Turn pain into your ally for a life of freedom

Stefan was taking pictures of me in one of our new favorite places on earth – Zion National Park in Utah – when I felt myself recoil in disgust after he handed the phone to me saying “this is a good one!”

How quickly I sunk from joy to to shame.

My backpack belt was cinched around my waist (as it’s supposed to be) and my belly fat was protruding over its edge.

Without hesitating I told Stefan while grabbing my belly fat “Ugh. I can’t wait to lose my pudge.”

Thankfully, as quick as I was to judge myself I rebounded back into self-love, gratitude and forgiveness for thinking and speaking so harshly about my body.

Healing asks us to love. Period.

Love the pain. Love what is. Love what we resist. Love what we wish was not so.

Not a passive heady kind of love, but an active, cellular, deeply felt love.

Love doesn’t ask us to submit or surrender (as in: my hands are up, don’t shoot!)

Love is curious. Love holds us accountable. Love fills us up and empties us out and always leaves us better than she found us.

In loving our pain, we open the doors to freedom.

Can healing happen in an environment of self-loathing, self-hatred, self-shaming or wishing we were anything other than we are?

I don’t think so.

Ironically, pain is asking us to see ourselves (body/mind/soul) truthfully, without attachment to being different or resentment of what is (which clouds our vision). When we do this, the way out presents itself.

Right now I am in need of healing, specifically from mercury poisoning. Though my current circumstances are likely different than yours, and this isn’t pain per se (not like back pain for example), I think this blog post applies to all of us.

There is some emotional pain and physical discomfort living in me right now nearly 24/7 at the changes in my physiology (and entire life for that matter) because of the mercury poisoning. In some moments it looks like body shame, other moments like frustration or simply wishing I could be “done with it already.” Physically, there are a host of minor symptoms that I’d simply rather not be experiencing.

I’m guessing you can relate?

Then again, I’m always reminding myself that this is the way out and it’s not a quick fix. I soften into gratitude.

My body is the one who brought to my attention that something was really wrong back in February. She deserves my attention, compassion, curiosity and love.

Your body is talking to you too…are you listening?

My incredibly wise body tried to tell me something was wrong for months, and while I was listening and doing my best to interpret, I had no idea what to make of the many messages (like anxiety, feeling a weight on my chest, trouble sleeping, muscle twitching, digestive issues, fatigue and weight gain) until things got really bad and I woke up vomiting.

Because I wasn’t taking the appropriate action based on her cues, my body had no choice but to store the incoming mercury in fat, since the exposure was chronic and I wasn’t removing the source (or myself from the source).

I gained about 15lbs in 8 months.

Fatigue had taken hold of me like I’ve never experienced in my life, but since it was gradual and subtle at first, I wasn’t taken by surprise and I didn’t think anything of it other than “I must be getting old,” or “I must be really stressed.”

This from someone who has never bought in to ageism!

I don’t believe getting older automatically means more pain, less energy, more fat, less adventure. It can mean these things, but that means we haven’t been taking care of ourselves.

I believe when we love our bodies, love life and feel grateful to be in our bodies and alive on this earth, then we do and think and behave in ways that sustain our bodies, and sustain life.

Unique to each of us, I don’t pretend to know what that is for you.

In my case, it has always meant maintaining integrity to who I know I am, what I know I need to thrive and doing what my purpose asks me to do while I’m alive. Hey, that rhymed! Ha.

…and being a dork I guess 😛

Under that umbrella of integrity is always: getting outside in beautiful wild places to run and hike as often as possible; to eat mostly high quality food, lots of veggies and for the most part avoiding crap; and sometimes it means indulging consciously, without shame. It also means to give readily, forgive easily, love deeply, cultivate healthy relationships, be willing to mess up, make amends, act with courage, communicate authentically and lead by example. Never easy; always worth it.

Mercury is an insidious neurotoxin that makes its way into organs like the brain, causing serious harm to our nervous system and brain/body connection, and it can affect every system in the human organism. But what most strikes me about how mercury affects us is the way it does so subtly, in varied ways that are easy to pass off as something else (like stress or anxiety), while giving you the impression whatever is wrong is you – like you’re defective. Or maybe that’s unique to me, as it’s definitely a default worst fear and pattern of mine.

