Chapter One of BirthQuake
"My soul came forth like an avalanche and the face of my mountain would never be the same again." Unknown
A QUIET RUMBLING
By the time I was 35, my own life looked pretty good (at a glance) from the outside. I had a successful private practice housed in a lovely old Victorian, a wonderful partner, a peaceful home to escape to on a serene pond, terrific friends and neighbors, a loving and supportive marriage of 18 years, and a bright and beautiful eight-year-old daughter. My husband and I were thankful and proud of what we had accomplished together, and, yet to our disappointment and even greater confusion, we were both growing increasingly more dissatisfied. Our lives were filled with responsibilities and obligations. Kevin worked at a job that had become meaningless to him and to which he commuted over three hours a day. He was also completing his MBA and managing three apartment buildings. There was never a moment that he could say to himself, "I have nothing left I need to do", there was always something which he felt required his attention.
At first, he just looked tired and smiled less. Then he began pulling away from our daughter Kristen and I. He would become silent and withdrawn. As time went on, the man whom I had known to be an eternal optimist began more and more often to speak of himself and the world around him in increasingly more fatalistic and negative ways. He started losing faith in himself and began questioning many of the decisions he had made in his life. He became confused about what he wanted and needed. Nothing I seemed to do or say appeared to help him. For the first time since I had met him over 20 years before, Kevin, a constant source of stability and strength in my life, was beginning to drain me. He was depressed, and I could not "fix" him no matter how hard I tried.
One of the most precious aspects of our relationship had been our laughter. We had always laughed often, and loudly and well. One day, without our noticing it, the laughter stopped. We became too busy to laugh, and then later we were too miserable.
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In retrospect, an obvious clue to my own misery was the chronic pain I developed in my back. Initially, I attributed it to the difficult delivery I had experienced in giving birth to my daughter. Then I suspected that it was arthritis aggravated by the cold and damp of the Maine winters, and later I decided that stress was the culprit. The pain grew from an annoying and distracting discomfort to a fierce and devastating torment. I consumed vast amounts of over-the-counter Analgesics. I went to several physicians who prescribed various pain medication and muscle relaxants. I had my back adjusted by a chiropractor and then an osteopath. I faithfully engaged in exercise to strengthen my abdominal and back muscles. The relief was minimal.
I was able to function at work for much of the time, although I was so uncomfortable that many of my clients noticed, and some even began bringing me in various aids and remedies. When the pain was so intense that I could not work, I would lie in bed in agony and terrified. I could not lie down or sit up without being in excruciating pain on my really "bad" days. I found myself in my early thirties moving around the house during those times like an ancient and decrepit woman. I could not imagine a life filled forever with this kind of pain - let alone bear the thought of my condition deteriorating (as I had been warned might occur).
I eventually decided that if modern medicine could offer me so little, then I would need to rely on my own capacity for healing. I was dubious; I was doubtful; I lacked faith, but I was desperate - so I began. I continued exercising and started doing visualization, self-hypnosis and deep relaxation in earnest.
I had always been troubled by the hypocrisy in my life, and I became even more acutely aware of it during this time. I had worked to teach others of the sanctity of the body, while blatantly abusing my own. I smoked heavily, my diet was poor, and I was under continuous stress. No matter how loudly I heard or delivered the message to take responsibility for physical and emotional well-being, my behavior towards myself remained cruel and abusive. I continued to invade my body with formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, tar, nicotine and other poisons. Only now my pain made it impossible to ignore it.
A terrible hallmark of addiction is that no matter how much the addict knows about the damage the addiction is inflicting, he or she keeps holding on to it. I was a classic addict. I was addicted to nicotine and achievement. I was aware of their destructive effects on my body, and yet I continued. I could not/would not stop. I was determined to save myself while holding on to the very behaviors that were contributing to my destruction. I was like the person who is just learning how to water ski who falls into the water and is being dragged behind the boat. People on shore yell, "Let go of the rope! Let go! Let go!" And the poor idiot holds on and is being drowned by the wake of the boat. The only hope lies in letting go.
