Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Tag: healing

Forgiveness, the Unspoken

M was a new client, who was telling me about her pain. “I was hit by a drunk driver,” she said, and I could hear the anger and resentment in that statement. The accident was many years ago, and it irrevocably altered the course of her life. She spent much of her teens in hospitals learning to walk again, and countless hours of her life over the decades since in various therapies to enable her to function. Including massage.

She also had impressive athletic achievements, which many fully-abled people wouldn’t even dream of. She wanted to live life fully, and she did, in spite of the constant pain.

I treated her body, like probably dozens of other massage therapists have, and I haven’t seen her again. I keep thinking of her, though, because of what I didn’t do for her. It was partly because of what I learned from S.

Years ago, my friend S recounted to me her experience with some kind of alternative healer who worked with magnets or something. The magnet lady told S that her chronic gut issues and infertility were caused by low self-esteem resulting from having been adopted as an infant. As her friend, and as an adoptee who’s done plenty of weird healing and rebirthing and other stuff myself, I thought that made a lot of sense. But S didn’t like the sound of it one bit. She took exception to the suggestion that she herself was causing all the problems she’d tried so hard to get past. She never went back to that healer, or any other holistic practitioner (including myself), but she did get lots of medical treatment and spent who knows how many thousands of dollars on infertility treatments to get the beautiful children to whom she is now a loving and joyful mom.

The healer, (who probably hadn’t had any training in professional ethics, by the way) had started with what was likely a deep insight, but her delivery of the information had not only not helped the client, it backfired, and drove the client away from alternative healing altogether.

Please note that the essential distinction between “medicine” and “alternative healing,” in this case, is the principle that the mind and body are mutual expressions of one another, and that we are empowered to change our health by choices we make, including changes in the ways we think and integrate our emotions. This is in contrast to the medical paradigm, which teaches that most chronic illnesses are the result of bad luck in the genetic and medical lottery, and only expensive, technologized treatment at the hands of highly trained people in white coats can fix our flawed bodies.

It’s absolutely possible to connect mind and body without blaming people for their illnesses. It’s much harder to convey non-judgement to a person who doesn’t yet understand the difference.

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen MDs as well as holistic practitioners blame their clients for their complaints. “It’s all in your head,” is a version of this. Another is, “I don’t know what is causing your problem, but it’s probably weight-related, so my best recommendation is to lose some weight.” When a doctor tells a patient that, the doctor is saying that they are not responsible for offering any more help. I think sometimes doctors say this kind of thing because they are frustrated that they’ve done everything they know to do, but the patient is still complaining. Holistic practitioners may sometimes feel the same frustration.

But this is not the essence of holistic practice. While the obvious primary aspect of our work is to treat clients, it’s just as important to know when not to treat. Sometimes we refer to other practitioners. Sometimes we refer to doctors. Sometimes we admit that we don’t know how to help a client. Sometimes we don’t tell them what we know, because we don’t have a way to say it that will help them.

What I didn’t say to M was that she needs to forgive the person who hit her. (She probably also needs to forgive herself for being so powerless to protect herself, and that’s another layer of complexity we will save for another post.) Driving while intoxicated was a terrible mistake, and it’s not fair that M didn’t get the life she wanted to have. I have no idea if the driver ever acknowledged her suffering, or felt any remorse at all, but I know that pain is the physical manifestation of anger. Her anger has no effect on the driver of the vehicle, but it certainly affects herself. I don’t know that forgiving would make her pain go away, but I know that as long as she doesn’t forgive, she will be in pain. It’s not her fault that someone hurt her, or that she is in pain, or that she is angry, but she is the only one who can do anything about it. She doesn’t owe forgiveness to the driver, but she owes it to herself. Forgiveness is the only way to freedom.

If I ever see her again, if I figure out how to tell her this, I will.

bag o'roaches

Gotta forgive. Carrying that stuff is nastier than a Bag o’Roaches.

Fixing the Broken

I knew it would be our last Christmas here, so I pared down the decorations and mementos so that I wouldn’t have to go through them all again before we move. I dug up boxes of ornaments and lights from various disused motel rooms where they’d been put away. I tested strings of lights and donated the ones that worked, I carefully chose which decorations were meaningful to one or more of us in the family, and ruthlessly got rid of the rest. What I saved, I packed as compactly as I could, so we won’t have to move more than one bin.