Months went by while I thought I had a motivation problem.

I didn’t want to run, hike, work or have sex. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to stay home and sleep.

I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I’d lost my spark, lost my drive, lost my will, like a few forgotten items on top of the car I was driving, never realizing they fell off a few hundred miles ago. I even tried to force myself to do “better” with a lot of inner (and outer) pep talking!

This post is a great example of how I was “fighting” my reality with a lot of heady motivation based on who I know (and want) myself to be, not yet realizing my body was having to deal with a potent neurotoxin.

I hadn’t “lost” my ability to motivate myself. I hadn’t fallen out of integrity (as I thought), so all the self-shaming and blaming or trying to positive-think my way out of it was completely misplaced and inappropriate.

There was no fighting my way out of this; and, none of the symptoms were my (or my body’s) “fault.”

My body was begging me to pay attention. She needed me. The fatigue was a cry for help, as was every other symptom including the weight gain.

The appropriate action was to remove the source of mercury. When that proved impossible, I knew I had to remove myself from the source; and then get back to being me.

Whatever you’re facing right now – be it plantar fasciitis, back pain, knee pain, migraines, emotional trauma, weight gain, weight loss, injury or illness – I believe your body too is crying out for your help.

Perhaps, if you’re a little gentler with yourself, and give the pain a chance to talk to you (instead of fixating on getting out of it or shaming yourself for the objective truth of ‘what is’)…something will reveal itself that points to the source, and thus the solution.

How to trust your body, and love your pain:

Pain is a messenger.

Pain says: “Psssst! Something is ‘off.'”
Better yet: “Your attention is needed!”
Best: “I’m trying to help you by giving you this ____ (pain/weight gain/fatigue/digestive upset etc). Please pay attention, and help me help you. Let’s get back into integrity together.”

Our job is to let the messenger (our body or psyche) deliver the message without getting in its way; to listen; to feel; and only when we’re clear about the message: to act.

From 2008 to 2011 my own experience of knee pain allowed me heal a much deeper trauma, thus helping me truly appreciate what pain offers us: FREEDOM.

Pain offers us a path to freedom if we are willing to feel it, see/intuit/hear the message within its experience and courageously walk into the unknown future possibility of what it will mean to be the next iteration of us: someone who experienced X (mercury poisoning, knee pain, back pain, sexual trauma), and let it shape us into a braver, stronger, more confident and compassionate (endless possibilities here) human being. You can even choose your own adventure! 😉

Since 2011 (when I “fixed” my knees and opened the doorway to healing the deeper trauma) I’ve been consciously cultivating this relationship with my body every single day.

Follow your body’s lead with full trust…and magic can happen!

And…this path isn’t without fear, without pain, without setbacks and doubt; it isn’t without loss or heartbreak or grief. This is the path to walk if we want to experience what it means to be a fully expressed human being, alive and free to feel, be and do all.the.things. 

Walking my talk:

Even through this mercury poisoning madness, I have decided to place my ultimate trust in this body of mine. Because of where she led me, Stefan and I find ourselves technically “homeless,” having leapt off a financial cliff with no backup plan. We left my private practice to roam the west, live out of a tent and attempt to create a whole new income online…with just a few months to pull it off and no prior experience between us.

We left every ounce of financial security we had, and the place (Boulder) I thought would be my forever home and where I’d have babies…all because I listened to my body, didn’t try to silence her messages and cultivated more patience than I thought possible while investigating each new piece of the mercury puzzle (committed to finding the source), until…we discovered that the Boulder area AIR appears to be (at least currently) toxic to human health.

Click here to read more about that, though when I wrote that blog post I didn’t know what I do now: there are high levels of benzene (known to cause cancer) and hydrogen cyanide in the area due to a booming oil and gas business there, from fracking and drilling to processing. Those are the most dangerous to human health, but there are also above average levels of methane, ethyl benzene and ethane.

This airborne pollution isn’t going to kill anyone instantly (that I know of), and it will affect some people more than others…but after looking into air quality there it was an easy choice to leave, even though I love that land, and my community there.

Did my body save me (and my unborn babies) from worse illnesses down the road like cancer, autism or dementia? There’s no way to know for sure…but I’d rather err on the side of caution.

I’ve vowed to always listen to and trust my body and prioritize health (which means being in integrity with what I know is in my highest good – body, mind and soul) above all else. Benzene and mercury are no bueno, even in small amounts.

I’m grateful for the pain (physical, emotional, psychological and even financial) that this mercury poisoning caused.

Without the symptoms I never would have known I was in danger. Thanks to the painful (aka attention grabbing) ways my body was letting me know I wasn’t safe, I found out what was happening and could do something about it before I got seriously ill.

Thanks to the mercury and my body’s warning signs, Stefan and I left a life of comfortability and traded our moderate “plans for the future” (to try and get pregnant this summer and chip away at our bigger dreams of living a life of travel, financial freedom and having a bigger impact on the world than my private practice and blog ever could) for a swift and immediate need to take action on those big dreams and shared visions. When it’s right to get pregnant, we’ll know. I’ve stopped trying to control that one. (Mostly 😉 ). This whole experience forced me to let go and let god, so to speak.

Pain helps us see the objective truth.

Pain helps us see ourselves objectively.

Pain shows us the way to freedom.

Pain helps us find our courage and our trust.

Pain can lead us out of stagnation and into our dreams.

Pain helps us love ourselves fully.

Without pain, we would assume ourselves inviolable and live as if untouchable.

If we’re untouchable, then life and love and beauty and everything worth being alive cannot be experienced because there is no life without death, beauty without heartbreak, freedom without the pain of (possibly) losing what we love.

There is no easy way out.

There is no quick-fix or one-stop-shop.

And – there is nothing that builds intrinsic (dare I say inviolable!) confidence like learning to dance with fear and pain and shame, inviting them teach us, guide us and carve out a place inside for love to dwell.

When love takes up residence in our bodies and becomes our guide through life, there is no “bad” outcome. I believe this with every fiber of my being, despite being led off some terrifying cliffs with no promise of what’s to come.

None of us are guaranteed a pain-free easy existence. Would we really want that anyway?

The best we can hope for is to fully live while we’re alive; and to live boldly, authentically and true to who we are.

So I’ll take my belly fat and love my body up for all she’s done lately to get my attention and keep me healthy. And maybe (just maybe) we’ll all discover in a few months or years that she also led Stefan and I out of a looming life of mediocrity straight into our shared vision for living our best lives. In a very tangible way, this whole experience helped us (albeit painfully) come back into integrity with ourselves.

That’s the beauty and magic of it all!

More often than not we all have secret or not so secret dreams, plans, hopes or visions for our lives, and I have seen over and over how pain leads us out of our worst fears where we’ve been keeping ourselves small into greater love, grander adventures, deeper connections (to ourselves, our bodies, this planet, our people) and an ever expanding feeling of freedom.

Are you listening to your body?
What is the message he/she is trying to communicate right now?
What is ONE thing you can do to help your body help you to live in alignment with your truth?

Share in the comments!

  • Vivianne says:

    What a moving post. I deeply appreciate your amazing ability to share so transparently about your trials and triumphs as they impact your body, soul, and spirit. I grieve for the suffering you endured. I pray for your full recovery. You haven’t lost your gift of words. You inspire me and my heart goes out to you with yours and Stefan’s step into the unknown. Yes, the body is an incredible reflection of both our internal and external environments. Thanks for your continuous support and encouragement.

  • Linda says:

    Hi Elisha & Stefan, glad to hear you are feeling better after your move. Comprehensive post! Thank you for the updates. Zion is a beautiful indescribable really, I went at the end of the season and saw very few others hiking, it was massive beauty in my mind!! On another note. In one of your blogs a over a year ago you mentioned Rolfing as a possibility, if a person couldn’t come to you. I had that Rolfing series of massages, where I live, for chronic back pain, because you are so far away or I would have gone to you. This process 99% stopped all pain. Maybe just because the pain was there so long (I’m 60), hence the 1% remains in my memory. Thank you for caring.

    • Hi Linda – wow! I’m so happy to hear that Rolfing worked to eliminate all but 1% of your back pain :)))

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