Awareness

On Saturday night, I was supposed to hang out with my friend Mean Asian Girl and the Mean Whasian Baby, because their hub/dad was out of town, and earlier in the week, M.A.G. had anticipated wanting some company in his absence. Like, the kind of company that keeps you from actually banging your head against a brick wall.

Unfortunately, by Saturday afternoon, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I still seemed pretty functional, but I was positive I was coming down with something — and about 75% positive it was bronchitis — and more than anything, I didn’t want to risk infecting M.A.G. or the baby.

Mean Asian Girl took the news like a champ, but I still felt guilty as hell. Especially when I explained my symptoms: “Well, every few hours I cough a lot, and I just feel… a little off.”

Sounds deadly, doesn’t it? No mother would want that near her child! Especially when the person suffering from that is a smoker. Oh my god, you’re coughing occasionally? WHAT COULD IT BE?

Two days later, however, you’d better fucking believe it’s bronchitis. Ow. My sense that whatever little bug I had on Saturday would get worse before it got better was bang on. (And unfortunately, I think I’ve got at least another day or two of getting worse.) So I was wise to have avoided putting my face and hands into a scene like this:

though I’m totally bummed I didn’t get to. There’s an adorable baby AND a dog! (Two dogs, in fact.) It’s a wonder I haven’t moved in with them yet.

Anyway, that sense of impending illness is a relatively new development, but I’ve come to rely on it in the last year. As I mentioned in a recent Ask the Blondes entry, I blame yoga for this. Before I started practicing regularly and becoming much more attuned to my body, I could walk around with the beginnings of a cold and not realize it until I woke up one morning with a head completely full of snot. Now, I know that no matter how I’m feeling overall, if I sneeze more than 3 times in a row, I am most likely in the beginning stages of a cold. If I sneeze again after that in the same day? Definitely. Day One is sneezing, Day Two is sore throat, Day Three is head full of snot, and then about Day Five, it usually drops into my chest. It always goes like that. But before I developed a lot of body awareness, I never noticed that Days One and Two were part of the pattern.

Being that attuned to when I’m getting sick is a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I don’t go play with babies when I’m contagious anymore, and sometimes I can even pound medicine fast enough to head some illnesses off or minimize them. On the negative side, I hate knowing it’s coming. I hatehatehate nights like this past Saturday, when I could be hanging out with a friend and playing with a smooshy baby, blissfully unaware of impending bronchitis, but instead, I’m sitting at home trying to figure out what needs to be done around the house before I’m completely incapacitated, and whether I’ll be recovered before our upcoming vacation. (I should be recovered by then but, as a smoker, will probably have a persistent cough that frightens small children and animals, even if it doesn’t feel particularly bad anymore.) What would really be useful is a sixth sense about when I’ve just come into contact with a bug that’s going to get me; ooh, touching that subway station banister was a really bad idea — get the Purell! Unfortunately, I’ve only achieved a level of awareness that allows me to know I need to get to the grocery store, try not to cough on the produce, and prepare for a few days in bed.

Overall, though, I’d say this is definitely a good development. Because the more I’m aware of my body, the more I trust it. And that helps with everything from knowing I shouldn’t go infect a baby to eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full to recognizing when a lousy mood could be vastly improved by a walk.

It’s even — dare I say it? — helping me cut down on ciggies while I’ve got bronchitis. The sad fact is, having a wall-rattling cough wouldn’t be enough, in itself, to slow me down. But when I think about the fact that my body is trying to heal itself, and every smoke I have beyond those required to keep me from having a nervous breakdown is a big fuck you to my lungs as they work overtime… I feel kind of cruel. Finally, I can actually see that treating my body badly is treating myself badly — something I honestly didn’t realize during all those years when I viewed my body as something separate from the real me, a necessary evil only because we don’t yet have this technology:

And on that note, another thing I’ve become more aware of over the last year is that I really want to quit smoking. I’m not quite at the point where I want to quit more than I want to keep doing it, but I’m getting there. Laurie sent me a link this morning to this article suggesting that quitting on impulse is more likely to be successful than planning to quit, and I completely believe that — last time I quit (which lasted a year and a half), it was because I got fed up one night and decided to go cold turkey. It wasn’t precisely impulsive, though — it was, as these researchers were wise enough to consider, the culmination of a whole series of factors that ratcheted up the tension between my desire to smoke and my desire to quit, until something snapped. But the difference between the “impulsive” quit and the planned one is that the former is emotional; the latter is intellectual. And if addicts could quit for purely intellectual reasons, there wouldn’t be any fucking addicts.

Most people are perfectly happy to acknowledge that “you can’t quit unless you want to,” but many don’t get the logical corollary there: you can’t just decide to want to. Every smoker I know wants to quit, intellectually speaking. But that deep-down emotional motivation is a whole different story. That has to sneak up on you.

