My massage therapist commented that I twist my right arm whenever she moves it. She questioned the origin of this tendency. During the height of my swim conditioning, I short-armed my right free style stroke. My coach instructed me to pull my arm through completely before exiting the water. This adjustment improved my speed and efficiency. For a few workouts I decelerated and concentrated on pulling through. However, I found it tedious, and it slowed me down tremendously. Additionally, as I fatigued I returned to short-arming. I shared this story with my massage therapist, and she commented, “Maybe you’re protecting something.” She asked if I had a past injury. Prior to swimming, I spent several years rock climbing and pushing my body in ways you can in your late 20’s and early 30’s. I likely sustained an injury.
My response to this physical injury mimics a psychological injury. Often times we compensate to avoid pain and keep moving forward. However, this coping style eventually short changes us when we can no longer progress with ease and efficiency. We are frequently unaware of this protective mechanism until we enter relationships, and others identify it. Once this compensatory strategy enters our awareness slowing down and addressing it proves challenging. We feel pulled into our old habit particularly during times of stress and fatigue. However, if we slow down and address the injury, we start moving with greater fluidity and ease.
Admittedly, when I dive into the pool, I’m tempted to bullet through the water like a torpedo. Then, I hear my healthy self, “you’re short-arming . . . pull through the entire stroke . . . don’t get in a hurry.” I may resemble Esther Williams. However, my right arm propels me further if I can resist exiting at the point of discomfort.
Where in your life are you emotional short-arming? How can you leave your arm in the water a bit longer when it feels uncomfortable?
After years of driving past The Cave of Wonders, curiosity pulled me in. I stepped inside and magnificent gems encircled me. A sweet caramel and white pitbull named Bella shadowed me as I perused the stones. I showed Bella a black, shiny piece of tourmaline and explained its energy-absorbing properties. She sniffed and licked my hand, confirming my selection. I picked up a piece of smooth, rose quartz and felt its coolness and weight in my hand. The bin’s placard announced that it decreased stress and brought love into one’s life. Sign me up for that! I added it to my growing collection and continued browsing. Bella grew bored of examining my treasures and parked herself in the front entrance to greet unsuspecting humans.
When my stone collection overflowed the reaches of my palm, I decided to check out. I had gems to help me grieve, avoid negative energy and stress, and bring love and prosperity into my life. Yep, I was covered in the happy life department now. The shop owner handed me a complimentary marble-sized garnet – the stone of the week. He gave me a handout describing its properties and meanings. Garnet brings successful business, cures depression, makes a person popular, adds constancy to friendships, increases security level, cleanses and purifies and increases sex drive. I hit the jackpot! Now I could start a successful business, be happy, popular, confident, clear negative energy and be a sex goddess!
While the garnet claims appeared exaggerated, I think we all hope at times that one special thing or person can provide fulfillment, safety, and happiness. We all have experiences in which we wish a garnet could cure all our troubles. Simple fixes are attractive but no replacement to feeling our way through life. I keep the garnet in my purse to remind me of this fact. If life hands me a lesson, and I choose not to accept the challenge, it comes around again. The times I find myself wishing for a “garnet fix” are typically the times I want to avoid painful emotions.
Where in your life do you find yourself wishing for the garnet fix? What do you need to feel your way through?
I made the mistake. I had the fortunate opportunity to practice Bikram yoga on a 90% humidity day in sunny southern California. For ten years I effectively tolerated the 105 degree, 60% humidity environment of this yoga. However, this day I entered the studio, unrolled my mat, and instantly transformed into a human water fountain. Sweat gushed from every pore in my body despite the fact I laid silently in savasana (i.e., corpse pose)! The teacher entered the room and announced, “Rise and shine it’s yoga time! I know it’s a hot day, but you’re not going to die in the yoga room.” I stood up and thought, “I’m f*&#ed!” My body boiled. Probably, because I was standing DIRECTLY under the red glow of a radiant heater. Given room was packed with sweaty yoga bodies, I could not escape the heater’s radius. During the second breath of pranayama, my mind raced, “It’s too hot . . .I’m dizzy . . . I have to pee. . . I want to run out of this room . . . what if I run out? . . .I’ve never run out. . .what’s wrong with me? . . . everyone else looks ok . . .this absolutely sucks . . . I should have slept in . . . I will be dehydrated . . .my stomach is on fire . . .why did I eat garlicky hummus before class? . . . breathe . . . breathe . . .breathe.” I eventually calmed my mind. However, my body fought to stand. My stomach knotted and the room spun. I surrendered to my mat until the world stilled. Then, with a big deep breath, I stood up and tried again.
