LET PAIN AWAKEN YOU
Anne Lloyd Willett
BREAK THE CONSTRUCT Let Pain Awaken You
My youngest son walked in to the apartment with a maroonish red bag after his visit with his dad and handed it to me.
“These are Jackson’s ashes,” he said, and he went in to his room.
My former husband and I agreed to have our eldest son cremated. He was to hold on to half of the ashes to be brought up north for a memorial on Cape Cod where we would distribute ashes in the sea. I was to hold onto the other half of them for a second memorial in Alabama where we would distribute the ashes in a family graveyard where my son Jackson shared names with his ancestors.
I opened the bag and pulled from it a large box. Inside the box was a plastic sack filled with a big pile of grey dust. I didn’t cry. I had been doing so much of that. At this moment, I was numb. How profound for me to be staring at what was half the remains of my dear 21-year-old son. I immediately flashed on a clear image of staring at Jackson when he was a few months old as he lay in my lap. I stared at him in complete and utter awe at how beautiful he was. He stared intently back cooing as if he was speaking with so much to say and his little body wiggled every moment.
I knelt down on the floor bringing the sack with me and continued to simply stare at it. This was my son now. No more earthly conversations. No more significant events such as college graduation, or marriage or grandchildren. No more bear hugs or sweet kisses.
Jackson C. was born five weeks early. My water broke on Christmas morning – my own little JC as someone told me. Though because of a long labor, he arrived very early the day after Christmas. Perhaps he wanted to get here early because he knew he had a shorter life. Or maybe he wanted to get here just before the leap year so he could spend his first year in the energy of 108 (leap year 366 days; 3x6x6=108). Despite being born premature, he was remarkably healthy and weighed five pounds. He ate and grew magnificently. His growing chart was impressive as he continued to hit at or above the 80th percentiles in height and weight. He was quiet, sensitive, a very good friend to many and generally quite happy growing up.
Just a few hours before Jackson passed away at 1:08 a.m., we all went bowling. It was Jackson, his roommate, his dad, his little brother Patrick and me. We were celebrating Patrick’s recent birthday and thought it would be nice to all get together, a peaceful gathering regardless of divorce. Jackson expressed excitement when his dad told him about the upcoming celebration. Yes, the elephant was also in the room. We knew of Jackson’s struggles. We also knew – on some level anyway – that his struggles were far from over.
Jackson won both games and bowled unlike someone who partakes in the sport twice a year at most. He was coaching his roommate with his bowling, wanting to help him get his score up. Jackson was always helping his friends, always concerned for the one losing or for the underdog. Between bowls, we took turns sitting next to each other and chatting. At one moment, I leaned over and smelled Jackson’s ears. “Ah.” I said “The smell of my beautiful boy.”
I used to always say that you could put me in a room full of children and blindfold me and I would find my boys by sniffing out their unique and wonderful smell. I recall that he smiled and seemed to nuzzle up against me as he always did as a young child, in a way that was inconspicuous and private so that no one knew. I also recall a moment when he looked at me and said “Mom, I was prescribed oxycodone and I liked it.”
After bowling, we stood outside and chatted. Jackson was very concerned about some warts on his hand so he and his roommate went to the grocery next door to get some topical medication. We hugged, said our I love yous and went our separate ways. Patrick went to go spend the night with his dad, Jackson and his roommate went home, and I returned to my apartment. As I walked in to my dark place around 11:30 p.m., I heard a very loud ambulance siren. I shuddered as I often did whenever I heard sirens. A mother worries and thinks about her children often. And when one of them is not stable on his feet, a mother worries incessantly. I knew it had just been a short time since we parted, so I consoled myself and went to bed soon after. It was around 2 a.m., just about the same time of day that Jackson entered the world, that I was awakened by my youngest son gently hugging me. I knew immediately something was very wrong.
Then I heard my former husband’s voice, a voice that I did not ever hear in my bedroom. He whispered “Jackson is no longer here.” My son was gone. He had wandered down a dark and dangerous path, which included opioid prescriptions for both his wisdom teeth removal and a knee injury; and, eventually got hold of a drug cut with lethal amounts of fentanyl.
Continuing to flash upon these final few hours with Jackson, I got up and got some plastic baggies to further divide the ashes. I thought maybe I want to bring him to where he was born in California for I have often heard that part of the spirit resides in the place of birth. I thought maybe I want to bring some ashes to Oregon where he spent eight wonderful childhood years of his life. And I thought maybe I might want to hold onto some of them. I had never done this before and I knew I needed to be with it all and not react or do something too quickly. So, I took Jackson’s ashes and divided them into four sacks: one for Alabama as had been planned and three for possibilities.
Sifting through the ashes, I felt compelled to touch them. Still without tears, in more of a stoic and rational space, I thought “What am I to do from here, how can I move away from what is deep and unfathomable pain?”