Except, maybe it doesn’t. In retrospect, I can see all those little factors I missed leading up to the last time I quit — suddenly being moved insted of annoyed by anti-smoking PSAs, suddenly being really irritated by how much money I spent on cigarettes and the inconvenience of trying to find a place to smoke. Becoming increasingly angry that this addiction dominated so much of my life. That’s the stuff that built up in my brain until I finally got pissed off and decided the cigarettes weren’t going to win anymore; not the statistics on how smoking would kill me or the not-so-well-meaning judgments of friends and strangers. (My favorite thing is when people come up and tell me that some relative of theirs died of a smoking-related illness, like I just didn’t realize that was possible, and will immediately jettison my pack of cigs! Those people never know how to respond when I say, “Yeah, so did my mom.” As I’ve said before, it’s an addiction, not a goddamned hobby.)

The point, insofar as I have one, is that I can feel those things happening again; this time, I’m actually aware of it as it’s going on.

When Al and I were planning the aforementioned upcoming vacation, we batted around the idea of taking a train. That would have meant at least 24 hours trapped in a non-smoking environment — the train would stop occasionally, and there might be time to hop out and have a smoke, but I’d have no control over whether or when I got a chance. A year ago, I would have said, “No fucking way.” This time, I said, “Okay, well, I’ll want a compartment so I can go in there if I need to cry and tear my hair out, and I might be hideous company, but I can do it. I know it won’t kill me or anything.”

Al ultimately decided he’d rather I not ruin our vacation by going that long without a cigarette, but he appreciated the offer. And I registered that moment as another milestone en route to the next (and hopefully final) quit. I’ve been noticing a lot of those moments lately. I have a sense that the impulse for The Big Quit will be coming along sooner rather than later.

Of course, that doesn’t mean shit to anyone I talk to, because if there’s one thing addicts are good at, it’s denial, and if there are two things we’re good at, they’re denial and lying through our teeth about when we’ll quit. So I don’t expect anyone to buy it just yet — but I’m recording it here for posterity nonetheless. Because, while this sense isn’t exactly a function of body awareness along the lines of knowing when I’m getting sick, it is a function of knowing and trusting myself more all the time. And that comes from the same source: the more I give up seeing my body as something to be conquered by my brain, the more I live as a whole human being and take care of my whole self.

Wish me luck.

Happy Yogaversary to Me

It’s been a year now since I started the yoga class that made me fall in love with yoga. I started thinking about that in bed this morning, as I was doing your typical just-woke-up stretches. Instead of simply doing whatever felt good, as I did for the first 31 years of my life, I found myself instinctively correcting my alignment and isolating specific muscles. In bed. 30 seconds after waking up. And I said to myself, “Self, you’ve come a long way with this yoga shit.”

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the most amazing, life-changing thing about yoga for me is that it’s allowed me to experience my body from the inside out. For someone who has no natural athletic skill and was conditioned, early and thoroughly, to fear the inevitable humiliation of physical activity, being tuned into what my muscles and joints are doing at any given time is a radical change. And a most fucking welcome one.

Like just about all girls in this culture, I was always taught that my body was primarily something for other people to experience externally, not something I actually inhabited. By the time I was 20, without even trying, I became an expert on which make-up colors suit fair skin and blue eyes, which styles show off fine, wavy hair to its best advantage, which cuts of clothing flatter an hourglass figure. I knew how many calories were in everything and how many pounds I’d have to lose to drop a dress size. But I was over 30 before I learned how to engage just my quadriceps–without the rest of my legs and my ass getting into the game–let alone how engaging just my quadriceps could affect what was happening with my feet. I was over 30 before I learned that deep, focused breathing cuts my anxiety in half. I was over 30 before I learned how fantastic it feels, mentally and physically, to put my muscles to good use on a regular basis.

Because no one ever taught me there was a point to any of that for someone like me. Continue reading

"You’re Not Fat"

My ass, February 2007

One of my oldest friends just sent me an e-mail in which she said those words, meaning them in the kindest possible way (and bookending them with lots of lovely compliments), but she hit a button. I’ve been wanting to write something on my hatred of those words for a long time, but I keep not getting around to it, so I’m just going to post my response to her e-mail.

Continue reading

This Just In: Bodies Are Different

This is awesome.

For as much as I think (and rant) about genetic differences among body types, I never thought much about what’s beneath the muscle and fat, or lack thereof. Paul Grilley teaches anatomy to yoga teachers, and the above slideshow demonstrates how vastly different a couple of equally “normal” bones can be. The result? Some people just can’t do some poses, period. It doesn’t matter how much you practice or how badly you want it. Your bones just won’t fucking do it. Continue reading

More Rambling about Body Image, Yoga, and My Shitty Childhood

Thanks to Cynical Girl for sharing the new Dove ad (er, Dove “film”), “Evolution,” which I’ve watched about half a dozen times now. (The part that kills me is when they retouch the photo to make her eyes bigger; I pretty much expected everything else, but it never occurred to me that they do that. Duh.) That led me to the website, which led me to this one. Which, um, totally didn’t make me tear up or anything.

Say what you will about Dove using this shit to sell beauty products–I still love that they’re doing this. Continue reading