Any one with SIBO (or any other chronic health problem) knows that the healing journey can be a rollercoaster ride both physically and emotionally. There can be peaks like the joy and energy you feel after you receive that negative SIBO test. That sweet relief you feel when you can finally get back to the life you once had that wasn’t burdened by the painful belly bloat and dietary restrictions.
But, then comes the relapse! You are completely devastated. The hopelessness and loss moves in just in time for the bloating and pain to return. You feel robbed of your health and happiness. You just want to give up!
These peaks and valleys are all a part of the healing journey that comes with having chronic health problems. In my experience, healing began when I stopped avoiding all the intense emotions I was feeling. I let my emotional flood gates open and gave myself permission to viscerally feel every heartbreak and success during my recovery.
I remember how relieved and hopeful I was when I was diagnosed with SIBO. Finally, I knew what was causing my gut symptoms. All I had to do was tighten up my diet and take some antimicrobial herbs and I would get my life back. I was in a very positive mindset.
Over the next three months, I continued to get worse and my symptoms were worse than ever. I was so frustrated, but put on a brave face for my family and friends. Since nothing seemed to be working, my doctor prescribed a round of CIPRO, which proved to be the straw that broke the camels back.
I was completely broken and lost. I couldn’t fight the grief and sadness anymore, so I let it in. For a good month or two, I would sob uncontrollably both in private and public places. I shed my happy smile that I usually wore proudly on my face. I grieved for the carefree life I had before SIBO. The surrender felt therapeutic.
There is something magical that can happen when you take ownership of your pain. Feeling your grief doesn’t make you a victim, but rather gives you the opportunity to be the author of your true story.
This release led me to grow and shed some parts of myself that I had outgrown. By moving through my emotions, I was finally able to see my dreams clearly and who I wanted to be. I started to see life outside of SIBO.
I took the biggest risk of my life quitting my very good job to go back to school to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Without my grief, this blog would never exist!
Mama Gena Knows Best
It wasn’t until I read a controversially titled book “Pussy: A Reclamation” by Regina Thomashauer (aka Mama Gena) that I realized the importance that this devastation had on my life and in my healing process.
Regina Thomashauer is an icon and teacher who has made it her mission to help woman find their power and live up to their potential. While her books are directed at woman, they have tons of valuable tips to help both men and woman feel their deepest emotions. I highly recommend you check this book out!
She discusses how our patriarchal society trains us to control and stifle our emotions, which causes them to fester. She writes “our patriarchal society doesn’t honor grief. (Or rage. Or longing. Or jealousy. Or frustration–just to name a few).”
Our culture has led us to believe that “feelings are messy, inappropriate and unimportant.” We are taught to be strong and to hold our shit together! But, none of us have our shit together (myself included)!
There is this pervasive attitude that positivity and “thinking happy thoughts” at all times is required to regain your health. But, I actually think trying to force a positive mindset and ignoring grief or other negative emotions can prevent healing.
It’s exhausting to try to ignore grief and suffering. It takes embodying your emotions to move forward. As Mama Gena writes “intense feelings cause us to grow, just like the rain causes the earth to bloom.”
“Rupture” is the word she uses to describe this process of intense emotional release that breaks us down and reassembles us into something new. Rupture can be brought on by a devastating loss, a catastrophe or even something wonderful like the birth of a child that throws your life into chaos.
When you shut off the ability to feel and move through these ruptures, you can become emotionally muted and easily slip into what Mama Gena calls “the 4 D’s: Disenfranchisement, Disapproval, Devastation and Depression.”
“Being shut down from our grief and rage deprives us of living our emotional and creative power.” -Mama Gena
In the context of chronic illness, I think that an inability to embrace grief or anger can lead to us becoming stuck in a state of devastation and depression. We question what we did to deserve this or we can’t get over the fact that we can’t eat our favorite foods.
We can become physically and emotionally exhausted trying to keep our shit together. Energy that we could be using to regain our health is instead being used to mute our emotions and pain.
Allowing yourself to move through darkness can also lead you into the light! When we rupture, we have more energy to pursue what we love and to experience true joy. It wasn’t until I ruptured that I found my true passion.
Rupturing can also give us an opportunity to move through past traumas that may bubble up. Since childhood trauma has been shown to alter the microbiome and IBS, repressed emotion and pain may play a role in promoting an unhealthy gut and be a contributing factor in why someone may have developed SIBO. So, moving through any past traumas is extra important to SIBO recovery.
I think the biggest takeaway from all of this is that pain and grief have a purpose and they shouldn’t be ignored!
How “Swamping” can help you move through your emotions?
I have to confess that I definitely have to work at moving through my emotions since I have a tendency to bottle up my feelings. So, I have been recently working on finding ways to explore and embrace my emotions on a regular basis.
