This morning I had an epiphany: I am not treating my body with respect. I have worked hard to have a good body image and to listen to what my body wants during sex. I eat foods that are right for me and nourish me properly, but I’m terrible when it comes to not feeling well. When I have health challenges, I do my best to ignore my body’s messages.
I am reminding myself that embodiment, existing fully in the physical self, is not just about sex. To be sure, being present in your body makes for wonderful sex, but it should carry over to other areas of life as well. When I was contemplating that, I was suddenly able to see the patterns that surround my difficulties being kind to myself when I am ill.
As a child I was in a lot of physical pain. For example, I had constant ear infections and ruptured ear drums. Once I broke my wrist and wasn’t taken to the doctor. Because there was abuse in the home, I think that going to the doctor happened rarely, like going to the hospital when my sister almost died from pneumonia.
I was taught to ignore my body’s signals, keep them to myself, not tell anyone about them. I felt ashamed because I thought that anything wrong with my body was my own fault. I was afraid that I was bad for feeling pain, and no one wanted to know about it. I was convinced that no one would believe me if I spoke, and I’d be punished for causing problems. At the same time, I was also terrified that something serious might really be wrong with my body and no one would do anything to help me.
Many of these childhood messages around illness have been further reinforced by my later experience in the culture at large. We’re encouraged to “suck it up” and go to school or work even when we feel pretty bad. People with chronic illness and/or disabilities are often looked down on. They aren’t seen as strong in this culture where we revere the ability to endure pain. I cringe every time I hear a parent tell a child to “man up” or “be a big girl” instead of comforting the hurt. We are taught that pain does not exist, or when it does, it’s weak, embarrassing, or maybe even crazy.
I think some people are drawn to BDSM because it can provide a controlled, “acceptable,” form of pain. Experiencing or providing pain in this context is letting one pain stand in for another, or granting the release of built-up pain. It’s not a bad idea, kind of like going to therapy to work out emotional pain – setting aside time to hurt. Perhaps BDSM is often misunderstood because people do spend so much time denying their pain.
Ignoring pain and sickness is occasionally necessary, as when there are no other options to take care of children, but I have made a habit of it. No, I think I never learned how to listen to my body in this way. I’m trying now. I think being aware of my body around pain and illness is going to be challenging because it brings up a swirl of emotions that are hard to sort, but I know some part of me really wants to be heard, wants to be comforted.
This shift in my way of thinking will help my body get more of what it needs. It will help me negotiate better with unhealthy impulses, such as cravings for foods I’m allergic to. Being able to acknowledging my own discomfort will let my family support me better. I’ve often felt so ashamed and scared of my own pain or illness that of course people don’t know how to treat me, which plays right into my fears that I will be punished or at least derided for malingering. If I can admit to myself that I do actually have some chronic health problems, then I can give myself permission to go about seeking appropriate support and medical help.
I want to be in my body the way I can be during sex – unselfconscious and aware. I think this will make losing weight easier, being more fit easier, and improve my overall health and happiness. I do love my body and all of the sensations I experience in it, and I want to own it all. I’m ready now to accept being embodied.