As I revealed in this post, I am new to the whole “actually dealing with trying to stay in recovery from an addiction that covered up some really negative emotions.” And wow, has it been a lesson. I mean, I have known and dated addicts my whole pre-married life, and I have studied and had a deep intellectual understanding of addiction for decades, but never did I actively try to heal my own because I was not aware of the important/necessary emotions I was covering up. Now that the process of uncovering and healing the emotions has begun, so has the process of sticking to my recovery from addiction.
These are my basic strategies, probably subject to change. I am no expert, just a person dealing with healing and wanting to share what I do.
I could have called this post so many things:
But the truth of the matter is, I am hopeful that the process I am going through right this minute (and have gone through about 43,200 minutes already) will cease to feel desperate, not remind me of crack addiction, no longer have me mourning, allow me once again to eat meals with my husband, and have me not feeling as though I am being tortured most hours of most days of the week. I’m hopeful that I will, indeed, overcome the sugar addiction that I have been quite happily feeding for over a decade now, which went into overdrive when I met and married another sugar addict (isn’t that how it always goes?) and discovered I needed to drop sugar to heal a damaged gut (more on that later).
Peeling back the layers of an onion. It’s a metaphor for life and growth that might not be perfect but never gets old.
The most poignant part of the metaphor for me is that peeling onions can sting and make you cry. Well, if that’s not a truth about growth and life, I don’t know what is! With every layer we peel back, we can potentially face great pain and lots of tears. But it’s worth it, because onions, like life, are so tasty when they’re peeled and used in a way that is totally different from how they started. Instead of being a thick, protected orb with all sorts of potential (imagine our adult defenses), when the onion has been peeled and chopped, allowing us to cry while we peel and chop it, we make something pretty delicious and wonderful with it.
With life, it seems, it’s only in the unpeeling (discovering), chopping (analyzing), and making us cry (healing) that we learn, grow, and become our true selves.
Is it uncomfortable? Hell yes, just like peeling and chopping an onion.
Is it worth the discomfort?
I’m absolutely terrified to write this post. My brain has wanted to write it, but my body shuts down when I sit down to type. I’m fighting through, though, because I know it’s important. No, it’s crucial—for me, for my joy, for my life.
This post is about my dreams. It’s about the dreams that I left to die a sad and lonely death while I pursued what I had convinced myself were “smarter” goals. In 2009, I walked away from my dreams (a second time) and into what would be the most difficult period of my life, fighting for things I did not believe in, getting farther and farther away from my dreams and from myself in the process.
The funny thing is, many of you know me (or know of me and my work) only after 2009. Many of you have no idea that when you attended my yoga classes or my back-pain workshops, those things were my efforts at a compromise. They were not my dreams. They were certainly closer than other things I tried (like the job that I have now), but they were not my dreams. I left those in 2009, like I said. I never thought I could achieve them. So I never even tried. I mean, I half-assed tried, but I didn’t commit because I didn’t really believe. In my mind, my dreams would never be attainable, so I could not put aside all of the other noise, distraction, and false needs to pursue my authentic dreams. I didn’t. And I suffered. Wow, have I suffered.
I feel the desire to write through all of the things that led to my avoiding and neglecting the pursuit of my dreams, but perhaps not now. Not in this post. I have so many important things to do now, I don’t want to stay stuck dredging up the “how did I get here.”
Looking perfect or feeling good. That struggle has been on my mind a lot lately as I welcome a host of new internal and external conditions that have a direct impact on my identity as a "health and fitness professional":
The items in the above list have undermined the major belief that drove me to exercise obsessively for the first 10 years of my professional fitness career: my body was really messed up from scoliosis and other health issues, and I had to work really hard to make it appear "perfect" or I wouldn't be respected, successful, or loved. I think perhaps a majority of women are led to believe something very similar, and that is what countless "love your body" campaigns and groups are designed to help defuse.
But as anyone who has made a major shift in her life knows, old beliefs and thought patterns die hard. Really hard. It takes more than a simple ad campaign or a support group to change our core beliefs. Especially when every bit of advertising and social conditioning in our society says, "Women are their bodies, nothing more, and we demand that those bodies appear PERFECT!" And as a professional in the fitness and wellness industry (and, sadly, also in "Westernized" yoga)? Forget about it: We are ALL supposed to be perfect icons of bodily perfection: no body fat, no cellulite, no structural malformations, no outward appearance of aging, perfect curves in exactly the right places, and energy so abundant we work out hours a day without a care in the world. Hmph. I don't think anyone can adhere to those expectations without being sick and obsessed.
