I started contra dancing and met my first husband at a dance. We had a whirlwind courtship and were married in 1984. My mother had her doubts about him – engaged six months after we met, married at a year – but I was head over heels in love and by now the “Yes Train” had picked up quite a good pace and I was definitely on board.
It wasn’t an easy marriage right from the start. We were both stubborn people, used to having our own way, and being “right” became important, very quickly. My husband and I were not generous with one another and there was a lot of fighting over things that could have been solved with a little kindness. Living this way very quickly became exhausting, especially since I seemed to be “wrong” a lot of the time. Heaven knew, though, my mother couldn’t have been “right” about this one, so I persevered on with him, always wanting it to be better than it was.
My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly after my wedding. For two years, I traveled back and forth from Baltimore to NY to visit and care for her. Since my mom and my husband had an uneasy relationship, I often did this alone – leaving Friday after work and returning Sunday night. It was a dark and painful time in my life. It became harder to keep up with the demands of work and marriage. After her death, I was devastated. I had lost my rock, my confidant, my rudder, and the person who knew me better than anyone in the world. I was in the throes of terrible grief. My husband thought that since my mom and I had grieved so much together when she was alive that I should be able to move on afterward. I went through the motion of things day to day but the pain was pretty intense. I retreated inwardly since I had no one to talk with about it who understood what I had gone through. We were all so young! My friends had no idea what losing a parent was like.
In addition, I was not taking care of myself physically. We rode bikes seriously, sometimes a couple of hundred miles a week, and I was dancing, so I was in shape. But I constantly was throwing my back out. I was bending my head forward all day long – over pianos, small children, over bike bars, and increasingly over a computer keyboard. I was slumped over all the time, my head was as forward of my body as a turtle’s,I was in physical pain when I took the time to notice. We were vegetarians, and in the vogue of the time, we ate a high carb, low fat, lean protein diet. Every day I would get the shakes and have a hypoglycemic episode in the middle of the afternoon. Somehow, all of this was just “normal” in the throes of everything else I was dealing with. It got to the point where I was in constant pain, and I had no idea what to do to fix any of this. The Chiropractic care I tried only went so far, and I finally ended up in a physical therapist’s office.
Around the same time, a student’s parent was standing in my doorway at school one day. She said, “I’ve been watching you walk down the hall, and your head doesn’t have to get there before the rest of you.” This parent led me to studying Alexander Technique, which literally saved my life. I began studying regularly with a teacher, and slowly realized that I had the option to make changes in the habits that were affecting all of my life, both physical and mental. I began to slow down, to learn to be in my body as well as in my head, to pay attention to what I was doing that was causing me physical pain every day. I had choices that I could make about how I was in the world. When I wanted to, I could pull the “Yes Train” into the station. Slowly, I learned to say “No.”
Alexander Technique (combined with the couples and individual counseling my husband and I were pursuing) helped me to begin to realize that until I started making changes in the way that I interacted with others, I would continue on a path of both mental and physical pain indefinitely. I saw a clear choice ahead of me – continue to try to make everyone else happy, or learn to be happy with myself. My husband and I found a wonderful counselor who taught us to understand that “You can be right, or you can be in a relationship.” We worked hard to try to learn together different ways of being with one another. Despite our best efforts, ultimately the marriage did end in divorce. At that time, I decided that I wanted to train as an Alexander Teacher as soon as I could get my life arranged to make it happen. That took a quite few years, and there’s a lot of story in-between.
Today, with the wisdom of hindsight, I watch many other women in middle age struggling with the same Supermom syndrome I found myself in during that time period. We can’t be all things to all people, but in the middle of all of that, it’s hard to figure out how to stop. This is where the Alexander Technique, with is pause in the moment, allows us to inhibit our habitual “yes” or “no” responses. We have a moment to see that we can make a different choice.
Alexander Technique teachers are not therapists, and I want to be clear that without working with talented cognitive therapists over the years, I don’t think I could have come out of the other side of this journey. But what the Alexander Technique gave to me that they did not was the connection back into my body. I learned to listen to my body, to pay better attention to its needs, to get out of my head and to come to a sense of psychophysical unity I could never have achieved by talk therapy alone.
I know now that we always have a choice to respond to any situation in a positive, affirming way. By choosing to respond in a positive way, we can move ourselves and the whole world forward. My Alexander Training opened the door to living as a unified person – body, mind and spirit – whenever I choose to do so.
Are you on the “Yes Train” in your life?
Do you know how to bring it into a station and get off?
What coping strategies do you use when you are doing too much?