Trust Your Gut

hesseMany years ago, I met a guy in the practice room of the Ashtanga class I attended. My boyfriend at the time was also in the class, and this guy showed up one morning and joined the crew. After awhile, we all became friendly, and would sometimes have tea after practice. He was new to L.A., and didn’t know many people out here. He was trying to get his massage business off the ground. We would go on hikes, or try new restaurants together, or have him over for dinner. He’d come take my class, or my boyfriend’s, who was also a yoga teacher. Sometimes the two of them would go out for a beer. Anyway, after a few months this way, we considered him a friend.

One day, he asked if he could give us free massages. He was hoping we’d feel comfortable recommending him to students, private clients, and other yoga teachers, so of course we said yes. It’s a win-win, right? So I went over to his place where he had his table set up in his second bedroom. Dim lights, a fountain going, mellow music, everything you’d expect. I got on the table face-down while he was outside, talking to my then-boyfriend on the phone, giving him the code so he could let himself in when he arrived. He was planning on having his massage after mine. In came our friend, and started giving me this massage. I went in feeling totally relaxed, but after a few minutes, I started to feel really uncomfortable.

The way he was touching me did not feel professional or friendly, and I began to have this argument in my head. Was he touching me inappropriately? Was I wrong? Misreading? I mean, he wasn’t doing anything blatantly wrong. It’s not like his fingers were traveling to places they shouldn’t be; that would have been a no-brainer. It was the energy and the vibe. So I second-guessed myself. I thought, he can’t be touching me in a sexual way. There’s no way he’d do that. He’s our friend. He knows we’d never recommend him to anyone. I must be misinterpreting. Instead of relaxing, I was tensing up, and he was saying my name, and telling me to breathe, and to let go.

I tried to relax, but after a few more minutes, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Everything in my body was screaming that things were not right, and I grabbed the sheet and sat up abruptly, and he was clearly, visibly aroused. I told him to get out so I could get dressed. I told him the massage was over, and he said he was sorry, that he’d had feelings for me. To say I felt sick to my stomach is an understatement. I felt violated and angry and betrayed by a friend. I told him again to get out, which he did. I got dressed and told him I was leaving. He followed me outside, all the way to my car telling me he was sorry, that he shouldn’t have offered the massages, that then, this never would have happened.

Anyway, that was the end of the friendship. He stopped coming to class, and after awhile we heard he’d moved away, but the thing that stayed with me was the ten minutes I stayed on that table, fighting my intuition with my mind. I knew what I was feeling, I wasn’t wrong about it, but I didn’t want it to be true and I didn’t trust my gut. It’s not that it was such a horrendous experience; I’ve certainly been through worse, but it was a huge reminder to me that it’s always dangerous to fight what you know to be true. I really think we do this all over the place.

Maybe it happens in a work situation. We’re unhappy or unfulfilled, or maybe we’re even being mistreated, but we start to talk ourselves out of leaving because we need the money, or we need health insurance, or we have nothing else on the horizon. It can happen in romantic relationships. We know in our heart it isn’t right or it isn’t growing or we aren’t communicating in a healthy way, but we talk ourselves out of rocking the boat, because maybe we’ve invested a lot of time, or we’re thirty and think we should get married, or we want to have a baby, or we have children and can’t even fathom what life would look like if we spoke up. There are a lot of reasons we might try to fight the truth of our experience, and some of them are laudable. When other people are in the mix, like your children, for example, it’s understandable that you might think very carefully about what you’re doing and saying, and I think you want to do that in that case. That doesn’t mean you push down what’s true for you, though, it means you do everything in your power to communicate with clarity and compassion. Maybe you start with, “I’m in pain, and I need to talk to you about this.” You’ll never change anything or save anything by repressing or denying what you know to be real for you; that isn’t sustainable.

You might be terrified, and there’s no doubt it takes guts. Sometimes it takes planning, too. Maybe you need to embark on a serious job search before you give notice at your current job, because you need to be able to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you’ve let a personal situation erode to a point where you feel hopeless, but nothing is hopeless if two people are willing to work. One person can’t do it, but two have a shot. Honesty is everything, and by that, I don’t mean you have to share every single thing that’s ever crossed your mind, or every poor choice you’ve ever made. Some things are better left unsaid. What I’m talking about is clear communication about where you are and what you want and how you feel. Sometimes we allow fear to stop us from sharing those dark and unchartered places, but if you want to be known and loved for who you are, you cannot expect that to happen if you’re hiding or numbing out or running away. You have to trust your gut. You have to be willing to show yourself, and work with reality as it is. Then you see what you can do from there. Then, at least, you have a foundation to build upon. Without that, you’re lost.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton