Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Your Body Tells You Something You Don't Want To Hear...

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend, the final hurrah of the summer. I returned to my family's home in Maine for lobster, blueberry cobbler and the occasional cocktail. There's also homemade ice-cream and cannisters of nuts, chocolate and cookies. My husband, a former bartender, whips up fresh summer drinks with lime, mint and rum. It's the ultimate opportunity for indulgence. The only problem is, indulgence isn't fun like it used to be.

You know what I mean. Come on, you do. Even if you think you don't. Indulgence feels like a headache the next day. Or a sense of something happening in my stomach that doesn't quite feel right. More important these days, indulgence can feel like I ignored a deep part of myself, and I'm sadly realizing I don't actually find that enjoyable.

This epiphany is showing up the most in my use of alcohol, which I've never particularly overdone, but which often accompanies a good meal or a piece of chocolate. Lately, alcohol just makes me feel sick. And I mean actually dizzy, with a headache and the sense that I just need to lie down.

I want to ignore it. I want to say, 'just forget about it, have fun!' and yet I think my definition of fun is changing. My body must be changing. And now, in the moment, alcohol is no longer appealing--no matter how much my mind wants it to be, or my emotions want it to be a social lubricant at the party my parents bring me and my husband to. I just have to listen, say no, and respect what my body is saying.

But it gets me thinking about the crossroads we're faced with when our body is telling us something we don't want to hear: a negative reaction to a food we love, a sense of tiredness when we want to push to get the best workout for the week, even a gut feeling that a relationship isn't right when we want to convince ourselves someone is perfect for us. It's like any relationship when a partner's truth is inconvenient, not what we wanted to hear, interferes with our agenda, our own perfect plan.

What I have come to realize in most of my other relationships, however, is that when that inconvenient truth is spoken (and I can actually hear it) there is almost always something very important, some gift gleaned, by actually listening and finding middle ground. That kind of humility and openness to my partner's needs aren't just good because they make my partner want to stay. They're also good because my partner's thoughts and feelings--even if I don't think I want to hear them--almost always have something to teach me. They help me to grow.

The same is true of our bodies. And yet, mute partners that they are, unable to threaten us with divorce, they often do get ignored when they tell us something we don't want to hear: when they give us a symptom we wish weren't there, a reaction to something we'd like not to have. Things usually have to reach a fever pitch--legitimate overweight or some kind of health crisis--before we listen.

Lately--as I have come to feel in most of my relationships--I'm wanting to choose the kindness of being in a listening, compassionate relationship more than I want my way. Even though it's annoying and inconvenient, I think I'd rather not have that wine if it's going to give me a headache or eat the homemade ice-cream if it's going to make my digestion feel stuck.

I used to think this was boring; maybe I used to think it was too much like my body controlled me and I wanted my freedom. But these days I think I'm beginning to see that within a loving connection to my body is a kind of freedom and peace that exceeds the wild whims of junk food and alcohol. Not unlike a swinging single finally committing to a relationship that matters, I'm truly seeing that playing a field of choices that might harm my body is not as much 'fun' as moment-to-moment listening, awareness and attunement to my body and my life.

Call me crazy. But I urge you to think about how you respond when your body sends you a message you don't want to hear about something you'd rather keep doing, ignoring the body's voice. Then take yourself through to how you'll actually feel when it's all over. Will you still be glad you made that choice?

Think of it as body maturity, body commitment: finally settling down into this relationship you'll have for the rest of your life. What if you let yourself fall into it, belong to it and partner with it? How much more time would you spend experiencing your body rather than resisting it? What will you do the next time your body tells you something you don't want to hear?

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