Today has been all about thinking about gagging. I do have a strong gag reflex. I remember how strongly I gagged when a scope was put down my throat to check out the function of my vocal folds. This while my tongue was wrapped in gauze. My tongue was so busy trying to move and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And then there was the time that I had my wisdom teeth removed. My mouth just doesn’t open that wide and it was never intended to have that much stuff shoved into the back of it. Or when I had a root canal procedure done. How can any sane person believe that the human mouth was designed to have so much equipment stuffed into one small space?
Today, I realized that I have felt like gagging or throwing up for the last 3 days. So what is that all about? There’s nothing in my mouth that shouldn’t be there. So what’s going on? And as I sit here thinking about this, my gag reflex is in play – like there is something lodged at the bottom of my throat which needs to be expelled but there is not enough physical force to move it.
I have been gagging myself for most of my life. When you consider that I’m going to be 62 tomorrow, that’s one hell of a long time. And I’ve become a genius at finding ways to gag myself. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning — How do I gag myself? Let me count the ways.
I gag myself by not saying what I want to say when I want to say it thinking that if I don’t speak, the presenting issue will go away or, if it does not, there will be a more appropriate time. I paper over my feelings – modifying my words so as not to make waves — heaven forfend that I should possibly hurt someone else’s feelings! Better I should hurt my own! I hold my breath. I hear Louise saying. “Breathing is good.” And I think that I am breathing but I’m not really. Shallow breaths at best. I’ve become expert at redirecting the conversation. If the topic gets too close to the bone, then I try to find a way to change the topic to something less elemental for me. Or I click into intellectual mode where I consider what is coming up in me as an intellectual exercise to be looked at outside of my body and considered as a form of intellectual curiosity. What is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What might have been the impetus for it? And having examined it as a phenomenon external to myself, it has seemed easier to then consider it done and move away. I’ve also become very good at stopping listening. I remember being at my doctoral thesis committee meeting and hearing one of my committee members saying that it was a good thing that I was a good writer because my thesis proposal did not match the expected form of a thesis proposal. His exact words were, “This is not a thesis proposal”. And I heard nothing else of that meeting. While my body was still in the room, I was somewhere else. I don’t remember coming back into my body until the end of the meeting. So, if it is something which really matters to me and which, I feel, has been marginalized or ignored but I have no way of responding [I mean whoever is speaking is the ‘expert’, right?], then I go somewhere else in my head and nothing else which is said registers.
I’ve also become very adept at modifying some of these strategies. I do them inside while seeming to be present to others outside mySelf. I will make up word games in my head – sort of my own internal game of Text Twist. Or I’ll think about something else like planning what I’m going to have for dinner or what I will do when I get home. I make up lists in my head while nodding and adding the appropriate conversational interjections – “un hunh”, “yeah” and the like – so that it appears that I am still there and that what is being said matters to me. I’ve also marked lessons at staff meetings, doodled, made drawings, designed competitive gymnastics suits, worked on planning for competitions or field trips. I’ve been in meetings and have become progressively angry at what is being said and felt powerless to say anything. And I’ve crossed my arms across my chest, and become silent and have felt the muscles of my face tighten and my jaw begin to clench. My response to not being able to leave [my leaving might have repercussions later so I’d better not call attention to mySelf by leaving] or interrupting and saying my peace about what is going on in the ways I need to say it and when I need to say it [because to draw attention to mySelf might not be politic and I will ‘pay’ for my audacity later]. Or, when the opportunity finally has presented itself, I’ve hauled out ‘the big guns’. I’ve beat others over the head with my brain – out have come the ‘big words’.
What else? I’ve laughed how I’m feeling off. I’ve made a joke of it. I’ve used an excuse that, “It’s only me being me and, well you know how I am.” Or I’ve made excuses for how I am feeling. I’ve got a headache or I’m worried about someone in my family, or I didn’t get enough sleep, or I’ve been pre-occupied with something going on in my life. All this is usually said while I avoid eye contact and I find myself breathing shallowly and my fists are clenched and the big muscle groups in my back and legs begin to tighten. If it has been possible, I’ve actually left the room – usually with the excuse that I have another commitment which I must attend to. If that has not been possible, I have fallen asleep – what one of my sisters calls ‘checking out’. And I have checked out. How much more gagged, much more silenced, how much more removed can anyone be than by being asleep?
I’ve not spoken my truth but have shared my anger and tears and hurt feelings and disappointment with others. In that, I’ve looked for both sympathy for how I’ve been treated and for affirmation that I’m being the ‘better person’because I have taken it and not acted out – I’ve taken it on the chin, so to speak. And, for me, the biggies – I’ve eaten too much figuring, I guess, that I will be able to stuff enough food in on top of my feelings so that they will be buried and not spew out. However, if they do spew out, I’ve become very adept at eating too quickly and then having to throw up. Imagine a volcano suddenly erupting. It feels very much like that, to me.
All forms of gagging mySelf. I am not speaking my truth in the way I need to speak it and at the time and in the place where I need to speak it. And I’ve made excuses for it all. Why excuses? Why have I gagged mySelf all these years? Somewhere, I’ve known what I’ve been doing and I’ve made excuses so that I can ‘live’ in the world – not a world of my creation but a world in which I have lived. My body and my brain are wonderfully genius. They have both found ways to control and rein me in. They have created ways for me to feel safe. They have developed methods of helping me feel connected in some way to others. I’ve just lost the connection to mySelf in the process.
As I’ve journeyed toward mySelf – my larger-than-life, big ‘S’ Self, as I’ve been creating what I want in my life, as I’ve jettisoned those things in my life which do not serve that, I have found myself gagging more — feeling the actual physical sensation of gagging and I have felt the need to throw up. Now that is one hell of a metaphor! I’ve been feeling the need to throw up more as I have been throwing away that which no longer serves me. I think that is why I’ve been gagging more. I am choosing not to gag myself anymore and my body and spirit are just taking time to catch up to each other.
In speaking my truth, there is no need to gag. I have a very massive presence in the world. My spirit fills the universe! I am boundless! I am a godforce! I am mySelf! And yes, being this massive godforce, I will no doubt create big messes. But I will also create new culture and new worlds. The operative idea here is that I am creator. Mine is a world in which I will thrive!
And the need to gag is no more!