“We can’t find anything wrong with you,” my gastrointestinal doctor said after hours of painful testing.
“What do you mean there’s nothing wrong? There’s obviously SOMETHING wrong because I feel TERRIBLE!”
“Well,” he continued, “I think you may have something called Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We don’t know much about it and we don’t really know how to treat it . All I can do is prescribe some medication to help you feel …”
I was fed up! I had a cabinet full of medications, but nothing resolved the issues and I didn’t have any answers as to why I was so sick. I left the doctor’s office with yet another quasi-diagnosis feeling just as confused as when I arrived.
I’d had had enough of my diseases and just wanted them to go away. But, according to the doctors, my conditions were irreversible. While I intuitively didn’t believe them, I wasn’t at all sure how I could prove them wrong. I spent the next ten years at a stand-still, living in pain with no hope for a life any different.
Up to this point my life had been more about collecting diseases than ridding myself of them. Could it be that I needed those ailments to serve a deeper purpose?
“My tummy hurts.”
“I don’t feel good.”
“I think I need crutches.”
At only 9 years old, my pleas were endless. My younger brother had asthma — acute asthma. He would heave and gasp as if he were going to die, which terrified our mother. While I had allergies and bronchitis, my issues paled in comparison to my brother’s. “You’re such a hypochondriac,” my mother would say. “Why is he getting all the attention,” I’d brood to myself, “when I’m the one who’s been hurt?”
At around age eleven, I was diagnosed with asthma and began carrying an inhaler, like my brother. My parents were divorced and once while I was visiting my Dad in Kansas he took me to the home of a friend who had horses. I instantly connected with a horse whose loneliness called to me. His grey body stood solemnly in a patch of grass surrounded by tall trees. I spent what seemed to be hours befriending him. When I finally decided to try and lay my body over his back, he quickly moved out from under me and I fell to the ground.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, shrugging it off and walking back toward the house, now realizing I was in full-fledged asthma attack and could barely get air into my lungs. I used a daily inhaler; but it didn’t work on acute cases, such as this one.
I went inside the house where my dad and his friend were talking. Feeling very uncomfortable with my “situation” and hoping he could clearly sense my labored breathing and quickly leave, I leaned over and whispered into my dad’s ear, “I can’t breathe and I want to go home.” I was shocked when he nonchalantly brushed me off saying “Well, I’m not ready to go. Just go wait in the car and you’ll be fine.” I walked away completely helpless with my head drooping forward. As I waited in the car, gasping for any air I could muster, I honestly wondered if I would live through the night and if my dad would even care if I didn’t.
“Do I really matter to anyone?”
I thought. I wanted to cry, but that would only make the asthma worse. I laid there with my tormenting thoughts for what seemed an eternity.
A few years later in Junior High School, I started having extreme stomach pain. While my mom was keenly aware of my complaints, I did my best to hide my freakish ailments from my friends. Back then, asthma and allergies were a rarity and people would stare at me if I used my inhaler in public. I certainly didn’t want to add stomach issues to the mix.
One day at school I couldn’t take the pain any longer and asked the teacher if I could go to the nurse. Of course she thought this was just a ploy to get out of class and wouldn’t let me go. Afterall, I didn’t have anything clinically wrong with me. I wondered, “Do I have to be missing a limb in order for someone to pay attention to me?”
As I grew to adulthood, my collection of ailments increases: acid reflux, arthritis, chronic fatigue, debilitating PMS, eczema, mood swings, and the list goes on. But, being sick had some serious consequence. One time my husband and I were going out to dinner with friends. My stomach was in so much pain that I had to stay in the car and lay down. I missed the entire meal and time with my husband and friends. I certainly didn’t like missing out. But, more importantly for me, I was embarrassed and didn’t want their pity.
In my thirties, my mom called me one day and informed me several people she worked with had been seeing an acupuncturist for their chronic allergies and it was actually working! I had been poked and prodded so much as a child, that the idea of having needles stuck in me was terrifying. But I was desperate to try anything at this point.
This decision set the stage for an incredible, yet painful journey of healing.
In addition to acupuncture, I changed my diet, worked with Naturopathic doctors, and tried a myriad of therapies that were very helpful. But these modalities were missing something. While most of my ailments had disappeared, my stomach remained ailed. As I embarked on this next phase of my journey, I came face to face with a part of me I had buried long ago.
I felt like I was suffocating as I walked into the already small living room. The women were chatting and some even laughing. Everyone seemed friendly; but I still held on to the metaphorical wall I put up. There were about ten in a semicircle facing our special VIP guest. The VIP was very engaging and I immediately trusted her. However, my stomach tensed up when she asked for a volunteer. I most certainly did not trust the other women enough to expose myself to them. The idea of being harshly judged sent daggers into my soul. I was happy to keep my secrets well-hidden within me.
