I’m sitting in my red kayak, paddle across my lap, staring at the class 3 rapids just ahead of me. I’d pulled over to a calm spot on the river to mentally map my path through the rapid. Three days before this was the first time I’d ever been in a kayak in my life. Six months before this, at 32-years-old, I’d been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.
I was on a weeklong program through the non-profit org First Descents where young adult cancer survivors learn to whitewater kayak. We were also learning how to face fear again after having one of the scariest things imaginable happen at a really young age – a cancer diagnosis.
Looking out over the rapid, I calculated which course I should take to try to avoid flipping the kayak. In whitewater kayaking, you’re “attached” to the boat by a rubber skirt, so if you flip, it’s no fun to try to find the ripcord to get out of the boat while upside down, with no air, in the middle of a rocky, turbulent rapid. Like I said – I was facing fear again, but this time it was my choice and not some shitty cancer diagnosis that life had dealt me.
As I stared at the rapids, I had a realization. I was in a boat! (I know – not the most profound realization. Stay with me.) The boat was designed to float, so instead of trying to control the boat, I needed to listen to the boat. The boat knows how to stay upright in the water, all I had to do was feel into which way the boat wanted to go, try my best to be one with the boat, and follow its lead.
So, I did. And it was so much easier than trying to control the boat. I had faith in the boat’s design and its ability to do what it needed to do, I was the passenger and I let the boat do the floating.
I made it through the rapids unscathed and with a newfound understanding. As the adrenalin of the rapid run wore off, I knew that this was about more than just a boat. This was a lesson for life.
Here’s a spiritual truth – if you try to push, resist or control anything in your life, it’s going to be much harder. If you simply trust “the boat” of life and follow where your experiences, intuition and karma lead you, it’s much easier.
One of the secrets of a peaceful life is to respond to what’s in front of you rather than trying to push, resist or control. There are so many aphorisms that teach us this: “What you resist persists” or, “People make plans and God laughs.”
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals or go towards what makes you happy, fulfilled and inspired. It means that you should detach from HOW it’s going to happen.
When I was in my boat, I knew I wanted to get through the rapid. But HOW to get through – which path I take – that’s better left up to the boat, the boat knew how to stay afloat.
I started to use this perspective shift in my life when I got home from my kayaking trip. “Trust the boat,” I would think as a new obstacle came my way. I would lean into what felt right, or what was the easiest path forward right in front of me, and just do that, without overthinking it.
It was so much easier.
Now, the easiest path forward wasn’t always how I’d wanted things to go. I had to release a lot of feelings of control or preference about how things unfolded. But knowing that there was a larger force in my spiritual self that knew how to stay afloat through this “life” thing and having faith in that awareness was simpler and felt more right than trying to push and control.
As I’ve learned more about myself and the nature of our existence, I now know that the reason I can trust the boat is because not only am I the passenger, I AM the boat. And the river. And the rocks, and the sky and the birds and the trees. I am all of it, one consciousness.
As you deepen your intuition and your ability to communicate with your spiritual self, you can feel this too. It’s not difficult, it’s just a matter of switching from trying to control and plan to sitting and listening.
I heard this sentence so clearly as I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago. I’d been reading Ram Dass’ Be Here Now just before I fell asleep and I’d had vibrant, psychedelic dreams about the nature of consciousness. (I guess that’s what I get for reading Be Here Now right before bed.) I don’t remember the dreams per se, but about an hour later I woke from a very vivid dream to those words:
“You’re sick because you want people to see you as a person, not an object.”
As with most spiritual epiphanies, it was accompanied by a download of emotions, memories, and instantaneous understanding.
Here’s what I understood at that moment:
I was raised by a narcissist. One of the hallmark traits of that disorder is that narcissists see other people in the same way most people see objects. To narcissists, there is no qualitative difference between people and objects. And objects only have value when they are useful – there is no intrinsic value to an object beyond the usefulness that we assign to it.
One of my lifelong struggles has been to be seen and valued for who I am. Since I didn’t have a parent who saw my intrinsic value and reflected it back to me, which is something all humans (especially children) need, I have struggled to learn how to find this, recognize it, and take it in. As a child, I never learned how to be seen as a person with valid needs and innate value; instead, I received the message that I was just an object that may or may not be useful on any given day in someone else’s orbit.
When I was a child, being sick allowed me to be a useful object to my mother AND get her love and attention. She could take on the role of “long-suffering caregiver” and get attention from her friends who felt compassion and admiration for her, and I, in turn, would get her time and energy directed at me. It was as close to a “win-win” as our dysfunctional relationship could get.