Every year I make a point of storing all the Christmas things together, but somehow there are always other boxes—even some empty ones— in different places, that I find years later when I’m looking for something else. Some of my favorite ornaments I haven’t seen in so long, I wonder if I dreamed their existence. But moving time is getting closer than ever, so this week I forced myself to go into a room full of junk and take out some boxes for sorting. And there it was, underneath a couple boxes of decorations I didn’t remember we’d ever had, the lost box of tree ornaments. It was labeled, “Christmas ornaments ’06/ Don’t lose.”

box of ornaments

There was also a bundle of tissue. Whatever was inside was surely highly fragile, as it was wrapped in layer after layer which I had to unwind one at a time. It turned out to be a primitive ceramic nativity. My mother-in-law must have given it to us, as she has one like it, from one of those non-profit organizations that employ impoverished people making crafty stuff for the relatively wealthy. I’m always a bit hesitant to get too religious about Christmas, and this thing had been packed away so long that surely it has no particular meaning or sentimental value to any of us. It would be easy to get rid of.

Nestled in the hollow was another tissue bundle. When I finally got it unwrapped, it turned out it was protecting the chunks that broke off the main piece, when, presumably, somebody dropped it. It appeared fixable. Someone had wrapped all the pieces together with great care, and stored them for a day when they could be repaired.

The obvious question is, why not just glue it, instead of making all that effort to save it for later? And the reason is that I was incapable of fixing things then. Much more vividly than these objects, I remember the utter despair I felt as I dragged myself up out of postpartum depression. In winter of 2006 I had a two-year-old, and was newly pregnant and terrified that I would have to recover from a surgical birth with a newborn and a toddler to care for. I was afraid the depression would win this time around. I had no money or insurance and, outside of my immediate family, all my friends were impossibly distant. The unexpected surgical birth had shaken my confidence, and I was unable to make decisions or take on even minor responsibilities. I felt too fragile and broken to fix myself, much less anything else.

But I did fix myself. Very slowly I made connections, I found tools, I found my voice. I started doing things I knew I couldn’t, and succeeded at some of them. I learned to manage my mental state. I rebuilt my shattered self-confidence, stronger than ever. I survived.

Now the two-year-old is fourteen, and the shrimp that was floating in my belly in 2006 is taller than I am. She will soon be twelve. As we prepare to move on to our next stage, I have found and repaired other things, and made new ones out of old things. I fixed this one in about three minutes.

It was almost as if I had some tiny bit of hope, twelve years ago, in my depression: that some day I would be better. Like a letter to my future self, I saved this broken item as best I could, for the time when I would be a person who could fix it. And now I am, so I think I will keep this one as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ll find space in the bin for one more item.

Ceramic nativity-2

Chiron Return

Let’s get this out in the open: I rush to publish earlier than is probably advisable. Last week I published a poem that I edited twice in the next two days, then revised it so substantially that it should probably get another post altogether.

If I come across as half-assed, and valuing my work beyond its worth, I’m okay with that. That’s what blogging’s all about, right? Take it or leave it.

But it appears some people actually do like my poetry. For you, enjoy.


Chiron Return

Did Chiron get fed up with the body
he’d been issued, that stubbornly refused
to heal? Did the master healer hope,
month after month, to find an efficacious
blend of herbs to stanch the bleeding,
or did he know this injury
would be the downfall of a demigod?
Did he struggle to comprehend
the incongruity of a wounded immortal?

Was he annoyed to hear humans claim
as identity afflictions that ought to have
healed decades ago? “I hate to cough because
sixty years ago I had pertussis.”

Did he see the forty-nine-year-old woman
with the heavy bleeding, the torpid thyroid,
incontinent bladder, presbyopia, insomnia,
and toothache—close his eyes, feel the throbbing
of his own nagging wound, and think,
this is what it’s like to be mortal?

Palermo house

Healing and the Non-Directed Mind

Sometimes it can be helpful to let the mind melt to slush, temporarily.

Sometimes it can be helpful to let the mind melt to slush, temporarily.

I had recurring discomfort in my right upper abdomen, and it peaked in pain that was severe enough that I thought I ought to see someone about it. But, I was on a hard-earned vacation, and I’d be damned if I were going to spend my vacation in the ER. So I gritted my teeth and rode it out, and was back to normal by the time I got home.

Later I told my symptoms to my energy healer, Susan Matz. Susan is possibly the most skilled healer I’ve had a session with. She didn’t hesitate to tell me that I had gallstones. I asked what I could do about that, and Susan said I needed more joy in my life. She’s not big on doing stuff, at least not for me, so that was a typical answer for her to give me for that kind of question.

In my typical way, I went home and googled holistic gallstones or something like that, and hoo boy, the stuff that comes up is not appealing. You can search it for yourself. There are several variations on a detailed process which involves drinking a solution of epsom salt (I didn’t know you could drink that stuff?), followed by a large amount of straight olive oil, right before bed. Then you lie down and in the morning you purge the lower digestive tract. One site had detailed instructions for placing some kind of screen on the toilet seat to catch the gallstones, while the rest flows on through. That way you can take the stones to the doctor, in case you wish to prove the efficacy of this treatment. Well, I thought, I’d choose that over surgery, but only if those were my only choices. I was very much relieved to find the Edgar Cayce approach, which was to apply castor oil externally with heat and lie quietly for 45 minutes or so.