By virtue of our human-beingness, we experience moments of intense emotional pain. We question whether we can tolerate another excruciating second and feel pulled to flee the room. We numb . . . with reality TV (goodness knows I’ve watched way too much Teen Mom), busyness, material objects, and substances. We do everything in our power to escape that radiant heater, because it’s tremendously uncomfortable. We gain momentary lapses of relief only for the heat to blast us squarely in the face. If we surrender and breathe, the perspiration pours from our bodies. The toxins leave, we cool, and oxygen replenishes us. We stand up and try again. When the intensity of the heat overwhelms you, lie down, breathe, and recover. Then, get up and try again. If you run, pain will follow you right out of the door.
If emotional heat has left you face down on the floor, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. This wonderful manuscript reminds us that signing up to live whole-heartedly involves falling, and she gives us a formula for rising up.
I have traveled alone – a lot. Given I am the youngest of the family, and the only one who lives on the west coast, I go to them. Given my recovering perfectionist status, I still exhibit “type A” travel traits. Yes, I have a packing checklist. I store it on my computer and ceremonially print it out prior to each departure. I commence packing two days before my trip, and I use packing cubes. If you do not have packing cubes, I highly, highly recommend them. eBags pays me nothing for this endorsement. Packing cubes allow one to rifle through one’s suitcase at lightning speed to procure a swimsuit or clean pair of underwear. I also bring a water bottle and quickly fill it once I pass security. I continue to marvel at folks who gawk at it and remark “Wow, how do you get THAT through security?”
Speaking of security, it is a rare event that I make it through without a TSA agent touching me in a way that warrants fine wine, a five star dinner and some smokin’ hot chemistry. I remember leaving Vegas in my new, designer jeans. You know, the ones with the awesome metal designs on the pockets which make any woman’s pancake butt look voluptuous. Note — never wear these jeans through security, ever. Evidently my derriere posed a threat to national security and required a physical pat down. The female TSA agent kindly asked if I wanted to do it in private. Given the early hour of my flight, I needed my double soy, latte stat. Hence, I opted for getting felt up in front of the entire procession of passengers. Interestingly, I have supposedly posed a threat to airport security by . . . wearing a large watch, pony tail, nothing (just kidding), and dangly earrings. I strive to practice thoughtfulness when I go through security. I remove any object which will activate the metal detector. I willingly choose the back scatter machine even though the picture is leaving little to the screener’s imagination. I limit my baggie of liquids to the quart size bag. Honesty, I ‘ve witnessed many a passenger coming through with two gallon freezer bags. One woman brought in a full bottle of Kai body spray. Honestly, I was jealous. Have you smelled that stuff? It is amazing.
I am known to take VERY early morning flights in order to arrive on the east coast at a reasonable hour. (Do I love my family or what?) Hence, my first order of business is to find a large cup of java. Then, I find intellectually stimulating reading material. Ok, I am going to be f’ing honest with you folks. I bring The Week and use it to disguise People. Don’t judge. I know many of you have done the same thing . . . Did you know the stars are just like us? They go to Starbucks and pump their own gas. Who knew? Cross country flights give me plenty of time to read, watch movies . . . I experienced a minor myocardial infarction when the wifi signal disappeared in the middle of Gravity. That movie was intense.