I’ve had chronic fatigue for more than 10 years as a long-hauler side effect of chemotherapy. I realized in that moment of epiphany that being sick has been a way for me to have a “reason” to ask for love and support and a “reason” to deserve care. Since I didn’t believe that I deserved love and care just because, my body co-created an illness so that I could feel justified in my need for connection and care.
I know that this isn’t just a feature of my childhood – our culture at large objectifies us and measures our usefulness against other objectified humans:
How nice to look at are you?
How productive are you?
How pleasant to be around are you?
How good of a provider are you?
How reliable are you?
How appreciative of a sick/poor/disabled/marginalized person are you?
These are all measures of us as objects – as things that are either useful to others or not. It’s a losing game because there will always be someone who is more “useful” than you, there is no object that can’t be compared to something more useful.
But I am not an object and neither are you.
I’m a human being, not an iPhone — I don’t need to have a “usefulness” to be valued. I am valued and loved simply because I am, because I exist. In fact, the more that I come home to “I am” and let the rest go, the more that people show up in my life who want to love, support and care for me. The more that I come to see that I don’t have to create stories about why I am valuable, useful or worthy, the more that my intrinsic value shines through and others can see it and honor it.
I need to stop creating stories about why I am valuable in order to truly know why I’m valuable.
Well, isn’t that a paradox.
I’m going to use this mantra in the next few days and see what happens:
“I am not an object. I do not need to have a usefulness. I am valuable because I am.”
And if you are feeling any of this too, know that I see you. You are whole. You are already valuable. And if you can’t see that quite yet, please know that I already do and I already love you just because you exist.
I didn’t always know that I had psychic abilities.
But, when I was about 25 years old, I was lying in bed one night, absent-mindedly running my hands over my belly. This was something I automatically did to self-soothe and relax. When my hand moved over this spot on my left side, all of the voices in my head that tick through my to-do list or rehash that last conversation I had—all of that suddenly went …silent.
And I then I heard my own voice, but very calm and very secure. It said “there’s going to be something wrong there.” To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. I didn’t know what it meant or what I should do. Should I go to the doctor and tell her I was hearing voices telling me there’s going to be something wrong there– I mean I didn’t know what they could even do with that.
So, I just filed it away, and for the awhile, I paid close attention to that spot, testing to see if I felt anything, but nothing. There was nothing . . . until about 5 years later. And then, it was the same thing. I was rubbing my belly, relaxing and calming myself after a long day. My hand drifted over that spot, and the same thing happened. All of the voices went quiet, and I heard my own voice say “there’s something wrong there now,”—which, as you can imagine, freaked me out a bit. Okay, a lot.
What do you do about that? How do you tell a doctor that? Usually when you tell your doctor you’re hearing voices, they don’t recommend that you listen to the voices. So I filed it away, and six months later I started to experience excruciating stomach pain. But not in that spot, a little lower down.
So I finally saw a doctor, and another doctor . . . and another. They thought I had IBS, and then colitis. They kept giving me all of these medications to try but nothing worked. Finally one day my doctor said “ok, lets do this test and see what we find.”
So, after the test, they woke me up and said–“You have colon cancer.”
I was really freaked out, as you can imagine. I met with different doctors, different oncologists, and finally had surgery to remove the tumor. Afterward, I asked the surgeon where the tumor had been, and he told me where it was– and it was in the EXACT spot where my hand had been when I heard that voice. My voice. So I asked him if he could tell how long the tumor had been there, and he said “well, I’m probably guessing about 5 years.”
I was floored.
A) How did my body know 5 years ago that there was cancer there just starting to form, and B) how did it communicate that with me as my own voice in my own head?
I went through chemo and radiation, and after I finished treatment, I was super curious about how it all worked. I enrolled in classes on intuition and intuitive healing, and was immediately hooked. I had been Pre-Med and graduated with a BA in Science– but this system made so much more sense to me, plus I was getting all of these cool downloads about how the body works, both for myself and when I worked on other people. Soon after, I started using my skills as a medical intuitive to help other people.
That was 10 years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned they had C-PTSD. I’d never heard of this before (PTSD, yes. But C-PTSD? Nope.)
I looked it up, and when I saw the definition and symptoms, I immediately realized, “Oh FFS — that’s me. I have this.”
C-PTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and although it shares similar characteristics with PTSD, there are some marked differences. While PTSD happens as a result of a one-time or shorter duration traumatic event, like serving on active duty in a war zone or surviving a physical attack, C-PTSD occurs when people experience trauma from on-going experiences such as childhood neglect or abuse, domestic abuse, human trafficking, or living in a war-torn or extremely impoverished region for more than a year.
Some of the symptoms experienced by people with C-PTSD include:
Avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma
Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma
A negative self-view: Complex PTSD can cause a person to view themselves negatively and feel helpless, guilty, or ashamed. They often consider themselves to be different from other people and don’t know where they fit in.