My son is a statistic, one of many who has passed from this opioid crisis, yet he is one beautiful amazing soul. Each individual who dies from this crisis is a separate entity who cannot be lost in the crowd. Just as when someone dies in a war, each death is unique and carries an individual story and individual tears. I knew I could not let my son be buried in the opioid statistics, the high number of deaths. I knew he did not die in vain. It was at that moment that I knew I was to write a book, to bring forth some wisdom I have accumulated throughout my life and from my work; and, from what I was to gather by experiencing the death of my beautiful eldest son.
When I knew I was to write a book, I needed to decide on what topic. Should I take on the opioid epidemic? As I gave it some thought, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to take on this back end of dealing with pain. There is much to read on the opioid crisis. It is evil. It spans pill mills to rehab centers who are in cahoots with drug dealers to rob the insurance companies. It includes pharmaceutical companies who court doctors with meals, free travel, speaking fees, and other perks to promote and sell their highly addictive drugs. It includes addicts who began their addiction with the drugs they were told were good for them and then cannot get the treatment they need to recover from where the addiction led them. This epidemic includes doctors who so very carelessly prescribe. It even includes medical professionals addicted to the drugs they promote who may be under the influence of a drug right there in the surgery room with you. There is much to know about this crisis. It is corrupt and dark and I have had to learn about it on a level far beyond what I ever dreamed would be so personal.
The opioid crisis is a national addiction and has been called one of the deadliest drug crises in American history. It has lowered the life expectancy in our country and is said to have no end in sight. Interestingly, this is not a new story. This addiction was prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The medical community was a key player then as well, prescribing opiates as wonder drugs for everything from diarrhea to asthma to pain to even a remedy for fussy babies. It proved highly addictive and many Civil War veterans became addicts as did many doctors. It was highly addictive then as it is now. It was a crisis then as it is now. The main difference is that not as many people were dying. There wasn’t fentanyl and other opioids that are killing so pervasively. Though right there in the heart of both then and now are the medical and prescription drug communities as well as the disempowered individual saying “Fix me please.”
The opiate crisis then and the opioid crisis now are not stories that I am passionate about. They are extensive and multi-layered and something that I had to dive in to learn about because of my son’s death. There is so very much out there for you to read if that is part of your journey. Instead, I thought it would be best to write about something that I know on a cellular level, something I am passionate about and that is the health and well-being from the front end, the part that allows us to listen to our body and to let pain enlighten us rather than take us down a dark and dangerous path.
For over 35 years, I have been teaching movement to people of all sizes, shapes and ethnicity. I have been coaching and counseling, and digging deep into the layers of body mind and spirit connection. I have been researching for over ten years the power of our body, of our fascial system and applying all that I know to my work. My clients range in age from 12 to 97 and include students, athletes, pharmacists, lawyers, judges, doctors, dentists, stay at home moms, retirees, and business professionals. They may be pre or post-surgery, serious athletes, or individuals simply wanting to move with grace and ease and no pain. Each of my clients who has crossed my path over the past several years is a beautiful being. I have learned so much from them and am very grateful. Joseph Joubert said “To teach is to learn twice.” I have gathered a wealth of knowledge in my practical experience of working with so many individuals, many who experience pain – like we all do – on some level.
Pain is real. I also know that we are in a world of broken systems right now including our medical, pharmaceutical and legal systems. As a result we have created this construct of pain that does not serve us well. More than ever, we feel pain and we experience fear and we are searching for relief among these broken systems which most often results in putting on a band aid, often a dangerous one which is about masking rather than uncovering. And more than ever, we are disconnected from our bodies, the beautiful vehicle that houses our spirit and speaks to us often. I believe we can let pain awaken us in some way. I believe we can cease this rat race we are on and bring better practices into our lives, practices that move us in our bodies, and that move us beyond where we are.
Sifting through my son’s ashes, I knew I must move beyond the pain for the pain would take me out. I knew I must share all I know with others, with a larger audience beyond my clients. I knew I must help awaken and bring about healing on a greater level. I knew the book would not be easy to write. I knew it would be confronting and downright painful at times. I knew I would come up with a myriad of excuses for why I couldn’t or shouldn’t write this book. I knew I would procrastinate in beginning it. After I finally began the book, I woke up each morning longing to have my son back rather than be writing this book. I knew if he were here, I wouldn’t have a reason to write. I knew I would not be compelled to write. Each morning, I also knew I had no choice.
This book is intended to merely scratch the surface of your own awakening; to help you understand that the answer does not lie fully within the external systems; to open you up to the power of your body, of your fascia; to allow you to pause and rethink pain and what it might mean for you; and, to empower you to reconnect with your unique being on a deeper level. May this book awaken you in some way – to the beauty of pain, to the power to heal within, to the magnificence of the body. This book is my gift that comes from something much greater than I. I am simply the conduit, the messenger; and, my dear son Jackson is with me every step of the way as I write.
