re not given equal opportunities to do so. And Goddess forbid if you want to throw the damn script out and do something different.

I’m not a script follower. Never have been. Yet there have been plenty of moments in my life where, I too, was sucked into the normative vortex and obediently attempted to follow the predetermined plot. The years of my life when I did this never went well. Mostly they were riddled with drug use, violent relationships, and a desperate me trying hard to play the part of “woman” as it was assigned to me at birth. More recently, it was me trying to play the part of “professional class person on a career track in a life-long relationship.” I tried really, really hard. My consciousness kept telling me this was the way to go.

Consciousness: Follow the plot! It leads to happiness.

Me: Really? Are you sure? Cause I’m pretty fucking unhappy.

Consciousness: I’m sure. This is it! This is what people do. Settle down. Give your life over to your partner, you’ll be fine.

Me: OK. I guess you know best.

Meanwhile, my unconscious was screaming.

Unconscious: NO! NO! What the hell are you doing? This isn’t right!

Me: [Can’t hear anything]

Unconscious: Hey you out there! Are you listening? I’m telling you this isn’t right. This is not your path of highest truth. You’re meant to do other things, live another way. Throw out the damn script!

Me: [Can’t hear anything]

Unconscious: [Fuming] Fine. You can’t hear me shouting? I’m calling in the big guns. Hey Body, get in here.

Body: Yes?

Unconscious: Our person isn’t listening. Will you please induce a months long bout of depression? Make sure they take no joy in other people or activities; make it so they can’t get out of bed.

Body: Done!

Unconscious: Maybe that will get their attention.

Months go by. I feel incredibly depressed. I assume something is horribly wrong with me. This is reinforced by my external environment. Consciousness is no help. I still can’t hear Unconscious.

Unconscious: [Sighing] This is worse than I thought. They are in deep. OK Body, bring back the disordered eating. And the craving for substances. Throw everything you’ve got at them. We need to get their attention.

Body: Done!

More months go by. I am shocked by the intensity of cravings for substances that I haven’t used in years, some I have never used. I continue to think something is horribly wrong with me. I stop eating. I feel shame. I am told I’m a bad person. I feel more shame.

still don’t listen.

When Unconscious tells us to do something as risky as throw out our whole life, it’s really hard to listen. This is a scary move. In my case, when I did not make the decision to leave a toxic work environment and relationship, it was made for me. Everything blew up in a dramatic fiery explosion of life events.

And then it was quiet.

Then I was able to spend months in solitude, sitting in the mountains or dancing in my home. It was quiet enough that I could finally hear. Body made their wisdom known through art, movement, writing, and epiphanies. I heard the call to move. I answered. I heard the call to move again. I answered. Find the place in the world where you can heal. I heard the call to change careers, to give up the script of my master’s degree, to do what brought me joy. I answered. I heard the call to connect with people on my terms, in ways that felt good to me. I answered.

It has been eight months since the fiery explosion of my life. It has been eight months of quiet reflection and deep listening to Body and Unconscious. They were right. I threw out the script. I’m living life as I want. I’m queer as fuck and writing my life to match.

And guess what?

I’m happy. I am happier than I have been in many, many years. I find myself surrounded by community that is full of love and support. I am on an intellectual journey that satisfies my need to know things. I am on an emotional journey of intimate connection with friends and family. I am on a spiritual journey of walking lightly on the earth and connecting to our planet. I am on a warrior’s journey of challenging the status quo, engaging with The Resistance, and examining my privilege.

Most importantly, I have forged a relationship with Body that cannot be severed. I have vowed to never again ignore Body or intuition, but heed the calls and intentionally serve wisdom as it arises from those places no matter how difficult the actions may be. Because I now know that love, peace, connection, and purpose come when I listen to Body.

Guess what else?

I have been eating well since the moment I started listening to Body. I have not had one craving for substances since I left my toxic life and set out on the path of my truth. Not one.

There was nothing wrong with me. I just have a loud Body.

Advertisements

When the Body Cries

I used to think I was alone in my hatred of the body I was given. I believed that no one could loathe their skin sack as much as I did or feel they had been given their body in error. My body did not belong to me and I was going to do whatever it took to beat it into submission. This body with the wide ribcage, broad shoulders, and tiny wrists could not be mine. This body with the beautiful face, mammoth calves, and belly that I cannot starve away did not belong to me. It is not mine, I tell you and it must be controlled, whipped, starved, and drugged so that it will become the body I know I need.

I am many years removed from feeling that extreme hatred of my body. Six years of intensive therapy with a brilliant art therapist supported my healing in a profound way. There are still times, in moments of stress, when I stop eating but that is not because I want to be thinner. For me, food is stressful and when life becomes overwhelming, it’s easier not to eat than eat. I recognize that this is an unhealthy coping skill and I work very hard not to let it overtake me, but sometimes it does. I share this because I was told this year that my unhealthy coping skill was a character flaw; something I did to make someone else’s life difficult. I share this because I do not want anyone else who struggles with disordered eating to endure such a lie.

Everyone has unhealthy coping skills. Life in a body is very hard and sometimes it just plain sucks. Unhealthy coping skills include but are not limited to: drinking and drugging, gambling, binge watching Netflix, overeating, under-eating, drinking caffeine, over exercising, under exercising, lying, stealing, manipulating, not talking, gossiping… the list goes on and on. The point is we all engage with them sometimes so judging each other for them is hypocrisy.

Most people who struggle with disordered eating also struggle with perfectionism and telling us to be perfect (i.e.: don’t have an eating disorder) doesn’t help. Just saying.

I am currently developing a hypothesis that unhealthy coping skills are actually the body’s way of trying to get our attention. We live in a mind-based, left-brained world (thank you, Descartes) but our bodies carry wisdom and are constantly communicating with us though we mostly don’t listen. We don’t listen because we haven’t been taught to listen.

Body might try quietly at first to let us know that something is off. Maybe we get a stomachache or a headache, but we take some Advil and get on with our day. So then Body starts telling us it needs something but we mistake that need for sugar/alcohol/television/sex etc…. These unhealthy coping skills cause us to numb out which makes it even harder to listen to Body. So Body gets louder and louder and we engage more and more with our unhealthy coping skill, thinking “I just can’t seem to get out of bed,” or “I will just have one more drink,” or “there isn’t time to eat.” And before we know it we are in a delicious spiral of addiction or a maze of an old pattern and Body cries and cries, “listen!”

There have been times in my life when everything had to run into the ground before I listened to Body who was trying to offer life-saving messages like, “get out now or he’s going to kill you,” or “this is not the life you are meant to live,” or “this is a toxic relationship.” More recently, there were times when Body said, “you’re not in the right place,” and I could hear the message clearly the first time it was stated. When I listen to my body, the doors of opportunity open. When I do not listen to my body I end up in a state of starvation and turmoil.

How do I listen? First, I must be still. Body’s guidance is felt rather than heard and if I’m moving, it is too easy to lose the message in a flurry of activity. Second, I must quiet Mind who loves to chatter and drown out Body’s wisdom. Then, in that space of quiet stillness, I can feel the messages from Body with clarity.

Life would be so much easier if we were taught these steps as children so we could easily hear and take action when Body cried.

I wonder if the hatred I felt for my body was due to the fact that Body always had the truth and I didn’t want to hear it. Don’t we often get angry with people who hold us accountable for our actions and expect us to live up to our highest truths? I think Body is doing this all the time. I’m glad to be in a position of love for Body, even if they always speak the brutal truth and ask me to take difficult action in order to actualize my potential. It’s like having my own personal guru with me all the time. And all I have to do is listen.