Part 4: Ground Healing In Reality, Not Magical Thinking – 44 Revelations About Healing They DID NOT Teach Me In Medical School

In this series, I’m reviewing the Cliff Notes of everything I should have learned in medical school, but didn’t- and everything I’ve learned since I finished my medical training about healing from my own research and self-study. If you haven’t yet read the first 10 revelations about healing that I didn’t learn in medical school, please read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

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20. Cure the whole system, rather than reducing treatment to isolated body parts.

The human body is not a car, and doctors are not auto mechanics. It might work to take an engine out of a car, fix the engine or replace it, leave the rest of the car alone, and expect the car to run smoothly. But the car mechanic approach to practicing medicine doesn’t work for human bodies. Often, what happens in the bodies of people who have experienced psychological, emotional, and/or spiritual trauma (and the resulting nervous system dysregulation) is that physiological systems start to break down one by one, and all those systems are interrelated because the nervous system and other whole systems in the body link every cell to every other cell. 

This means you usually wind up with one diagnosis first, and then the medical system gets to work trying to treat that one condition. The problem is that, even if the medical system winds up curing the initial problem, if the trauma is still untreated and the nervous system is still firing stress responses, and all the body systems are interrelated, the next disease may be already underway. So you wind up playing medical whack-a-mole with medical conditions that keep popping up once the threshold of tolerance for the body is crossed. In other words, you might cure one medical condition successfully with conventional medicine, but if you don’t treat the underlying root cause of what is dysregulating the nervous system, causing the body to break down, there’s a good chance you’ll get sick from something else.

21. Let go of healing perfection and go for being “healed enough.” 

The bad news is that there’s no perfect human. The good news is that you can stop striving to achieve some unnatural, impossible, idealized standard of enlightenment, perfection, or finally having arrived. There’s no such thing as “perfectly healed,” and there’s no “there” there. There’s only here. We can strive for “healed enough,” and recognize that healing is a lifelong practice and that we will die one day still engaged in the healing process.

22. Be proactive about healing but without bullying yourself. 

Healing requires healing your nervous system and getting out of “fight, flight, freeze, and fawn” stress responses. So stressing about healing is counterproductive. If you’re dysregulating your nervous system by trying to bully yourself into healing, you’re defeating the purpose. This is a paradox, because being proactive about healing can help you become a health outlier or Olympian of healing. Being passive will not help you achieve an optimal health outcome any more than being a couch potato will get you an Olympic gold medal athletically. But if you’re obsessively restricting your diet, being a drill sergeant about exercising, pressuring yourself to do more and more trauma work, or otherwise trying to perfect yourself, you’ll impede the healing process.

23. There’s no shortcuts to the healing process.

Healing takes the time it takes. There are no shortcuts. While spontaneous healing may sometimes seem to happen instantly, it is often based on all the things you proactively did to create the conditions for cure to happen. Because we so want to believe healing can happen rapidly and painlessly, charlatans make millions promising quick fixes. But anyone who promises you a rapid, painless healing journey is probably selling you a scam. Sure, some interventions might speed the healing process more than others, but no matter how effective a particular healing method is, no matter how transformational a medicine might be, no matter how much hype surrounds some healer, healing is a long, slow, arduous process. It can be softened with humor, pleasurable activities, loving community, and fun healing practices, like art, dancing, singing, and ritual. But don’t believe anyone who hooks you with the false promises of fast, pain-free healing.

24. There are no panaceas. No single intervention works for everyone all of the time. Anyone who promises you that their medicine or their method or their alternative intervention (ice baths, supplements, miracle workout, or energy healing technique) works 100% of the time for all people, red flags should go off. As arrogant as doctors can be, at least we’re humble enough to know that penicillin can work wonders for strep throat but it doesn’t do shit for Covid. What might be medicine for one person can be poison for someone else. Trial and error is inevitable, but don’t throw all your money at trials without much grounding, especially if they’re slickly marketed by grifters.

25. Exercise discernment when choosing who will help you heal. 

Just because someone is an effective healer doesn’t mean they’re moral or following standards of care for ethics in the therapeutic relationship. This is true for doctors and therapists, but at least they have licensure and boards that can supervise, restrain, rehabilitate, or punish them. Natural or Indigenous healers without licensure or professional accountability can sometimes be wonderfully gifted, trustworthy, safe, effective healers. But if someone is in an unlicensed field with no oversight and no accountability, just know that, unless they’re breaking a law, you’re completely unprotected should something go astray. Hone your discernment and be careful with who you trust when you’re in a vulnerable state.

26. Public health measures increase longevity, but all humans are ultimately mortal.

Nobody lives forever or stays disease-free indefinitely. The best we can hope for is having a healthspan that mostly equals our life span- and hopefully that life span will be long, with a high quality of life. At best, we will die in our sleep at a hundred years old with some signs of aging but without significant suffering or disability first. Even still, nobody is exempt from the aging process. Because of conventional medicine and public health measures, data collected by Penn Wharton shows that people in the United States experienced an unprecedented decline in mortality during the twentieth century, with life expectancy increasing by thirty years between 1900 and 2013.  The overall death rate fell at a relatively constant rate of about 1% per year.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, infectious diseases were the leading cause of mortality. Public health measures, including urban sanitation, the development of antibiotics, and mass vaccination efforts changed all that. Between 1900-1950, heart disease and cancer quickly replaced infectious diseases as the leading causes of death, in large part because of how many people were smoking back then. Heart disease mortality dropped by half between 1960-1990. Cancer deaths have also fallen since 1990, in large part because of public health interventions and education about the dangers of smoking and also because of advances in oncology.

27. Healing should be a right, not a privilege, but we’re not there yet.

Healing should not be a luxury good, only available for people who can afford good medical insurance, cutting edge trauma therapists, or alternative healers who don’t accept insurance. You shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to attend healing retreats or fly across the world to go on a pilgrimage or see a healer in some far away country. But our culture has not yet caught up with the reality that anyone who is ready, willing, and courageous enough to embark upon a journey of healing should be able to access it. Right now, healing is a luxury that the people who need it the most cannot afford. We need a public health/ community health model that makes healing affordable for anyone willing to do the hard work of journeying through illness, injury, or trauma as a transformational path. Until we have health equity in the realm of healing, the sad truth is that the opportunity for healing is a privilege not equally accessible to all and that needs to change at the systemic level. We’re trying our best at Heal At Last to address that issue, but it’s not an easy problem to solve.

28. Healing requires a sanctuary.

Because some aspects of healing can feel like getting cut open with a scalpel, we need to counterbalance the challenging parts of the deep work healing trauma requires with the nurture, safety, comfort, and unconditional acceptance we all crave. If at all possible, you’ll need a kind of bubble of protection to cocoon you during your recovery process. Such a sanctuary bolsters us and gives us courage so we can do what we must to heal what is ready to be healed. Some find this kind of sanctuary in nature. Others find it in sacred spaces where groups gather, as in traditional churches, temples, and holy sites. Still others find their sanctuary inside, where they can connect to their Self/ Inner Pilot Light in silent meditation and experience a deep peace and sense of wholeness, which is always within us, even when we feel broken. Others find this kind of sanctuary with one or two safe people who have enough Self energy to entrain others into it, creating a field of love, nurture, and security, as good therapists and ethical healers can do.

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