As I was justifying to myself why I was not to be the volunteer, I noticed a woman across the room raise her hand. The woman was likely in her late fifties with shoulder-length, straight, silver hair that had lost its sheen. She looked a bit withered and was slouched in her chair. The VIP asked the woman to share her story and what she would like to work on. Based on my initial perception of the women, I figured she would beat around the bush, avoiding the real issue. However, without hesitation, she began to share her tormenting story about being molested as a young girl by a family member. The woman’s story triggered a flashback I thought I had buried long ago.
I was terrified. My “dad” (he made me call him that) was in the bathroom bantering back and forth with my mom, who was in a hurry to leave. My mom had remarried a monster after divorcing my cheating father a year prior. I thought, “Please don’t leave me alone with him!”
I had devised a plan to subtly share my secret with my mom, so that she would never leave me alone with him again. I had a big lump in my throat and my heart was rapidly beating. My whole body was overwhelmed with fear as I called her into my room.
“Open my book,” I said in desperation.
She gave me a confused look and informed me she didn’t have time for that. But I was insistent. Bookmarked inside, I had hidden a cryptic message for her that said, “Dad is dirty.”
I was so consumed by the moment that my room felt as if it were closing in on me. It was light outside, yet I felt a heavy haze surrounding me. I desperately wanted to tell her my secret; but feared the consequences. Would she understand my message? How would she feel knowing the man she married was hurting me this way? Would she even believe me? Worse, what would “Dad” do to me, her, or my little brother if he knew I had told her?
My mom opened the book to where my message was carefully placed. She pulled out the one by two inch strip of paper I had written on. As she glanced at the note, she pulled her chin inward, furrowed her brow, and snickered saying, “Oh, Gina,” like I was being a ridiculous child.
She closed the book and walked out, while I stood there in a complete state of panic.
My consciousness returned to the room with the women and I could once again hear her voice as she continued to share her story. As she went on to express how carrying this secret affected her health, I started to reflect…The disease I experienced most of my life — could it all be as a result of carrying these terrible secrets? I could feel disgust in the pit of my stomach and the constriction of being silenced in my chest and throat, just as I did as young girl. As the VIP brought the woman up to the front of the room and asked her to close her eyes, I closed my eyes, too.
I remembered the day my stepfather called me into my bedroom. As I walked through the doorway, I saw him laying across my make-shift bed on the floor naked with a partial erection. Terrified, I asked, “What do you want?”
In a cunning tone he replied, “Come here.” When I refused, he angrily raised his voice, insisting that I come sit next to him. What happened next was shocking and I began to cry, my tears blurring the memory of this horrible situation. “Stop crying!” he yelled, urging me to focus on my task. It was like a very bad dream I desperately wanted to wake from.
I was shaken as the VIP brought us to the room. I wanted to leave the room, but she urged us to trust her and the process she was taking us through. Next, she asked us to replay the scene as if we had the all the power we desired, yet still being a child. Now in what the VIP called our “power mind,” I saw myself in the doorway, looking at the aroused, naked man before me. However, instead of succumbing to his threats, I ran over to him kicking and hitting him while I yelled…
“YOU SICK, DISGUSTING CREEP!!! HOW COULD DO THIS? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? YOU’RE A HORRIBLE, AWFUL PERSON AND I HATE YOU!!!
It took everything in me to not scream these things out loud in the room as the VIP led us through this process. I repeated this over and over in my head until I had exhausted all my hate.
As I now watched him cower at my powerful blows, I could feel my mind starting to shift from anger to pity for him. Next, the VIP asked us to portray the perpetrator. My mind froze for a moment wondering how in the world I could possibly do that. But I listened as she asked us to imagine what it was like to be stuck in his body and mind and, in understanding how he hurt us, how he would respond. As instructed, I carefully played out my new role:
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “I’m very sick and I don’t know how to stop myself.
I could see the hurt and distress as his face shrunk back like a tormented soul. “Please help me stop,” he pleaded.
He was like a frightened child who had done something terribly wrong and was pleading for help and forgiveness. I remember looking down at him curled up in a wretched ball wondering what terrible things had happened to him. Even though visually I saw a man, my mind saw the tortured child within him.
That was all it took. I immediately went from hatred and loathe to a place of empathy and compassion toward this man who cowered before me.
As the effects of the process unfolded over the weeks that followed, I felt peace wash over me. My stomach was releasing the years of pent up anguish and the pain was disappearing. The once evident anger softened. I found that not only was I able to release anger toward my step-dad, but I didn’t really feel anger toward anyone at all.
In looking back now, being molested allowed me to peer deep into my soul and truly understand what it feels like to to love unconditionally. I have greater appreciation for the beauty of human imperfection and understand that life’s struggles can strengthen instead of weaken us. Where before I felt victimized, today I feel empowered.
So much transformation has occurred over the past decade that I hardly recognize who I used to be. I remember watching the movie “Joy” recently. There was a scene where Joy was dreaming and came face to face with a younger version of herself. The younger version said, “When you’re hiding, you’re safe because people can’t see you. But, the funny thing about hiding, you’re hidden from yourself.”
I realized at that moment that I had spent years hiding from myself. It was only when I stopped hiding that I was truly able to heal.