Saturday, June 1, 2013

Learning to Inhabit My Body

I have struggled all my life to be fully present. As a child, I was frequently identified by others as "spacey," "a daydreamer," and "off in her own world." I moved into adulthood as a reader and a writer. I tend to live in my head, ignoring -- or attempting to ignore -- the body.

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I say "attempting to ignore" because, truth be told, the body refuses to be ignored. For as long as I can remember, I have dealt with chronic pain -- a condition that I share with many of my fellow adoptees, as well as with countless other sufferers. In my case, the pain is a slippery one, moving around my body, settling in one spot for a while and then moving on to another. My neck and shoulders are its most common residence, but it has also been known migrate down to my lower back or into my hip, knee, or even my ankle.

I've used a variety of techniques over the years to manage the pain: medication, yoga, massage, chiropractic care, etc. All have been effective to varying degrees, but pain management, I've found, is an ongoing process. Sometimes I manage well; other times, not so well.

The tool that seems to be most effective for me is something called Somatic Experiencing®. Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing® is a body-awareness technique that operates on the assumption that humans (unlike animals in the wild) tend to hold onto traumatic energy in the body. Rather than completing the full fight, flight, or freeze response, we often get stuck mid-process. Somatic Experiencing® employs a variety of guided visualization exercises to help the sufferer release the traumatic energy and move forward. 

In the past I have worked with a therapist trained in Somatic Experiencing®, and I found the techniques to be very effective. But therapy is expensive, and the therapist's office was not ideally located for me. As a result, I stopped going once I was beyond the crisis point. I got to "good enough," and called it good enough.

In the last year or so, I've slipped into a phase of managing my pain less effectively than I have at times in the past. Part of this has to do with caffeine. I seem to be highly sensitive to caffeine and do better when using less of it, but I have a tendency to slip into bad habits in this area. The other factor is that I simply hadn't been doing the work. Rather, I had been relying on analgesics -- using them more and more frequently and at higher and higher doses, while simultaneously finding them to be less and less effective. Something had to change.

So I've cut back on caffeine and I've returned to Somatic Experiencing®, this time as a self-guided process using Maggie Phillips and Peter A. Levine's book and audio Freedom from Pain. Additionally, I've been supplementing with Jon Kabat-Zinn's audio Meditation for Pain Relief.

I'm finding the two approaches to be complementary, as both pull my attention to the inner sensations of body and breath and draw on the healing potential of the mind-body connection. The results are promising. I've already cut down my use of pain medication to next to nothing, and I'm also finding that I feel more comfortable and confident overall.

Time will tell if these results are long-lasting, but in this moment I am feeling good. And as Kabat-Zinn and others have noted, "this moment" is all we really ever have.


  1. Thank you for addressing this. I deal with chronic pain as well and will look into this book.

  2. This reads like an advert. I was adopted at birth and I feel that you probably (must) have gotten relief with this treatment, but your post reads like an advert. I cant vocalize right now. I'm really screwed up in general and in my early twenties and my life has been a waste and I feel absolutely horrible and ive always felt that way but I never stopped suppressing. and now im getting health complications from holding my breath all the time when Im literally just "feeling" and theyres no pause before I start to stop myself in. Im constantly spiraling down a drain. Please don't post things like this again.

  3. OK I'm sorry for being such a b**ch. I'll back up so you know literally how I got to your blog; I googled something like "suppression adopted at birth" and your June 2012 article 'Adoptee Emotions' came up. From there I got to this page. About the 2012 article; I am thank full that you shared your experiences because it made me feel less-alone. I have sobbed uncontrollably in both private and public places (but mostly my apt) and I'm a bit relieved that I'm not the only one to find themselves completely wasted on the floor and over flowing with upsetting emotions. (By that I mean not drunk, but completely overwhelmed.) I have SO many things I want to nastily say to my "old friends" from elementary/middle/high school about the effing crap-loads of speculations they had concerning my ethnicity. Here are the most commonly proposed theories: #1 I look Swedish #2 My hair looks like a Slavic Jew's #3 I'm part black or I descend from a mixed "race" of people like creoles. Obviously, that makes no sense if you don't know what I look like which you don't so you'll just have to take my word for it. I've retyped this comment 3X over and I'm going to get off so, please don't think I hate you or this blog....I just think that this article is greasy with $$ and that that is your business, not ours to read.

  4. I'm sorry for the pain you are experiencing. You are very much not alone in this. Adoptee emotional pain can be so overwhelming.

    I understand your concern about this post, but please understand that I received no compensation for writing this nor am I in any way affiliated with any of the organizations or products. Nor am I offering any products or services myself. I'm not even suggesting that you or others should do as I did. (I understand that every adoptee's journey to healing is his or her own & that different things work for different people.) I have simply shared a piece of my own personal journey, including mention of some things that were personally helpful to me.

  5. Ok I believe you but his ad is literally in the middle of your article.

  6. It's a book cover image. Fairly standard practice for bloggers to include images of covers when they write about books.

  7. Let me put this a different way. You can say "I don't like this blog post because it seems like an advertisement to me" or "I don't like it because it's centered on products available for purchase" or "because includes an image of a product and links to Amazon." You are entitled to your opinions. I acknowledge your right to hold these opinions, and, as a blogger, I thank you for your feedback.

    You have also written (below) "Please don't post things like this again." You have a right to make this request, but I also have a right to refuse it. Which I do. My space. My blog. My decision about what to write about.

    I can promise that I will always reveal if I have received compensation of any kind for writing about a product, as any ethical blogger should do. And, truth be told, I don't often mention products on this blog (it's not my focus). But if I happen to really like a book or an audio CD or movie or anything else, I'm not willing to restrict myself from writing about that. And if I do choose to write about such things, I'm probably going to include images and links, as is fairly standard practice in blogging.

    Once again, I thank you for your feedback while respectfully declining your request.

  8. The request was made assuming you were getting paid, just to clear things up for you.