via Sophie Strand.
Something in this landed in me, even though I don’t suffer chronic illness.
But I think we’re all on a healing journey.
We all suffer separation sickness.
In all of us, are things that warrant care, tending, repair, healing. Lost pieces of ourselves. Little bits of broken heart. Larger betrayals. The exhaustion and damage caused by systemic racism or attempted genocide. All of it.
The invitation to think of this less as work that has to be endured, powered through and completed before life can begin, and more as walking into life’s blessings, to let them wash all over us, as we tend to the work, feels invigorating. Like a friend once said, you don’t weed to get it done, because the weeding is never done. It’s a practice of tending to the things you’re trying to grow.
Make My Healing a Party Everyone is Invited to
Healing is hard work. Healing takes dedication. Healing takes commitment. Doctor’s offices are private, fluorescent caves. Curtains divide the ill from each other in hospitals. Sickbeds are sterile, singular. Illness is a sign of weakness and must be hidden from sight. It must be managed and defeated. This is the myth that keeps the chronically ill and the disabled trapped within a life-sapping seriousness. If you are unwell, you shouldn’t be having fun. Fun is for healthy people. You should be working hard to get better, to improve, to fix yourself, so you can participate in the fast-paced world of progress again. Most importantly, you shouldn’t detract from our fun with your messy, complicated body. Hide it, hide your pain and struggle. It’s not invited to the party.
When I first got sick, I deferred things. “I’ll have a real birthday celebration when I’m better”. “I’ll go canoe in Canada when this is better”. “I’ll fall in love when I have a little more strength.” Those with serious illness will understand the arrival of the nauseating realization that you won’t be getting better anytime soon. Is it after the tenth experimental drug fails? After the second birthday passes in bed? Is it when you finally receive the shut-door diagnosis? “There is no cure.” I think it happened the second year, hallucinating on steroids, shuttled back and forth to the hospital as I went in and out of life-threatening allergic reactions. The idea that healing happened behind the curtains, all the mess and anguish cloaked, and then you emerged, butterfly vibrant, even better than before, was making me sadder, sicker. What if I was never better enough to emerge? “I have to start living anyway. I have to start laughing. I have to start doing as much as possible with whatever energy, time, juiciness I have available.”
I was done approaching healing as work. It wasn’t even working. It kept me isolated from the laughter, the joy, and the nourishing relationships that I needed to give my immune system an emotional boost. Healing wasn’t going to happen in a backroom. It needed to be added to everything, to become a single thread in a dazzling tapestry of other stories. Stories of me falling in love. Stories of me hiking and travelling. Baking Bundt cakes. Hosting gatherings with friends. Lying in a sheath of river water, watching clouds streak across the aquamarine sky. Leaning out of the fire tower at the top of the mountain, tasting the lemony tang of magnolia blossoms wafting up from the valley below.
Lately, a friend who also suffers from the same genetic illness as me, shared a helpful insight with me. “I’m beginning to understand that health has very little to do with the body. It has very little to do with disease. Health is the amount of joy you feel in your life.”
Years of chronic illness had delivered me to the understanding that my body needed more rather than less. It didn’t need another elimination diet. Another ten day fast. It needed delicious food shared with loved ones at a table set with beeswax candles and fresh roses. It needed more microbes, more dirt, more fermented food to heal my antibiotic-ravaged gut. It needed to touch and to be touched. To embrace. To run full speed downhill. I needed to use my body for love. For dancing. For joy. I needed to prove to my hands, my arms, my feet, my hips, my belly, my breasts, that they weren’t just here for pain and for illness. They were here to experience pleasure and movement. They were here for joy.
Beginning a storytelling gathering showed me that it wasn’t only physical illness that could be softened by embodied joy and community. Emotional distress could also be cushioned, buoyed, transformed not just by one on one analysis in a therapist’s office, but by communal storytelling and food-sharing. Everyone brought a bottle of wine, a dish, a perspective. Subjects that typically trigger shame and discomfort, were allowed into the circle of friends. Good food and merriment allowed us to work through things that otherwise might have destroyed us. How do you talk about grief? About abortion? About rape? About terminal illness? You talk about it with flowers, with friends, with champagne, with candlelight, with fresh-baked cookies, with bawdy jokes, with love-sweetened tears that are allowed to fall and mellow and flow into another person’s story, another person’s open hands.
I have a new prayer. I don’t want my healing to be work. I don’t want it to be private. I don’t want it to be something that is only for me. I want my healing to be a lemon-lit living room with the bay window open, bossanova pulsing from the record player, a new couple swaying in the corner, a pair of friends playfully debating on the dilapidated velvet loveseat. Make my healing the kitchen filled with the scent of a roasting chicken, crackle of rosemary, a child come in the backdoor with a handful of daisies, still dangling roots. Make my healing the strangers stepping outside into the orchard, constellations of fireflies fluxing in the shadows, stars stippled across the inky July sky. Let my healing be their easy intimacy, their first, awkward kiss. Make my healing the group of people seated around the fire in the backyard, trading ghost stories, secretly hoping to summon something miraculous. Make my healing a joy that leaks out of my life into the life of all my loved ones, my family members, my friends. Make my healing contagious and outrageous. Make my healing a party everyone is invited to.