During my first consultation with someone, I ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how much does sh*t need to change? Where 0 is it doesn’t matter at all, and 10 is sh*t needs to change YESTERDAY.”
Because in order for me to help someone in their healing process, you have to really be ready for change. You need to NEED change.
Change is hard. ALL change is hard - even in the right direction. This is why people keep smoking or drinking (or eating sugar), and even why some people stay in abusive relationships. Because change is UNKNOWN. And current pain is at least familiar. Of course, life is complicated ... but these are some major driving factors to resistance to change.
There is a quote I saw once that says,
Pain pushes you until vision pulls you.
By the time people have asked for my help as a doctor, they are often in incredible pain. They have suffered for an extended period of time. They have likely tried the western medicine approach (which mostly tries to silence pain with no regard for the root cause). They are EXASPERATED.
I can help because I’ve been there. I’ve been at the absolute end of my rope with exasperation, pain, suffering, illness. I’ve been led to believe my situation was hopeless. Unsolvable. Unfortunately - or maybe fortunately - I’ve experienced many iterations of this situation throughout my teenage and young adult life, ranging from diagnoses of chronic fatigue to Lyme disease to brain injury and even cancer.
And I can share from firsthand experience that the only way through is THROUGH. There is no amount of fighting the pain that will result in true health. Pain is simply a messenger from deep inside, telling us that something is wrong.
The human body has an incredible capacity to compensate, to hold itself together under the surface and find a way to just keep going during stressful circumstances. There is an entire branch of the nervous system dedicated to “holding it together”. The sympathetic nervous system takes dominant control of all mental and body systems in times of duress, conducting a symphony of adaptive processes designed to keep us alive long enough to get out of danger.
Every second, 3 trillion bits of information are passed across your nervous system. Do you know how many of those bits of information you’re conscious of?
About 50. Every second. (Still, impressive ... the conscious mind is processing information about sound, light, touch, temperature, etc). But 50 out of 3 trillion is hardly statistically significant.
And on average, pain information is about 5 out of 3 trillion bits per second. So if you’re in pain, you KNOW that something is wrong. But most of the time, we are blissfully unaware of what’s happening under the surface of conscious awareness.
Different systems vary, but you can have 30 to 60 percent loss of organ function before you feel a single symptom. Your kidneys can actually lose 90 percent function before you feel a single thing. If you’re thinking, “?!!!!?!!!”, I’m right there with you.
All this adaptability is super helpful for surviving life-threatening stress. I absolutely cannot be bothered with compromised liver function when I’m busy dealing with a tiger hunting me.
The problem is that we live in a society that has glorified stress. Glorified the maximum exertion to prove one’s worth (and implied, how much one deserves love).
So we overwork ourselves, completely ignoring early warning signs (because the body does in fact communicate stress earlier than we usually recognize). We push and we push and we push, and then when our bodies inevitably break down after losing the ability to compensate any further ... most people turn to western medicine.
Don’t get me wrong - western medicine has its place. It is really amazing for emergency care. If I go through the windshield of my car, please take me to the hospital, give me drugs, stitch me up, save my life. But they are like the fire department:
If my house is on fire, I’m definitely calling the fire department to come in with their axes to break down the doors and hoses full of chemicals to put out that fire and save my house! But if I call them the next day and say, “Hey can you please come back and fix the doors you broke, clean the carpets, and restore my house to its original glory?”, they will laugh me off the phone. Because their only tools are axes and hoses full of chemicals. They have neither the tools nor the expertise to complete my request.
Similarly, medical doctors have drugs and surgery. These tools work for heroic lifesaving measures (sometimes), but they have NO PLACE in optimizing your quality of life. Some of my best patients (and referral sources) over the years have been emergency room surgeons because they know this to be true. They know that emergencies belong with them, and the rest belong in clinics like mine - with doctors who truly work to restore the body’s innate healing rather than try to dominate symptoms.
Because just like the body has contingencies for survival mode, it also has a thrive mode. Meant to be dominant at rest / by default, this mode prioritizes self-healing, maintenance of homeostatic balance in all systems, and the fullest expression of who you are in the world. We aren’t here to simply survive. We are here to thrive.
Right now as of this writing, someone I love very deeply is in the hospital. He has been there nearly two weeks, and on a ventilator for the last week. Armed with a diagnosis from a dubious test, the medical doctors in control of his care have pumped him full of chemicals - including steroids, which are known to inhibit the immune system - to no avail. His oxygen levels continue to be abysmal (hence, the ventilator). Their efforts are not working. And yet, they continue to refuse vitamins known to help (they’re “not protocol”) and insist on continuing their barbaric treatments despite seeing no improvement.
Watching this situation unfold over the last several weeks has been excruciating, particularly from 7,000 miles away.
I think, “Oh, if I were there, I would be doing xyz to help, and he wouldn’t have gone to the hospital in the first place,” but the truth is, I can’t know that at all. My sister-in-law pointed out that he may very well have still made the same choices. Because our society has deeply conditioned us to push our bodies (and emotional capacity for stress) to the furthest reaches, and then turn to medical doctors when that capacity breaks. Most of us have been taught from a young age that the men in their white coats with their pills and needles and scalpels and machines are smarter than our bodies. That they are gods and we are mere mortals.
I know that there is another way. I have lived it. I have climbed mountains after being told to expect life in a wheelchair. I no longer live with the diagnosis of chronic Lyme. The tumors which grew and metastasized quickly in my body are now shrinking on their own.
This way is not easy. It requires owning complete responsibility for my experience. It means consistently, compassionately, and truthfully examining my life for imbalances, and taking steps to restore and nourish my self on physical, emotional, and spirit planes. It means caring for my physical body with movement and rest and nutrition and minimizing the toxins I put inside (no matter how deliciously those toxins may be disguised!). It means looking at the places where I have frozen parts of my body and spirit to brace against trauma I couldn’t process at the time it happened, and intentionally softening those places (no matter how frightening it feels to do so). It means looking at how I live my daily life, and bravely making dramatic changes when necessary (even when that meant quitting something I felt deeply purpose-driven to do).
If I was able to help my loved one - if and only if he WANTED my help, if he decided that SH*T NEEDS TO CHANGE, here is how I would begin:
Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying that those bad things that happened were okay. It means saying, “yes AND” choosing softness and love over resentment. It might mean making a plan to prevent that situation from happening again. It means moving forward with eyes open and hearts soft.
Life will always be imperfect. We will always be faced with challenges. I am incredibly grateful to have a body which uses survival mode when necessary to react and keep me safe in times of turmoil. AND in order to be truly healthy, to be free from unnecessary prolonged suffering, the only way I know is to consistently, compassionately, and persistently return to soft.
When we don’t make the time to tend to our physical body and our spirit in these ways, the body will surely TAKE time to be sick and force the opportunity to re-examine how we conduct our internal and external lives.
It doesn’t need to be constant. I punctuate these efforts with play and rest ... but always return to finding and removing barriers to love that I have erected for protection in times past when I didn’t know what else to do.
For today, I will simply send love and light to my dear loved one. And try to release the urge to rush to his side. I know that this is his journey and his journey alone. I will always help those who ask for my help, knowing that they must reach for change on their own. As a doctor, I am not here to dominate anyone else’s body or wishes; rather, I am merely a guide who can share a path forward if and when someone is ready for change.
From my messy heart to yours,