The question, What is Healing?, is one I find increasingly provocative. At first glance it seems almost rhetorical which would be one of the reasons I thought it deserved closer consideration. Another reason is that given what I do for a living, this is a subject that is always present in the room when working with clients since the expectation would be that, if I’m any good at what I do; then I should be able to facilitate a ‘healing’ experience for them.
I’m also going to suggest that what rarely gets discussed within the therapeutic venue is what exactly the operational definition of ‘healing’ is within the context of the client’s or patient’s experience. What I’ve come to understand is that the expectation usually involves the dissipation and dissolution of whatever emotional, mental, or physical symptoms may be causing pain and discomfort for the individual. However, what I’ve come to believe, as a result of my own personal experience, those of my family and friends, and those whom I sit with, is that the process of ‘healing’ has very little to do with the eradication of symptoms.
Within the framework of the allopathic model of healthcare (conventional, western medicine), the focus is almost always about the suppression and/or eradication of symptoms. This approach is what has allowed the global pharmaceutical industry to grow from generating 400 billion dollars in 2001 to as much as a trillion dollars in 2014 with North America being responsible for more than 40% of those revenues. The World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that one third of sales revenue, more than 300 billion dollars annually, is spent on marketing pharmaceutical products which is about twice as much as what is spent on research and product development. Consequently, the WHO has identified that the continued pressure to generate sales at this level has led to “an inherent conflict of interest between the business goals of manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs of providers and the public to select and use drugs in the most rational way.”
The reason it’s important to acknowledge these demographics and statistics is because they reflect the greatest influence in our culture’s unconscious conditioning on the subject of What is Healing? and largely determine how we attempt to get our emotional and physical needs met through a course of action that is designed to ‘numb’ our pain without any significant inquiry as to what the underlying factors are that influence and inform our dis-ease expressions and subsequent symptoms.
When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with what doctors identified was an extremely aggressive, chronic, auto-immune disorder and suggested that unless my symptoms were controlled through very aggressive pharmaceutical protocols; it was entirely likely that I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 18 years old. Looking back from the vantage point of 40 years later which will always include the contextual framework of “had I known then what I know now”; I would have taken issue with that prognosis.
By the time I was 25 years old, I had been treated by a large number of physicians; all experts in their respective fields of practice. During the twelve years following my initial diagnosis, I was hospitalized eight times for a total of seven months within four different hospitals. I received monthly ‘gold salt’ injections and was prescribed 1,000 mg of naproxen and 2,000 mg of aspirin every day as well as heavy, long-term doses of prednisone. During this time, the side effects from the toxicity of what was being prescribed to me began to impact my internal organs and when I attempted to address my concerns with my physicians they refused to acknowledge that these other emerging issues were related at all to the toxicity from the pharmaceuticals I had been prescribed for thirteen years. It was at that point that I realized I would rather be in a wheel chair than on a transplant list.
From the perspective of 30 years later; I can now be grateful for the physicians who were not able to move beyond the linear framework of their training and conditioning when responding to my needs. Most physicians are not adequately trained to assess the underlying causes of complex, chronic disease and to apply strategies such as nutrition, diet, and exercise to treat and prevent these illnesses and, it turns out, my doctors were no exception. However, their rigidity propelled me into a holistic model of healthcare which, in turn, evolved into a meta-physical, spiritual and healing journey that continues to nourish me and inform all of my creative and clinical work, including this blog.
From a clinical perspective, I have observed that the same conditioning present in allopathic medicine exists in the field of mental health as expressed through the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) and the field of psychiatry. Behaviors that are considered ‘abnormal’ are easily pathologized and quickly medicated which, in my opinion, is just another example of suppressing the symptoms and ‘numbing’ the pain in response to what makes us uncomfortable. Instead, I believe that a very different inquiry needs to happen in order to even be in the ‘ballpark’ of what could be considered a ‘healing’ experience. If we can accept that all behaviors make perfect sense when you understand the particular schemas that are informing them and that schematic development is primarily determined by early childhood experiences beginning at conception; then we can begin to understand at what level the inquiry ideally needs to take place in order to realize any significant changes in our experience.
More on this subject will be explored in the upcoming articles “What is Normal?” and “The DSM”.
As long as the primary focus is on eradicating the symptoms; we are operating from a superficial level of inquiry. Symptoms are a reflection of something occurring at a much deeper level and reflect an underlying imbalance within the whole system; mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Unless we address the underlying imbalances that perpetuate the dis-ease expression the patient or client will remain unhealthy regardless of whether or not they are taking medication to suppress the symptoms. In addition, the toxicity of the medication always comes with ‘side-effects’ that, over time, create more serious health concerns which almost always end up eclipsing the initial complaint.
My 58-year old brother was diagnosed with the same auto-immune disorder as I was but much later in life. His rheumatologist prescribed a daily protocol of 20mg of prednisone as far back as 2009 and a few years later added the biologic Enbrel to his repertoire of medications. Since then I have watched him show up to family functions looking increasingly unwell and in September of 2014, when we were gathered at the beach for a family reunion, there was no doubt in my mind that he was headed for a significant health crisis. In July of 2015, he was hospitalized with a number of infections including an antibiotic resistant strain of MRSA. At the time, I was reminded that one of the many common side effects of Enbrel as identified by the manufacture is a ‘near-fatal’ infection. Since July, my brother has been at home for only 3 weeks and I am writing this article on the train while coming home from visiting him in the ICU in NYC where I believe I just said goodbye to him for the last time.