So I held on. I also began examining the metaphors of my aching back. I carried a great deal of other people's burdens on my shoulders. I was often weighed down by the troubles of others. I was also exposed to the heartaches of my clients on an ongoing basis. Perhaps, if I lightened the load I was carrying and put more distance between myself and the troubles of others, I would be able to find release from my own aching back.
I'm proud to say that I was a dedicated therapist. I remained available to my clients between sessions and faithfully responded to emergencies. I was constantly struggling to support the individuals with whom I worked, while at the same time fostering self-reliance. This often proved to be a more complicated task than one might expect. To allow someone to depend upon you, who is in crisis, without fostering an unhealthy dependency, is often not a simple task.
Judith Lewis Herman, author of "Trauma and Recovery," observes that in the face of a trauma victim's tremendous pain and sense of helplessness, the therapist may attempt to defend against the dreaded helplessness, by attempting to rescue the client. While well intentioned, in moving into the role of the rescuer, the therapist implies to the client that the client is not capable of caring for herself - thus further disempowering the client. I am not the only therapist who has fallen victim to my need to rescue by blurring my own boundaries, allowing frequent contact between sessions, permitting sessions to repeatedly run over, etc. Like many other seasoned therapists, I, too, have found that rarely do my attempts to rescue lead to improvement. Instead, my experience has been that the client often demonstrates increasing neediness and dependency. In attempting to assist those client's who want very badly to be rescued, I have repeatedly found myself reminding those who expect me to provide the cure, that it is not my wisdom or efforts which will ultimately heal them, but their own.
Anne Wilson Schaef wrote in, "Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science: A New Model For Healing the Whole Person," that the professional training of therapists prepares them to be relationship addicts (co-dependents). She recalls that she was trained to believe that she was responsible for her clients; that she should be able to diagnose them; know what needed to be done to them/with them/for them to get well, and that if they committed suicide, it was somehow her fault. Schaef gradually became aware that the beliefs she'd been taught were both disrespectful and disempowering. She also understood why it was that so many psychotherapists were exhausted, while others eventually burned out. She recognized that most therapists were practicing the disease of co-dependency in their work writing, "...the way our work was structured was the disease of co-dependency. I not only had to do my recovery on a personal level, I had to do it on a professional level."
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Irvin D. Yalom states in his New York Times bestseller, Love's Executioner & Other Tales Of Psychotherapy," that every therapist is aware that the crucial first step in therapy is the client's acceptance of his or her responsibility for his or her own life predicament. He then continues by observing that since clients tend to resist assuming responsibility, therapists must develop techniques to make clients aware of how they, themselves, create their own problems. How do we make our clients do anything? I agree with Yalom that the client must be responsible, yet I object to the idea that our role as therapists requires that we should make them do something, even if that something is for his or her own good. This feels unfair to both the client and the therapist, as it implies far more power and responsibility than the therapist does or should have. I do not wish to be disrespectful to Yalom, as I continue to hold his work in high regard. I have simply become very sensitive over the years as to how even the language of many of our mentors demonstrates what Schaef so adamantly protests. Yalom is far from alone in the use of such language.
While I didn't regret my level of commitment to my clients, I began to recognize the toll my practice was taking on me personally. I decided that it was important for me to relieve myself somewhat from the increasingly heavy responsibilities for the well being of others I was feeling. I reduced the number of clients I was seeing. I made myself a little less available for phone contact between sessions, and I allowed my answering service to screen more of my calls. I also increased my level of self-care. I treated myself to massage, a bit more leisure time, and began to explore bodywork in greater depth. All of these behaviors helped. However, I was still in physical pain and struggling with a number of demands in my life. I was working on my Ph.D. in addition to my practice, as well as writing a book and caring for my daughter.
