For most of my life, I was numb. I lived disassociated from my body numbed by fear, tension, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and addiction to thinking. Being a speech pathologist, I worked with people who had strokes, were brain damaged from trauma, were autistic, and other brain dysfunction. The thought of having a “stroke” was terrifying for me.
Was my decision to quit smoking an action to do my part in ward off the possibility of having a stroke? OR was I experiencing what the twelve step program called … A Spiritual Awakening ?! Whatever it was, I made the decision. I wanted to “be” a non-smoker.
How to give up smoking? I had tried 20+ times before and failed miserably. Quitting smoking has been compared to giving up cocaine and heroin since nicotine is considered as addictive as these illegal drugs. The advice was – give up everything and anything that you associate with a cigarette. So, in October of 1982, I gave up alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, friends who smoked (temporarily, places where smoking was allowed, and substituted M & M's for them all.
Two weeks within my process of quitting, I identified severe asthma and debilitating migraines. During the next year, I demonstrated four herniated disks. I could only walk for 5 minutes before having to sit, allowing my spinal vertebrae to realign. Not numbered by daily doses of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, I realized that I had a body, one that was in excruciating pain most of the time. I became a pain pill junkie and ate sugar as if it were the basis of a nutritious diet. I had found new ways to numb out and disassociate from the body. I looked thin and emaciated.
After the pain, I did not give up my campaign to quit smoking. This is a quote from the March 20, 1987 article in the New York Times titled, Nicotine: Harder To Kick Than … Heroin …
“W hen the first warnings about tobacco were published more than 20 years ago, many experts thought that smoking was '' no different than compulsive potato chip eating, '' says Dr. Henningfield. it is now clear, according to Dr. Henningfield, that smoking is a subset of compulsive behavior in which the controlling factor, nicotine, substantially affects the smoker's central nervous system, producing pleasurable effects, dependency and, when it is taken away, withdrawal. “
Due to my rebellious personality, I knew that if I felt “stripped”, I would probably fail in my efforts to quit smoking. With that in mind, I carried a pack of cigarettes and a lighter with me at all times during the first year of withdrawal from smoking. When a craving hit, I could decide to have a cigarette or not have a cigarette since it was readily available. Sometimes, I would delay my choice for just an hour. Thinking “I can have a cigarette in an hour” would mollify the temptation. After that hour, I would make another choice despite delaying having a cigarette for a couple of hours. Within a month, I was able to delay for a day. “I can have a cigarette tomorrow” would be my refusal.
Twelve Step mottos also assisted me. Just For Today I will be cigarette free. One day at a time is a familiar mantra for many addicts. I would repeat these mottos over and over in my head until the craving subsided.
What I did not know was that in giving up alcohol, and not entering a recovery program, I never changed my cognitive dysfunction from what is called “stinking thinking.”
- All-or-Non Thinking . I thought in extremes, in black and white categories, no middle ground. I thought in never, always, have to, need to … which reflected in anxiety and depression.
- Overgeneralization – My thinking was stuck in an early stage of mental development corresponding to when I began drinking alcohol … age 15. I saw a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat with life becoming one lousy thing after another.
- Mental Filter: I developed “selective hearing” where I focused on a tiny part, usually negative, of what I was hearing, and believing that part rather than looking at the whole picture.
- Disqualifying the Positive -I rejected positive experiences insisting they “do not count” because the rest of my life I judged as a miserable pile of doo-doo.
- Jumping to Conclusions – I interpreted (without definite facts), my inaccurate concluding that people had it in for me and that everything would turn out miserably.
- Magnification (catastrophizing) or Minimization: I exaggerated the importance of things. My thinking was irrational. This is sometimes called the binocular effect.
- Emotional Reasoning: “I feel it, therefore it must be true”. The person starts to think that emotions are facts. “I feel therefore it is”. “I feel like she hates me, therefore she does”.
- SHOULD Statements: I've tried to motivate myself (usually with a hangover) by should and shouldn'ts trying to control not only myself but others. I'd whip and punish myself with criticism.
- A Distinction between Shame AND Guilt: I felt ashamed of myself … ashamed of who I was being as a human … ashamed of my essence. Guilt is feeling sorry for what I've done .. Guilt does not last a long time. I can apologize and forgive myself. Shame lasts and lasts and lasts and is frequently labeled guilt.
- LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over generalization . Instead of describing the action, I'll attach a long list o negative labels to myself … “I'm a loser”. “I'm ugly”.
- PERSONALIZATION: I'd see myself “as the cause” of things I absolutely had no control over. I was self-centered, self-absorbed, and even to the point of narcissistic. This stems from emotional numbness and chemically delayed emotional development (age 15 for me).
Unbeknownst to me, I had become a “dry drunk”. This is someone who gives up alcohol without recovering from all the dysfunction associated with the addictive dis-ease. Despite giving cigarettes and alcohol, my life was still filled with negative drama. My thinking was stinking. I was unhappy, frustrated, and in despair.
I went to see a psychiatrist. She recommended that I enter a 30 day rehabilitation program where I was actually diagnosed as an alcoholic, “a dry drunk” with a core dis-ease of “codependence”. I began unraveling a history of emotional incest, fanatical religiosity, parental and personal alcoholism and a pervasive dislike of being alive. As I faced and slowly deal with issue after issue, I began experiencing living in my body more than ever before. There were even a few times when I found living in my body to be pleasurable. Very few.
I studied to become a Massage Therapist. I actually turned to massage because I could not tolerate my body being touched. I actually was not that fond of touching others either. I was determined to shift these patterns into pleasurable experiences.
Since I still could not stand at a massage table, my clients lay on a massage cushion on the floor so I could sit and slide around while giving a massage. My décor was Asian and the mood was meditative which created a great deal of out-of-body experiences. I was still unconsciously determined to stay out of the body as much as possible, now under the guise of meditative massage.
In the expansion of my business in massage, I became an instructor approved by the Texas Department of Health and founded The School of Massage and Miracles. I focused on becoming more conscious and studied ways of living more fully in my body. I was assisted by a phenomenally devoted desire to unravel automatic programs and assist my students in doing the same. It was enlivening.
I learned how to ground myself by focusing on my feet. I learned this technique from Hospice. When a person is in the process of dying, if you touch their feet, it helps them come back into their body from the twilight zone between living and dying. Using grounding frequently throughout the day, my hands and feet which were usually cold, began to warm up.
I learned how to breathe fully as I get and received massage. I took courses that increased my awareness of my body such as eating “mindfully”. NO TALKING while eating. What a concept. I became fully engaged in the smell, texture, and taste of the food I was eating. It was a rush of pleasurable sensations that I continue to experience while dining.
Receiving and giving massage shifted many of my life experiences into ones that I appreciated and felt the pleasure of gratitude.
I pioneered massage. I was one of the first massage therapists in the country to do massage in a doctor's office, an office of a chiropractor, in a physical therapy practice, and actually received staff privileges in a hospital, which was a professional feat.
Thirty two years sober from alcohol and cigarettes. As I walk with my older dog Trinity, I certainly focus on walking mindfully and being aware of the gifts nature allows me to choose to enjoy or ignore. I frequently choose to stay present in my body rather than allowing my mind to chatter about what I “need to” do today. The songs of birds. The hoot of an owl. The tat tat tat of a woodpecker. The buzz of bees. The rustle of leaves on the trees. I delight “going out of my mind” and being in my body. As a added bonus, being fully emboided is anti-aging.
Are you fully embodied?