Friday, April 08, 2011
"Doctor, Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This."
It's an old joke, but also, it turns out to be rockin' good advice.
My back has been causing me no small bit of difficulty lately. I've always had neck and upper back problems, mostly due to a minor congenital weakness in the cervical spine, and an old injury I sustained during my days of unrestrained exercise bulemia. Regular trips to a masseuse or a chiropractor and a killer massager that I literally lie on top off as it digs deep into my supra-scapular musculature has always kept the pain to a minimum.
But this pain is different. This pain is mid- and lower-back pain. And sometimes it hurts so badly, I think it might be something internal, like the liver or the kidneys. Last night, I went to bed at 10:30, but couldn't fall asleep until nearly two a.m. for the pain. Definitely not like me. I have had my troubles in the past with awakening in the middle of the night, but falling asleep has never been a problem for me.
It occurs to me that, with all that's happening in my life, this pain is here to teach me something (besides "lift with your knees, not with your back", I mean). I spent the better part of a weekend at the end of March convincing a friend that long-buried issues in her heart that she was afraid to give voice to were having a a profound effect on the growth in her throat that's interfering with her voice (she's a gifted singer). A mutual friend and I worked hard to make her see that because she had a flawless work ethic and a deeply engrained sense of duty and responsibility, she felt compelled to take on projects she did not wish to do, and, in her personal life, to tolerate treatment she did not deserve, without feeling the freedom to reject these assaults on her boundaries.
How can I preach to her with such passion, if I myself am not willing to admit that somewhere in the midst of these inflamed nerves and muscles in my sacral spine have as much to do with how I've been living my life as how I've been lifting my burdens, literal and figurative.
Louise Hay says that lower back pain relates specifically to money concerns and stresses. Uh, yeah. I can vouch for that. But this is bigger than that. This is also about limits for me. Boundaries. My boundaries are so soft and pliable. I say "yes" when I mean "no". Or I say "no" and then let myself be swayed by guilt or pity into doing it anyway. I don't blame people for trying to negotiate my "no" to a "yes." I have given in before. I have let my boundaries topple at the first sign of outside resistance. Why shouldn't they use my "no" as a jumping-off point for negotiations. "I know you said 'no', but maybe you didn't understand how much I needed you to say 'yes.'" And I would sigh deeply and say, "Oh, you're right. My 'no' is just a selfish attempt to attend to my life, while your needs go unmet."
Maybe it's the flattery of feeling "needed". But more often than not, it truly is an idea that all the reasons I had for saying 'no' -- good reasons, like needing to look after my life, my finances, my health, my living arrangements -- suddenly pale in comparison to someone else's need for me to be of service to them. I
have some tough decisions ahead, tough days of house hunting, packing, moving, unpacking, trying to scrape together sufficient resources to make a prospective landlord happy to have me as his/her tenant. That, my work and my family take all I have to give, and I have no more. Perhaps I should have a bit more for the world, but I must realize and honor my limitations, and accept them without self-judgement.
But in the past couple of months, when confronted with the prospect of saying "yes" when I mean "no", there comes a stabbing pain in my back. Just as my singer friend's throat had finally made it impossible for her to go on doing things she didn't want to do and taking things from people she didn't want to take, my back prevents me from saying "yes" to taking on responsibilities I cannot fulfill. There just comes a time, when the atmosphere suddenly, violently decompresses, and the air roars past you and out the nearest opening, when you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you can help someone else with theirs.
My "nos" will have to stand pat. When boundaries get pushed, I will have to push back, sweetly but firmly. My mask will come first.
And then, I will breathe.