So here I reveal the strategies that work to ensure that I don't fall into the "trying to appear perfect" trap again. If you recognize yourself struggling with anything I've mentioned so far, maybe one or more of these can help you, too.
When faced with the choice to "look perfect" or "feel good," I'm opting for feeling good from here on out. What about you?
** I had so many wonderful, heartfelt comments to this post on its original Wordpress page. It's too bad I could not preserve them when I moved the site. Perhaps new readers would like to add some helpful comments of their own?
Jonah Lehrer, author of the new book Imagine: How Creativity Works, recently wrote a fantastic piece for Wired magazine called, "Trials and Errors: Why Science is Failing Us."
The entire article is worth a quiet, concentrated perusal.
The section of greatest interest to readers of this blog may well be the section on back pain. Lehrer discusses the oft-documented finding that vertebral disc damage (such as herniation and bulging discs) is not correlated with pain. Medical journals have been reporting these results for more than a decade, yet physicians have continued to use MRIs and x-rays to "diagnose" back-pain patients with disc damage--even when that diagnosis does nothing to explain the pain a patient is experiencing or guide their treatment.
This piece by Elizabeth Landau on CNN.com is a beautiful account of how mindfulness can change the shape of both physical and emotional pain.
Back pain is the type of pain that I see and work with most frequently in my events and classes. When a person is experiencing pain--or is accustomed to feeling pain--the mind runs amok with negative thinking. Whether it be anxiety, depression, blame, shame, or the anger that Monty Reed (in Landau's piece) describes, those negative emotions actually cause pain to increase or intensify. Judging yourself for having a particular feeling or emotion, or believing you are victimized and disempowered, can cause anyone's back to hurt!
HealthDay News just posted a brief review of recent research published in the Journal of Pain by Leong, Kano, & Johansen that shows a connection between spousal communication and physical pain.
The topic of this study supports my whole existence as a back-care and yoga practitioner. Part of what makes my work so effective is my unwavering validation of my clients' emotions and lived experience. In graduate school, I focused my study on the methods of interpersonal communication that foster trust, respect, and partnership when one party is facing difficult life changes or emotional upheaval.
Unfortunately, most couples have not completed such communication training. So when one spouse is in pain, the pain-free spouse is inadequately trained to actually help the other feel supported and "heard." Yet, that emotional support is crucial to the healing process. Without such emotional support, people can cope very poorly with pain and, in fact, hold on to pain for decades . . . or a lifetime.
I'm so happy to read major peer-reviewed medical journals are publishing this type of psycho-social-medical research. Pain research has typically been focused on medications (which are more addictive than they are effective) and surgical interventions (which are shown to be less effective than just about any other pain treatment over the long-term).
Dr. Nortin Hadler and Dr. John Sarno were interviewed on The People's Pharmacy to discuss their vast body of research about the mind's implication in the experience of back pain.
Having worked with clients with back, knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, neck, and generalized pain, I can attest to the power of the mind in the treatment of pain--above and beyond physical treatment modalities.
This body-mind connection is the rationale behind my work with clients, which always includes a wellness coaching component. I realized that, while I could train back-pain clients to do back- and core-strength exercises very effectively and relieve their pain within minutes of working with them, a handful of my students had their pain return (or move around) despite continuing their prescribed exercises with perfect execution. I learned very quickly that the mind can have unbounded control over the body's experience of pain. So much so that people with back pain undergo surgery, injections, manipulations, and astronomical medical bills trying to alleviate their pain, and nothing works. The simple reason is that for some chronic pain sufferers, the physical body is not the source of the lingering pain.
Drs. Hadler and Sarno have written and presented brilliantly on the power of the mind to create and alleviate back pain. I highly recommend all of their books, most recently Dr. Nortin Hadler's Stabbed in the Back and Dr. John Sarno's The Divided Mind.
(If you're in the U.S., I recommend using the Indie Store's bookstore finder to locate a local bookstore from which to buy these books, rather than ordering from a big-name store. Here's the link.
Listen to Dr. Hadler's brilliant interview.
Sara Hauber, MA
Coach, listener, observer, writer, and erstwhile teacher; constantly curious
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