July 22, 2009:
Last week, my friends Goel and Philp brought dinner to my house so that we could visit over food. Since these guys enjoy wine, I decided to open up one of my four bottles, a Syrah from a vineyard that doesn't commercially market its products and has a great reputation. I thought that I might even have a glass myself for the first time in a long time. As I twisted the corkscrew, the cork pulverized. But being determined, I got a screwdriver and pried out the remaining cork. For the final removal, I tapped the cork into the bottle and was suddenly sprayed with red wine, all over my mint green shirt, my face, my glasses, my hair. Loud expletives as I reached for a towel, wiped it across my face and saw that my microfiber shirt had absorbed the wine and could not be cleaned. I hurled the towel into the sink and in a reasonably controlled voice said to my guests, "Back in a flash. Costume change." Going into my bedroom closet to get a new shirt, I furiously ripped the stained shirt off my body, buttons flying, fabric shredding. And then, as if everything was somewhat normal, I put on a new shirt and rejoined Philip and Goel for dinner. "Wow, you were pissed," said Philip. "You bet," I muttered. "That wine in my face really startled me." Then, I strained the rest of the cork from the Syrah, poured two glasses and served it. "I'll pass tonight," I explained. "My attitude is really bad toward this wine. You enjoy" Which they did.
Today in therapy, my counselor was asking me about how I was dealing with the ambiguity of not knowing what would happen next with my health. I gave a few explanations and she directed my attention toward the anger I'd felt a few weeks ago when I bashed the cancer cells into bloody bits. "Anger?" I asked. Then I remembered and narrated the incident from dinner the prior week. "Why did you get so angry?" she asked. Slowly, I replayed the scene of opening the wine, feeling the corkscrew break the cork, gently tapping the remaining cork into the pressurized bottle and my alarm at being sprayed suddenly. That was it, I realized, the unexpected wine in my face; that's what infuriated me. "Why were you infuriated?" she asked. "Well," I replied, I felt like I was being attacked." It sounded odd to confess that a bottle of wine could attack me, but there was something tugging under that strange perception. So I said it again. "I felt like I was being attacked." Then I associated the sudden wine in the face with having a big, growing tumor in my pelvis, "I feel like I'm being attacked. I'm being attacked. I'm being attacked."
"So what's it like to be attacked?" she asked. I probably gave her the deer-in-the-headlights look, because reached over and pulled out a pad of art paper and a big basket of crayons. Draw, George. Sure, I can do that. And I did, reaching for the pink crayon and easily looping circles that became healthy zones of organs and connective tissue, vital and smooth and integrated in a whole architecture of related shapes. I looked at the pink health resting on the paper. Putting the pink crayon back, I found a thick waxy black crayon. I held the crayon without thinking. And then, faster than my mind, like a Japanese calligrapher, I pushed the black color hard against the paper, jerking the crayon back and forth in an attack of dark jagged black against healthy pink. It was a furious assault and when a knot of black was packed against the pink tissue, I stopped just as suddenly.
I looked at my picture, at both the supporting pink home and the thick black invasion. After many months of living with this pelvic tumor and other "spots" and "sites" and "places" that I've seen on CT and MRI scans, I finally felt the terror and fear of having this cancer growing in my body. I feel like I am under attack, and I don't know how to ward off the attack. Of course, I have done many things: chemo, diet, meditation, therapy, some study, lots of talk. But in all of this, my body has been under siege without being directly acknowledged. It's been months since I've talked to the tumors. I have never set up a formal dialog with my body to give it comfort or care. My most direct contact with my body happens via food. I give my body great food. But like a well fed child that is otherwise neglected, I realized today that my body has been unspeakably lonely and deserted. I don't hear it. I let it know that I don't want to hear it. And meantime, it is feeling attacked. Many tears to let these feelings pass through me.
Then as therapists will do, my counselor asked, "Have you felt your body being neglected before?" I angled my head as if tilting it would shake loose a memory. "Well," she wondered, "What about when you were being molested and your Mother did nothing. Perhaps that's when you learned how to neglect your body?" That suggestion opened major floodgates.
There I was in my therapist's office overlooking Castro St., realizing that I had spent much of my life using a template for neglect with my body. And such a fine body, so undeserving of being ignored and dismissed. I really felt flattened. I had been given this beautiful home to live in, and I had proceeded to ignore it's needs and yearnings. I had told it what I wanted it to do. I had judged it harshly if it got too fat or tired or wrinkled. But I had not listened to it. I had taught myself not to listen. When I was a young child being molested, I had told my body to shut up. And to stay shut up. And, having accomplished that bit of harsh parenting, I'd moved forward into my life. Ouch. Ouch.
"So," my therapist wondered, "How do you care for someone who needs to be heard and is in pain and fear?" "How do I do that?" I asked. "Yes, how do you care for someone who's hurting?" she repeated. "Well, I tell them that I love them. Sometimes I hold them. I tell them that they are more than their pain. But mostly I give them love."
"Good," she nodded. "You can do that for your body too. You can tell it that you love it. And you may not be able to overcome the attack of the tumors, but you can overcome the neglect of not listening to your body. You can definitely overcome neglect. Especially you." End of session.