Around this same time period, I began to notice while doing body work with clients, that there appeared to be a very clear connection between repressed anger and certain physical symptoms, particularly those involving muscular discomfort. The more I noted this connection, the more I began to wonder if this might apply to myself. Was I angry? I didn't seem to be. I had a loving, albeit distracted husband, supportive friends and family, and felt very fortunate overall for the many positive aspects of my life. Still, if nothing else, I was curious about what I seemed to be learning about the possible effects of anger and physical pain. I decided to look at myself more carefully. I had always thought of myself as an insightful person, and yet I recognized that I resisted digging too deeply into my psyche. It was too dark down there. Oh, sure I knew the value of self-exploration, but who, me? What was I going to learn that I hadn't already figured out years ago?
I was about to learn plenty. Was I angry? I was mad as hell! My dream for years had been to be a psychotherapist in private practice, and it had seemed as elusive to me as my fantasy as a young girl, of being on the Merv Griffin Show. Little by little, however, I completed the necessary steps to achieve my dream. Finally, I was where I had always wanted to be. Then along came Managed Care. All of the sudden I was swamped with paper work and review dates. I was constantly dealing with insurance companies for payment and negotiating with strangers over how many sessions they would authorize my clients to be seen. I was frustrated by case reviewers on an ongoing basis, and every time I turned around, it seemed I was due to be recredentialed. I'd left the public non-profit domain because of the vast amount of administrative details I was required to attend to, only to have them follow me with a vengeance. I was particularly troubled by the highly confidential information I was required to submit on a regular basis about my clients. What if it got lost in the mail? (Sure enough this finally happened).
In theory, I understand the importance of managed care. I am aware of the abuses that have been perpetuated in my field, and the escalating costs to the consumer that have accompanied this abuse. However, operating within the constraints of various managed care companies was becoming increasingly overwhelming. Not only was I repeatedly confused and frustrated, but worse, I believed the treatment that clients received was too often compromised by clinicians (including myself) responding to the requirements of Managed Care companies. I avoided looking at this for as long as possible. Managed Care was definitely not going to disappear, and so for a long time (too long), my only alternative appeared to be to adapt and adjust. And that is exactly what I did. Consequently, I became so adept at jumping through the various hoops that my practice thrived. I was seeing more people than I had ever planned to see. At the same time my back started hurting, and the tremendous satisfaction I once experienced from my work was diminished by my ongoing sense of frustration and concern regarding the direction in which my profession was being led. I felt trapped.
As I began to face my anger regarding the profound effects of managed care on my practice, while continuing to work on attending to my body's needs, I began to experience relief. The pain became less frequent and was far less intense. I was able to work in relative comfort for longer and longer periods of time. Finally, it seemed that my long and traumatic bout with chronic pain was behind me. I celebrated in a thousand small ways. I danced with my daughter. I sang loudly in the shower. I smiled again at strangers. I found myself being silly a great deal with friends and family. I collected jokes. When you have been ill, the absence of pain (which the healthy take for granted) is no longer simply a normal condition. It can become a metamorphosis calling for commemoration and celebration. I became a true believer in the profound effect of the mind over the functioning of the rest of the body, and my work as a therapist began to reflect this conviction more and more. I'm absolutely convinced that my effectiveness as a clinician grew tremendously as my knowledge of new ways to integrate mind and body were incorporated into my treatment methods. I'll always be appreciative of how my own personal suffering led me in directions professionally that continue to enhance my skills and have led me on a quest to further understand the phenomenal healing processes of the body/mind.
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Much later, while reading "What Really Matters: Searching For Wisdom in America," I was struck by how similar Schwartz's account of his experience with back pain was to my own. Like myself, Schwartz made the rounds to various medical professionals seeking relief. His pursuit of a cure was far more ambitious than my own however. He met with an orthopedist, a neurologist, a chiropractor, and an osteopath. He tried acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga, exercise, and spent two weeks at a pain clinic, all to no avail.
After 18 months of continuous pain, he met with John Sarno at New York University's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Sarno convinced him that there was no structural damage to his back. Further, he informed Schwartz that his physical symptoms were actually precipitated by unconscious emotions that he was refusing to acknowledge, and that his fear was perpetuating the pain.