According to Mama Gena, our ruptures need to be grieved physically or else they remain stuck in our bodies. She calls this process of physically moving emotions through the body “Swamping”. Here is a description of her discovering the power of Swamping to help with her own heartbreak:
“I decided that instead of hiding my emotions inside–which is what I had done my whole life–I would instead wear them on the outside. Truth was, I felt like garbage. So I went to the kitchen and pulled out a black trash bag. I pushed my head through the top and punched my arms through the sides until I was wearing it like a dress. I tied a babushka on my head and went to the fireplace and wiped some ash on my face. I blasted loud music, stomped around and pounded pillows.
As soon as I did this, everything about my internal chemistry changed. I began to feel delighted with myself instead of hating myself. Having my outsides match my insides felt celestial. It gave me a whoosh of energy. It was also hysterically funny. And yes, I felt divine. When my roommates began to trickle home, they were all very entertained. And so was I! I was proud of myself rather than ashamed.
I ended up gathering a whole line of “Swamp” clothing, including a “Psycho Bitch from Hell” T-shirt, camo pants, and biker boots. I began to notice that the more I greeted my inner bitch with warmth, love, and honor, the less frequently she visited. All she ever wanted was to be heard, and to be given a proper seat at the banquet table”
I laughed out loud picturing this story, but I also feel it exemplifies how a physical release of emotion can be so powerful. I have not tried a full-blown trash bag wearing swamp yet, but it is definitely on my to-do list! I also want to know where she bought that “Psycho Bitch from Hell” T-shirt, because I’m gonna need that!
Mama Gena’s Steps to Swamping:
- Set the stage by writing out all things that upset you
- Cut out neck and arm holes in a trash bag and pop it on like a dress
- Put on loud music. Find music that matches how you are feeling.
- Take inspiration from a toddler and embody your loudest emotion, as fully as you can. To get rage going, try beating pillows or whacking a dishtowel against a wall. Try rolling around on the floor in frustration or sadness. Or lean your back against a wall and push your hips out, using the wall to wrestle with. Move your body the way it wants to move. Don’t be afraid to feel or look awkward.
- Consider being witnessed in your Swamp. Swamping is more powerful when done in the presence of other people. Mama Gena likes to rent a dance studio with her friends and have a Swamp party. They move, dance, beat pillows, stomp, crawl and roll around together. It is more fulfilling to roll around in the mud with others.
While I have yet to do a full blown swamp, I have felt the power of even mini-Swamps. I find that dancing is a great way to embody emotions.
Mama Gena also points out the power of music and dance in her book: “A woman can find her embodiment of rupture by listening to music that touches her soul and allowing her body to move as it wants to.” I dance almost every day to stay in tune with my emotions.
While embracing dark emotions can be devastating and scary, the clarity and bliss on the other side of the Swamp is glorious! It’s kind of like that popular notion of having a “good cry”. Everyone knows you always feel so much better after a good cry!
“When we push our edges and fully express the storm that is passing through our being, we experience ecstasy and joy. Such an emotional storm clears out the cobwebs. Everyone who witnesses us–and Swamps with us–has the opportunity to clear out their own cobwebs too. The experience of moving powerful emotions through our bodies can take us to a place of power and beauty that we otherwise do not get to feel. It’s the feeling of rapture, and it’s just like the exquisite way the air feels after a generous rain.” -Mama Gena
You have a right to feel sad, mad, overwhelmed, frustrated and angry during your SIBO journey. Stifling these emotions can leave you feeling tired, exhausted and disconnected. We then become stuck and unable to make progress. It takes physically embodying and moving through deep emotions to find our joy!
So buy some trash bags and a Psycho Bitch from Hell T-shirt and let it all out!!!!
Thanks for Reading!! And Please like the Facebook page, so that I can let you know when I post new content! Plus, Facebook likes warm my soul a little bit….it must be because I am a millennial haha!
Also, I would love to hear how you move through grief and pain. Please share your own Swamping strategies below!
Wow, this is seriously thought provoking article. Honestly, the only thing I’ve ever done to express my anger/frustration/grief of having SIBO is cry in the shower (usually during a bad flare-up of symptoms). Maybe sometimes I throw something unbreakable onto the couch or bed. But usually I do it when no one is around. I don’t like to let my husband or family see how much I’m hurting, because I don’t want them to get that helpless feeling. I don’t want them to feel sorry for me or see me as weak. But thinking of the ideas you’ve presented is actually already making me feel better somehow. The idea of yelling/shouting really loudly without a care sounds amazing! Like going to a place where there’s a lot of noise and just screaming until my voice cracks. Or buying a punching bag and kicking the shit out of it while yelling out all the things I hate about my illness. Those sound amazing! Thanks for writing this. 😀
I am so happy you found the article helpful. Personally holding everything in wasn’t helpful! Get all that rage, anger, sadness, pain out! It can be strangely empowering. Best wishes!-Amy