Friday, July 4, 2014

Healing From the Inside Out

I am reading a book called God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet. Its about one of the last almshouses left in America, the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. It is a place that serves the indigent and people with no other resources.....the drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill, the severely disabled, and the elderly.

I'm going to tell you a story from the book about a woman named Terry Becker. Terry was a heroin addict, prostitute, alcoholic, homeless woman who was brought in initially to an emergency room because she had suddenly been stricken with a total paralysis of her limbs. It was found that she had transverse myelitis, an inflammation of her spinal cord. She was sent to Laguna Honda for rehabilitation.

The gist of the story is that they would get her back into "functional" shape but her boyfriend would show up around the first of the month to have her sign her check over to him. He would say he was just taking her out for a few hours, but days would go by and she would end up abandoned on the streets of San Francisco in her wheelchair, still a quadriplegic from her transverse myelitis, unable to help herself. This went on numerous times. She would be brought back, nurtured back to relative health, but the boyfriend would show up on the first every month and she would let him take her.

He beat her mercilessly, broke her leg, gave her drugs and alcohol, and left her sitting in the wheelchair so long she developed a gaping pressure sore that was filled with infection. She was again brought back to Laguna Honda where plastic surgeons grafted skin from her legs and meticulously stitched and covered her wound. She could only lay on her stomach on a gurney while it healed. Again, the boyfriend came and took her out and again she was brought back in the worst shape ever. The back wound had opened and was now half way up her back and down to the tail bone, gaping and to the bone and filled with infection. The surgeons were appalled and refused to help her again, saying she would need to wait it out and see if it could heal the old fashioned way. Dr. Sweet had never seen a wound so deep, so gaping, and so all encompassing of an area.

By this time Dr. Sweet and Terry had formed a sort of friendship. Terry again could only lay on her stomach on a gurney and wait for her body to heal itself. If it could.

The part of this story that spoke to me is still to come....Dr. Sweet had done her masters thesis on Saint Hildegard of Bingen. "The doctor of the church." (You can google more on her....very interesting actually) Hildegard had a concept called "viritidas"....which means greenness. New life, vigor, youthfulness. She used it to mean the power of a plant to put forth leaves and flowers and fruits AND  she also used it to refer to the power of human beings to heal and grow and give birth.

Dr. Sweet began thinking about how Hildegard would treat Terry's gaping pressure sore. It occurred to her that she would have removed obstructions to Terry's viritidas, to her bodies power to heal itself. What was in the way of this woman's body healing? So many things....wrinkled bed clothes, a hard mattress, dirty clothes, the use of nicotine, poor nutrition, dirt, unnecessary medications, fear, depression, hopelessness...all were obstructions to Terry's body healing itself.

Dr. Sweet understood that she had to see Terry in her mind as she could be, as she was meant to be, whole and healthy and vibrant...and work her way backwards. She decided that in addition to removing obstacles, she needed to fortify Terrys natural viritidas with earth, water, air and fire.....good nutrition, tasty food, liquids and vitamins. Deep sleep, fresh air and sunlight. And time. As much time as Terry needed.

So they began their journey. Within a few weeks Dr. Sweet began to see deep inside the wound, what appeared to be new pink skin growing. But then it was the first of the month again.....

This time Terry wheeled herself facedown to meet her boyfriend in the smoking room. They talked for a long time. This time Terry had sent him away telling him to never come back again. Terry then quit smoking, she was eating healthier and without the effects of the nicotine, her body and her blood vessels could absord the nutrition more thoroughly.

Little by little the sore began to heal. Her spine was being covered with new fresh pink flesh. And this is what spoke to me.....It took a very long time. Two and a half years of just being, of just focusing on being healthy and letting her body replenish itself with no outside stresses. Two and a half years and her body healed from deep inside itself where it was barely visible. Little changes here and there that were taking her on her way. If one hadn't known to wait and to let it happen and be patient, they could have assumed nothing was working and given up on her and sent her away. But Dr. Sweet was a patient woman who despite the numerous early setbacks didn't give up on Terry. Each time Terry presented herself to the hospital to get well, Dr. Sweet took her at face value and they started again.

By the end of the two and a half years, Terry's wound had healed, she had gained weight, her hair grew back in thick and dark, she started to wear a little makeup, her teeth had been fixed and she had been given a pair of eye glasses. A social worker had found her brother who wanted her to come and live with him. Thanks to the hospital's "patient gift fund" they were able to buy Terry a plane ticket and send her out to her brother who was waiting at the other end to pick her up.

Dr. Sweet never heard from Terry again, but did read her obituary 11 years later. In the picture she still wore the glasses the hospital had given to her and there was mention of life with her children and grand children.

Of course I think of my girl. My girl who is not physically broken in those ways, but her soul is broken from years of self abuse. I think of the demands upon getting out of rehab, to immediately "get a job" and live in "real life" from her counselor.....and I think, isn't this the problem? She hasn't been able to do real life in many years. Aren't you demanding that she rid herself of her symptoms, but you aren't looking at what lies beneath? Can't we give her time without it being considered enabling? Can't it be a time of rebirth for her, of fresh new pink flesh being generated from within while she reads books, and waters her gardens? Can't there be mistakes and temper flare ups and missteps without it being the end? Because we are all, including her, including me, including the dad, just people. Imperfect people who need to be tended and nurtured in a multitude of ways and most of all, be given time to heal.

