My parents divorced when I was four. The broad strokes about my childhood experience after that are as follows–my dad liked women a lot, and my mom liked Chardonnay a lot. There was more to it than that, of course, but I spent a lot of time feeling bewildered and concerned about both of them.
Working Through the Confusion
I spent most of my growing-up years care-taking and peacemaking, and trying to be perfect so everyone would be happy. There wasn’t a lot of time or room to think about how I felt about anything, or to value my feelings. By the time I reached young adulthood, I had no clue how I felt about anything. I didn’t know what made me happy, scared, or inspired. I didn’t know what my gifts were, or how I should go about sharing them. I knew I didn’t want to be abandoned. I knew how to make myself indispensable to romantic partners. I knew how to be the good girlfriend, best friend, sister, daughter, student, but I had no clear sense of who I was, not really.
Dealing with the Pain
Needless to say, I found myself broken-hearted and pretty lost in my twenties. I was depressed a lot of the time, or anxious. I had frequent, debilitating migraines. I’d be in the kind of pain that makes you crawl around on the floor, vomiting, unable to see. I had a doctor give me a prescription for Percocet at seventeen and tell me to take it whenever I felt any pain coming on. It became hard to figure out the difference between an impending migraine, and normal stress, tension, or any uncomfortable feeling, so I took Percocet a lot. Basically, I was in a lot of pain.
Learning to Trust Myself Again With the Help of Yoga
When I started practicing yoga during my senior year at Columbia University, I was recovering from a horrendous relationship that had stirred the pot of all my childhood wounds. I had played out a lot of my history, looking to rewrite it, and find my happy ending, only to crash into a brick wall. On my mat, I started focusing on my breath. I was amazed at how that quieted the racket in my head. I started to pay attention to how I felt, and to figure out when my body was saying, yes, and when it was saying no. It took time and dedication, but I decided to place importance on the messages I was receiving from my body, and to reignite a conversation between my body and my mind that I’d been ignoring for years.
The reality is the body is full of wisdom and information about who we are, how we feel, and what we need to be at peace. The mind, while interesting, is full of ideas and opinions about how we should feel, or what we should need or want to be at peace. Some of those ideas are not even ours. A lot of the time we’re so used to being what other people want us to be, we’ve forgotten how to be who we are. And how can you possibly trust yourself if you don’t know yourself? Time and again, I’d put myself in reckless situations. I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be loved, but I did not treat myself kindly. I did not protect myself from people or situations, even when my intuition was saying “RUN!!!” I let my mind override my gut feelings for years, because I didn’t trust my gut, I’d been taught to doubt myself. At a certain point, that isn’t on anybody else, including your parents. At a certain point, that’s on you.
Growing Trust for Yourself & Others
The key to growing in trust for yourself and trust for others has to do with listening closely, and responding with compassion, honesty and kindness. These are things you can start to practice on your mat, as I did. If you’re in a pose and your body is saying. “That’s too much”, you back off, you find a place where it’s manageable, where you can breathe. Instead of striving and forcing your way into difficult poses, you give your body time, you work with it, you develop a bond there. You place more importance on the relationship you’re having with yourself than any pose. The more you loosen your grip, the less you get intense about having to “nail” a pose, the more your body opens. You’re not likely to find balance right-side-up or upside-down if there’s no foundation of trusting yourself. If you build that first, you’ll be surprised about where your body will go and what it will do for you, and you’ll also realize that getting your ankle behind your head is not the key to your happiness. Trusting yourself is, though.
When you know that you’re placing importance on how you feel, when you trust that your feelings have an impact on your actions, choices and the direction of your life, you can relax. My mind is full of interesting ideas, and sometimes I enjoy them a lot. Other times, I laugh at the absurdity. As far as choices about where I want to be, how I want to spend my time and with whom, what it is I’m trying to offer up, whether a situation or relationship feels right, or not so much, I always listen to my gut feelings now. I still get migraines occasionally, but the frequency and intensity have lessened so profoundly, they aren’t a meaningful problem for me at this point, and I don’t have any desire to numb out. I want to be awake for my life, and open to all my feelings as they arise, even the ones that are challenging; I don’t want to blur the edges or be in a fog. I changed the way I eat, I make sure I get enough sleep, and when I need to rest mentally or physically, I rest. Having an open and ongoing conversation with your body makes life so much easier. Life is mysterious enough, you really don’t want to be a mystery to yourself!
Sending you love,
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