I often refer to my immediate family members in terms of their wills of steel. No joke. There's so much will being expressed that it could put a person on the moon. I have always thought of myself as the odd one out, in this respect. In practical terms, I am the odd one out. I mean, I live in another country.
If you'd asked me, until very recently, I would have said I was the infinitely most malleable of the bunch. I'm the one who would back down, in the end. What I didn't realize is that I never relented. I subverted. I internalized every feeling that was unpalatable to the bunch because, frankly, there was no way to win. I was going to move to that new country (or house or school district). I was going to go on that crazy trip where nothing was really planned (because excitement came of spontaneity). I was required to attend church every fucking Sunday, despite the fact that I disagree with organized religion (and specifically Catholicism). I would eat that dinner that overwhelmed me, if I had to sit at the table with the timer on until I eventually got punished and then was re-presented with the same food at the next meal. (Look, it was the 70s. Parents did that.)
My parents were not bad. They were very young and they did what suited them. They still do what suits them. It's part of what makes them lovable. They still move constantly and go to church on principle (my traditional father) and make huge decisions on a whim. You can bet, if they decided to reno a house, it would be done within 6 months of the initial thought taking hold. But, as my mother recently told me, she would never undertake such a craziness. There's always a better house to buy.
I don't have many memories. Scott likes to say I can learn anything in 10 minutes but I can't remember anything that happened last year. He's one of those people that says shit like: It was August, no wait, late July in 1982 and I was in BC hitch hiking when I saw this bear on the side of the road. Of course, I do remember fragments of things, however, things that now corroborate my subversion (and the small ways in which I tried to inflict myself on my people in the way I felt they inflicted themselves on me).
I remember walking in Hyde Park, having moved to London at the age of 4, the sky, not dissimilar to the shade we experience for months in the winter in TO, but this was summer. I was so angry to be there. I exuded hate for that place. I remember when I moved back to New York, for a brief period (just long enough to utterly fuck with my sense of order and stability), and my father asked me whether I'd like to move to Toronto and I said, no thank you. I do not want to move. And he said, well that's unfortunate. I remember the grip of grief because I would once again be displaced. I remember when I got a letter from my teacher in London, once I'd moved back to the States. I argued with my mother about how to open the envelope. Somehow, the argument escalated and I threw it in the garbage, even though I desperately wanted to know what it had to say, to reconnect with something from my past. I remember it was one of those Air Mail envelopes from a long time ago (it looked kind of military). Sometimes I can't believe that I'll never know what it said because I would not be controlled (ironic, I realize).
I trapped all of my anger and grief into a small space behind my tonsils, around my ears. I would not speak. I would not give anyone the satisfaction of my oppression. I was a stone and my spirit was gradually petrified. Sure, my ears would hurt semi-regularly, piercing pain that nothing could interfere with. But no one could exploit my feelings because I absorbed them masterfully. Sounds kind of steely willful, no?
It seems that nothing happens in a vacuum. As I learned how to manage my emotions, ahem, I also learned how to learn. I was always thrilled to learn. It was an escape but it was also a game. I love tests. They're a chance to win but also to develop new internal pathways. Not sure how others learn, but for me it's palpable. I feel the sparks in my brain and they motivate me - like direction lights. But learning takes energy - it travels through one. I would feel the learning take hold in different places in my body but my shoulders and my neck would absorb it most specifically. They'd sometimes click into a gear with my ears and throat and hands. And I, like so many children (and adults), was a learning machine.
I could go on for some pages on this topic - on how and where experience has fossilized in my body. I have assumed this to be true for many years. But I have never been able to isolate these places. Moreover, as time and age and constancy have re-entrenched those pathways, they are so enmeshed with each other that it's almost as if they do not exist independently. Please be clear - on many levels, the pathways are now as immune to emotion as they were originally defined by it.
When I took up yoga at age 18, I was already in a lot of pain. It wasn't in my ears at that point. I did get bad headaches on occasion. I'd also lived with really bad leg pain (I have a feeling it was childhood rheumatism) for years - more on than off. And my left hip was already in terrible shape much of the time. While yoga was game-changing for my body (and it was the first physical thing to change how I felt, how I existed in my body), I undertook it in the only way I could. I withstood it. There was nothing I couldn't do because I had made the decision to achieve. Feeling was irrelevant. (I was young. What can I say?)
And so I spent years ignoring what my practice was telling me. Please don't misunderstand: I was so sincere and so sure I was heeding the message. I mean, I could feel things in my body and they were painful and pleasant and deep. But (a couple of years in) when I felt I was never going to be able to change my hip, or the pain within it, I just decided to embrace it. Over time, that pain did diminish (and so I felt the yoga had done its job). I did note that my front groins were absurdly tight but I was good at ignoring them. I could do all kinds of things with steel-like muscles, fascia and tendons.
As time went on, the muscles of my neck - deeply within, at the plane of my ears and occiput - became occluded and less distinct. It was maddening. I wanted to rip my head off, that's the only way to describe it, to get into that space, to diminish the angry pressure. Somehow I felt it might be useful to do 10 minute headstands to counter this. (Important note to reader: Very few people benefit as much from headstand as they destabilize themselves by doing it. Active sirsasana is good for relatively few of us living the Western lifestyle - but supported versions, well-taught, can be great. You have to really listen though, and most people can't do this.) I mean, I was doing 5 minute headstand, at the wall, the day before I had my kid.
I really started to notice the problem in my head, neck, jaw and upper back when M was a baby. She wanted to be carried constantly. At that point, I was unendingly sleep-deprived and I carried her because the alternative was interminable crying, which I could not stand. The sound of any baby crying makes me feel like throwing up almost instantly. This went on for years. Hell, I remember carrying her (with my bag and her backpack), a mile from school when she was 5. It was the only way to get her home. (It would appear that she inherited the will of steel.) In retrospect, this is when the arthritis started to take hold - and the myofascial pain that accompanies it. No wonder I was a mess as a new parent. I was dealing with clinical OCD, an anxiety disorder and near-constant pain. I have never felt so trapped in my life.
It's all well and good to tell someone to really consider her pain and its origins - to feel it deeply and internally so as to detangle - to disintegrate - it. People with no pain tend to be able to do this quite effectively. That's why they don't have pain. But for those whose pain is a preformative jumble of thoughts and feelings, of neurochemical patterning, I'm so sorry to say but you've got your work cut out for you.
There are few people as well-positioned as me to overcome this. I have enough money, enough time, enough intelligence, enough education, enough privilege and undeserved entitlement, enough sincerity, the willingness to work ceaselessly to fix this. I'm open-minded, I'm introspective. I have spent 5 years thinking of/feeling relatively little else, when all is said and done (and I've said and done a shit ton of things in that time). Hell, I've been thinking about chronic pain since I was 5 years old. I just didn't know what to call it.
This pain is my will, sublimated, and it would appear that my will is a force to give even my family's its reckoning. It's my way of saying, you have not won, you will never win. It's how my infant-self prevails. I only wish I weren't its victim. That young girl is as much me as she is eradicated by everything I have become. She can learn. Good bye to terrible grief, to anger that could light up a city. I would rather feel peace than loyalty.