Changes in beliefs and worldview: People with C-PTSD may hold a negative view of the world and the people in it, feel a loss of trust in themselves or others, or feel that the world is a dangerous place.
Emotional regulation difficulties: These conditions can cause people to have extreme emotional reactions to some situations. They may experience intense anger, fear or sadness that seems highly disproportionate for the given situation.
Hyperarousal or hypervigilance: they are in a continuous state of high alert or feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop” much of the time.
Relationship issues. Relationships may suffer due to difficulties with trusting and interacting, and because of a negative self-view. A person may develop unhealthy relationships because they don’t know or never had models for a healthy relationship.
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or being able to nap. Difficulty concentrating or increased procrastination. In some cases, ADHD can in fact be caused by C-PTSD.
Detachment from the trauma: A person may dissociate, which means feeling detached from emotions or physical sensations. Some people completely forget the trauma.
Preoccupation with an abuser: It is not uncommon to fixate on the abuser, the relationship with the abuser, or getting revenge for the abuse.
Reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.
As I looked over this list of symptoms, I realized that I have (or had) all of these. I grew up in a home with some pretty gnarly emotional, medical, and physical abuse– and it had left its mark.
When we spend a long time in traumatic situations, especially as we’re growing and developing, our very smart body-minds adapt for survival. Entire systems change and adapt in order to be able to survive and keep us safe: our nervous system, vagal system, immune system, digestive system and the microbiome, emotional regulation and response, cognitive processing–as well as all of our energetic systems like meridians, the heart torus field, chakras and more–shift and adapt to what “normal” is in this traumatic world. When we are finally free of the traumatic situation, we now have a whole body-mind that needs to be retuned to be able to thrive in a non-traumatic world.
So, how do we heal this?
While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” fix for embodied trauma and C-PTSD, I can tell you what’s worked best for me.
Therapy. Find yourself a good trauma-informed therapist and talk this shit out. I’ve been in therapy off and on for most of my adult life because the sneaky nature of trauma is that it can rear its ugly head in new situations all the time.
Meditation. I first learned to meditate through a study at UCSF on “Cultivating Emotional Balance.” It took YEARS AND YEARS of practice before mediation became something that was easy for me but, damn, it was worth it. I can switch my mood from anxious to joyous in 20 minutes and can stay present and grounded in even the most triggering of situations now. One of the benefits that isn’t talked about enough is the changes that happen when we’re *not* meditating. Somehow that daily practice of 20 minutes of meditation has ripple effects outside of that time, too. I can now get into that meditative headspace immediately at almost any time of the day and feel the same effects of calm, peaceful joy that come from being in the present moment (aka mindfulness.)
Books. I read self-help books all the time. I’ve found that there are two types that help me the most. There are books that give advice and teach you tools for a certain issue, like hypervigilance or perfectionism. These are helpful for when my symptoms arise and I need a tool or strategy to deal with them in the moment. And then there are autobiographical books that are written by people who went through something similar to me. These are sooooo validating and helpful and make me realize that what I went through was wrong and horrible (I tend to normalize things and underreact to trauma). They remind me that I am not as much of a freak or weirdo as I may imagine, and that other people have gone through the same thing and have had similar feelings and responses. (I mean, I am a freak and a weirdo, but in a totally awesome way, not in a social pariah kind of way.)
Energy healing. Oh boy. This was so profound for me that I totally switched my life path and career so I could dive head first into learning all about this. Energy healing is so magical because unlike therapy or medication, it helps the body heal on the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual levels all at once and in parallel. I originally started going to an energy healer to mitigate and heal side effects from chemo. One day about 3 months in, my practitioner said “Oh, you’re ready to transcend anxiety.” I looked at her and laughed right in her face. I’d been anxious since I was 3-years-old, and that’s probably just because I couldn’t remember back any earlier than that. But she did her thing and you know what? I left that office PROFOUNDLY less anxious. It felt like I’d had a 50-ton boulder lifted off me. My hypervigilance decreased markedly, my mood was more joyous and I had far fewer anxious, looping thoughts on a day-to-day basis. It was like 10 years of therapy in 3 months. So, I decided to figure out how that all worked. I’ve have spent the last 15 years studying different modalities and learning all that I can about the beautiful intersection of body, mind and spirit so that I can help others with their healing process, as well.
If you see some of yourself in what I wrote here, please know that you are not alone, that there are people and groups and tools to help you heal. And please know that I see you, I know it’s been so hard, and I think you are an amazing triumph of nature to have survived and thrived the way you have. It’s no small feat, my friend, and I am so very unabashedly proud of you, wherever you are in your healing process.