The Hot Navy Seal and Why Do So Many Adopted People Have Stomach Issues?
I massaged a Navy Seal once and forgot to charge him because I was so thrown off my game by his body. I’m trained to look for trigger points, scar tissue, areas of holding. I spend most massages trying to get chronically tight people to take one deep breath. Breathing deeply sounds easy until you are a body jacked up on cortisol, adrenaline, and exhaustion and then breathing deeply feels like swimming underwater from one end of the pool to the other. Too long. No thank you. I’d rather stay in the shallows.
The Navy Seal had a body like…like…a seal. Mind you, he didn’t look like a seal: he looked like a man, and not just some dude: this guy could have made a fantastic living as a stripper. He had the body and the face of Ken doll if Ken was actually hot and not stiffly plastic. (You’re right, by the way: this kind of talk is not appropriate. As a massage therapist I should not be talking about my clients like this, but the fact of the matter is that since no money exchanged hands the Navy Seal was not my client. He was an accident, so I’m going to keep talking about him.)
I like chunky almond butter. Smooth is so…smooth. Like, where’s the crunch? The Navy Seal was smooth almond butter. There was no crunch. I don’t know where all the stress of his job went, but it did not go into his muscles. Working on the Navy Seal was like massaging silk. It’s probably why I forgot to charge him: I’m used to taking the crunch out. That’s my job.
(Why didn’t the Seal remember to pay me? I have no idea. Maybe he could not believe how amazing I was. Maybe I threw him off his game. Or maybe he went for the second half of his appointment which was with the chiropractor and got so deep into talk about the Sharks last game that he forgot his session had been provided by two people. Or maybe his Seal-ness saves him a LOT of money and he just stuns and slips away, over and over. I’ll show you my naked body and you will not remember that I owe for half of the Comcast bill or that I haven’t yet paid you for the shirt I used you to get me at Target.)
I’ve been paying extra-close attention to my body these past few years as I study the physical effects of the stress and trauma my system experienced when, as a newborn, I was separated from my mother. I used to think my stomach hurt almost all the time because that’s just how my body was, just as I had gotten so used to having headaches that they had become a natural part of my life. It wasn’t until I read The Primal Wound and listened to Paul Sunderland’s Youtube talk on adoption that I realized I was a living, breathing example of what happens when the body interprets relinquishment as traumatic.
When I was in massage school, once someone asked the teacher what bodies were supposed to be like if they weren’t supposed to be a collection of muscles that almost all seemed to carry some sort of pain. The teacher had us picture the musculature of a baby, the smooth run of flesh. The Navy Seal was sort of like a big baby, only like a baby that had been hitting the gym for hours and hours year after year. Neither the baby nor the Navy Seal carry tension or trigger points or muscles rigid with overuse.
I want you to picture something. Imagine a baby being born, then imagine a nurse carrying the baby away from the mother. Imagine a fist coming out of the sky and punching the baby in the gut. The baby folds under the impact, shocked out of breath, out of its body, really (Good morning, class. Can you say “dissociation”?). The nurse continues out of the room and hands the baby to another stranger, and thus the baby’s life continues, and the baby grows up to be a woman or a man.
But here’s the thing: no one saw the fist hit the baby, so no one knows that the baby has stomach issues (and probably headaches, too) (and trouble focusing) (and issues attaching to friends and others) (but I digress). The baby doesn’t remember the fist so it’s not something that can be discussed. This means there is pain but no known source.
The curled up, shocked, and hurt baby lives on in the grown-up. The grown-up may stand up straight, but there is a suffering baby inside the grown-up’s abdomen, and it is distracting. It hurts. The adult doesn’t know about the baby. The adult spends money to distract from the pain. The adult drinks beer, maybe, or smokes pot. The adult dates a lot—a lot. Runs marathons. Does anything that keeps the bruised baby in the background, because when the world gets quiet and the adult has time to feel his or her body, the adult feels that something is wrong; the adult feels there is a problem, and this feeling is deeply unsettling. What is it? Is it me? Am I wrong? Am I the problem? Better to keep moving than to feel. Better to numb out. Better to never put your hand on your own stomach because that’s ground zero and in ground zero something is rotten, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
The curled up baby also exists in the abdomen of the mother who gave up the baby. The curled up baby also exists in the parents who adopted the baby because of infertility issues. Everyone in this adoption triad carries pain in their guts which is expressed in so many ways (narcissism, fury, depression, confusion, addiction, ad nauseam) but almost never in the way that would truly express the problem: I lost my mother. I lost my baby. We never made a child of our own.
Children who move around in the foster care system get punched repeatedly in the gut. Loss of mother. Punch. Loss of foster parent. Punch. Loss of foster parent. Punch. And on and on.
Babies in the ICU are in the same situation. Are you getting the picture? Ooof.
Today I went to get a massage. The practitioner pressed his bent elbow in the spot between my navel and pubic bone. It was like he hit the center of the star, and pain shot out in all directions. “That’s it,” I gasped.
“That’s the body’s pain center,” he said. “That’s why you can’t sleep. You need to come in here more. You need more of this work.”
I nodded. In four days I would live in another state, and I likely will never see this man again.
I want to tell you a secret. Actually, I don’t want to, but I’m going to. I have had four massages this year. I’m a massage therapist because I believe in the healing powers of bodywork. I learned massage because it’s one of my favorite things to get. Then why don’t I get massage?
The pain of my body feels private, like a secret. It also feels overwhelming like a wave that once I’m in it, might kill me. It feels like a story, like it might be made up. It feels like a problem with no solution. If my curled up baby theory is right, I have known pain in the body but I have not known the body without pain. Maybe my brain thinks trying to get a body that doesn’t carry pain in its abdomen would be like trying to change the color of my eyes.
And yet the Navy Seal carried no pain in the musculature of his being. And it wasn’t because he spent his life on the beach, doing nothing like a big baby. That dude had been in Iraq doing stuff in the dark he could not talk about. He has learned how not to interpret events as traumatic. He has learned some kind of mind/body ninja practice that I don’t yet know.
Our bodies are capable of wonders. Just go see Cirque du Soleil! Just watch a baby go from unable to lift its own head to a child that can stand up and walking out the door. Just look at your opposable thumbs!
What if there was hospital protocol to tend to the grieving, shocked abdomens of babies and mother and new parents? What if there was mindful touch, loving eye contact, a knowing of what had happened?
What if we loved each other out of the fetal position?
What would life be like if there was no ground zero in the gut, no vagus nerve shout-whispering to the brain: Things are bad. Things are really, really bad. You better not relax. You better not be yourself. Hide. Keep hiding. Hide until you’re dead.
Then you can relax.
Forget that. I’m getting another massage as soon as I get to Boston.