My Body, My Choice: What My Jaw is Teaching Me About Consent

 
 Image by Karen Prosen

Image by Karen Prosen

I may be smiling in this picture but inside there is a little girl who is in pain. 

For as long as I can remember now - probably since I was 6 years old, then starting again when I was 13 (so consistently for the last 16 years) I have been clenching and grinding my teeth in my sleep. 

It happens every night, for the majority of the night and it has been terribly frustrating because it is subconscious. I am not aware of it, and when I wake up with pain around my head and in my upper back and shoulders each morning I feel at a loss of what to do. 

I have tried the night guards, osteopathy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, massage, cranial sacral therapy and numerous other healing modalities, but it is still happening.

Yoga is the one practice that will clear the stuck energy and pain and bring me back into a state of peace. This is the main reason I continue to practice yoga every day. 

But lately I've really wanted to discover the root of the clenching, not just address the symptoms.  I've been asking myself: Why is my body feeling called to clench and protect in my sleep? I know the body is full with wisdom, and I believe it is trying to show me something.

So about six months ago I discovered Matrix Re-imprinting, a technique that evolved from EFT that connects people with their past traumas and core beliefs and elegantly enables them to transform them into supportive platforms for their lives.

In a matrix re-imprinting session with my mentor, we uncovered a memory of being 6 years old in the dentist’s chair. The fluorescent lights were blaring me in the face. I remember they gave me a pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from the lights and cover my tears that were just pouring down my face behind them. 

I was getting cavities filled. There were needles to numb the pain, I had to hold my mouth open for what felt like hours, and I felt the pressure on my teeth as they were being filled. As a little girl, this was really intense for me.

As we were connecting with the little girl in this scene, my mentor asked me to ask the little girl how she felt.  

I almost did not want to say what her response was out loud because it was such a strong answer. I thought it was a little extreme for the situation, but I told my mentor that she said she was feeling “raped.”

We validated her feelings and ultimately brought healing back to this memory. It's amazing that when I think back on it now, I don’t even feel a charge recalling it. 

Flash forward six months when the #metoo posts started coming out:

I do not have particularly charged moments in my memory related to sexual abuse or harassment, so I didn’t make a post. However, I watched as woman after woman in my community stepped forward to share, and I bore witness with love. 

Right around this time I went to a sweat lodge ceremony and inside the dark, hot space representing the womb of Mother Earth, women around me began sharing their experiences of abuse.

My biggest prayer going into that lodge was to receive insight and healing for my jaw. I listened as these women around me shared about their experiences. As I listened, I began crying, quite loudly for these women, as many other people also cried in the complete darkness, the womb of the earth. I closed my eyes and began seeing memories of myself in the dentist’s chair and I had an insight, “No one ever asked my permission.” 

All the fillings I had at age 5 and 6, the palette spreader (a piece of metal used to spread apart the upper palette) in the roof of my mouth when I was 9, the doctor’s visits where I felt prodded and poked.

There was no consent. I do not have a memory of someone kindly sitting down to explain to me what was going to happen, why it was going to happen and to ask if that would be ok with me.

These things just happened. 

Now, I do not place blame on any of the adults who were concerned in these situations. They did not know to ask. They were never taught to ask. They were taught to help people and to do what they were trained to do.

I can’t say I wanted to keep going on with cavities in my teeth, and I am very grateful to have straight teeth and a beautiful smile today. These were routine procedures. And these people were trained to do them. I have great compassion and appreciation for all of these professionals.

But in that sweat lodge as I connected to that little girl who was never asked permission, I finally understood why she used that word, “rape” in describing the enormity of her pain.

As I connected with her, the tears just started flowing. I let out loud sobs. More memories came back.  

All the times this sweet little girl was not asked permission. Most of the memories were related to visits with licensed professionals - pediatricians,  dentists and orthodontists. 

She was holding an enormous amount of pain, her own and of the women in the space who had shared their stories. I held it all. I let myself feel it all. It was intense work. 

But by the end of that lodge I had new insights around places I needed to create boundaries with practitioners I see, and how I actually needed to ask my jaw for permission any time I put in a night guard or retainer in my mouth. I also saw how I could ask for permission with beings around me - friends, family, even my cat.

I also realized - when we explain to a child what is happening and why - I believe the child will be quite open to giving their permission if the procedure truly is in their highest good. But the insight I had was that it almost doesn’t matter what the answer is and what ends up happening -  the simple act of asking for permission IS the healing. 

I remember a few months ago when Nisha Moodley made a post about how she asks her son for permission before she picks him up. The post went viral. Her son is not yet of talking age, yet she waits for an energetic permission from him before picking him up. I love this. This doesn’t mean she wouldn’t pick him up if he was in harm’s way, but it is an act of honoring him as a sovereign being and a statement that his body is his. 

So while I was in the lodge feeling the enormity of that little girl’s pain - I realized that if I was holding that much trauma in my jaw from not receiving permission for a routine procedure in a doctor’s office, I could not imagine the enormity of the pain and trauma for others who never gave their permission in numerous other, more dangerous circumstances. My heart is with all of these people. I have tapped into the pain in that field and it is enormous. My heart is  especially with all the men and women who stepped forward to share their #metoo moments in the past few weeks (as well as all of those who did not feel ready to share).

I am also seeing how important it is for me and for all of us to acknowledge and validate our own pain, no matter how big or small it is. No, I was not sexually abused or assaulted by my doctor, but I did discover there was a little girl inside of me who was holding a great amount of pain  from experiences where she did not give consent.

Now I can’t say that feeling my pain led to instant healing of my jaw clenching. This is still a long and winding road of healing. But do I feel a little farther on the path? Yes. Absolutely. 

The truth is I am still waking up with pain and headaches quite often. I still feel frustrated a lot of the time. But something about having this insight about permission has been really healing for me. 

I now have a huge amount of insight into how I will raise my children, and how I will speak to them and ask for permission. 

Asking permission is the gateway to recognizing ourselves and others as sovereign beings.

If you are one of the many people also having jaw clenching or grinding in your sleep, my heart is with you. If you are one of the many who are holding a painful memory or experience where you did not consent, my heart is also with you.

The one piece of advice I offer you today is to pray. Pray for healing. Pray for insight. That is how this piece of wisdom came to me. Ask to be guided in your healing. 

Can you hold the moments in your life where you did not give permission with love? Can you hold that little girl or boy inside of you the way a mother would hold a child?

And how can you use your pain for greater good? Where could you ask for permission before taking action with those around you? 

Asking ourselves these kinds of questions is how we create change in the world. When we recognize, reconcile and heal our own traumas, we stop the pattern of abuse. We learn to act differently. 

That’s when we finally put a stop to the unconscious patterns passed down through our lineage.

The healing starts with you. 

With love,
Meredith