Body Battles and Paths to Peace, #1

Updated: May 4, 2020

This is the first of a multi-part series

Part One: Illness and Pain

The language that we use to talk about our relationships with our human bodies is adversarial, militaristic, violent. We battle and conquer illness. We triumph over disease. We kill pain or we push through it. We suppress symptoms. Language has power. It determines how we think about and relate to our world. There are real and devastating consequences to relating to our bodies as objects that we need to conquer, control, fix.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, struggle creates a stress response in the body. In fight or flight mode, we don’t heal. Our immune systems are suppressed and tissue repair slows down. Hormones get out of balance. Digestion slows or gets dysregulated. Sleep suffers. Mutant cells grow.

But there is an emotional cost as well. If health is a war, what happens to those who lose? I’m not talking about death, which is something we accept as inevitable. I’m talking about those who fail to be “healthy,” whose bodies don’t conform to norms of ability, size or shape. Losers are shamed. The practice is as old as war itself – pride to the victors, shame and punishment to the losers. The cost of our “war on bodies” is that most of us live with a huge burden of body shame.

This essay is about coming to peace with physical pain in my body. The next will look at coming to peace with the appearance of my body.

For the past 30 years, on and off, I have had chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, digestive problems, depression, and fatigue. It’s hard for me even to write this. I am feeling fear that you, dear reader, will think less of me, will pull away, eyes averted. I feel shame – the shame of one who has lost the battle. For the past seven years as a health coach, I have worked with folks with chronic illnesses. They all echo this sense of failure shame – that somehow, they are at least partly responsible for their ongoing symptoms. That they did not have what it takes to overcome, to conquer, to win.

I have fought these health challenges on every battlefield there is. To eliminate back pain I have had four spinal surgeries. The last one was a 3-level spinal fusion that required three months of bed rest and several years of recovery. I’ve done countless rounds of physical therapy, aquatherapy, exercise, yoga, chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, energy work, hypnotherapy, heat, ice, essential oils, creams, gels, patches. I bought a $700 Biomat.