Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Journey to Becoming a Healer

I'd venture a guess that most alternative healers have a story like this. I'm no different from anyone else. But I realized this week that most people don't know even a small percent of the journey I've been on! I don't intend to tell all of it here but I thought I would share how the story begins.

I had a stomach ulcer by the time I was in third grade. I was 9 by that time but my psyche always likes to say I was 6 years old because that's when my family moved away from the first family home I can remember near New Haven, Connecticut to a new home in Massachusetts. I'm told I was always shy but I remember Connecticut as a place where I had a really great best friend. I remember hanging out on our fake western log fences pretending to ride horses. In my memory we're wearing cowboy hats but I don't remember any photographs where we actually wore them. We made up lots of pretend games, played "Red Light, Green Light" and other forms of tag, and did a lot of creative stuff with our moms' help putting on puppet shows and various plays. When we moved we left a relatively close-knit community made up of all the moms and kids on the 1-2 block long stretch of street where we lived to join a subdivision where the children were different ages and the moms rarely spoke.

I went to school in this new place in the middle of the school year and entered this new first grade classroom with great fear and trepidation. The first thing I learned was that I better not look smart. I knew how to read by the time I was three years old. Learning and achieving was a highly held value in my strict Jewish family upbringing and I knew better, based on how I was treated at home, than to not make the grade! Imagine my surprise when we took turns reading outloud from "Dick and Jane" and the only other child in the classroom who could actually read without very slowly and painfully sounding out each syllable was another Jewish child who was laughed at for his ability and made fun of by the other children in the room! I made sure to pretend I was sounding out the words when it was my turn but the ruse was up several weeks later when the teacher decided to display with gold stars how many books each of us had completed and my stars were twice as many as anyone else's.

Life was living hell from that point on. I later heard from Irish and Italian classmates that my shyness was perceived as being "stuck up." "Pride" is one the Catholic deadly sins, of course. My classmates always bowed their heads when they looked you in the eye (unless they intended to beat you up) and my lack of conformity to these unconscious, not purposely anti-Semitic "rules" made them mistrust me and intend to "take me down a peg." If they only knew how little self-esteem I had inside! It wasn't pride driving my behavior at all! It was shyness, not understanding the "rules", and not knowing how to abide by them and be myself.

So, torn between making my parents happy and figuring out how to survive titters in the classroom and elbows in the hall, I was a nervous wreck by the time I got sick. And lo and behold! The intense pressure at home subsided after that. I stopped even trying to make friends at school and eventually wound up with a peer group of other rejected schoolmates. But sickness became an almost constant part of my existence from that point on.

In college my condition became aggravated by a bout of gastrointestinitis that went through our entire dorm. I knew medical science had not healed me of my ulcer and after being prescribed various antibiotics I was allergic to I mistrusted western medicine.  Big mistake! I should have asked for help. Instead of getting better with everyone else my condition became chronic with periods of healing alternating with flare-ups whenever I felt anxious or afraid. That's when I turned to alternative methods to try to manage my condition and get well.

As a child I used to pretend to be an Indian medicine woman in the woods. I'd pretend I knew what herbs to gather and mashed them up with berries and other things I found. It was natural for me then to seriously look into herbalism when I wanted to get well and the first thing I tried, slippery elm bark, became a godsend when I couldn't keep any other thing down. It was temporary symptomatic relief but it worked so well I never looked back.

The next thing I noticed was the correlation between certain kinds of stress and flare-ups of the disease. Battling that stress took years to figure out! I started with meditation and yoga, then learned techniques to combat pain by copying what midwives teach their pregnant patients. Breathe into the pain. Pain is the body tightening and being in resistance to some kind of stimulus. Like a pregnant woman I'd imagine the area that was clenching opening like a flower, breathing into the space, imagining it getting bigger, breathing and not resisting again and again. It worked! But sometime later the disease would return and I'd have to do it again.

By the time I was in my early 20s I knew certain things about my illness. It became a problem whenever I had to try something new. It became unmanageable when that newness involved other people. I didn't remember how the illness got started in childhood -- I tried never to think about that. "I had moved on!" or so I'd think. But eventually it started to sink in. It flared up when I was afraid, especially when there was a decision about something new to make. Once I made the decision, any decision, the pain would retreat. But if I chose the path of least resistance -- to do the least scary thing -- the pain would only go away so far. If I did the counter-intuitive scary thing (that always involved what I really wanted) it would go away completely! Weird but I got the message: even if it's scary, be true to myself!

Later I wanted to know the truth of where this distress came from and I got involved in a form of reciprocal peer counseling known as Re-evaluation Counseling or co-counseling. I did that for 25 years, eventually becoming a teacher and then a teacher of teachers and the leader in the community who could certify new ones. 10 years into that particular career I had made incredible progress on my own emotional and physical well-being... but I STILL got sick although a fair bit less often. And that's when the spiritual stepped in.

I was working as the acting art director at Crossing Press with a very emotionally unbalanced officemate who had a scary aspect to her behavior. My illness flared up with a vengeance and a point came when I couldn't take it any longer. I asked for assistance, did not get it, and wound up needing to leave that job (without having another one). Before I left I met a very gifted psychic -- an author who had a book we were considering -- and after I left the job I managed to get a session with him. I didn't tell him very much about my illness and what was going on but he took a look psychically, leaned forward and looked me in the eye with great intent and compassion and said "Anyone who had been through what you've been through would respond the same way."

My first thought was "so what?" and I said so and he just leaned in even closer with more intent and said it again: "ANYONE who had been through what you've been through would respond the same way." He wanted me to get the message, to let it in, to know without a doubt that I was not to blame, to forgive myself for having this pain. He told me to go home and imagine myself as a very young child who needed to hear these words and to say them to myself whenever I felt sick. I did -- I had to do it twice -- but after I did the illness left never to return. If I get even a warning that it's about to manifest again I do this exercise and the symptoms back away.

Less than a month ago I was in my family home going through a hellish life lesson. One family member was acting out in an incredibly abusive manner and everyone else said that 1) it wasn't abuse and 2) it was my fault if I couldn't handle it -- I needed a thicker skin! Not only that, it was my fault this and my fault that. Anything that I had ever had a challenge with was MY fault and any success I had ever had was never mentioned. I had forgotten how I had gotten the message that I was to blame for my issues but I'll never forget it again.

But even years ago I saw the value in that spiritual counseling session. And I decided that I needed to learn how to do that because I wanted to help people in the very same way. I had been through years of counseling up until that time and no one had thought to address this. In 20-30 minutes he was able to intuit the missing piece. And when I followed his advice the illness was done.

Now I do spiritual counseling and healing work with my partner Paul. Helping to find those missing links for people is my very most favorite thing. http://www.healingcommunication.com

1 comment:

Atiera said...

Sheryl,
What was your illness after all and is it still in remission? I came upon your blog while researching for my own blog and path under counseling and energy. Wow. What fun to find you and read some of your material. Our stories follow paralell themes. I too, have been battling with ailments and drama since childhood. Now in my mid 30's, I'm suffering a great deal while encountering a new path. It started with a Reiki session for pain- Now I'm a Reiki 2nd degree. I'm looking into a Master's in Counseling (I already have a Master's in Public Health). And envision someday working with clients using energy healing and counseling modalities.

I'm curious though, how your path and health made it. Working on mine...

http://healingwithpeace.blogspot.com/

Thanks for writing and listening,
Atiera