I had a massage room in my home in those days, so a couple times a week, I’d put on some droney new age music and turn down the lights, bundle up in some blankets with the heating pad and viscous castor oil, and relax on the massage table. Now, this is my kind of holistic treatment. Sometimes I might expect to use that quiet time for meditation, to chant, or engage in some internal dialogue, but I found that invariably my mind drifted off into a state beyond any conscious control or intention. Thoughts or images would arise, but they didn’t have any kind of sense or meaning. Sometimes it seemed I was talking to someone, but I never knew who, and the stories I told were about people I’d never met.

Did I bring joy into my life? I can’t say that I did, but I found satisfaction in these periods of relinquishing intention to drift in the stream of semi-consciousness.

A few months later, I was pregnant, and I stopped the heat treatment. Then I moved to Kansas and got health coverage. Early on, my doctor noted that I had elevated liver enzymes, which she thought mostly likely to be caused by some kind of infection. Gallstones could also be the cause of this, so I thought I’d take an opportunity to educate my doctor by telling her that my energy healer had told me I had gallstones. I could see the doctor visibly clenching her jaw. I didn’t mind, because I knew what I knew.

So I was more than surprised when the ultrasound discovered nothing. I didn’t have gallstones. The liver enzymes returned to normal and I didn’t need any treatment for that. But it caused me to question all my ideas about healing, and about Susan. She had been so good for me. She had brilliantly told me exactly what I’d needed to hear, on numerous occasions. Not to mention, she had been a seasoned ER nurse before she’d gone into energetic work. How could she have been so wrong?

It wasn’t until months later that it occurred to me that she may not have been wrong at all. It was possible that I’d had gallstones, even probable, given my symptoms, but that the treatment (a session of energy healing, followed by castor oil packs) had been effective. Now, I know full well that there’s nothing scientific or verifiable in this perspective. I can’t say with any certainty that one or the other explanation was true.

But it’s not really relevant, anyway, to what I took from the experience. The lessons of holistic living often come at us sideways, like a bird in flight in your peripheral vision when you’re driving. Those moments of letting go of control of my mind were not to be dismissed. Over the years, I’ve come to see that surrender to allowing to be a gently powerful, or powerfully gentle, healing state. People often enter it through massage. I think of it as the matrix of the mind.

If we begin with the assumption of the body as a perfect manifestation of Divine love, then all disease or dysfunction results from some kind of disturbance. Somewhere along the line, a dysfunctional thought was adopted, or an incompatible or undigestible molecule was taken in. Like rebooting a computer, going back to the matrix can create a fresh opportunity to establish consciousness, while dysfunction dissipates. I wouldn’t rule out the benefit of intervention on the part of a healer or doctor; there may well be times when entering the energy field or the body and doing something is the best way to treat a condition. But entering the non-directed matrix of the mind is a safe, simple, and satisfying way to effect profound healing in many cases.

Recently my intuitive friend Natalie Duncan told me I needed a liver cleanse, and she offered to send me some instructions. It turned out it was that same protocol, with the epsom salts and the olive oil. I decided not to do it, but relaxing with the heating pad and sticky castor oil sounds really appealing these days. Time to turn off the mind, for a little while.

Paradox. Healing.

When you’ve been in the business of healing people for a while, some things about a person and her/his healing become instantly obvious. A few years ago I met a woman, call her Jane, who had had a terrible accident, which left her in constant, excruciating pain. Her doctors didn’t expect her to get better. As is typical with people who, like Jane, look normal, but experience a high level of pain, she had difficulty convincing the people around her that she really couldn’t function.  She was in the process of applying for disability support, a notoriously difficult undertaking, which requires the disabled person to prove her disability to a judge.

I was optimistic that she could get better, though, and was grateful for the opportunity to work with her. There were a number of factors that gave me hope. She was reasonably young. Also, her pain originated in the nerves, which I suspected could be altered for three reasons. First, nerves can regenerate after injury, more so than, e.g., a shattered bone, or damaged cartilage. Second, because nerve function is electrical, I believe that nerves may be influenced readily by energy healing: that is, healing which is directed toward changing the electromagnetic field associated with the human body. Third, calming hypersensitive nerves is one of the primary benefits of massage therapy, which is the foundation of my training and experience.