My flight to my sister’s place was relatively uneventful, and I exited the aircraft only to feel water dripping down the back of my legs. In my hurry to deplane, I overlooked securely fastening my water bottle. The bottom of my backpack was soaked. I ran to the bathroom and urgently blotted it with paper towels. It was like trying to soak up Lake Michigan with a cellulose sponge . . .no bueno. I panicked. Not only did I have a wet back pack. I had a wet bottom. Desperate times called for desperate measures . . .thank God the bathroom had a Dyson airblade. It’s not just for drying hands anymore. I will leave the rest to your imagination and assure you I left that bathroom dry . . . Using an object for a purpose other than it’s original function is the definition of creativity ya’ll.
I spent several days visiting my sweet sister and Dad while attending a conference. Then, I returned to the airport where I am happy report I made it through security without a patting or wanding. My first plane left on time and so did my second! However, after one hour on the tarmac we taxied back to the gate due to a mechanical problem. Ugh. This event presented me with quite a dilemma. I bought a box of gourmet chocolates for a friend who offered to pick me up at the airport. Given the delay, the decent option was to graciously thank her and say, “I brought you these chocolates.” However, I needed self-soothing after several hours in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport with VERY limited vegetarian food options, no dessert and travel stress. I ate the dark chocolate, and I must admit it made me feel immensely better, so did the salted caramel, hazelnut ganache and pinot noir truffle. . . Currently, I am one hour away from home in a full-blown sugar coma. I look forward to landing . . .to tail wags and licks from my splendidly imperfect dog and crawling into my splendidly perfect bed. Good night.
I love the chin up/dip machine in the gym. It is one of the most efficient ways to work several major muscle groups at once. Given I detest weight lifting, but I know it builds strong and healthy bones, yada, yada, yada, I celebrate a machine that shortens my agony. I also love that it contains the “weight assist” stack. I simply determine the pounds I want to subtract from my actual weight and insert the lovely “assist” pin. On particularly challenging days, I place the pin near my exact weight and pull myself up with one hand! I feel like Demi Moore in GI Jane except I don’t have a shaved head or her ripped biceps. Gymgoers standing at least 20 feet away might possibly mistake me for Svetlana Feofanova — a fellow famous red-haired athlete! I do try to challenge myself and move the pin up and pull up more and more of my weight. I recognize muscle building involves pain but some days I need a break from it.
When it comes to painful emotions, perfectionists find the assist pin particularly attractive. Perfectionist assist pins come in all shapes and sizes . . . working long hours, racking up achievements, filling every available moment with something productive, rigid exercise routines, and cleaning. Some assist pin activities can be helpful like distracting oneself from painful emotions by calling a friend, going for a run, or doing something kind for others. Others can prove particularly damaging like numbing out with alcohol, food or excessive sedentariness.
One should not use the aforementioned coping strategies to continuously to avoid painful emotions. Tal- Ben Shahar (2009) highlights that painful emotions need to move freely down the “emotional pipe line” in order to maintain good emotional-wellbeing. When we continuously suppress, ignore, and distract ourselves from painful emotions a clog builds and these emotions remain trapped inside contributing to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If we use the “assist pin” over and over again it will eventually wear down, break and send us crashing under our true weight. Hence, we need to challenge ourselves to pull it out and feel, ache, grieve and hurt and know we are human and splendidly, imperfectly built.
At times, we need to put the pin in. Shortly after I separated from my ex-husband the grief permeated my being to the depths that my heart physically ached. I had no idea that a human being could shed such colossal volumes of tears. I recognized that I could not grieve 24/7 and maintain some semblance of sanity. I needed breaks. I needed the assist pin. My “assist” pin included things like a living room early 90’s dance party with my sister, watching really horrible reality TV (so bad I cannot succumb to telling you even though I use a pen name), painting my toe nails radical colors, listening to Nine Inch Nails VERY, VERY loud in my car and yelling “Head like a hole, black’s got your soul, I’d rather die than give you control!,” hot baths, watching videos of cute baby animals on youtube and then . . . I. Pulled. The. Pin. Out. . . so I could work through the pain, build strength and prevent the pin from wearing out. It’s an imperfect process. Sometimes I leave the pin in too long. Other times, I suffer too long under the gravity of my own weight and could benefit from giving myself a break. My wish for all of us is that we can grow in our discernment of when to put the pin in and pull it out.