When bad things happen, it's in our nature to resist. The mind reacts with fear and aversion: I don't want this, how can I fix this or make it go away? Or how can I at least avoid feeling the pain of it?
These are normal reactions. They are adaptive and even life-saving when they show up to help us fight or escape a threat.
But then there are the threats that we can't fight or escape. When faced with these, we still contract into resistance. But rather than protect us, resisting things we can't control only causes greater suffering.
I call this arguing with reality. And reality always wins.
I've written a lot about how for the first 20 years that I had chronic pain, I resisted it. I pushed through it, I downplayed or denied it, I medicated it, I defied it. These strategies didn't serve me in the long term. They led me to a total collapse, a full system break-down. I was literally forced to find another way - a kinder, gentler way.
In my years of coaching other people, I have seen this pattern over and over again: resistance leading to depletion, exacerbation, and new symptoms or conditions. When the body says "No," it means it. We have to stop trying to negotiate with reality. It's only when we are able to accept - and surrender into - what is true about our health, our bodies, our lives, or our relationships, that we have any hope of helping ourselves. I'm not saying we resign ourselves to suffering, that we give up on healing or growth. I'm just saying that we can't heal or grow when we're not being honest with ourselves about what's going on right now.
The difference between resistance and acceptance is very clear in my body, mind, and heart. Resistance feels hard - tension and pain in my body, irritability and unsettledness in my mind, a hardness of heart. Acceptance feels soft - release and comfort in my body, contentment and peace in my mind, and compassion in my heart.
When The Diagnosis came - so shortly after I'd begun to feel pain relief - I was both frightened and angry. Frightened for his health, for our life together. Angry that we had to deal with this. But also frightened that my pain would return to where it was at its worst. And angry that my progress with Pain Reprocessing Therapy had been so violently interrupted after little more than a month.
It felt like I was going to lose control over the pace of my life, and that really scared me. Time and space have been key components of my healing over the past decade. I've slowed down, done less, rested more. I've embraced "good enough." I've stopped rushing (mostly!). I shed as many of the "shoulds" and "gottas" as I could. I've tried to listen to my body, even when what it was saying royally pissed me off.
Then, overnight, we had to adapt our lives to fit in 20-25 hours a week of cancer treatment. I lost the luxury of spacing things out based on my energy and capacity. I had to fit it all in - my coaching practice, being there for my kids, caring for our dog, maintaining a house - AND cancer treatment - both going in for the procedures at the hospital and navigating a complex and difficult home care routine. I got really worried that I was going to crash. Then I worried about the fact that I was worried!
We're less than two weeks in, and it's been a LOT. I'm tired. I've had pain flares and it's been harder to work with messages of safety. There have been a lot of very uncomfortable chairs (something I'd mostly managed to avoid in the age of COVID). But it's manageable. It's not spinning out of control. I'm better able to accept the discomfort, to adjust and calm down so it doesn't escalate. I have more flow. I get frustrated, stressed, and irritated, but I can catch it and then come back to center.
I'm letting go of trying to control everything. I'm no longer freaking out when traffic on the expressway makes us late, or when we leave the hospital at rush-hour and crawl our way home. And then there's the nutrition piece. Maintaining his weight will be the most important - and challenging - part of his self care through this. I had started to panic about it - that he wouldn't eat and drink enough, that I would have to stay "on" him, that it was on me to make sure he got through this. That definitely did not help. He gets it. He's on top of it. So I'm backing off, trusting him rather than hovering, monitoring, nagging, worrying. I'm still making super-charged shakes and high calorie meals but I'm not efforting about it quite so much. And I hope I'm a little less annoying to live with!
I'm leaning into my faith in his care team, which includes an excellent dietician. They know how to get him through this successfully. It matters to them. I can stop worrying and problem solving and just take it day by day. They've got this. And he's got this. I'm still the one with more medical expertise and experience - the email and text alerts still come to my phone - but he's learning fast. He's a disciplined and determined person who has overcome a lot of hardship in his life. I guess you'd say he has grit. He knows how to adapt and to do it with a positive mindset. It's been really impressive to watch, actually.
And then there's this unexpected sweetness. When my body-mind relaxes, my heart can open. That strengthens our connection, enriches our union. And I know it will help him heal. We have an intense sense of being in this together, 100%. He doesn't necessarily need me to go to every single treatment and appointment with him, but I find I want to be there. And it comforts him to have me there (with my backpack full of snacks, the audiobooks, and an extra iPhone charger). And my openness of heart is extending to others, too. Whereas my initial reaction was to pull in and away from from contact with others, now I feel more connected with my friends and family who are reaching out with support. It's easier to access my compassion and generosity. I'm even finding more comfort and connection with Ruby, our dog. (She is snoring by my desk as I type).
I can already see the ways that this experience is enhancing and expanding my skills as a coach. I've always tried to point my clients away from resistance and toward peace, understanding, and acceptance of themselves. Now it has a whole other layer to it. I see so vividly the harm that is done by all the pathologizing - by medical and mental health professionals, by our culture, and by our own minds. If you see something as a problem that has to be fixed, you're in a state of resistance. That's not where healing happens. None of us is broken - we're just habituated into certain patterns. All those patterns make sense if you trace them back to their origins. And If you can clearly see and accept the truth - even if it sucks, even if you hate it - then you can decide how to move with it. You can access your innate wisdom and resourcefulness. You can release the tension, relax the muscles, ease the mind, and open the heart. You can make wise and compassionate choices. And that makes a world of difference in all aspects of our lives.
The blog will be on vacation until the new year as we embrace the darkness, the quiet, and the rest that will be our holidays this year. I look forward to continuing the exploration and conversation in 2022.
I love to hear your feedback and reactions - as well as your own stories. So please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please share this blog with others.
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