Monday, September 7, 2009

I came to a realization recently that I have imposed a type of silence upon myself since getting my cancer diagnosis. My silence is obviously not one of the mouth or the pen or the keyboard.
My silence is one of the body. I have put my mind and mouth in one compartment and left my body (at least the root chakra) in a dark and silent tomb somewhere else.

I recently read a very powerful and moving book called Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. The author, Matthew Sanford, chronicles his life as a paraplegic, beginning with the car accident that severed his spinal cord when he was 13 years old, an age when kids are just learning about their bodies. Sanford was coerced by the medical establishment to silence his “phantom pains” and emotionally distance himself from the bottom 2/3 of his body. Once he accepted their directives, he felt like just a head and shoulders person. He was this disembodied person for many years, living with a silence of body that only few can understand.

Eventually, he made peace with the living, unmoving body that is a part of himself. He found yoga and re-introduced his body to his mind and visa versa. He now teaches yoga even though he is still paraplegic.
Toward the end of this book, as he was describing how it felt when yoga opened him up to his whole body’s energy, I remembered that feeling of a kundalini rush while meditating or doing energy work and I cried. (What is it with menopause anyway? I seem more emotional than I ever was before.) I was crying in joy and relief for Sanford, but also in grief and anger at myself.
I realized that it has been over two years since I really felt alive throughout my whole body. I’m not sure if the disconnect started when I first got my cancer diagnosis, I don’t think so because I was still meditating and doing Reiki at first.

The disconnect likely happened when Dr. B went out of his way to verbally intimidate and mostly castigate me before doing my vaginal exam which left me feeling unclean and ashamed of having cancer. He said I was too fat to do surgery on and the radiation that he ordered had a possibility of rendering sex so painful as to be impossible, or at least unenjoyable, for the rest of my life. And, he said that because I do not sleep with men, that doesn’t matter anyway.

The disconnect could have happened as I went on the internet and sought out the worst case scenarios for the treatments I was to get.
The disconnect could have happened during the radiation process (you can read about the gory details in some of my earlier posts) and with a radiation doctor that only sees women as property and without physical or emotional considerations.

The disconnect could have happened after my surgery, with the painful recovery (even now, the scar is often a bit painful and there is a hard lump of tissue that healed wrong because of the previous radiation damage).

Despite all my ruminating, trying to pinpoint a moment where I disengaged from my body, ultimately just gives me an excuse to stay in my mind where I feel safer, more in control. (Okay, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that last sentence sounds unlikely. But, believe it or not, that mental chaos feels safe compared to the idea of reconnecting with my root chakra or physical body.)

Another thing I realized from reading Waking, is that I totally take my body for granted. I have aches and pains and crackles and creaks, and I notice those, but it has been a long time since I just sat or did some activity and felt proud of my muscles, my strong legs, my feet that support twice the weight they did when I was young and fit. I have felt more embarrassed of my body than grateful, or even present.

So, I am trying to get back into this shell of mine by breathing deep (as deep as an ex-smoker with pneumonia can), walking, biking, stretching, touching my toes, meditating and paying attention to what my body feels- not just how my mind interprets parts of what I feel.

Reaching back in my memory, I’ll try to describe what I had forgotten that I lost- or, rather, what I actively blocked until the blocking felt more “normal” than being unblocked:

I remember sitting on the ground at the base of an old oak tree. My butt was nestled between two big roots and my back- the whole of my back from sacrum to lumbar to thoracic to cervical spine- was leaning completely against the bark. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, paying attention to what my breath felt like. The more focused I became, the less I noticed the people walking past me to and from the mess hall, to and from rehearsals for the big concert coming up, to and from their dorms or temporary apartments (I was at the University of Kentucky for a Sister Singers’ conference). As others faded, my heartbeat and my breath blended and created a quiet music of their own. Then, I felt energy, almost like my spiral fluid flowing from my root up through each vertebra, around the back of my head to the crown, up through the branches and leaves, then circulating back down through me into the Earth through my pelvis. I don’t know how long I sat like that before I felt something that really startled me. The bark touching my spine, that channel of energy that was so palpable, began to buzz in relation to the buzzing inside of me. It was like the tree’s sap and my spinal fluid were one in the same. I became high from the joy of the moment. I was high without drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or anything else polluting my body. That remarkable moment had to have been 18 or so years ago.

Before the silence, I regularly became a tree, firmly planting my roots in the loamy Earth to stay grounded. I’ve only been a sickly sapling for the past couple of years, whereas before I was a great oak, willow or birch, depending upon the moment.

I also remember the joy and amazement the first time I felt the coiled-snake energy begin to dance: Kundalini. The red snake wound its body up in my womb to sleep and when it woke, it woke my whole body. That fire snake introduced me to the Phoenix, which is the spirit animal born to me again and again, rising out of the ashes I make of myself every now and then.
The other day, a day or two after finishing Waking, I woke up naturally, without the alarm. (It was Tuesday or Wednesday morning, so I had slept the night before since I have Mondays off work.) I sat up on the edge of the bed. (Deb and the three girls staying with us were all still asleep.). I quietly but securely placed both bare feet flat on the bare wooden floor. I straightened my spine from the bottom up and unrolled my shoulders. I put my hands to either side of me, palm sides down. I breathed slowly, deeply, deliberately. I felt myself settle into my body, like an old farmhouse settling, except without the creaking sounds or cracking foundation. As a matter of fact, my foundation felt more solid than it had in a while. More solid than it has for two years. I felt the tree that the settling farmhouse was made of inside my body, sending grounding roots thirstily into the Earth, tentatively as if not wanting to over drink like a dehydrated person might. It felt good for that moment. I felt solid. For that moment, I felt at home again in me.

Did I mention that I highly recommend the book, Waking, by Matthew Sanford for everyone who has ever felt silence: adolescents, differently abled people, women, transgendered people, people of color, arthritic people, diabetics, anyone who has ever had a car accident or a major surgery, menopausal women, men with ED, anyone who has wanted to be a parent but couldn’t, alcoholics, yoga instructors, massage therapists, overweight people, anorexics, ministers, teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, body workers, body builders, home builders, amputees, veterans, the elderly, people of all faiths, humanists, and you.

If you are interested in hearing a fantastic interview with Matthew Sanford, you can go to .  If you are not convinced to read this book yet, listen to him as he tells his story.  Even if you choose not to read the book, the interview alone is inspiring.


  1. I choose NOT to connect to my body. If I connect to my body I have to feel and remember all the things that happened to me. I keep it separate. I hate who I am. I don't want to think. I don't want to be connected. I hate myself. I hate my body.

  2. That experience of remembering the trauma is a large part of what happens to the author once he starts practicing yoga. I don't know how he feels about his body, except that he feels connected. I have no illusions about ever loving my body, but I would like to connect with it. Unfortunately, I do remember most of the things that have happened to me. I also do remember for a short period of time, being connected to my body. That was quite freeing, and I am hoping to get there again, or, rather, I would like to get connected with this new, older, barren and scarred body. I don't expect to like my body, but I am curious to know what it would feel like to be connected again for the first time.

    We each deal with our own wounds in our own way, and sometimes that way is to create distance from the cause of our wounds, like pulling your hand away from a burning ember. That pulling away is often a healing isolation that is necessary in order to get to a place of safety. I hope you can find that place of safety.

  3. Aimee,
    Hearing what that doctor did and said to you just totally pisses me off to no end. Going to school for what I am going for, I have learned that that person that calls himself a doctor, is no more ethical or caring about his patients than a mass murderer is about his victims. All he cares about is the money. I will apologize to you for him because he obviously doesn't have the brain or empathy that the good Lord gave a flea.
    I love you. Shannon