Vignette #2

This is my second post about my sexual assault by a doctor.  The posts do not necessarily go in chronological order, but it’s helpful if you first read my post on healing and then Vignette #1.  

The hard part about being a new patient at a chronic illness clinic is that many treatments are not well known. There is a steep learning curve to understand the treatment themselves and how they are meant to help you.

There’s also a lot of lifestyle changes involved as well. So I was changing my diet, I was making sure my deodorant, shampoo and other personal care items didn’t have any gluten or chemicals.

I made the drive up to the suburbs for an amino acid injection every 3 weeks, even though I couldn’t tell what difference it was making. I was just told it would take time and that this was stopping my autoimmune attack on my body. I had to believe them. I didn’t know where else to go for help. I mean this doctor had finally diagnosed me after 11 years of health struggles. What else was I supposed to do except “trust the process?”

You the reader can see where the vulnerability sets in. Here I am, a patient just diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. My health was so bad I had to quit my job. I was sleeping 2-3 hours per night. I felt like a shell of my former self. I was gaining weight, my hair was falling out, and my skin felt scaly. I was desperate. I would do anything to get better. I wanted my life back.

What a perfect place to work if you wanted to abuse patients?

They are chronically ill. Conventional medicine has failed them. Many times these patients have searched for years for a doctor who understood what was going on. They are dependent on your expertise.

These patients often come into the clinic very fatigued and with a low sense of self, a natural outflow of being sick for years. They are vulnerable and must trust the doctor for their wellbeing.

Culturally, doctors are held in high esteem and hold tremendous amounts of power. They are virtually unquestioned.

The head doctor of the clinic believes you are one of the best physical therapists in the state.

Your referrals are all “in house” and you have the backing of the medical board and the head doctor.

And when you work, you get to close the door.

A Tribute to Female Healers

The topic of these next few posts is going to be my sexual assault at the hands of a female doctor. And yet first, I’m going to give you a glimpse of my healing. This post is a tribute to those in my life who act as female healers.

You see, when I was assaulted by a woman, it took some time to be able to go back into a healing environment and feel safe. And statistically, there are more women in healing professions. So I had some choices to make: Do I just select male doctors and counselors? Male yoga instructors and massage therapists and acupuncturists?

No doubt-some of these key people on my health care team are male. Yet, many are female.

I needed women healers to heal in certain ways emotionally and spiritually.

I needed nurturing touch by a professional that wasn’t sexual in nature.

I needed to be able to trust my voice and my body again.

I needed to be given choices and not feel weak or broken for saying “No.”

Yet it comes one step at a time. First during last Christmas break, I started going to yoga.

I found myself apprehensive with certain poses or in classes where there were not many people there. I had flashbacks for about the first month. I tensed up when an instructor would come and adjust my posture. You see, the woman who assaulted me had me do yoga in her office with classical music playing. The memory was just too vivid for awhile.

But I kept going back because I felt good. My mind was clearer and I was happier. I knew that I was healing in subtle ways one class at a time. I learned to be more grounded, to be present in the moment, and over time the memories of my assault faded. Not because I don’t remember the event, but because I can distinguish between the present and the past in real time.   Now I’ve been going to yoga for 7 months and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Going to yoga helped me feel grounded enough that I could seek out a female therapist. I had read the book The Body Keeps the Score and it suggests yoga and EMDR for healing of trauma, particularly related to PTSD. I had a few sessions with her where we started EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) , before she called me telling me that she had to stop seeing me because she was going to take a leave of absence for health reasons. Yet in the first session, I knew that I could trust her. I could make eye contact and I knew that she believed me. I could speak honestly about how this was a big step for me to trust a different kind of female doctor. She agreed with me.

Once I had a little more time because I was not going to therapy every week or two, I decided to place my resources into seeing an acupuncturist and a massage therapist. I go to a pay-what-you-can acupuncture clinic in downtown Indy and the acupuncturist and I clicked immediately. We had a quick conversation about the health history form I filled out, and that I was receiving acupuncture for severe menstrual pain. She relayed that acupuncture is very effective for relieving menstrual pain, and that was the very reason she got interested in acupuncture in the first place. She always asked about what pain I experienced and gave me a few choices about where the needle should go based on how tender a particular area of the body was for me.

