I sat in the car, stomach grumbling. Eyeing my mom, I cleared my throat and wiped my sweaty palms on my pants…”Uh, mom? Can we stop at the next bathroom? My tummy really hurts…” She glanced back at me in the rearview mirror, “Again? You just went! What’s wrong with you?”
She said it with exasperation. It was always met with exasperation–inconvenience–and my reaction became shame and embarrassment.
Why did my stomach always hurt? I didn’t know.
The power of EMDR never ceases to amaze me, even as I have questioned my own ability to do it “right.”
Yesterday, as my therapist sat there, tapping the tops of my hands, I visualized so many moments like the one above–moments I did not want to even share aloud, because the shame and embarrassment of sharing is still very alive inside of me. I remembered a time, when we traveled into the mountains of New Mexico and I became desperate for a bathroom stop. My mom and her boyfriend were not happy with me and told me that I needed to just stop being nervous–“I was fine.” Only, I wasn’t fine and, unfortunately, I couldn’t wait. Much to my mortification the inevitable happened–I had an accident, because they wouldn’t stop–something that should never happen to a 9 or 10 year old girl. I remembered sitting in the bathroom, curled over, crying silently to myself, wishing the pain would just stop. I remembered being convinced that I was dying of appendicitis, begging my mom to Please, just take me to the doctor!
I remembered so many things.
But, I still couldn’t, exactly, tell you why my stomach hurt, other than knowing I was always nervous and anxious as a child.
And then I remembered more.
I remembered worrying about my mom, who didn’t have a license, and who would drink and drive, being pulled over. Who would take care of us? I remember walking, in the rain, along the side of an interstate in a scary town, worrying how my mom and I could pay for a new battery and get back home, and whether someone might hurt us. I remember worrying that someone would discover the drugs and arrest them–and worrying about what would happen to me.
I remembered the worry.
As I am feeling the tapping, back and forth, and seeing all of these images, my stomach began to grumble. I could feel myself growing uncomfortable, embarrassed by the noises and thinking, “Sheesh, really? Are you feeling threatened or something?”
Then, my therapist said: “What is your stomach trying to tell you right now?”
I couldn’t answer her. As is true most of the time, when I am deep in a moment, I can very rarely find the words to name how I am feeling. In therapy, I frequently try to do this and I end with a very lame, “…I don’t know.” Seriously, if you could count how many times I say, “I don’t know,” in a session you would probably laugh.
But, really, I don’t know.
And that is when my therapist pointed out something so powerful that I am still feeling pretty floored by its meaning. She pointed out that I never felt like I could voice what I was feeling or worrying about in a particular moment. But the worry was still there–I could not get rid of it. My body latched on to that worry and internalized it–and my stomach found a way of communicating with me that something wasn’t right. I need to find a way to listen to what it is telling me.
Seriously, this feels like a missing puzzle piece. I had to take a good 24 hours to process what it even meant.
And…I realized that it meant I had no voice. No way of saying, at least out loud, “I am feeling really scared!” or “I don’t want to move!” or “I am worried about breaking down!” or “I am worried you will be taken away from me!”
I also realized that I think this is why I struggle–so much–with self-compassion. How can I be kind with myself and tell myself that it is okay to feel what I am feeling, when I don’t know what I am feeling? I often try it and say to myself, “It’s okay, you’re feeling anxious right now. That is okay.” But, I am jumping over why I feel anxious.
My stomach hurting is an indicator to stop. To look. To discover.
My body is talking to me, telling me something isn’t okay. I am not fine.
I need to learn to listen to it and verbalize what it is telling me.
For some reason, just having this piece of the puzzle feels so…empowering. I can’t quite grasp why, entirely. But I know the answers are coming.