Monday, March 14, 2011

Me vs. My Body: Giving Up the War

I was telling someone recently about my exercise induced heart arrhythmia – basically, my heart speeds up to far beyond normal levels during and after exercise – and he said, “Wow, it must be hard to feel like your body is fighting against you.”
This struck me as a strange thing to say, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out why. The reason that I find it strange, I’ve discovered, is because I have always felt that my body was working against me.

I am not the only one who thinks this: ask most American women, and few of them will admit to being best buddies with their bodies. We’re constantly wishing they were different than they are: thinner, smaller, taller, shorter, more petite, less cumbersome, more graceful, more able to fit into cute shoes, skinny jeans and single digit sizes. We wage war against our bodies every day because of this frustration that we have with what nature gave us or our love of potato chips has granted us: hours of exercise, anti-wrinkle creams, diets, diets and more diets, and pushing our bodies to do things that we want it to be able to do, or that someone else’s can do.

I know, I know: there’s a difference between a heart arrhythmia and a diet. But trying to ignore my heart arrhythmia isn’t the only place that I have tried to force my body to do something because someone else's can: I have starved, dieted, poked body fat, studied wrinkles, shaved, waxed and wailed at the body that I got, that always seems to give out on me when I want it to do just one little thing for me: be perfect and do what everyone else’s does.

I started waging my war against my body when I was about 13; the war and all its battles have been going on for more than 15 years. Not all of the battles were out in the open, and some of them looked like peace talks, but in the end I always undermined the trust that my body put in me and tried to push too hard. And damn it if the bitch didn’t fight back: despite the fact that every muscle and tendon in my body was screaming at me not to, I ran a half marathon, and pinched a nerve in my neck in the process that caused me excruciating pain for six months. I had a cough for 9 months as a result of depression and unhappiness, and my body entrenched for long warfare on that one with 40 extra pounds because I wouldn’t just stop and take some time to figure out what I wanted and, more importantly, what I needed.

You wouldn’t know that I shouldn’t eat wheat or dairy because I’ve never told you, because I don’t want to be different than everyone else like my body wants me to be, but guess what? My gall bladder gets pissed and starts to hurt whenever I eat either, and especially if I’m stubborn enough to try to eat them together.

Yes, there are a ton of things wrong with me, but I’ve come to realize that the biggest thing is that I am trying to force my body into something it can’t be: someone else. As much as I have moved away from starving myself, my body still has needs that I have been ignoring, and it’s like a screaming child whose pitch keeps getting louder the longer it is ignored. It’s not like I get another one once I’ve broken this one beyond repair: this one is mine, and I should treat it like the unique being that it is. My body should be free to tell me what it wants and have me listen. This doesn’t mean simply not dieting or lying on the couch all day, either: listening means knowing that my body needs exercise and rest, healthy food and plenty of sleep, regardless of whether it fits into my social schedule. It means perhaps asking for the meal without cheese even if I know it will taste better smothered in melted smoked Gouda. It means not doing whatever causes me pain instead of taking a pill to help me ignore the pain. It means listening and acting on my body’s behalf instead of against its wishes.

Perhaps, if I listen at the peace talks this time, the war will wane and we can start to rebuild. Perhaps, if I raise the white flag and really surrender, my body will stop holding me prisoner and we can start fighting on the same side again. Perhaps, if I become a better listener, someday I won’t be fighting wars at all.

Love and surrendered kisses