You can instantaneously cut off the sympathetic nervous system by shifting your mind from threat to treat. That doesn't mean, of course, that escapism is a long-term fix. If you're facing a crisis in your job and spend the entire day dreaming about a vacation on the beach, that isn't going to solve the problem. But pausing to invoke a positive image in your mind will unhook you from the adrenaline spike and allow you to ratchet down the stress. Kay's talking about roles struck a responsive cord. Now that I realize that it was my general feeling of worthlessness that was at the bottom of some of my troubles, I find that I have to find my place, or as Kay says, my role. I felt that she had really gained a lot in saying that. I still feel my greatest empathy with Kay and Laura. Perhaps because Laura represents part of my problems in hers, and Kay was married happily. Diary after twelfth group meeting I really felt as if we were getting somewhere during the last meeting. I think it was because Mary finally opened up. I felt that for the first time she was with us. I had been feeling slightly uncomfortable with her before this. For some of us, disconnection began at a young age. We cried and no one responded by feeding or holding us. Or, we observed violence in our environment. The world--and our security--felt precarious. Not knowing otherwise, we thought the problem was us. We looked at our bodies, with their material needs, their urge for safety, for love and acknowledgement, as inadequate or too much.

Our needy bodies betrayed us. For others, the disconnect came later, when the first signs of our difference started emerging, perhaps as an effeminate boy or a masculine girl, or a kid who doesn't grow out of their baby fat. Society drills into us that our selves and our bodies are unacceptable, and we need to focus on changing. For those with some disadvantaged identities--people with dark skin, folks with disabilities, women--the cultural hostility to their very existence is immediate. Then you can calmly face the challenge at hand. Follow these steps: Begin by conjuring up a place and time when you felt completely at peace. A real memory works best because you can imagine it more vividly. Recall the scene, employing as many of your five senses as you can, as if you are still there. Write down what you remember, in detail, keeping the story in the present tense as though you are still in the scene. You can use these questions as a guide to trigger your sense memory, conjuring up what you see, feel, smell, taste, and hear: Where were you? What were you doing? What do you smell? I feel that I am at sort of a stalemate. I understand my problem now in terms of the concept of self-worth. I just don't have very much self-affection. But I can't seem to be able to take the first step forward toward raising my self-affection. It is that I know pretty much now, I think, what has made me like I am, but I can't seem to make up my mind what I want to be. I felt that Betty put it very well when she said that her old established values are getting mixed up -- and it's disturbing.

In a way, I feel that Kay seems to be getting the most out of the group at present, and making the most progress. I think finally that I am more certain now than I was that I want to finish my studies. Diary after thirteenth group meeting I feel sort of guilty presenting a problem this morning because everybody seemed so exuberant. It's the air that all of us breathe. It's so ubiquitous that it's nearly invisible. Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, writes Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows `that is not me. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who don't fit into the mythical norm--which is to say, most people, since very few people hold all of those dominant identities in one embodied bundle--are tasked with the impossible, unachievable, lifelong project of hiding who we are. We are coerced and conditioned to endlessly work on our bodies and ourselves to more closely accommodate to this mythical norm. The alternative is to live with the knowledge that our appearance will always and automatically telegraph wrongness and limit opportunity. The less we resemble the norm, the more likely we are to suffer the consequences--socially, financially, physically, and more. It's hard to convey the all-encompassing brutality that comes with learning over and over--at four, five, twelve, fourteen, and every day of your life--that you do not belong in your body. A lifetime of slow-burning self-immolation is ignited by the realization that your body is an enemy to be coerced, controlled, and transformed into something else--ideally, something not you. What do you hear? What can you feel/touch? What can you taste? What can you see? Here is a wonderful example from meQuilibrium member Martin, sixty-three: I'm on my favorite golf course with my favorite golfing buddy.

It's just about sunset and we're walking toward the eighteenth tee. I've had a great game--looks like I'll break eighty. The sun is behind the trees, and there's a red glow across the sky. The evening breeze has just picked up, and I can feel it on my skin. But it has bothered me all week end and I just couldn't keep quiet about it. It sort of set me back to my old feeling of self-worthlessness in relation to school and everything. And I was beginning to work out something before it happened. It was wonderful to see Laura so exuberant. But at the same time, since I didn't feel quite as gay, it made me feel a little out of things. I sort of felt that Betty felt a bit like that, too, and after the session when we were walking down to coffee she turned to me and said, I feel awful. I knew the feeling that she had, and I wished I could say something to help her, but I didn't feel much better, so I'm afraid I wasn't much help. Diary after eighteenth group meeting I just can't seem to be able to see my way clear in this new problem. If it wasn't so tied up with the symbols of my past family life, I might feel more confident. Even worse, it's your job to inflict that ceaseless punishment on yourself. Straighten your hair. Mask your feelings. Our culture's violent demands alienate us from our own bodies. We learn, again and again, that we cannot be ourselves. Convinced that our bodies are defective and deviant, we cannot settle into or be at home in our own skin.

Those of us outside the mythical norm must dissociate from our bodies and regard them from a forensic distance. Our bodies, many of us get trained to tell ourselves, are not our selves. The body is an external thing, a problem to be solved. I grappled with this growing sense of defectiveness, of alienation from my own body, across my entire childhood--and I did it without the language to explain what was wrong. It feels really good since I got a lot of sun earlier in the day. I can smell the fresh-cut grass. The thicker grass of the fairway springs under my golf shoes. As I strike the ball, I can feel the smack through my hands and my forearms. I can almost taste that refreshing beer we'll have in the clubhouse together when we've finished the round. Pay attention to how you feel as you recall and record this sense memory. Do you feel the stress ebbing away? This sense of tranquility is available to you any time you need it. The next time you're overwhelmed by stress, close your eyes and take this mental breather to quickly reset your equilibrium. You don't necessarily need to write it down the next time, unless doing so helps you even more than conjuring it up in your mind. Sometimes I feel that if I were a more confident person, more sure of myself and my husband, then my mother-in-law could say anything and it wouldn't bother me. As it is, it takes huge control to be with her and be nice, but I feel I have to be nice. Interview two months after the nineteenth and final group meeting The group helped in a lot of respects in what I think of myself. It may not have solved certain problems and it may never solve certain problems, but it has been worth while. In relation to my husband, I wouldn't say that relations are any -- well -- there's more understanding.