What she didn’t know was that I told the doctor who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s about my menstrual pain at my first follow up appointment. He referred me to the physical therapist in his building who eventually assaulted me. With all the symptoms I have and I track regularly, menstrual pain could easily be edited out of my story. For awhile, in the early stages of acknowledging and feeling my own pain, I blamed myself for even relaying that symptom to my doctor in the first place. I told myself that if I hadn’t told him, I never would have been referred to the physical therapist. Yet as I healed and could acknowledge that it wasn’t my fault—I made the next hard step to be honest and not edit menstrual pain out of my story. In acknowledging each small piece of pain and fatigue, I let myself live with the intense longing for healing—that all in my body would be well.

Lastly, I had read research and heard testimonials about how empowering it is for a survivor to receive massage and feel “in your body” again. I was almost certain I wanted a male massage therapist. However, as I talked to one on the phone, I did not feel comfortable choosing him. Then I realized that what was more important to me than gender was that the therapist was trauma-informed. As I talked and emailed with several people, I finally found 1 woman who was a good fit. Before the massage, we sat down and talked. She asked about my goals for massage, that I had the right to stop at anytime or tell her to apply a different level of pressure. During my second visit, I was glad that she knew the affect of food sensitivity reactions on the body. I could tell that yoga and practicing centering prayer have helped me to stay present in my body—and those have helped regular massage be beneficial to me.

I’ve come a long way in 2 years, but it’s been a hard journey in many ways. There are many more to thank here than I can list. Thank you to all my friends who have listened, who have believed me. Being believed and feeling believed is one of the best gifts, although it’s subtle and isn’t given much attention. Thanks to those who track my symptoms with me, who read books and articles to understand even more. Thanks to those who have helped me move so that my living environment was more conducive to my healing. You are part of a much bigger story than loading things into a truck. Thanks to those who have made meals, talked on the phone, who read my blog.

Wisdom teachers say that gratitude is what overflows when you’ve gone deep and continue to deal with the ego, so that your true self can come forth. Thanks to all those who all those who cheer me on as I dig deeper, as I seek healing and transformation. And thanks to those who dig deep in your own life and because of this our paths have crossed.

Reserving and Expanding

It’s a season of reserving: my energy, my resources, my health.  My own body thinks it feels counter-intuitive to rest more in the summer.  People are swimming, going to sporting events and concerts. The sun is out and typically people feel more free.

Again, I’m learning to sink my patterns to my own body, rather than mainstream culture.  And I’m wondering about new ways that I might be able to be more active in the winter, when others decide to stay inside.

One of the early lessons to learn in chronic illness is to reserve your energy, to use it on the things or people most important to you before you run out of energy for the day.  It’s a hard reality to keep coming back to-especially in my 20’s.

But after years of learning to reserve my energy-it’s all bottled up.  And yes, I have given to others in these past several years, and yet there’s more.  There’s more I want to say, do, experience.  I feel that my youth does not match the severity of my illness.

And that lends itself to these awkward growing pains.   The tension of letting myself dream and asking myself questions like, “What do you want?” and also being willing to let go. And let go again. And let go again. And still having the courage to wake up in the morning wanting to have fun, not just manage an illness.

Yet, it’s also a season of expanding. Of a new job. Soon to be a new home. Of investing time in new friendships. Learning more about mold toxicity and what I need to be aware of. Letting others help me.  Empowering others so that they can begin to understand what I’m going through.

What I continue to be amazed about, even in these days of fatigue and nausea from detox reactions is that my body tells me all I need to know.  Of course I need help from doctors and friends-but my body tells me all I need to know.

The key is to listen–and have the courage to listen to those quiet whispers day after day after day. Your body tells you that you’re reaching your limit or that it’s time to take a risk.  It tells you if you need to reserve or expand.

The truth is: My body doesn’t lie. And on the hard days of chronic illness it would feel better to be ignorant of this fact.  But the more I learn to lean into the tension, I more I learn to appreciate all my body has to say.

