My Dance with Body - from the Fifth Strand
I’ve taken a long time to come to terms with my body. I don’t mean how it looks, but being in it at all. As a teenager I had juvenile arthritis and experienced varying degrees of pain in my body but mainly, overwhelmingly, in my feet. From the age of about twelve until I was nineteen I could rarely walk without some level of discomfort. Walking back from school I would often be crying with pain before I reached home. There were times when I was so overwhelmed by the meaningless nature of chronic pain I wept helplessly for hours at a time.
At school I was excused from sport and suffered through the plays I loved. Standing on stage was sometimes excruciating, especially those winter performances, but I was prepared to sacrifice my feet for the theatre. At rehearsals I sat down every instant I didn’t have to be standing; sometimes I could barely get off the stage before falling over from pain. In moments when the play came to life I forgot all that and experienced transcendence. I think it paved the way for my later involvement in ritual.
I didn’t find an answer to my arthritis for many years. I discovered that heat helped, massage helped, dry and warm weather helped. I eliminated the pain completely with a virulent drug which I agreed to take for three months (later I found out this drug is usually only prescribed to much older people because of its cumulative side effects). Then at nineteen I went to a naturopath and discovered changing my diet could eliminate the pain.
I was an instant convert. About five days into my no dairy; no tomatoes or potatoes, eggplant or capsicum; no coffee or alcohol, sugar, spices or salt; no chicken or red meat; no wheat; no mushrooms; no citrus diet I felt the pain ebb away and I never looked back. It was a remarkably easy diet to keep. One slip and the twinges would return as a warning. After a few years my body could tolerate some of those things again, in small doses; some – tomatoes, wheat and potatoes – I continued avoiding for the next ten years.
My eyes changed color. Originally I had hazel eyes – brownish with dashes of green – and they changed, overnight it seemed to me. One day I saw in the mirror I had blue-grey eyes. It was a few months after I’d begun the diet and it looked as if I had become a new person, from the inside out.
At around 21 I suffered repetitive strain injury (RSI) from typing and spent a few years barely able to write, for the pain shooting uncontrollably along my arms. My hands had always been my most precious body part, because of the writing, and all through my arthritic childhood I had bargained with fate; I was prepared to lose everything except the use of my hands. The RSI seemed to ridicule all that previous suffering.
I came down with glandular fever and spent three months in a haze of nothingness, then two years slowly recovering my normal strength. Gradually, gradually I won back bits of my own body, through physiotherapy, postural change and eventually a determination that I would come into the heritage of this body; I would claim it and love it and work with it to finally enjoy being in my body, on this planet, part of the earth.
So far as I’ve aged, my body has come into better and better condition and I’ve developed a closer relationship with it. I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been. I’m not at the mercy of chronic pain, though I regard it with great respect; I know it has the power to rewrite my mind, my understanding of myself and the world any time it strikes. Pain retains the power to shock me into awareness; there’s this inescapable thing with my body; I can’t get out of it. So I believe I’d better assimilate problems quickly or it leads to not wanting to be in the body; an untenable position for an earth-worshiping pagan.
About six years ago I twisted my right ankle very badly. It didn’t – quite – break but the tiny ligaments were torn and damaged. I was on crutches for weeks and ever since then, that ankle has been fragile. Influenced by princess stories I read at a young age, I had never much liked my ankles. I was convinced girls’ ankles should be slender and mine patently weren’t. I had peasant ankles (along with my knees and thighs, although miraculously, not my wrists and fingers, which I always liked much better).
Three months or so after I’d damaged the ankle I thought it was about time it healed properly. I went to an acupuncturist. As he was examining my ankle I asked, casually, how long it would be before that awful swelling went away and my ankle resumed its normal shape.
“Oh, that’s the shape it is, now,” he said cheerfully and went on to explain about the tissue that builds up around injuries like this and how – once the initial swelling and bruising is gone – that’s more or less it, for shape.
I was so horrified, lying there on the treatment table, I just blanked out my feelings. My left ankle (that I’d never liked because it was thick and clumpy) was now, by comparison, slender and shapely. Suddenly I loved it. I wondered why I hadn’t loved it always and, even worse, why I hadn’t appreciated the now eternally-damaged one all those years. I made a decision, still lying there in shock, that I loved my new ankle. Regardless and no regrets and no holding back. Oh – ankles – so functional, so practically beautiful, holding me up every step I take, damaged but reformed; oh I think they are beautiful, now.
My ankles are one of the few parts of myself I’d never admired. More usually I think I am an embodiment of the Goddess. Not because I am anything special, but because my understanding is that women are the Goddess, manifest on the earth. But she tripped me up, literally, in a kind of coyote moment. Don’t appreciate these wonderful ankles? – bam! Less wonderful ankles. Appreciate them yet? I’ve always respected the Dark Goddess and here she was, speaking directly through my body.
I think I learnt my lesson. I’m offering it to you in case there is a similar lesson awaiting you, perhaps about your hips, skin or teeth. Could be anything. Love it all, because surely we realize by now that gravity and time do not improve the body. Luckily there’s compensating factors in wisdom, understanding and a working knowledge, even appreciation of this body we were born into.