My Most Important Relationship
My Most Important Relationship
If I had been fortunate — or perhaps just another person entirely — I’d have been raised by parents who loved me as parents are supposed to, maybe I’d even have had an extended family — grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins — that also cared about me and had taken an interest in my life.
These are the people that form our first experiences of what it means to be in a relationship. Our experiences with these people establish a foundation for what we grow to expect from a relationship. We may learn that not all relationships are easy, that not all people are trustworthy. As a rule, most of us receive at least a little guidance on these matters. But very, very few of us learn — as a child — how to be in the very most important relationship we will ever have: the relationship that we have with our bodies.
“What? Wait… I am my body! How can I not be in relationship with myself?”
I’m gonna open with an attempt to explain what I mean.
I discovered this ‘relationship’-with-myself stuff when I was very young — I’m not sure exactly how young I was, first or second grade I’m imagining. I wasn’t paying that kind of attention to time as a child. I had a thousand other things on my mind which, I suspect, may have been somewhat different than things that were on the minds of other kids my age since I’d spent a number of months — starting when I was about 6 months old — in an incubator. I have to imagine that the growing mind of a six-month-old child living in a sterile environment within a plastic box forms up a little differently from the mind of the average six- month-old who is getting regularly touched and sung to and played with and all that other good baby-stuff.
At any rate, in my early years I was exposed (as was my closest sister) to the experience of being serially raped by a number of men on a number of occasions. This was a thing that my grandfather had set up to enhance his financial situation. My sister, now deceased, fought the entire experience like a banshee and had to be restrained. I took a different track. It was nothing I did consciously; it just seemed to happen. I left my body. I took up a position overhead, in the trees, as this was happening outside, and from that vantage point I communicated with my body, below. I ‘sent’ my body instructions on how to behave in order not to be traumatized by what was going on.
That is as much as I know about what happened and how it happened.
Many years later, when I was in my 40s, I contracted a rapidly advancing case of diffuse progressive systemic sclerosis and began turning — inside and out — into collagen. I was given six months to live. A friend of mine sent me to a friend of hers whom she said was a healer. At that point in time I didn’t know too much about alternative healing. Death didn’t scare me; I wished for it, but I was open to anything because I was in a massive amount of pain and any relief that I could possibly get, I was going to try.
Her friend’s name was Ellen and one of the things that she taught me on my first visit with her was how to breathe into my belly. She told me that it would calm me and that might help to ease the pain. It did. It also seemed to have opened up a line of communication between my body and my mind. Ellen had not told me that this might happen and I did not know what to make of it first.
I was experiencing what some people might call “gut responses” but it was as if I were ‘hearing’ them. I seemed to be receiving helpful information as if out of nowhere. The first dramatic instance of it came one day when I was attempting to put canned goods away in the kitchen. At this point in the disease process, my hands were even more crippled than they are today as I had hardly any flexibility in them at all. Consequently, it was exceedingly difficult to pick up the average can and I dropped quite a few. When I dropped them I would inevitably criticize myself either to myself or aloud, using phrases like, “you stupid… you clumsy…” etc.
One day, as yet another can of vegetables was making for the floor, I opened my mouth to chastise myself and was surprised to “hear” a voice coming from somewhere inside me that was chastising me! “You’re crippled, not stupid! Lighten up.” I heard that!
“That’s right,” I thought to myself, wondering where that what had come from.
Sometime after that, on a night when I was feeling particularly depressed, I was lying in bed, trying to figure out how I might be able to kill myself efficiently and not possibly end up in even worse shape than I already was. I’d spent a few nights entertaining possibilities, but this particular night I got an answer. I knew what to do. I knew how to do away with myself not only efficiently and effectively but also without creating a mess or bothering anyone particularly. I felt so relieved; there was hope for me. Unlike most nights when pain battled sleep, I fell asleep immediately.
The next morning as I was coming into consciousness, I leapt out of bed — which, technically speaking, should have been impossible as I could barely move — but there I was, with my arms stretched out and up towards the ceiling, shouting out loud, “Make me an open channel.”