Those years of severe inflammation was the communication of an autoimmune disorder.  My body was trying to alert me to the fact that my body was beginning to attack itself. My brain fog alerts me of chemicals and mold. My fatigue was a result of severely depleted thyroid and adrenal glands.  All this was hard information to swallow-yet my body doesn’t lie.

Yet, so much gratitude exists in a clear mind, a strong body, sleeping eight hours per night and waking up rested.  My body is communicating, “You are on your way toward health. Be thankful for each moment. Pay attention. Beautiful things are happening right now.”

———————————————————————————————–

In order to listen we must be still.  In order to be still, we must accept ourselves.  As we accept ourselves, we have the capacity to build this self-awareness.  And out of this self-awareness and love comes compassion.

Be compassionate towards your body-in all it’s resilience and limitation. As we accept all that our body has to say, we will be able to listen to others.  We will be able to accept them as they are- in all their resilience and limitation.

We will learn to reserve and expand together, honoring each others needs and celebrating the milestones.  This kind of relating is hard work and yet I think it’s possible.

But first we must be still.  We cannot relate authentically if we do not first do the hard work of listening to and accepting ourselves. I’m learning to do this better and better every day.  Some days get pretty ugly, yet the outcome is worth it.

Eavesdropping

Last week, I was eavesdropping on a conversation in a public library while I was waiting for my tutoring student.

I knew quickly that the woman answering the questions lived with a chronic illness.  She was describing in vague tones, how her poor health was affecting her entire life.  She spoke of the struggle to still see what she had, not only what she had lost.  She still had her husband and her part-time job.

The conversation shifted slightly when the older woman asked how she experienced God right now.

Her response was simple, but telling.

“I want to know that He’s looking out for me.” 

There was a raw honesty in her pain and desperation.  For this is what we all want.  This is what we all forget.

Is he really a friend?  Does he care? Will he show me that there really is light in this world, not just darkness?

The woman  in chronic pain held back tears as she said, “it’s so hard to find daily support right now.”

 

 

As I listened, I got teary-eyed.  I’ve had that exact conversation so many times.  And yet this time being an observer, I experienced such appreciation and love towards both women.

The gift the woman with chronic illness gave was honesty and desperation.  The gift the older woman gave was a calm, empathetic presence and knack for listening and asking timely questions.  She gave the space for silent hope to be born. She is hopeful for the younger woman who can’t be hopeful for herself right now.

What I experienced in that ordinary moment of waiting was Christ on earth. Nothing less.

Two women both giving and receiving.  Both women willing to sit in sadness, to accept reality. Yet in their talking, hope, this invisible force was growing.  This space the women created was beautiful.  A space that Christ can be seen for who He actually is. One woman at the end of herself, another willing to affirm silently to herself that this is really where life begins.

I was assured as these women left, that this space they created together, was actually the incubator for joy. Not culturally-defined joy with bubbly, extroverted personalities, and an overabundance of laughter (although none of these attributes are wrong!) But a deep-seated joy, that can only begin as one lets go.  As chronic illness tends to strip away the people and work and facades we cling to, there is always the opportunity to begin again. To let go, to accept, and to begin again.

I am thankful for this moment of eavesdropping.  To see how close the Divine was to these women, even though I’m certain that he felt so far away.  I can only hope that some people experienced the closeness of God, as they witnessed me over the years angry and crying in many coffee shops across the city.

–For all those who have listened to me in my hopelessness, who hoped for themselves and for me.

The Beginning of Summer

Friends, I wanted to thank you for the many gracious responses from my last post.  This last month has been a healing one, full of big and small steps.  It’s been a time of winding down work and enjoying a week off at the end of May.  It’s been a time of full days, and then other days without any plans.  It included lots of reading, yoga and walks outside.  Time perusing book stores, making yummy desserts and eating great food!  A day trip to Columbus to celebrate a friend’s wedding and Bloomington to watch the Indiana State Track Meet.  It’s been a month of hard conversations-but important ones.  A time to talk to health professionals and fill in some gaps in my treatment.  It’s been a month of seeing small outward glimpses of my own inner work.   Of hearing my voice more clearly, seeing greater assertiveness rather than hesitation.

