I could barely put any weight on my left foot. Seven hours earlier, my colleague and I had boarded an overnight flight at JFK on our way to Budapest. Bleary-eyed and in tremendous pain, I fought back tears as we raced through the terminal in Frankfurt to make our connection.
The tendons in my foot were screaming at me to sit down, but I couldn’t sit down. I had a plane to catch and a meeting to run. My foot would have to wait.
Trouble was, I’d been telling my foot to wait for the last nine months. The previous summer, it started nagging me as I walked around the city. Soon, I was hobbling, but I refused to see a doctor. I didn’t have time. I just kept hoping my foot would magically fix itself.
It’s amazing to me how easily we fall into the trap of ignoring physical and emotional pain. Telling ourselves we don’t have time to deal with it. Turning a blind eye to the signs that something is really wrong. Hoping that whatever is bothering us will somehow go away on its own.
When I talk to people about why I stopped drinking and how removing alcohol radically shifted my relationship with myself, I often say that it started on that trip to Budapest. My foot couldn’t wait any longer. I had to pay attention to myself. I was in too much pain. Four thousand miles from home, I realized it was time to pick up the phone and see a doctor.
Stopping drinking became an exercise in paying attention. I had to practice listening to myself. Not only to my hang-ups, fears, wants and needs, but also to my body. Initially, this was the last thing I wanted to do.
I was really good at telling myself I didn’t have time to deal with my insecurities. It was easier (and faster) to ignore them and manufacture confidence and happiness with the contents of a glass. All the while, I kept hoping that my tendency to overdo it would just go away.
At different moments in our lives, each of us will have that strange sensation that something doesn’t feel quite right. It will be easier in the short term to ignore what’s going on, to cover up how we’re feeling, or hope that it goes away. This will work for a while, but there is so much to be gained when we choose the path of paying attention.