- Marc Richter, LICSW, LADC
When the Gut is Speaking...Do We Listen?
More recently I discussed new found sobriety with one of my clients who's abstained from alcohol for 45 days now. She's doing the necessary and difficult work of wrestling with new emotions and feelings that she has only recently allowed to begrudgingly welcome into her experience. As I often phrase it to clients, "now you're choosing to live with your emotions in the light instead of living with your emotions in the darkness." However true this may be, after a lifetime of emotional avoidance and denial it doesn't make it any more comfortable for folks to sit with this strange, scary and particularly foreign way of being.
My client reported a few distinctly new experiences whereby she felt tightness, tension and discomfort in her entire belly region. As we began to explore, we found answers and yes, I ruled out Mexican food! As much as we have discussed the three intelligences, The Head, The Heart and The Gut it did not at the time occur to my client that her gut was literally attempting to speak and be heard. Fear is experienced in the front of the gut and courage from the rear. When I reminded her that the gut intelligence primarily communicates in feelings, not words, it all made sense to her. She was about to face a legal matter in court. Possibly because her attorney was representing her without her present it was easier for her head to ignore and for her heart to protectively retract from the fear. Yet, the matter was a great source of anxiety for her and only her gut seemed to be aware of this. That is until I reminded her of this upcoming court date. Upon discussing it further she realized she was fairly scared of the possible results, mainly the anxiety provoking unknown - but only her gut had been tipping her off to this. We explored the importance of being open to such physiological experiences (especially when they manifest themselves in the gut) and how such experiences are really data that can inform us of what we are experiencing on a deeper level. In my clients case, this information informed her that she was actually at a higher risk of relapse than she intellectually realized. From there she could take some steps to appropriately match the presenting risk with the application and utilization of identified coping tools (i.e.: attending AA, calling friends, sharing in support group, exercise, etc...).
It was a good reminder to my client that often our gut intelligence is trying to "check-in" with us. The remaining work for all of us involves identifying when it IS speaking and to listen to it when it does.