Unlike IBS, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine is linked to a specific cause, which in turn connects to the spiritual meaning of SIBO.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition that is often mistaken for (or exists alongside) irritable bowel syndrome. While IBS doesn’t seem to have a particular cause, SIBO does.
What happens with SIBO is the normal, healthy bacteria that’s supposed to be in the large intestine ends up colonizing the small intestine, causing all sorts of issues, including pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, skin problems like hives, and inflammation—and symptoms vary greatly between people.
SIBO’s causes can include an overuse of antibiotics causing an imbalance (though ironically antibiotics are one of the treatments); a long episode of vomiting, which can upset the functioning of the ileocecal valve separating the large from the small intestine; chronic stress; disordered eating; or some combination of the above. A gastroenterologist and/or naturopath may have treatments for SIBO that can absolutely lead to a cure, but it can be a long process and many people experience SIBO as a chronic condition. All of which prompts us to ask: what is the underlying spiritual meaning of SIBO?
Trauma and the Spiritual Meaning of SIBO
If we take a look at the causes of SIBO—a long illness, disordered eating, chronic stress—we are looking at more symptoms. These are commonly symptoms of trauma. When the nervous system cannot regulate, many systems in the body become unbalanced. It’s pretty easy for the digestive system to tip out of balance, as it is one of the first places that is affected by the fight-or-flight response. When we’re scared, the blood and energy vacate the digestive system in order to ready the limbs for fighting or fleeing. Digestion is quite energy-intensive: it’s not possible to run from a tiger and effectively digest our food at the same time.
When our stress becomes chronic, whether because we have a toxic relationship, stressful job, or are trying to recover from a traumatic experience, the digestive system doesn’t get the energy it needs to do its job well, and imbalances such as SIBO can occur. Addressing the underlying stress or trauma can go a long way toward resolving the symptoms of SIBO.
Questions to ask yourself here are:
- What was happening in my life when my symptoms started?
- How would I describe my stress level?
- Do I have other symptoms of PTSD such as intrusive thoughts, a heightened startle reflex, nightmares, and so on?
- Do I take time to slow down and feel my feelings, such as through quiet contemplation or meditation?
- Do I get overwhelmed by sadness, anger, or fear or can I simply feel these feelings?
Digesting the World
When you think about it, our digestive system really is amazing: we take in the outside world, do something magical to it, and it becomes a part of our living, breathing bodies. When we’re having issues with digestion, it can mean we are having a hard time processing what’s going on in our lives. Do you feel a bit nauseous when you read the news? This may be part of why it’s so hard to digest food well. You could consider the following questions:
- How do I feel about my life in general? Am I comfortable where I am?
- How do I process difficult news about the world or my life/community?
- Would it benefit me to limit my exposure to the information and experiences that make me feel sick?
Hunger and fullness are essentially “yes” and “no” cues from the body. When hungry, we desire food. When full, we do not want any more. We know it’s important to act consensually with other people, respecting their boundaries and listening to them if they say yes or no. But do we do this with ourselves? Do we listen to our own body’s signals around consent?
It can be remarkably hard to love and respect ourselves enough to treat our bodies consensually. It may be an illuminating practice to do this. Here are some questions for contemplation:
- Do I listen to my body’s cues around hunger and fullness?
- Do I treat my body with respect?
- Do I give my body experiences of enjoyment and pleasure?
- Are there things I’m doing in my life that are actively harmful, painful, or uncomfortable to my body?
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a frustrating illness, but it is treatable, in part through exploring the spiritual meaning of SIBO. As with many chronic illnesses, addressing the spiritual or emotional aspects of the illness can be an important aspect of healing, along with taking the advice of your healthcare practitioners.
Want to read more about food, consent, and recovering from trauma? Check out Julie’s book Want: 8 Steps to Recovering Desire, Passion, and Pleasure After Sexual Assault
Also, read about Julie’s own experience with SIBO and her journey back to health.