This is a good point to say that I believe that healing –moving toward oneness as an organism as well as between an individual and the entire universe– is possible for every living creature. We don’t always know what it will look like. It might entail leaving the physical body altogether. Some in the new age purport that everyone can be free of all dysfunction and pain; some go so far as to claim immortality, for those who eliminate all barriers within themselves and their thinking. I find the universe to be so much bigger than we are, that I do not claim to have all the answers, or to understand or predict much of anything. Maybe it’s one of the paradoxes, that healing is possible, but often we don’t get what we expect, work for, pray for. Sometimes when the evidence doesn’t support the hypothesis, it means the hypothesis is wrong. Sometimes, it means we’re just thinking too small.

I absolutely believe that healing is possible for every client I work with. Some conditions are easier to relieve than others. Some people don’t appear to improve. Some people continue to suffer. I occasionally refer clients to other kinds of practitioners, but, as long as a person has enough hope to get up on my table, I don’t give up.

Before her massage, Jane reported her pain to be 10 on a 1-10 scale. She couldn’t imagine more pain than she was feeling at that moment. After her massage, I asked her to rate the pain she was feeling. She thought for a moment and said 3. It was a huge improvement, more than she’d dared to hope for.

That was when I knew I would never see Jane again.

In a few weeks, Jane was scheduled to go before a judge and convince him that she was completely disabled by pain. She needed every potential resource to heal herself, but in order to access financial support, she was required to prove that she was unable to heal. She was an honest person who would be deeply conflicted if she felt she had to lie for financial gain. What if there was, in fact, reason to hope for improvement? If she didn’t get the money, she would have to go back to working. Could she trust that she would be able to do that? What if the relief was only temporary, and she found herself back where she was before the massage, but had to start the disability process all over again?

What would be the simplest way out of this dilemma?

Not healing.

If she were in intense pain, there would be no conflict. She could fight for her due with total conviction, and no one –even herself– could fault her for claiming the pain she lived with every minute of every day. So, because she was an honest person, who really needed the money, the safest choice she could make (probably unconsciously) would be to keep the pain.

This is how our medical, economic, and governmental systems subvert healing.

That was the last time I ever saw Jane, though, as she left, she told me she was going to be a regular. I knew she wouldn’t, though I did hold a bit of hope.

Even now, as I think about her, it occurs to me that maybe she felt so much better that she didn’t need to come back. Probably not, but maybe.

Sunday evenings, (not) reliving my twenties, excuses

There’s a show that keeps coming on HBO whenever I want to watch Trueblood. It’s called Girls. It’s about twentysomething urban women who obsess about their problems and feelings. Every time I turn it on, the lead is speculating about who gave her HPV. You might think that would be right up my alley, but it turns out that reliving my twenties is about the last thing I want to do in the evening when I’ve given up on doing anything useful with the day, and am ready to zone out and enjoy a good story.

I guess the story of my twenties isn’t one I relish. I’ve changed it repeatedly, and the most recent version involves a lot of self-medication, fear of commitment and responsibility, and unconscious rage. I’m in the process of rewriting it again, but I haven’t decided what I want it to be.

There’s a photo that’s been going around Facebook of a man without arms, standing on one foot and holding a paintbrush between the toes of the other foot, painting a wall with extraordinarily fine detail. The caption of the picture is something like, “Whatever your excuse is, it’s time to give it up.” I didn’t get worked up about it because, honestly, I spend many of my waking and sleeping moments looking for those excuses, and trying to root them out of my psyche. If you had shown me that picture when I was twenty-six, how would I have reacted? Well, I think my first thought would have been, yeah, he can do whatever he wants, no one expects anything of him, he probably has no responsibilities. Then I probably would have covered that by going into a rant about how some excuses might actually be valid in a fucked-up world in which most of the power and wealth are held in the hands of a tiny percentage of people in the world, who wield it without care for the consequences to everyone else. What’s their excuse? I might have asked if the painter was a meat-eater, and, if so, what was his excuse for that. You can see how the first reaction, especially, says much more about me and my state of mind than about the people I went on to rant about. It wasn’t until along about the time my second decade was rolling over into my third that I finally began to understand how the walls that held me back were all in my mind, and that I, and only I, had the power to remove them.

What would I tell the women of Girls? I might start with healing.  Rosalyn Bruyere conceptualizes the whole person as a circle, divided into four quarters. Each quarter is associated with a part of the whole person: the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual. In order for there to be healing, it must take place in at least two of these four quarters. Notice we don’t necessarily have to address all four at a particular time; we get off easy. Two are enough. So treat the physical manifestation of your disease, but don’t stop there. Go on and ask yourself,  what thoughts am I holding about this condition? What feelings does it evoke? What does this tell me about what it is to be human, and my relationship with the rest of the universe? Pick the answer that surprises you most, and explore that.

When will there be a TV show about healing and freeing oneself from the self-perpetuated lie of sickness, powerlessness, and victimization? Tell me when you find one. Till then, leave me alone on Sunday evening, there’s a funny vampire story I can zone out to.

%d bloggers like this: