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In the Beginning: My Body

March 25, 2022

Moon: Last Quarter

Spring Appearances: Maple and forsythia buds, first crocuses, snow drops, frog songs, orchestra of songbirds.

Some words on my body-

I want to be your friend…

I have such a complicated relationship with my body.

Since the pandemic began 2 years ago I feel like I have aged 7 years. I am tired. I am lackluster. I am sore. To take stock of my body’s current state of wellness is to list a series of pains of varying levels of intensity.

My neck is stiff.

My hips hurt.

My feet are always cold.

I have chronic lower back pain.

I know the answer to these issues is movement. But I just don’t. It’s work, and I am tired. To battle inertia one must have an initial spark, and I am all out. My cardio fitness is pitiful, so much so that I avoid it out of feeling hopeless. My muscles have atrophied since early quarantine and haven’t regained their pre-pandemic state. The task of reconditioning my body feels monumental. And I wish I felt rested from even a good night’s sleep.

Besides these issues of aches and pains, my skin is dry and dull. I have chronic rosacea. I have acne on my back and chest, which can be an indication of a hormonal imbalance. I long to look at my face and see vibrancy. The skin I wear looks how I feel inside.

Towards the beginning of the pandemic I took Rosemary Gladstar's The Science and Art of Herbalism correspondence course. In one of the later lessons we were asked to remember back to a time when we felt vibrant, whole, and well. Pondering this simple question I realized that there was never a time in my life when I felt truly well.

Even as an infant I have chronic digestive issues. I had unrelenting constipation. My mother asked every pediatrician she took me to for advice, which meant a childhood of mineral oil, prune juice concoctions, whole wheat cereals, and Metamucil all with varying degrees of tolerability. My mother was told it wasn’t a problem, that I still was thriving.

And then there were the stomach aches. My stomach hurt so frequently that it ruled my life. I was constantly fearful of vomiting. Most times I ate I was rewarded with an overwhelming sense of queasiness. I associated spaghetti dinners with the fear of throwing up. I learned as a child that after 4 hours post-meal my “bad” stomach ache would give way to a “hungry” stomach ache, and it was safe once again to eat.

In time I learned to hold my breath when my stomach was in distress. As an adult I came upon breathing techniques to help with relaxation and digestion which utilized the strategic holding of the breath. Someone at a young age my body already knew this, and sought it out.

On and off for years going to bed was a traumatic experience. My stomach usually hurt so much that I feared I would throw up. I slept with my legs bend, and never chanced rolling over to my side. At times I felt the need to pop upright lest the contents of my stomach make a reappearance. This caused me much stress and anxiety. When this was brought up with the doctor, my parents were told it was all in my head. I was just anxious. My body was still thriving, and I would grow out of it.

When I was a teenager I developed an obsessive habit of chewing mint gum. I chewed so much gum that the chemicals in it started to irritate my tongue. I couldn’t go anywhere without it, and it worked as a talisman against the stomach aches. I even chewed it in bed, hoping that I would be able to remove it just before falling asleep. I did not understand at the time that I was seeking to increase the flow of saliva which aided digestion, with mint also helping to sooth muscular spasms.

Finally when I was 19 I began having blood-flecked mucus in my stool that brought me quickly back to the doctor’s office. I was checked over thoroughly, culminating in a very unpleasant colonoscopy experience and in the end nothing was found. The symptoms persisted to varying degrees over a period of a year until a nurse practitioner friend of my mother’s suggested I try eliminating gluten from my diet. I had never heard of such a thing as going gluten-free, but after months of trial and error figuring out a wheat- and gluten-free diet my symptoms began to subside. The stomach aches reduced. After about a year with occasional reoccurrences I found that soy-based foods also triggered digestive upset and removed them from my diet as well.

A few years ago I had an upper endoscopy resulting in the discovery of a hiatal hernia with some evidence of GERD. Those years as a child feeling as if I were going to threw up in bed at night were all due to an overly relaxed esophageal sphincter. I had been lead to believe I was crazy, that all my issues were in my head. This body that I was born into had continually betrayed me. It has left me unable to trust it.

Food is our most basic comfort, the source of nourishment and life. The food I had been eating as a child left me ill, causing mounting anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms. I could not trust food, and still do not trust it, this most necessary foundation of survival.

I do not find it a coincidence that the First/Root Chakra is associated with survival and a sense of safety. This chakra is said to rest at the base of the spine and relates to the digestive and eliminatory systems. Our digestive system speaks clearly on how safe we feel in the world.

After 38 years I feel I have come closer to understanding myself, to coming up with the right questions to solving my continued state of dis-ease. I know that eating certain foods have caused me illness resulting in a sense of danger in the world (if food is not safe, what is?). But even though I have solved the puzzle of these food sensitivities, what do I do with this continued fear? The physical toll my diet had on my body has left me with anxiety, mistrust, and fear. Though one problem has been solve, I am still struggling with the aftermath.

How do I return to wholeness if it is a state I have never lived in? How do I love my body, my home, that has caused me such pain, such fear, such mistrust?

My body, I want to be your friend. I want to know you and understand you. I want you to know that I am listening, and I always have been. I didn't understand at first, but I am starting to see. So many years you have been calling out, leaving me signs to follow. It has just taken me so long to put the pieces together. I want to meet you again, so we can learn to trust together. And return, finally, to the Garden. To the beginning, where we can start anew.

Art by Aubrey Mennella

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