From Sarno, Schwartz learned that many individuals suffer from tension myotis syndrome (TMJ), a condition triggered by emotional factors such as fear, anxiety and anger. Sarno went on to explain that in over 95% of the patients he sees, no structural damage can be found to account for the pain, including those cases where symptoms associated with herniated disks and scoliosis are present. Over the past twenty years, Sarno has treated more than 10,000 individuals suffering from back pain with extraordinarily impressive results. Treatment primarily consists of classroom lectures focusing on the emotional origin of back pain. Sarno believes that anger is the emotion most commonly responsible for back pain.
After only three weeks, and attending two classroom lectures by Sarno, Schwartz's back stopped hurting and with a few short-lived exceptions, Schwartz reports that it hasn't hurt since then. I found Schwartz's story to be extremely gratifying, as it validated the significance of my belief that my own discomfort had been linked to my anger, and then aggravated by my fear of the pain.
"Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it." Jean Jaques Rousseau
The rumblings of my own personal "Quake" began years before building into the life crisis which would eventually confront me. While it may have began with a tortured back and the invasion of managed care, events continued to occur in my life which contributed to the dramatic change in life style my husband and I would later make.
My maternal grandmother, a woman whom I dearly loved, was diagnosed with an extremely rare and deadly form of cancer. At the same time, my paternal grandfather, a man who had been a significant role model for me while growing up, was dying. While my grandmother was in critical condition, I was informed that my grandfather would probably not last more than a few days. Torn between them both, I opted to stay at my grandmother's side in Bangor, while Grampy was fading fast over three hours away in Caribou. He died without me having the opportunity to say good-bye. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt as well as grief when I learned of his death. I had had an opportunity to be with a man whom I loved and whom I knew would not be on this earth for much longer, I chose to take the chance that he would hang on. He didn't and I missed the opportunity. There would be no second chances. Shortly after his death, and while my grandmother remained seriously ill, I discovered that I had a tumor. Although it proved to be benign, the fear and anxiety were very intense during the days that I waited for the verdict. What overwhelmed me the most during that time were the people who'd come to count on me who would be significantly effected if I became disabled or died. How would they manage? I found myself acknowledging how burdened I had often felt.
Throughout the summer, I shuttled between work and weekends in Bangor. I saw little of my daughter and less of my husband. During this time, Kevin's depression deepened as his professional life deteriorated and his personal life came to resemble more and more that of a single parent. We'd also recently learned that the buildings we'd purchased and which Kevin had spent an enormous amount of energy as well as a significant amount of money renovating, were worth less now then at the time that we bought them. The faith we'd placed in hard work, delayed gratification, and commitment appeared at the time to have been futile. Had all of our sacrifices and hard work led us only to this miserable point in our lives?
Kevin lost his faith but not his courage. After a tremendous amount of soul-searching, he decided to take advantage of a voluntary separation program offered by his company to its employees. With no job prospects, he left behind a ten-year position that had provided significant financial security to his family.
For months I'd been having dreams which left me shaken each morning. Dreams which continually called me to "follow the road." What road? They never told me, and yet I felt a stronger and stronger pull to go. The dreams were very spiritual in nature and I guessed that this was the general direction I was being pointed in. But where exactly? I didn't know.
In June of 1995 I closed my practice. This was an undertaking that was excruciatingly painful. It caused me to struggle with tremendous feelings of guilt for abandoning my clients. I was also terrified that I was making a very big mistake. Still, I'd been deeply wounded during the difficult months preceding my decision to close my practice. I needed time to heal and I was determined at the same time to follow my dreams.
Within six months we went from financial excess and professional success, to a state of limbo as Kevin searched for a new position and direction in life. During this period of uncertainty, we remained sure of two things: (1) of the people whom we loved and who loved us and; (2) that under no circumstances would we return to a lifestyle that had offered more than enough financially and far too little personally. Whatever the cost, we would take the steps necessary to build a new life together which would honor our personal values, particularly those that reflected the importance of family. Interestingly, it was not until we'd enjoyed the benefits of achieving what we thought we wanted to achieve, in addition to experiencing the consequences of those achievements, that we were able to step back and examine what we truly wanted from our lives. Ultimately, while our lives had been badly shaken, and we had sustained significant damage, it wasn't until then that we became clear about what we needed. Sometimes things must be taken apart in order to properly be put back together.