One of the hardest pieces of living in the aftermath of sexual assault is the shame that turned into feeling alone.  Like I was lacking some core piece of belonging.  Intellectually I knew the statistics-I knew that I wasn’t alone in my experience. And I also knew that there are a lot of supportive people around me.  And yet my body was telling a different story.

Here is a piece by John O’Donohue that is a beautiful blessing, which speaks mostly to belonging to yourself, which of course then extends to belonging to others.

For Belonging

 

May you listen to your longing to be free.

May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.

May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.

May you find a harmony between your soul and your life.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.

May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

May you never place walls between the light and yourself.

May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.

Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?

 

 

The Alphabet of Right Now

A blogger friend of mine wrote a post like this last week, and I thought this would help me summarize the last month I’ve taken off from the blog.  It’s been a full, hard month, but also transformative with many new experiences.

 

 

A-Amino Acids– I receive this wonderful nutrient with my monthly IV’s at Dr. Guyer’s office.  These help with detoxing, energy, mental clarity, stable emotions, and quality sleep.  These were on national backorder for 8 weeks now and my body has suffered.  I’m exhausted, and spend many spare moments lying down, trying to find energy for my next task.  I’m glad these got into my doctor’s last week!

B-Beauty and the Beast–  A lovely re-make.  I waited awhile to see it in theater.  So on my Spring Break, during the mid-afternoon, with a group of middle school girls behind Chels and I, we watched, and laughed and sang along in whispers.

C-Cash-Chels has gotten busier with school and stays up later doing homework.  So many nights of the week I get a little extra cuddle time before I fall asleep.

D-Dwelling Place-A wonderful place to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.

E-Easter-My sister, Laura, and I made Easter lunch together at her apartment before the food coma hit.  She let it be nice and healthy so we weren’t making two meals!  But eating bacon while we cook isn’t too bad!

F-Fortune Academy– I spend 4 mornings/week here now.  It’s a lovely, calm place to work.  Still, it feels solitary at times, but I am forming quality relationships with my students and helping them grow.  (But it’s after Spring Break and they are so antsy right now!)

G-Giver-I am reading this beloved children’s classic with two of my students right now.  Such a great book!

H-Haircut-My hair is a lot shorter now and I love it.  Very low maintenance for spring and summer!

I-Intuition-I keep returning to the wisdom of my intuition.  Answers are already inside me, but many times I’m afraid to ask the question.

J-Jars-I have so many glass jars.  And I’m still saving jars from salsa and sauerkraut.  I probably should stop, but I don’t!

K-Know-Right now, I’m spending more time getting acquainted with some recent past events that hold both beauty and immense pain.  I want to know myself in these places in a deeper way.

L-Lawton Loop– There’s this beautiful loop in Lawrence, Indiana right where Fortune is located.  Now that it’s spring many mornings I walk this loop before walking into school.

M-Meditation-I’m learning more about the importance of meditation for my own life, and for the lives of those I encounter.  I took a meditation workshop hosted by my yoga studio last weekend!

N-New grocery store-So the close Aldi is undergoing renovations, and will be closed until Memorial Day.  So for a few weeks I will need to drive to another Aldi!  I don’t like change that much 🙂

O-Omaha-Over my spring break, I took a weekend trip to Omaha to participate in a silent retreat hosted by the Gravity Center.  It was hard and delightful, and full of yoga, silent prayer sits, spiritual direction, massage, and ended the day with the practice of Examen. I also had enough energy to make all my food ahead of time and drive there alone.  Some big steps in the healing journey for me!

P-Patience and Perfume-On Easter morning, I braced myself that I probably would need to walk out of church, but that I wanted to stay.  Only the moment can tell me how to act within that tension.  A holiday where people dress up for church normally means perfume.  And I got hit pretty hard with brain fog (also, there wasn’t much reserve because of the lack of amino acids!).  So I’ve had the opportunity to practice patience, to cancel plans, to let my brain have time to heal, which usually means no reading 😦

Q-Questions-I’m writing a lot less, but asking more questions.  I have people asking questions of me that I don’t know the answers to.  Both of these are good, in their own way, even if tears follow!

