It is hard to describe the feeling of vulnerability that comes with being ill, especially to someone who has never contended with illness. It is like being lost in a foreign city with no money, where you don’t speak the language, or have a car, map, or phone. You have to rely on the kindness and good will of others.
When it comes to both the mainstream and alternative health industries there are many well-meaning people who sincerely want to help people feel better. Even then, many products and treatments on the market today have no proven benefit. Some others, who are selling health products or treatments, are only interested in making a profit. So how do you differentiate between the ineffective, the scam, and that which really works? When you feel ill and vulnerable you want to believe it when someone promises something to make you feel better.
On my healing journey, the traditional medical approach had only gotten me so far. Like so many others with chronic illness, my medical treatment was confined to the management of symptoms. But I didn’t want to just control my symptoms. I did not want to be forever limited by and defined by my illnesses. I wanted to get better. I wanted to heal. I tried all sorts of things: vitamins, herbs, filtered alkaline water, yoga, exercise, massage, relaxation, cranio-sacral manipulations, traditional chinese medicine, chiropractic adjustments, energy healing, homeopathy, acupuncture, you name it. I was desperate enough to try anything that I thought might work. If I thought I had a shot at feeling better by trying some therapy or product, then I was willing to give it try.
Delving into alternative medical modalities felt something like following an unwritten recipe. There was no clear path to follow and the “expert” advice often conflicted. Even so, seeking alternative treatments is an increasingly common quest among those suffering from chronic conditions. Millions of Americans are turning to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments in an attempt to feel well again. In 2007, Americans spent $33.9 billion out of pocket for these treatments. People are hungry for a way to feel better. Yet, stepping outside of the rigid traditional medical approach can feel like blindly following an unwritten prescription with uncertain ingredients. Start with a bowl of medicines. Add a pinch of acupuncture here. Dash some exercise there. Place a nice big spinal adjustment in the middle. Relax and let the breath come in and go out. Simmer in a massage. Sprinkle in some Chinese herbs and a drop of a homeopathic tincture. Stir it all together with pure, filtered, alkaline water. Add a yoga posture for good measure, and top it off with a nice fat pile of vitamins.
Unfortunately, healing does not work like a recipe in which you add a bunch of prescribed ingredients together and then expect to bake health like a cake. In my healing journey, I became inundated with diets, practices, therapies and products along with various recipes for living. It was pleasant enough being holistic, but my budget got cooked in the process. Was it worth all the effort and expense? Besides, much of the advice was confusing, or conflicting, or at worst, it was a complete distraction. Despite all these treatments, I still struggled with my symptoms.
Then, I had a stunningly simple realization: no one “out there” was going to be able to fix me. There was no magic cure, no surgery or treatment, no herb, no natural remedy or tincture, no pill or injection that was going to make me better. It was simple and true, yet painful to admit. With this realization, a veil over my thinking was lifted. Like Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and the Lion who all innocently trotted off to see the Wizard believing that only he could give them what they were lacking, I too had been looking externally for the source of my own healing. But what if… what if, like our heroes from the Wizard of Oz, the thing I was seeking was already somewhere within?
The idea sent my mind reeling. My current worldview flipped inside-out. The idea of looking for my healing within myself didn’t negate all the years of medical training and practice, but rather, it shifted what I knew into a different view of reality. I thought about all of the people who I had doctored in the hospital. I realized that I didn’t cure them. I didn’t heal them. If someone had a cut on their arm, I simply lined up the skin edges and put sutures in place. I helped to provide the conditions that would allow the best healing to occur. The miracle of healing happened within them. I only facilitated. The same is true if someone came to me with a broken bone. I would line up the bone fragments and apply a splint or cast. The patient was the one who created new bone in place of the fracture over the ensuing weeks.
Our bodies are continuously undertaking miracles of healing great and small. We know from experience that certain treatments help. But when a treatment helps us heal, it is still our body that is doing the work of healing. The treatment is often just a catalyst aiding or facilitating in some way.
I realized that only I could take responsibility for doing the actual work of healing. I couldn’t expect my doctors, my family, or any alternative health provider to do it. Although there were plenty of others who I could (and did) turn to for help, treatment, and advice, I knew the real work of healing was mine. It was as if a light-switch turned on in a dark room. I began to see that medications, treatments and procedures were catalysts to my own healing potential. The power to heal came from inside of me.
Healing is not a one size fits all proposition. We all come from unique backgrounds and have unique needs. For healing to occur, it is important to explore different aspects of ourselves in an effort to find wholeness.
To paraphrase Baz Luhrman’s lyrics from the song, Everybody’s free to Wear Sunscreen, the physical body is an incredible instrument and the greatest gift you will ever own. Healthy food, proper rest, being in nature, and exercise all give the body the strength it needs to undertake the healing process.
On the mental and emotional levels we can recognize the thoughts and emotions that are driving our behaviors and indeed our lives. Much of what we do everyday is done without conscious awareness. When we live unconsciously, it is no wonder we end up where we don’t want to be. We can work to become consciously aware of the way we respond to situations that arise in our daily lives.
Finally, at the level of the soul, we may find that we are out of harmony with our true self and our soul purpose. When we come into resonance with our soul, we find joy. With joy rides laughter, and levity, and gratitude and acceptance. If we are fortunate, we may find healing traveling on the shoulders of these core values.
 Nahin, RL, Barnes PM, Stussman BJ, and Bloom B. Costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Frequency of Visits to CAM Practitioners: United States, 2007 [360KB PDF]. National health statistics reports; no 18. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009.