ADDICTS AND ISOLATIONS
Warning: This post gets a little personal. Just so you know. But I think it’s valuable to work things out in a public setting, and perhaps you’ll find something you relate to.
My whole life I have been afraid of my body taking control of me. It’s time I focus on being whole, instead.
The body is a scary place, not the least bit because it’s where we feel our fear, in the rising of our hair as goosebumps send our follicles reaching to the heavens as though at gunpoint, or that sudden, sickening, nauseous, heavy thud at the back of the stomach, or up and down shivering legs and quaking knees. No, it’s scary because there’s such a lack of self-control and awareness.
Right now, blood is coursing all throughout my body, and I can’t even feel it. If an air bubble were to build in one of those channels, I could be dead in a minute’s time. Or that loving embrace shared with a sweetheart that I know is causing chemical reactions in my brain that are in some ways equivalent to a heroin addiction, so that without my control or, possibly, desire, I might be chemically pulled toward that person for who knows how long. Perhaps forever. The fat cells that actually secrete somethings that cause a person to be even hungrier. The thousand dangerous points where a misplaced punch could end my life.
There is the flipside of this, of course. The lack of a need to actively coordinate and control my breathing and pulse, for example, is much appreciated. Just taking care of that would take up rather a lot of my time. And though we are fragile, we are also incredibly resilient.
Still, for most of my life I have detached myself from my body, from that moment in grade four when we went over anatomy for the first time. A graphic chart of tendons and muscles and ligaments and organs, of danger and secret rivers. A queasy attempt to feel them inside me. Shudders.
The day I stopped running with abandon and scraping my knees. Never felt all that safe running on wet concrete ever since.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where I was allowed sips of wine or beer at special family gatherings like Christmas and Thanksgiving, which demystified alcohol for me, and allowed me to know that I wasn’t the type to become an alcoholic. I trusted myself on that front. But I did not trust my own willpower (or my body) enough to try marijuana until I was 24. And even that was with one of those, oh, not bongs, but whatever they’re called. And I’ve only tried that perhaps three times, in very safe situations. Because I didn’t want the chance of something triggering, and then being controlled by my body. And while this next fact is to many of you probably TMI (too much information), in order to explore the topic fully I should admit that the first time I masturbated wasn’t until I was 17. Because I didn’t want to become some horndog boy controlled by his body. I wanted to be me.
Honestly, there is a lot to be said for detachment, to feel like one’s head is a conquering crab atop an inert granite slab of a body. Puzzle solving and analytical solutions. An ability to calmly enter situations, debates, and problems that cause others to yell, scream, run and hide. I’ll pick up the spiders. I’ll put on that harness and scale the wall. No superstititions. Stability. Intelligence.
So yes, a lot to be said for detachment. But not a lot to be felt. For some people, this isn’t such a problem. But me, I’m an actor. I’m someone who wants to be in loving, romantic relationships. I’m someone who, now, at least, wants to be fully human. Not some clever floating head, but a grounded, emotional, grokking individual.
This is part of the reason why I was drawn to acting in the first place. Here, on the stage, in the script, are all these characters who deeply feel and yearn and reach. This is why Shakespeare is so fantastic, because his characters speak and feel honestly and openly. The jealous ambition in Iago, the crushing betrayal in Malvolio, the naive love of Lysander. I’ve always wanted to play the role of the lover onstage, because, well, it’s lovely to love someone. But to a typically detached person, it is also so very satisfying to rage injustice, to hate someone, to scorn someone, to grieve for someone. In the twinned poles of acting, where one side is sheer and incredible imitation without sensation, and the other an out of control trainwreck of overwhelming, cascading emotions, I have spent most of my life in the former’s camp, while envying those rolling about the floor in tears.
Not envying too much, mind. That would require too much connection to my body. I’ve described myself before as sometimes feeling like a stuck pickle jar that just won’t open. Which can sound tragic, but when you are that stuck pickle jar, it is an annoying but not at all overwhelming sensation. It’s more of a feeling that something is missing, like you’ve left the house and you’re on the bus, but you know you’ve forgotten something at home.
Then, a year or three back, I made a conscious and vocal decision to find a way to more deeply access my emotions. Partly, I worried if that depth was really there. I did research on sociopaths and autistic tendencies. Someone loved me more than I loved them, and I didn’t know if I was even capable of equally caring about them as they did, me. I was concerned. But not distraught. That would require too much connection to my body.
I recall breaking up with someone and being overwhelmed with sadness in that moment, one of only three times in my life that I can recall being so taken with grief, and even as I was breaking two hearts, a fair chunk of my brain was cheering because that moment showed that there was indeed potential for me to be an emotional individual. To be swept away by the tide of a moment.
I’ve recently spent five weeks at Canada’s National Voice Intensive, run in part by the brilliant David Smukler. When we begin the program, we put into words what we believe our ‘dragon’ to be. I said I was afraid that there was a ceiling to my growth as a person, some barrier I would never be able to cross, blocking the world of pow’rful love.
One activity had me shouting out a line to ever increasing distances. After getting the placement in my mouth just right, and feeling the breath, I found I could technically boom it out there, but… but I knew there was so much more within me, like I was only using two of the eight cylinders to my engine. So much more potential for my voice. When Smukler told me that the other cylinders would come with (and forgive me if I’ve misunderstood) real emotional intent, my first instinct was utter surprise. Apparently my first reaction to great emotion is to cringe inwards, to hide it, rather than to communicate it out to the heavens.
In university, I tried to access emotions like a man at the gym tried to access muscles – with isolations. Need to be panicky? Alright, I’ll focus my breath at the base of my spine. Need to be all lovey-dovey? I’ll try to place my breath and concentration at my heart. Intellectual? The back of my neck. All very specific, and for the rest of the time, my breath would sit up at the top of my lungs, assured that there was always an ocean of breath below, which was never actually being accessed.
Possibly the biggest technical thing I learned at the intensive was that breathing out fully is the only way to fully allow the new breath to enter. I can be confident that even at the vacuum point, there will still be air enough in there.
But even though that’s a technical statement, it’s the first step in feeling as a full-bodied person. I am not a head attached to a body. I AM a body, with a head brain, a gut brain, a heart, and yes, even a libido.
To grok something (a verb out of Heinlein), means to me, to understand something with one’s whole body. To feel it as well as grasp it intellectually, so that the feeling and the knowing come together to be this one felt, active knowledge, this… grokking. I want to grok life. To grok love. To grok my characters and their situations. To grok myself and my situations. And that won’t happen unless I allow myself to be a physical, intellectual, emotional, whole-bodied person who breathes from the lake within me and allows every new breath to be a wonderful, gutfelt discovery.
Hopefully some of these sentiments resonate with you on your own journey. Thank you for reading.