As it became clear that I must write about what I know and not what I have had to learn through tragedy, I realize that we are in the midst of a perfect storm that has facilitated us getting so far removed from a wholistic and sustainable approach to health and well-being. It has led us to this age of what I call anesthesia kinesthesia where we have become truly disconnected from body awareness (kinesthesia). Instead, we opt for loss of sensation (anesthesia) by choosing drugs and surgeries to mask and avoid what is really going on in our lives. We opt for the easy fix to remedy our pain on a surface level only. The body houses our spirit, yet we disregard what the body might be saying. Furthermore, we have become so far removed from our bodies that we can’t even hear what they are saying. Swirling amidst our own chaos is a sea of broken systems from our medical system to our government to our legal system encouraging us to disconnect and avoid. And right in the middle of this perfect storm is the perfect audience, the disempowered population of individuals who are disengaged from self and looking to the outside for answers, demanding “Fix me!”
Once upon a time, we were more active and tuned into the body’s needs. We ate when we were hungry, not on the go, and our foods were not so processed. We moved more frequently. Today, we are an inactive group. We do not move. We sit at our desks, at our tables, and we lie on our beds; and thereby, we rarely move our hips or knees or spine. We keep our feet jailed in shoes and we don’t even know how to move our toes. Same is true with our fingers. We keep our hands clenched through stress and only plink our fingers in limited movement while obsessing on our phones. Some of us run to the gym once a day or twice a week to grab some movement. Then back to our sitting we go. There was a time when we didn’t have to think about exercise– moving was a part of our lives. Not only are we sedentary, we diet all the time. We search for diets that can help us feel better, look better, lose weight, and be healthier. Today, more than ever, we search for surgical procedures that can make us look different than we are – maybe fewer wrinkles, maybe bigger lips or butt or boobs. What is wrong with the body the way it is? Why are we so disconnected from it?
We have lost sight of the beauty of the unique vessel itself - the body that houses an individual spirit – that tells one’s story – that speaks to us all the time. The body is our barometer. It houses our mind and our spirit and it encompasses all our experiences starting in embryo, maybe even for lifetimes. Specifically, the fascia is a network in the body that connects us head to toe. It touches all systems – including lymphatic, nervous, digestive. The fascia dances with us in all ways giving us clues of how we are doing and what we need to do next. Bodyfulness is what is key - honoring and nourishing the body, moving and wiggling it often, listening to it, letting it guide you. The body is the vessel. The body is the guide to the soul’s expedition on this earth.
In this book, I take you on a journey to explore your unique body and soul and encourage you to look at your own pain and how it might move you. In the book, I introduce the following:
Pain is a very complicated life and death construct. It is one that we have created and is also one we can undo. Pain is part of your story and is something to be with on some level rather than quickly mask, avoid or defer.
There exists a perfect storm of broken systems that encourage you to dismiss your pain, to disconnect from your unique body and spirit.
Addiction is rampant and exists in some way for all of us. It comes about through avoidance of something perhaps a pain of some kind. It takes you away from being present and in the moment.
The body is unique and remarkable, the fascia holds the soul’s story for this lifetime, and practicing bodyfulness is important. You must listen and allow the body to move– to move your body, to move your spirit. Understanding new approaches to the body through fascia and biotensegrity are key.
The exceptional body houses the unique soul. The soul has its unique path that also meanders alongside and throughout the paths of others. We are connected.
As part of your own journey which connects to others, it is important to distinguish between codependence and empowerment.
You can align the vessel, the true body-mind-spirit connection, and allow the body to guide you on the journey.
Useful tools and practices. To get where you’re going, you must embrace practices for transformation. Everything worthwhile takes practice.
In this book, I encompass all I have learned from so many years teaching and facilitating movement and life change; observing bodies; observing human surgeries; conducting full body dissections of treated and untreated human cadavers; endless research on medicine and new understanding of the body and well-being; and, by practicing bodyfulness myself. My son’s passing is the only reason I wrote this book. It is a way to honor his soul that I am so very grateful chose to pass through me. It provides me a way to heal a bit. It is the result of me allowing my own pain to move me to share what I know and what I believe will be not only extremely helpful though also lifechanging to many.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Lloyd Willett has been called a movement therapist and specialist, a transformational teacher and facilitator, spiritual advisor, life coach and healer. She has been teaching movement for over 35 years and has been observing movement and human behavior since she was born. She brings a rich mosaic of modalities to her work and weaves in a fully integrated body-mind-spirit approach that incorporates her comprehensive studies and experience in business, communications, yoga, dance, theatre, medical practices, wholistic medicine, stretch therapy, psychology and coaching, Pilates, breath therapy, biotensegrity and body fascia. In addition to holding Private Sessions with clients ages 12 to 99, she is active in the international Fascia Research Society; and, is an author as well as guest lecturer presenting to international audiences. She lost her oldest son to the opioid crisis and she knows her pain moves her to bring her gift of teaching to a new level that will inspire others in some way. She operates her own business Connected. Movement in Sync.