During the 6 months he’s been hospitalized he has spent multiple weeks in the ICU, had numerous surgeries including an amputation, chronic pneumonia, and a heart attack. At 6’4” he weighs, at best guess, no more than 125 pounds. The doctors continue to perform invasive procedures on him; including the one last night when they biopsied tumors found in his esophagus in an effort to discover why he hasn't been able to eat much of anything since mid-November. He’s never been able to be weaned off of the prednisone because every attempt to do so has resulted in his adrenals and other vital organs shutting down. Since July he has received daily infusions of the strongest antibiotics known to medicine to address the MRSA and still it persists. He has a neurologist, cardiologist, podiatrist, rheumatologist, infectious disease specialist, pulmonary specialist, and pain management specialist. Both my brother and his wife are looking to all of these doctors for a ‘cue’ as to how to proceed, if at all, in their efforts to keep him alive. The problem with this approach is that, despite what we might see on medical TV shows, the doctors are remiss in providing any kind of a prognosis and instead focus primarily on procedures and interventions to ensure that the patient keeps breathing. None of them consult with each other but they all seem equally perplexed as to how he got to this critical place at such an early age. After being resuscitated last week, a DNR was put in place only to have it removed a few days later because there was a difference of opinion on the subject between two of his doctors and given a choice, my sister-in-law wants to believe in the doctor that thinks my brother still has a chance; understandably so.
The most concerning part, aside from the fact that our family is about to lose a much beloved and vital member, is that my brother’s imminent passing is the result of his immune system having been significantly compromised due to the pharmaceuticals prescribed by his rheumatologist during the past six years. Once he entered the hospital in July with the initial onset of infections, the antibiotic infusions further compromised whatever immunity he may have still had and since there was no protocol put in place to strengthen his immune system and restore the necessary probiotics in his gut since no such protocol exists within the allopathic framework, the last six months has borne witness to the gradual breakdown of his entire physical body in response to what was put in motion years ago on the recommendation of his rheumatologist.
As long as our health care providers assess our well-being exclusively through the lens of their individual specializations informed by whatever symptoms are presenting; our overall health and longevity will always be compromised. Doctors are well-trained to treat symptoms but are not trained to address the underlying imbalances that perpetuate the dis-ease expressions. One analogy I read recently on this subject described this approach as similar to “taking the batteries out of a smoke detector instead of trying to find the fire.”
Healing is not the absence of symptoms. Healing is the experience of bringing the entire system into balance. This requires a much deeper inquiry and understanding of what created the imbalance in the first place. Symptoms are just evidence that such an imbalance exists just like the smoke alarm going off is evidence that there’s a possible fire in the house. It’s much easier to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm in the same way it’s much easier to take a handful of pills each day in order to 'numb' the pain and discomfort; but unless a much deeper inquiry is made, the house will eventually burn down.
Healing Through the Lens of the Imprint
In addition to our DNA being our ‘blueprint’ for life; how we develop in utero in response to our mother’s stress levels, the degree of trauma we experience at birth, how securely we are able to attach to our primary caregivers and how nurturing our childhood environments are appear to be the most important factors influencing our development and the degree of health and stability we are able to optimize throughout the course of our lifetime. While our genetic makeup determines our vulnerability to manifest particular physical, emotional, and mental dis-ease expressions; it is the degree of stress and trauma that we experience throughout life that determines the likelihood of whether or not we will manifest such an expression and, if so, how early on we will do so in our development.
Healing is a journey towards integration and wholeness which requires that our attention be directed primarily inward to resolve whatever trauma imprinting and subsequent self-judgments we are defending against that reinforce our beliefs that we are not enough. In order to dissolve the imprint, we must dissolve all judgment. Anything we judge that is outside of us reinforces whatever judgments we have against ourselves because being in opposition to anything reinforces our imprinting and subsequent dysfunctional patterns that emerge from that imprinting. These patterns not only take the form of relationship dynamics but also mental, emotional, or physical dis-ease expressions we are genetically pre-disposed to.
Our judgments continue to reinforce an orientation of opposition in which we are always looking outside of ourselves to get our needs met which also includes our subsequent reactivity when we perceive that they are not. This, in turn, ensures that we will continue to cycle through our wound imprinting making us increasingly vulnerable to manifest whatever dis-ease expressions we are genetically predisposed to. As long as we continue to look outside of ourselves in order to identify who and what is causing us pain or pleasure; we will always be trying to manipulate and control our environment and those in it in an attempt to mitigate loss and minimize our suffering. The extent to which we continue to cycle through these patterns will always be determined by the extent our needs were met during our most critical stages of development since appropriate environmental stimulus and responsiveness to our needs validated our right to exist at the cellular level.
Healing is a journey towards self-love and self-acceptance in which we will have infinite and endless opportunities to let go of our judgments. Our level of self-care is always a reflection of our relationship with the self and reveals the degree of self-acceptance and self-love we are able to embody in the moment. Our capacity to love and accept ourselves will always determine our capacity to love one another just as my capacity to love my brother will always be limited by my capacity to accept what is happening to him as he transitions beyond the physical.
I believe that the greatest gift he has ever given to me is this experience because if I can accept his process including his unimaginable, prolonged suffering at the hands of a deeply flawed and unconscious model of health care that he and his wife, along with millions of other individuals, place their faith in daily; then I believe that much of the trauma imprinting within me that resonates with this experience including how he imprinted me while we were growing up, will be dissolved.
So, in conclusion, I would have to say that healing is a profound journey that requires a tremendous amount of courage, faith, vulnerability, trust, humility, surrender, and gratitude through which we will always have the opportunity to expand into fuller expressions of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual balance.