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Discovering Purpose Through Chronic Illness & Trauma

Illnesses, particularly chronic, serious diseases, can leave you feeling broken by life. Physical ailments are overwhelming, disheartening, and isolating even with a plethora of resources at your fingertips. Studies show that even minor bouts of the common cold can cause mild depression because the immune, neurologic, and psychological systems are so intertwined. The body’s immune response leads to fatigue, “feelings of depression, lack of appetite, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, poor concentration, and altered sleeping patterns,” according to research. If you are one of the 133 million Americans suffering from a chronic illness today, it’s no surprise you feel underwater at times.

The mind-body-spirit confluence is undeniable and a key to unlocking wellness. Experts in psychoneurobiology posit that unresolved psycho-emotional traumas are what lead to chronic illness and other physical dysfunctions through a series of bioelectrical disturbances. These processes are not too different, and it’s essential to recognize the two-way causational link from trauma to illness and visa-versa. The two are inextricably linked, which is why addressing underlying emotional disturbances is can be a long-term path to physical wellness. 

 “I understand that these symptoms had to develop to wake me from my dangerous sleep so that I could finally take my feelings, perceptions, and thoughts seriously.” Excerpt From: Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child

At the age of one my I had a seizure, followed by monthly flare-ups of fevers, swollen, painful joints, and ulcers. Dragged from one specialist to another, forced to endure endless hospital stays and painful medical treatments while doctors spent years formulating a diagnosis. By the time they decided on the label of Behcet’s Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease of the vascular system, I was twenty years old. My entire life had been subsumed by illness; it was all I knew. The condition was my identity and my badge of honor.

In my mid-twenties, I found myself amid crisis. While working a high-pressure recruiting job, I could barely get through the day as a result of debilitating symptoms. My ankles were so swollen I could not fit into my winter boots. My hands were so swollen I couldn’t type. The ulcers in the back of my throat made it impossible for me to speak, which made my job near impossible, and I retreated to bed for weeks while fevers raged through my body.

Western medicine was my doctrine, but it had become clear that wellness was not my doctor’s specialty. He was an exceptional doctor and did the best he could within his purview, but his decade of medical school and subsequent years of expertise could still not help me. It was not at fault; his treatments were no different than the countless physicians I was experimented with throughout my childhood. One pill for this, a few others for that, and soon enough I began my mornings with a toxic tincture of drugs that did more harm to my body than good. No one even knew what they were treating, thus the experimentation until my early adulthood.

Everything changed those weeks when I realized traditional medicine had sent me to sea without a lifejacket. Through a synchronistic connection and a rock-bottom moment, I connected with Angela, a trained therapist, and mind-body healer. She was a “guide” who helped me uncover memories I had been holding in my body. We worked together for two years, and the more we unearthed and transformed my subconscious, the healthier I became. We worked together to unearth my past, and the painful memories and traumas my body had been holding onto, seemingly on a cellular level – literally causing me pain, in the physical form.

As we worked together, each week, the inflammation simmered, symptoms ceased, and the disease process yielded. I excised the toxic enemy held within my cells, my body was able to relax, and heal.

Within six months, my symptoms were gone. Within a year, I was healthy for the first time in my entire life. I had made significant changes outside the sessions, including dietary alterations, physical movement, even cutting out toxic relationships. When I removed the source of my trauma from my life, wellness became an option for the first time.

The impossible became possible, for the first time ever.

I spent the next decade traveling and living overseas in Southeast Asia, studying and practicing healing methodologies. It became clear that healing was my path, and it was the illness that lit the path to my dharma: practicing modern-day shamanism.

How do you awaken your inner healer?

It doesn’t matter what stage you are at in your healing process, and you have a tremendous capacity to heal yourself and others. You, too, have the potential to be a modern-day shaman-in-the-making. A few things to keep in mind:

1. Your pain has a purpose.

The darkest moments of your suffering contain the most opportunity. The times you spend dormant, waiting, resting, healing are your training ground as a healer. Do not discount this time.

2. Begin where you are.

Healing others does not require you to be 100 percent healed yourself. There is no such thing as wholly healed; it’s a life-long process. The knowledge you have to share, whatever stage of your processing, is invaluable to others at a different stage.

3. You have the capacity to overcome.

If you transitioned from sickness to health, and then back again, that is powerful. I will repeat: that holds tremendous power. In our society, we perceive this as a weakness, but this is simply not the case. You are not taking steps backward, regardless of the messages, you may receive from those around you and your ego.

After a decade-long remission, I evolved by slipping back into a disease state. Although in the moment I felt as though I had lost years of forward progress, this period of hibernation allowed me to transcend the disease more effectively in an integrative way. 

4. You are an intuitive healer. 

Contrary to popular belief, shamans do not become who they are through bliss or enlightenment. Traditional shamans are called to their role through what’s known as shamanic illness. This is a severe physical challenge brings them to grave physical challenge, often to the edge of life. 

While you or I might not work with traditional medicines like ayahuasca, we have the capacity to become modern-day shamans. Your psycho-spiritual death and rebirth can manifest in many ways, spontaneously or planned. It will happen when you are ready.

Want to hone your inner shaman? Reach out, let’s talk.

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