And then one day, my back gave out
Why listening to your body is essential ......
As a writer, and a creative, I need a lot of downtime.
It wasn't always this way. I was a yes person. I come from a time where I was actually afraid of being alone. I would spend all of my time with people. I would fill my hours with the company of others. I would have to go out every Saturday and Friday night to not feel the pits of despair and doom, unless I was in a relationship but even then sometimes so. This went on for years and years and years. There were lots of drugs involved, lots of late nights, lots of drinking and it just was my way of life. For decades.
I said yes to everything. Oh my god this pains my heart to remember this person that I was. Anything and everything if I was free and available I would do it. And if I wasn't I would make time for it. This was partially about being a people pleaser for sure, which stems from a lot of trauma of being othered in society, however the other aspect of it was being included. Being asked to do some thing and being a yes person meant I was important, I was included, I was accepted and most of all, I was not lonely. Loneliness in and of itself is a form of trauma.
Being busy also meant tons of opportunities. I was the woman around town. I knew people. I went places.
All of that slowly started to stop about 10 years ago. About 10 years ago I realized the most important thing for me was creating, namely writing music. I always knew it, but most of my life had been spent distracting myself from the very thing that I knew I needed to do. But, didn’t know how. So, I began this unraveling. Unlearning and undoing. And, I’m still doing it.
I'm not gonna lie. Seeing clients as a therapist had something to do with it. Seeing clients for five years straight (at that point) and not taking care of myself might have been the clincher that actually drained me from the wanting to talk to people part.
But, actually being empowered in my creative life, I no longer needed my time filled. I no longer needed those superficial, empty, vacuous friendships, nor did I need weekends and endless hours on end filled. I needed my time back. Having a passion in your life that you are so passionate about will change you. But first you have to accept your passion into your life. And that was the thing that I did not believe I was allowed to accept.
Side note: I had some fun. Maybe too much fun. I did live A LOT. I had a full life of parties, friends, travel, sexual and romantic exploits. I made a lot of friends, and I met a lot of people, both vacuous and some extremely wonderful who support me today.
And, then it was time to stop. My body literally could not move any further.
Because. One fine day about 7 years ago, my back gave out. Six months before moving to New York City, I was starting a new teaching job at Alliant University in Alhambra, California. But, I was in a lot of pain. The weekend before I had partied an awful lot, and I was so ready to leave it all behind and go to NYC for the next part of my adventure.
But, I was still stuck in this story that I needed to make more money, I needed to stay busy. Even though I had already begun making plans to leave, close my practice and move to NYC, even though I was doing the things, I was still operating from an older story that did not believe I had another option. I still thought I needed to work harder. I was responsible to everyone. Everything I said I would do, I did. And, I had committed to this new teaching job. I was so used to work work work all the time, I couldn’t even accept that my private practice was full and I actually didn’t need more work. I even had two interns working for me, making a decent living also. But I was too exhausted to see the truth.
I had a party that weekend. It was January 2014. And, we were doing lines of cocaine in my bedroom, drinking all manner of alcohol, when I decided to bring it up to my friends at the party.
“I do not want to start this new teaching job this week. What would happen if I just bailed last minute?”
I was met with horror on their faces and then what felt like verbal lashings.
“What? Mou, you have to go to this job.”
“Mou, you have worked so hard on your career, do not throw it away.”
“That would look very bad on your resume.”
Wow. I felt so unheard in that moment. Here I was pleading with my friends that I was not up for it. And, they all told me, literally every single one of them, that I need to suck it up and do it. This is what the 80s taught us. Work hard and party hard. This is what capitalism had taught us, had taught our boomer parents, and there we were, all pushing our mid 40’s and we had all bought in. Hook line and sink her.
I walked away with my tail between my legs. Because what they told me was exactly how I had been living. Work hard. Show up. Then you have earned the license to party hard. I believed it to be true, too.
So I would go to that new job even though I was dying inside. I was miserable. I was exhausted. I was on the wrong path. And, ironically, I would help my clients unravel their stories, but I couldn’t undo mine.
That Monday morning, as I was getting ready, I stretched to reach something up high. I immediately felt this sharp pain in my lower back. I felt my entire lower back seize up. I immediately did what any person would do, I tried to sit down. Only to find, I couldn’t. I could sit one butt cheek down, but it hurt too much to sit the other one down.
I had a full week ahead of me of clients, plus starting a new teaching job, and I threw my back out. (And, if I’m being totally honest, it was probably dehydration from drinking and doing drugs and it was most likely my kidneys from my eating disorder of just eating protein to stay thin, but this is a story for another time.)
That first day of class my partner drove me while I lay down in the backseat in pain. I couldn’t sit on my butt, I had to either stand or lay down. I went dutifully and I taught that first day of class. But, I was a disheveled mess. One student even pointed out that the button on my dress was undone, right across the chest. How embarassing. I was in the wrong place. But, I kept going despite the pain. Despite the exhaustion. I even went and saw all of my clients that week. I had 17 clients to see. I even saw my supervisess, too and provided two hours of supervision. Come to think of it, I don’t think I had comfortably taken a day off or a vacation for at least 4 years.
Eventually the back pain would go away, and I got caught up on my sleep. I finished teaching that semester. I finished out my clients also. I hung in there for another 5 months. I did my best, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I don’t have feelings about it either way. The teaching, that is. I could take it or leave it. It was just a job. I could have easily called them on Monday and said my back was out and that I would not be able to teach that semester. They would have found a replacement so easily. And, possibly even gotten a better teacher. Adjunct professors are a dime a dozen. I’m not an adjunct professor. I did about 4 semesters of it total in my life and it’s definitely not my calling. And, if I had listened to my heart that day, trusted in myself I could have walked away sooner. I could have done whatever I wanted sooner but I thought I needed to say. But the reasons are blurry.
Being lonely and broke led to being too busy and yes, having money. Neither are sustainable. But I think I would rather be alone and broke than busy and rich. Because you can be busy and have money and still be lonely. Being alone is different than being lonely.
Let me explain. Today, I crave my alone time. I live for it. I find all of my creative juices when I am alone. It’s where I find the strength for my work. Sure, I get lonely. That part doesn’t change and loneliness is universal. we all experience loneliness. But filling my time with vacuous activities (and friends) and lets be real all the drama that goes along with it, which in the end didn’t feed me, well, that wasn’t the answer.
Now, I say “NO” all. the. time. Unless I really truly want to do something, and even then I don’t always have the emotional, or physical bandwidth. I say NO to some things I do enjoy, like helping friends out, going to certain activities and events, I still end up saying no, because what comes first is me, my art, my creativity and my sanity. I guess one would call those priorities. It’s true, I’d rather sit on the couch with these two cuties. And eat a hearty bowl of pasta. And, write 100 songs even if they never see the light of day. And, write a hundred poems and essays, because that is what my body is asking me to do. And, today I listen.