A couple of weeks ago I was reading a friends blog wherein she wrote about how she avoids paying attention to what is going on inside her body. Well that got my attention. Avoidance was my middle name. I spent a large chunk of my life on the run from my feelings, emotions and me. Like Mr Duffy in “A Painful Case”, I lived a short distance from my body.
Back Story: From earliest memory I felt as if I didn’t belong ‘here.’ Not in the century I was born into, the town I was in, the family I was living with nor the body I was in. It was all wrong: as if somehow there had been a huge mistake and I ended up t/here without a map. So I invented a version of myself to keep the adults happy. It took the heat off while I waited for someone to come and get me. My birth mother or father? Or a prince or a Hollywood talent scout? The downside of this strategy was I had to be on high alert. My ‘real’ life was on hold while I waited.
(An Aside: Looking back, I can see all this was possibly in response to the trauma of having been adopted as a wee baby. Jeanette Winterson says “all adopted children have to invent themselves because there is a piece missing”. I don’t know if the need for invention is exclusive to adoptees but JW’s words do make sense of my experience.)
Blessedly I learned to read at an early age and this provided great comfort. I was able to lose/find myself in the pages and participate in other peoples’ lives, and try on other skins.
Fast Forward: At fourteen I was introduced to another source of comfort. NZ’s favourite drug, alcohol. It was amazing. Despite the unpleasant taste, I persevered and for the first time in my life I felt connected to myself and others. Oh what a feeling. Then I vomited. I wanted MORE (not the vomiting part though) and as soon as I was old enough to have access to money I began drinking socially.
Fast Forward: I moved away from the small town and as the years passed and my geographical horizons expanded, I came in contact with a variety of other less socially acceptable substances. We (the drugs and the people) were a good fit. Again, I felt part of something greater. Part of the “us,” not “them.” This was what I had been waiting for!! These drugs worked a treat to keep the fear at bay and the illusion of connection happening. It was fun and exciting. The books and music and laughs and travels and adventures. These were the ‘good’ years. Mostly. Mostly, but not all the time.
Fast Forward: As I passively manipulated my way between here and there, I continued to pour swallow, smoke, snort and shoot mood altering substances into my body. It got so I was using to feel ‘normal.’ And by that time I couldn’t stop. I felt like shit and was terrified if I didn’t have the drugs I would feel even shittier. Divorced from my self (and two husbands along the way) I rationalised the use of the people and the behaviours that go with the territory of addiction. Cast adrift, I was a ‘floating head’.
Fast Foward: And so it goes. I contracted the hepatitis’s B and C and septicaemia and still I was not able to see what I was doing may be causing me to feel worse instead of better. Besides, opiates fixed everything, right? When pleurisy or pneumonia were present I treated the condition with more opiates and changed my usual cigarettes to menthol for the duration of the lung infections and switched from wine to brandy for its medicinal qualities. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Hanging on/out: I continued to deteriorate. The drugs had stopped working in that they were no longer holding the emotional or physical pain at bay. I needed more. I desperately tried to keep it all looking like I was doing okay. I wasn’t and I couldn’t keep a lid on it any longer. Panic attacks arrived. Fuaarrk!! What now??? I had to tell somebody…
Crossroads: So, long story short, with help I eventually put the drugs down and guess what? I wasn’t ‘cured’ of avoidance. I always had a relationship on the go or was getting into one or working out how to get out of one by getting into another and so on. That became very uncomfortable so I took care of that by becoming very busy with study then work. Like paying off one credit card with another. Or substituting one drug for another. “Busying” is a seductive distraction from what’s going on here at home. And it is socially sanctioned. Not like the demond drugs…
Slowing Down: Because it was all exciting and new to have meaningful employment, and I thought I had to make up for lost time, I worked my guts out (just one more…) and tipped myself into a state of exhausted unwellness. My batteries went flat. It was awful. And I had so much shame because it wasn’t a ‘real’ illness. I’d fucked up somehow. So I kept this to myself and managed on my own for a couple of years. Sound familiar? I needed help and I found a great holistic doctor who, after assessing me and diagnosing classic chronic fatigue, said something like this –
“I can treat you homoeopathically and it will help, however, you need to read this book (Peace is Every Step) and you need to learn to meditate. And you need to do some work on shame and learn to love yourself as you are right now and every moment up until this moment.”
Jesus F Christ!! No pressure!! Anyway I put his prescription into action and it helped. I began to move a bit closer to home.
Coming Home: Shame and unworthiness is widespread in our culture. Jack Kornfield says “our hearts deepest wish is for love and healing.”I like that.My aspiration is to come home into my body – to go within and learn to live easily in my own skin. Not dependant on perfect conditions, as in “I’ll be okay when…” And I don’t need to know the “why” to change a habit. I can come home anytime, when waiting at red lights, taking a walk around the block. An immersion in the sea, or chopping vegetables and making a soup are some of the actions that can bring me back home, as does taking care of the housework. (except for vacuuming – the sound of a vacuum cleaner sucks!)
I’m learning to pay attention to what is going on in and around me and to view myself today with tenderness and mercy. Among my sources of comfort are likeminded people. I surround myself with a circle of support and we listen to each other tell our stories. The stories are my map. I still get great comfort from reading. And now writing. Coming home to where the heart is can be as close as my next breath.