R-Return-This anchor word has found me recently.  Its invitation is to return to God, return to others, myself, to the present.  Its invitation is to quiet my mind’s chatter, to be still and to stop.

S-Starbucks-I’m here a lot lately.  Various ones around the city depending on my schedule.  I’m being listened to well.  I also recently sat outside drinking Passion Tea with a new yoga friend before yoga class(good accountability to actually make it to yoga on a Friday!)

T-Therapy- Recently, I’ve gone back to therapy.  There has been much relief already that this is the next right step for me right now.

U-Unwind-The experience of my Spring Break.

V-Vacuum-A new vacuum has made all the difference in the cleanliness of the apartment!

W-Writing-I’ve backed off a lot.  I didn’t really know what to say.  And that’s okay.

X-not gonna try-

Y-Yoga-My yoga studio is my second home these days.  I get stronger and my mind gets clearer and I’m making new friends.  A great combo.

Z-Zip-I’m driving a lot these days.  I-69 has seen many miles this spring.

 

 

A Blessing for the One Who Listens

 

Sit quietly, plant your feet flat on the floor,

and take a few deep breaths.

Settle your anxious mind.  Do not let thoughts

run circles in your imagination.

Let your breath guide you to a deeper place of seeing.

Let your solitude linger. Try to not be afraid of where

this quiet journey takes you.

 

And when others enter your company,

they will recognize this sturdy ground you stand on.

They probably will not have words to describe your presence.

Yet you are marked by a quiet self-confidence, listening,

attentiveness, tranquility, and joy.

When others spend time with you, they feel honored.

 

However, this is an act of returning to the quiet,

and learning to listen to the daily whispers of God.

 

So return, and keep returning.

The quiet will soften you and make you

open to the world.

Open enough to realize there is someone

always yearning to listen to you.

A Blessing For My Soul

May you continue to show me all the ways you have stayed alive,

even thrived.

Invite me, coax me at times to follow you,

especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Show me the wild, spontaneous side of my nature that hasn’t died,

even after a long descent into grief.

I commit to nurture the tender side of you,

the part that is slow to come out of hiding.

I will share you with trusted friends who exercise empathy and compassion.

Guide me out of my head, and into what is most real about me.

Keep on ploughing greater depths, that I may inhabit a deep solitude,

that heals without me saying a word.

On Cutting Back and Simplifying

Last Wednesday I started a cleanse.  Most people set a New Year’s resolution to change their diet, but my birthday is in January and so I never do that.  February is a good month for me, and this year I waited until after Valentine’s Day!

Some people ask me, “Why do you do this when you cut so many foods out anyway?”

And my answer is, “I want my body to function as optimally as possible.”

Because I have a chronic illness, this takes a lot of work.  Throughout the year, I reintroduce new foods to see if my body can handle it.  Then some coconut milk ice cream, tortilla chips and popcorn slip in.  To many people these little changes are no big deal.  And yet for me, it’s helpful when these foods are purged for a complete month out of the year, for my body to reset.

Version 2

It’s helpful to eat very simply again: meats, vegetables, soups, healthy fats and minimal fruit.  No baking. Eating out less often.  Declining some people’s invitations.

I used to think these decisions felt like “missing out.”  Now my body’s wisdom just tells me that simplifying is what it really wants.  And the benefits of the cleanse can be felt within a few days: less brain fog, deeper, more restful sleep, greater concentration, and more energy.  And if I’m honest, these are the gifts I truly long for.

It’s scary to cut back at first.  I know that the first step is facing into how tired I actually am, even with all the improvements in my health.  There’s still fatigue there, and some days it’s still a lonely reality.  Yet healing does start with observing, noticing, and lingering with reality, in whatever form it chooses to be.

So for the next four weeks, I’m intentionally making room.  Making room to focus on myself, to be present in my fatigue, to celebrate healing and to say no.  I’m choosing to be more still, to move more slowly, to sink into yoga more deeply.

I thought that when I started this healing journey, that healing meant back to doing more.  It’s actually come to mean, making space for doing less.  Simplifying actually brings greater layers of wholeness into my life.