Barbara Franken of Me My Delightful Self Blog here on WordPress decided to host a month (or so) of Awakening Stories – an opportunity for as many as jumped in to share and the stories, glorious stories came rolling in. As Barbara wrote on January 31st: “If you have been reading each day the collection of awakening experiences and journey’s into love that we are sharing together, you will have felt as I do… so connected, so inspired and so grateful with all our friendships here on WordPress… My heart has opened wide in the understanding of our individual uniqueness, yet resonating with the similarities of our life experiences…” I encourage you to visit Barbara’s blog via the link above and connect with some of the wonderful people who have been sharing their road to awakening!
Yesterday was my scheduled day and I totally missed the boat. Yet the Universe has a sense of humour, indeed, as the reason I didn’t post yesterday and the story I am posting today have a connecting thread. You see, the story I’m sharing has to do with the awakening that came into my life as a result of illness and the reason I am a day late is because yesterday was a day of healing from a blood infection caused by a fall a few days ago.
My journey towards waking up to my body’s messages
In 1992, after a few years of sleepless nights and unending pain in my body, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Well, actually with Fibrositis as they called it back then. It was a diagnosis that put you in “no man’s land” as no one really understood what it was, where it came from, or what to do about it.
Throughout my years with Fibromyalgia, much advice has come my way. From the dentist who suggested I attend a healing service to the co-worker who told me her aunt had healed herself from arthritis by eating bushels of alfalfa – I kid you not- many people expressed their opinion about the route I should follow.
For me, the journey to health began as one of discovery; of searching out medical studies, of reading books on stress, on chronic pain, on sleep, on childhood trauma. Somehow, I knew that there was some connection to my current situation of being on the couch, unable to function, and the abuse that I lived with as a child.
Was it that the psychic wounds from beatings suffered at the hands of my mother had lodged within my body and gotten stuck there? Was my pain the result of months of sleeplessness? Was my pain psychogenic i.e. my body was mirroring the pain that was in my heart? Was this all the result of some errant virus? Was my pain caused by being overwhelmed by life? Was my body giving me a much needed ‘time out’? Many books have been written in an attempt to provide answers to each one of these questions. I needed to find my own answers, answers that resonated with me. Somehow, I knew that the road to health would begin from within.
The more I read, the more questions surfaced. No one had a definitive answer and, at the same time, many were quick to offer solutions. Fortunately, for me, a lesson I had learned when I was a teenager stood me in good stead. When I was seventeen I attended a local church and many of the people in that congregation blessed my life with acts of kindness. One thing that occurred has stayed with me and guided me throughout my life. At one point, the issue of the day became eye make-up. This was the late 1960s when women didn’t wear pants to church or draw attention to themselves in any way. So, there we were, debating the fact that, somehow, lipstick was okay but eye make-up was “worldly”. Looking around, I decided the reason lipstick was okay was because the women over 40 all wore it and only the teenage girls wanted to wear eye make-up to church! I remember thinking that if God had nothing more to worry about then whether or not I was wearing eye make-up, the world was in serious trouble. I decided that day that I would need to discover for myself what I believed and that I would not rely on other people’s edicts.
That lesson, learned many years earlier, fueled my thinking, my research, and my determination. I would not wait for science to come up with an answer; I would not wait for the doctors to continue to try a variety of medications and / or therapies. I would read, I would learn, and I would decide. Of course, writing this down makes it sound so simple. It wasn’t. When you are incapable of fixing breakfast for your children, when you are laying on the couch most of the day with auditory hallucinations plaguing you, when you are so tired and so in pain that you wish you could just die, when you chase after sleep as ineffectively as a dog chasing a butterfly, when you forget what it is like to get up in the morning feeling good, then making decisions, figuring things out, becomes a colossal mountain to climb. Change happens slowly, oh so slowly.
There was, however, no alternative. No one was going to wave a magic wand and make it all better. No one was there to help me research or even discuss with me what might be the cause and the solution to my health situation. My ex-husband often commented “you are the only one who can help yourself” and he was right. Oh, it would have been nice to have felt supported, understood, cared for even. But that aside, I was the one who had to accept the responsibility for my own health and well-being. My future was in my hands, feeble and shaky as they were.
One thing that made sense to me was that the longer I stayed on that damn couch, the less able I was to be active in any way. One day I needed to mail a letter to my insurance company. The mailbox was about a 4 minute walk away. I decided I would attempt it. I walked to the mailbox, mailed my letter, and returned home to spend the rest of the day lying down. About a week later, I decided that maybe I could walk that far again and I did. Two days later I walked to the mailbox, looked down the street to where the next street light was and walked that far. Two days afterward, I did it again. Over the next few months I increased my daily walk by one light post every week till, three months later, I could walk for 30 minutes. I wasn’t walking at a pace that would win a marathon, that was for sure, but I was walking thirty slow minutes a day! What a victory that was.