May we all remove the obstructions and fill our lives with what we need for our own viritidas. Our own new growth and rebirth. 


kberman said...

So glad you have found your voice again. I got sober in 1976 by going to a 28 day home where we prayed on our knees 2 times a day. That is what I needed. I was a high bottom but living with women who had gone further into their disease helped me to identify the commonality of the disease.
My heart goes out to you and your family. Are there any halfway homes for women there. I believe the recovery from chronic misuse to be at least 3 years and it has to be in stages. We have to crawl before we can walk.
Love you, Annette, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful post! You are truly a gifted writer and your kindness shines through every word you write. Prayers for your daughter and my son and for all of us.

Lolly said...

Another beautiful post Annette. Thank you for this. XO

Syd said...

A wonderful story--just beautiful actually. I think that it does take years for people to heal, but the key to finding one's own truth is desire to seek it. I know that I am still a seeker of truth. So many wounded people and wanting an instant cure for those emotional and mental wounds. I hope your daughter is a seeker of truth. She will likely heal and be strong and true if she is.

amy said...

Oh, Annette! This speaks to me in a gentle but loud voice. I think we all deserve the time to heal, with the emphasis on taking the time. Thank you for sharing this story. Much love to you! xoxo

Tori said...

Oh Annette I sure needed to read this. I have often wondered how someone who has been sick for so many years go for 30 or even 90 days in a program be released and expected to be able to handle everything.

Just beautiful. Thank you.

notmyboy said...

I think it takes time to heal, but I also believe that addiction is healed through action. I'm not sure they/we can just sit around and admire the roses expecting to heal, although I know my son would have loved to lie around in recovery. I think they have to go out and do the next right thing over and over again (job, service, truth). I agree that addicts are broken, but delicate flowers they are not. Addicts have lowered their bar of expectations so far down that we (family-other addicts in recovery-friends) need to remind them that they are capable of greatness. They need to get out of self and keep moving. Healing is in the doing not the taking. They often know HOW to do life, they just would rather (fill in the blank)because life is hard, lonely, scary (fill in the blank). If mom believes me incapable of doing life?...well, that serves no one. I always believe expect 10 and get 7. Expect 7 and get 4. Expect 4 and get 1. Souls heal quickly once they forgive themselves and have hope in their own abilities to live this life.

Mary Christine said...

I also loved that book, and was particularly struck by this story. Your girl may need a Dr. Sweet, but it is unlikely she will find one.

When my girl got sober, she knew she could not work. She found her way, without working, for her first three years of sobriety (she didn't live with me at all during that time). After those years, she found a job that she loves. They love her too. But it is certainly not what WE would have considered "career material." She is happy, she is sober, she is functional in a pretty crazy place. Her life is not what I would have ever chosen for her, but it is working for her. And I thank God for that.

None of us get sober until we are absolutely done with whatever it is we are doing. Once we are ready to be sober, there is not a force on earth that can stop us. It is NOT about conditions, other than the one in our hearts.

SoberMomWrites said...

You know...I've wondered about this too but have been reluctant to voice my opinion because, except for a sister that I haven't seen in 15 years, I have no experience with this.

But I do wonder...if my child had cancer and was actively doing things to stay and be healthy, would I put a time limit on how long I supported and helped them? Or would I provide love and shelter and food and money and whatever else was necessary to help them beat the disease...obviously the latter right?

My own son is legally blind and therefore can't drive. Does that mean there's a deadline on how long he can live with us regardless of whether or not he has the means to get back and forth to work or school? Should I kick him out just because society says he's over a certain age? Of course not! I'm going to support him and help him get set up in the world in his own time. What's the rush?

As long as my child is trying, doing all the right things and making an effort, isn't it my job as a parent to support them while they do it?

Or am I just setting myself up to be used and abused because I love too deeply.

I don't know...but I do think about it.

Blessings my friend,

Liz said...

Hi Annette, I loved the story, and agree 100 percent about needing the time to heal. Due to my daugter's legal issues, she had to live at home and stay clean or go to jail. Period. She also couldn't get a job until all her legal stuff was resolved. So, she lived at home, stayed sober, I wasn't on her case all the time to find a job. I just accepted our 'limbo'... And you know what? It was the best thing for all of us. My daughter slowly healed and I slowly healed... It was time well spent. I think that the time being still accomplished a lot!

Chelsie Charmed said...

First I'd like to say Im glad your back. Its happened to me before also where I just wasnt inspired to write even though I had things to say I kind of felt like what was the point no ones going to read it anyway. Not exactly what happened with you but I do understand the whole being away for a bit. Sounds like an amazing book. Anyways sounds like a great book, I love reading and the book that more than any other really got me thinking about life and the deeper meaning of things was the woman on the edge of the world. You might like it. Have a great week :)