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Kevin was offered a position in Columbia, South Carolina. The day of our move, I stood in the middle of my empty house. I drank in the view of the lake out the living room window, I touched one of the many plants I had nurtured and was now leaving behind. I had cherished this place. While my friend Stephanie was playing monopoly on the floor with our daughter, Kevin and I took one last walk down the pond road. We spoke very little. We were both too preoccupied with saying our silent good-byes to our home and place of birth. So long to its beautiful vistas, its progressive, adventurous, and independent thinkers, its brilliant and starry nights, its safety - good-bye to my family, my partner, my friends and neighbors. I'd complained that I hated the freezing winters while I lived here and yet all I was aware of now that I was leaving Maine, was how deeply I loved it.
Our Quake had begun and it was time for us to rebuild. Our dream was to work together to contribute to the lives of others. We wanted to make a difference in our little part of the world.
Scared, uncertain, and feeling more than a little bit guilty for leaving my clients behind, I set out on this journey of mine. And this new path has led to a number of obstacles, and taken more than one unexpected turn along the way. I thought this book was finished months ago. It wasn't until some time after I wrote what I believed to be the final sentences, and produced the audio-book version, that it occurred to me that I'd just begun.
I believed the first time I wrote this book that it was about the personal wounds that cut deeply and yet lead to transformation. But I was wrong. It was becoming much more then that. As I continued doing research and leading BirthQuake workshops, I began to discover that much of the agony that I believed existed within the hearts and souls of individuals, all too often represented what I've come to believe is rooted in a collective pain - our collective pain - yours and mine.
Bill Moyers once observed that, "the largest party in America today isn't the democrats or the republicans, it's the party of the wounded." He's right I think, we've all been wounded. Wounded by the barrage of bad news, political scandals, traffic jams, jobs that so often feel futile, the signs that surround us of dying cultures, dying children, dying species, and even a dying earth. We may not think too much about it, and might even do a reasonably effective job of burying our heads in the details of our lives. But there's really no escaping it is there... You feel it. You feel it a little bit every single day and even though you manage to keep one step ahead of it, I bet you sense sometimes that it may be closing in.
The good news is that you're not alone. Quakes are trembling everywhere. The bad news is that this also means that there are fewer places to hide. It's not as simple as it was even a decade ago. Moving to the country won't shield you. Believe me, I tried.
In 1992, over 1,600 scientists from around the world released a document entitled, "Warning to Humanity." This warning stated among other things, that human beings were on a collision course with nature, and that we need to make significant changes now if we want to avoid profound human suffering in the future. Other rumblings of a global quake in addition to our environmental crisis can be felt all over the world. Felt in addictions, increasing levels of depression, crime, suicide, and so much more. I recognize that many of the concerns I've mentioned have existed for centuries, however in no time in history has the world been at such universal risk. We're not only confronted with endangered species and forests, or the tragedies that befall the men, women, and children unfortunate enough to have born in impoverished countries. We're coming closer every day to facing a crisis that every living organism on the entire planet faces. And at some level you already know that. Don't you.
We're all in this together. We're each waging a battle with collective demons that threaten to become more and more personal. They've made it into your neighborhood, and into mine. Are you ready? I'm not. But I'm working on it. And while I'm more than a little bit scared, I'm still tremendously hopeful.
A wise man who wishes only to be identified as "a brother along the way," shared with me that, "it seems that our travails are often a preparatory path, helping to make us better instruments through which we may serve, especially during times of crisis, which the world is now entering - a BirthQuake of worldwide proportion."
And so I'm called to service, and I'm calling on you too. Trust me, the rewards will be well worth it.
Chapter One - The Quake
Chapter Two - The Haunted
Chapter Three - Myth and Meaning
Chapter Four - Embracing the Spirit
Chapter Eight - The Journey
Staff, H. (2008, December 17). THE QUAKE, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/the-quake