After consulting with my doctor, I went off the medication that was causing me to have auditory hallucinations. Did my pain increase? I’m really not sure because I had been too zoned out on the medication to truly know where my level of pain had been as compared to where it was once I stopped the pills. My mind was clearer and that mattered a lot to me. I encouraged my doctor to put me on the waiting list for a residential pain program and 18 months later I was admitted. I learned two vital things during those four weeks of the program. One was to do half of what exhausted me. For example, if washing the dishes wore me out, I should wash half the dishes and stop. If ironing for ten minutes exhausted me, I should iron for no more than five minutes. The other thing I learned was that I had done as much work as I could, on my own, to process the events of my childhood. I needed to see a professional.
Over the next eleven years I continued to learn, to research, and to try those things that resonated with me. I taught myself to listen. To listen to my body when my pain increased. I learned to ask “what have I been doing that isn’t working for me any longer?” I learned to rely on my own inner wisdom. In a nutshell, I learned how to live my life. The behaviours I learned as a child, in order to survive, were not the ones I needed to live as an adult. I have been twelve years without a flare-up of my pain now. How did I get here?
First, I continued my physical activity. When the weather got bad, I purchased a used treadmill and over a period of two years worked up to walking five miles at a time, three times a week. At a moderate speed but still, compared to being able to walk to the mailbox, it was huge progress. I bought a Yoga book and started doing yoga on my own, three times a week. I don’t know how effective my poses were but they did gently stretch my body and it was fun. Mostly it was fun because it made me feel like I was doing something to regain my health.
I kept a food journal for three months. I wrote down everything that I put in my mouth, and every two hours, wrote down how I was feeling. This showed me some foods that were causing my pain and my migraines to worsen. I kept on reading and learning. I read that people with chronic pain have low levels of serotonin and when a medication came on the market that purported to increase those levels, I went and suggested to my doctor we give it a try. Within five days my sleep improved. Was it a magic pill? No, I don’t think so, but along with some techniques and behaviours surrounding sleep, it helped a lot.
I went for massage, I went to see a chiropractor who practiced bio-energetics, I met with a psychiatrist every week for 18 months. I started to pay attention to my life as best I could. I started to notice how often I said “yes” when I was exhausted. Why is it we do that to ourselves? Is it that we are afraid that ‘they’ won’t like us anymore if we say no? Chances are ‘they’ are the same ones that disappear when we are in need! I learned to say “yes” to me. Yes, to being healthy; yes, to getting rest, yes to doing what made sense to me.
Did it all happen overnight? Absolutely not. It took me eleven long years to become truly healthy and well. I’m a slow learner when it comes to taking care of myself! And I had years behind me of ignoring my own feelings, my own wants, for the sake of keeping peace around me.
When I look back on my 18 months of sessions with the psychiatrist what stands out the most to me is the strong words that he used. I used “alcoholic” and he used sociopath”. I used grief and he used “trauma”. I used “beatings” and he used “concentration camp victim”. Even now, it’s difficult for me to truly comprehend the horror of being beaten for telling the neighbour I didn’t like soup. When I left home, at fourteen, I had scars on my arms that took years to disappear – the result of being beaten with a wood file for having worn my Sunday shoes to school! Writing this, I shake my head. Imagine, being fourteen and on your own!
Of course, during those eleven years of healing from Fibromyalgia, life did not stand still. No one, nothing paused because I needed a time out to learn how to live my life. The final step of this phase of healing, for me, was to leave my marriage. For 28 years I lived with a man who didn’t actually like me! I talked too much, I laughed too loud, I was too opinionated and so on. Was he a bad person? No, not really. About half way through my therapy sessions, he was exasperated with me one day and asked “what is it you want from me?” and I responded “I want you to think that I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.” He looked at me, shook his head and sighed “I’m not ever going to feel that way.” Eight long years later, I left! It was time, for both of us, to be with someone who celebrated who we each were. Neither of us was going to get that from the other.
So what am I saying? That in order to deal effectively with Chronic Pain you have to see a psychiatrist, exercise, go for massage, do yoga, watch what you eat and leave your spouse? Ha! If that was the formula I could patent it and become a millionaire. What I’m saying is that Pain is not the enemy; your body is not the enemy. Pain is a messenger that something is out of balance. Listen! Pain Shouts! It shouts to get your attention, to get you to listen to what is going on inside of you. It’s not about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and continuing on no matter what. I tried that. It doesn’t work. It’s about treasuring who you are and treating yourself – your body, your person – like a precious vessel.
Fibromyalgia has gifted me with knowing that taking care of myself has to be my number one priority. The road to healing is paved with honour. Honouring the woman I am, the amazing woman I am has, step by step, brought me to a place of well-being; of being free from chronic pain.
No one knows my body, my story, my life better than I do. By listening, by nurturing myself, by developing healthy habits, by paying attention to what is going on within me and around me, I have created a life of healing and joy and left behind the pain that Fibromyalgia brought into my life. Twelve years free of flare ups is something to celebrate. Even more, I celebrate that I listened. Our body has a wisdom to share with us that will lead us to wellness and health if we but stop and listen!