The next thing I knew, I was fully awake wondering what the hell had just happened. I dropped to the bed, closed my eyes, and ‘saw’ behind my eye lids, a scene which consisted of seven very scraggly looking bushes on a dry hillside. Above them, in red, were the words, “Seven reasons to live.”
I did not know what was going on… but one thing I grasped almost immediately was that my body did not want me to commit suicide and was sending me a message. I got the message. And from that point on everything in my life changed. I changed. From that point on, I realized that I had someone I could count on for good information and feedback and that someone was my body which seemed to have a consciousness of her own, untainted by my very active mind. It felt as if she was paying me back for the help I’d given her when we were little.
At this point, the diagnosis of “scleroderma,” which is the short term for the disease, had not yet been made. Doctors seemed boggled by the symptoms I was presenting. One even told me, despite my fairly obviously disfigured body, that I was “just getting old.” After a few pertinent sentences, I walked out without paying that Doctor. When I did finally get a proper diagnosis as well as the bad news that the disease was incurable and would probably kill me in six months, I was offered a medication to take. The doctor explained that the medicine could not cure me but that it “might” help with pain.
I got the medicine and the three-foot paper ribbon of possible side effects that came with it and I felt my body cringe. I declined to take the medication on her advice. My doctor was not pleased with my decision.
I used belly breathing and all the funny movies that I could find to keep myself sane. I joined a group for people in chronic pain and caught the attention of one of the members of the Board of Directors who called me over after the first meeting to tell me that he might have another option for me, that he had a friend in Philadelphia who was running a study — a clinical trial — on a treatment for scleroderma.
My body responded to this person and to his offer in a very optimistic way. I took the information he offered me, called the office and set up an appointment. The Doctor running the clinical trial was very upfront about the results; they had been less than stellar. The treatment itself could be painful; it would involve a commitment of coming in for two days once a month; and everyone who had quit the treatment died very quickly afterwards. To my mind, that was a selling point. Additionally, I could feel my body’s excitement. She liked it. It seemed like a win/win situation.
Then the doctor said that there were a few things that might exclude me as a potential candidate, the last one of which happened to be that I would be ineligible for the study if I had been taking the medicine that my doctor had offered and that I had refused to take.
“Good body,” I thought to myself, “nice work!” I was in. And the experimental treatment worked. On me. It didn’t work on anyone else that was in that group.
The trial had been paid for by a large well-known pharmaceutical company. Each treatment cost — would’ve cost — five thousand dollars. Basically, for most of the people, that would mean paying five thousand dollars a month just to be alive with the disease. The company finally decided that the odds were not in their favor and shut down the study. The doctors knew what that meant; they knew that they had to tell all of us guinea pigs we would probably die shortly. But I’d been 100% well for over a year by then, declared completely free of the disease. I knew that I was well. My body knew that I was well. It was the doctors who were scared. I felt sad for them and a very, very glad for me.
Twenty years later, established as a hands-on healer and established as an author of books on self-healing, Social Security demanded my medical records to prove that I was, in fact, disabled. I called the hospital to find out how I could go about getting my records and my husband and I traveled from our home I West Virginia to Philadelphia to get them. The same doctor that had been running that study was still there, working on yet another clinical trial. He broke into tears when he saw me. It was a wonderful moment. He took my husband aside, telling him that he had never expected to see me again.
My body got me there. My body continues to be my best and closest advisor. I have not second-guessed her and I never will. She has no need to ‘speak’ to me in words anymore; our communication is automatic.
If any kind of decision comes up and I don’t feel my body’s immediate response, I ask her to sleep on it and let me know in the morning. She always does and she’s always pretty darn clear. She speaks in feelings rather than in words now because she can as we know each other so well and because that is what bodies do best; feeling is the language of the body. Feelings can be complex at times, they can be subtly nuanced, but they always go right to the heart of the matter… so to speak.