Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let The Body Feel The Pain

In a Peanuts Cartoon script, Charlie Brown is having a difficult time going to school. In it, he complains that every morning as he gets up and goes to school, his little stomach hurts so much. Then, as other kids are enjoying their lunches, his stomach is so sick that he has no desire to eat. He goes on to say that it isn’t his brain that has trouble with school, it is his stomach.

That example is a very powerful example of something I have learned a great deal about. It is referred to as the “Enteric Brain” or the second brain or even sometimes is called the gut brain. What Charlie Brown didn’t fully understand, it was the brain in his stomach where all the difficulty came from. Many of us go through life struggling in the same way as Charlie Brown but we don’t fully understand what the source of our struggles is.

There was many a day that I would get up and go to school where I would be just like Charlie Brown. By the time I got to high school, I could barely eat breakfast in the morning because it would really make me sick. My stomach would be in knots as I faced each day. It was an awful experience and for the longest time, I just thought everyone went through this to some degree or another.

As time went, I realized that when I had very stressful decisions to make or when I was encountering a strange situation or unknown place, my stomach would be in knots. I would not be able to eat, sleep or function that well. I often would say that I made decisions with my gut because in many ways that was true. My gut would react to whatever it was I was facing and if it was in turmoil or in pain and agony, I would know that the decision I was about to make was not right. On the other hand if things were calm and I was not sick, I could feel pretty certain I was making the right decision.

One of the things I struggled with was that because of difficult times I went through in family situations, my stomach was tied up in knots most of the time. There were very few times when it felt good and most of the time it hurt. Eating breakfast or most foods during the day were extremely difficult as I would not feel good from it or get sick. This seemed to be an everyday occurrence and if my stomach didn’t hurt, than I would suffer from daily headaches. Sometimes the two went hand in hand and my only savior was Tylenol.

Things got so bad in high school that I was rushed to the hospital with the doctor feeling I needed to have my appendix out. I was at the age where this was common and so I was immediately checked into the hospital with tests beginning to see what was going on. After many tests that were not conclusive, the doctors were just not sure what was going on or what the best course of action was. Shortly before I was scheduled for surgery to have my appendix removed, the doctor began to question if that was really the best route to go. Thankfully he questioned it.

Soon they determined that it was a nervous stomach (pre ulcer) condition that I had. This was just before Christmas of course when all this was taking place and the next thing I knew, the doctor told me I had to go on a special bland diet and medication. This diet was no fun and while it did help, it by no means took care of the problem. I spent considerable time watching everything I ate and watching my mom prepare meals in such a way that it would not affect me. However, no one ever addressed the real problem behind this. No one understood the connection of stress to the stomach and the enteric brain.

As I have learned now, there is a strong connection to what happens on the outside with what happens on the inside. The stomach is a very important barometer of what is going on in the body because after all, it is the gut brain. If you continue to pile stress and difficulties on the body with no way of discharging them, the body is going to react in one way or another. Often the gut is where the bulk of our stress, pain and grief go but other parts of our body will harbor these things as well.

So when Charlie Brown talked about his stomach hurting, he had a very valid reason for saying that. If someone would have taken myself at that point as well as Charlie Brown, and taught me how to let go of all these things I was locking up within myself, my life would have been very different. Our bodies try to talk to us and get our attention but often we either do not have the tools or the desire to listen to what our bodies are telling us. We try to make this in to a difficult situation of suffering when in fact; the pains, discomfort and conditions we face are there on purpose. They are trying to get our attention so that we will take necessary steps of corrective action. Too many times, we medicate ourselves with drugs, surgery and pathways into la la land, only to find that we have treated the symptoms instead of the source.

Our bodies are miraculous living organisms with the ability to heal, function and self regulate all that goes on within them. Often we search for answers that we so need only for our bodies to offer us solutions that go unheard. Have you ever heard someone say, I just don’t know where I’m going in life and yet the next thing you hear, they are in at the doctor’s office struggling with a foot condition of one type or another? Maybe you have heard of people who are struggling with so much anger at some individual and yet you see the arthritic display in their hands because of their clenched fists. How about the person who is said to have died of a broken heart after suffering the loss of a loved one not knowing how to grieve their loss and say goodbye. There are so many examples in our day and if you stop and listen for them, you’ll hear so many from people around you. You might even be surprised at how much you hear from yourself.

We’re taught in our society that pain can be frightening and scary and at the first sign of pain or discomfort, we need to take something for it. From the over the counter medications to a doctor prescribed medication, we try to get rid of the symptom, also known as the pain or discomfort, instead of looking for the reason it is there. We try to flee from it when there is a reason that our body is working hard to get our attention. If we continue to ignore what the body is trying to tell us, it will continue to get our attention and if we go down this path to far, the conditions can get serious.

Learning though to stop and listen to our body and see what is going on, is a good first step in healing our body. There are times of course that we may not like what we see when we do this and there may be considerable amounts of fear to go along with it, but ask yourself this question. Would it be better to treat the symptoms or treat the cause? I think it would be an easy answer to this question that all of us would want to treat the cause. Yet, the first thing we move towards is finding something or someone to get rid of the pain.

May we all strive to learn to listen to our bodies as well as the answers it so freely offers us. For the more we look to other things and people to heal us, the more we will become disillusioned and disappointed. Yes, we do need the help of those who can heal, but we also need to realize just how powerful we are as a human and the immense abilities we have located within us.

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