Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Four Stages of Change

“I had a gall bladder attack today – the worst one I’ve had in a really long time.”
I was sitting in a hotel lobby talking to my new friend Judy, a naturopath from the States who I was just about to make some phone calls to Colombia for. We trade a fair amount of things between us: Judy gives me advice on how to monetize my books and my website, and in return I give her Spanish lessons. I help translate for her, and she tells me the fastest way to get over the flu (lots of sunshine, rest and Vitamin C on the hour). I asked her about my gall bladder because I needed help: it wasn’t the first time I’ve had pain, but it was the first time in a long time, and it seemed to have come out of nowhere and taken me by surprise.
“Ok,” she said. “Do you agree that physical pain has emotional components?”
I thought back to the 40 pounds I gained without an ability to stop while I dated a man who sucked the life out me; I thought about the cough I had for 9 months while dating the same man. More recently, I thought about the stomachaches that had told me under no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong place, that had ultimately led me to where I was today, in a beautiful little house in the mountains that I love.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I agree.”
The gall bladder, Judy said, is tied to bitterness. It is also closely tied to the liver, which is tied to anger. An important part of healing, she went on, is to figure out what I have been bitter and angry about, either in the past or now, and work through it. Although she also gave me advice on how to treat the symptoms – lemon juice in my water, cutting back on high fat and greasy foods, etc. – it was her advice about processing emotions that really got to me, because it was something I had never heard before – related to my gall bladder, anyway.
I write in my journal every morning, so not long after that I sat down and thought about what was happening when I first started having gall bladder attacks. It was almost a year into my year of trying to get published; I had picked up a part-time job, and I was thinking a lot about whether I wanted to write my wine-pairing cookbooks. The money I had saved was dwindling, and my friends were telling me I didn’t have a job, even if I wrote, researched publishing and otherwise did something related to writing every single day. Bitter? I’ll say I was bitter. At the time when most of my friends were settling into career tracks and thinking about starting families, I was poor, struggling to follow my dream and yet unable to see where it would lead me. Sometimes I seemed to be the only one who believed in me, and even that wasn’t a guarantee.
I wrote about all this, and realized how deep it went; how many things I was angry and bitter about at that point. Unfortunately, though, the bitterness and anger didn’t stop there. I thought I had processed it, and within a week my gall bladder pain started to disappear, but in its place came something else: a huge wave of anger.
I suppose in retrospect it is inevitable. Before I came to Panama, I thought a lot about how to explain my need to be here, and lamented the fact that no one understood. Once I got here, I stopped worrying so much about it, and instead began to realize how wonderful my life could be when I followed my heart. Third, I started to focus on making major changes to the decisions I made so I would attract the kind of people who would lift me up instead of bring me down.
Really, I should have seen the next phase coming: the phase where I get absolutely pissed at anyone who’s standing in my way.
This doesn’t even need to be someone who is physically blocking the aisle to the grocery store, standing between me and the chocolate. I have found myself angry at anyone who doesn’t understand me, who doesn’t seem to hear me, who acts on my behalf when I have not asked for their help; the internet when it doesn’t cooperate; the men who want to date me despite their wives and girlfriends; the people who want me to volunteer, to translate for them, who don’t smile at me, or the men who whistle at me. Most of all, though, I am angry at myself.
I can recognize that it’s just a phase, but it’s just a phase the same way that you can assure a woman that the pain of childbirth will end, but that knowledge will not necessarily help in the middle of a contraction. I know in a logical part of my brain that one day I will not be as angry, and yet for now, it seems important to acknowledge this anger for what it is, and what it is supposed to be: a lowering of the bullshit bar; a sudden inability to take anymore shit from anyone.
Yes, I am over-swinging on the anger meter, but I refuse to try to talk myself down. I have done it for too long: placated, accepted, acquiesced, submitted. Although I am sure that some of you would not agree, believe me when I say that I have walked away from encounters countless times in my life, cursing my inability to speak up on my own behalf, and trying to quell my impotent rage.
I can’t do it anymore.
I cannot give anymore. I cannot give away all my energy, all my needs, because someone else has decided they need them. I cannot make excuses for others, and I cannot excuse them when they are rude to me, or thoughtless. After I put down the feeling I had that I must put everyone else’s needs before my own, I have found my own needs rising to the surface at lightning speed, spilling over the sides and flooding the room. It may not look different from the outside, but from the inside I am boiling, and I’m glad.
After my relationship with Mr. Add-40-Pounds ended, I wrote a blog post about how I wished that someone would stand up for me. I didn’t mention it there, but it was my ex-boyfriend that I wished would have acted on my behalf instead of his. Now, I am incensed that anyone would assume to know what I want more than I do; I am outraged at the thought that anyone else could make up my own mind for me. It may be just a phase, but it’s an important one: after all the grief, the fear, the questioning of whether I had enough strength to do it myself, I have found the answer: I do, I can, I will.
Don’t worry, invisible audience. I am sure that soon I will get my equilibrium back; that I will have less moments of envisioning I am slapping someone upside the head. What I hope as well, though, is that I keep a little bit of this edge, specifically the part that absolutely will not accept less than I deserve anymore. First I longed for it, then I found what it was, and now I am willing to fight anyone who will not let me have it. I don’t need to keep the archers on the castle walls, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to let just anyone into my fortress anymore. Instead, I’m going to choose more carefully; create a vetting process, and trust myself: if I know it won’t wholeheartedly serve me, then why on earth would I let it in?

Love and anger phase kisses