I am a wounded warrior. So… really, who isn’t wounded? Basically everyone. Whether it’s from poverty, ill health, or the trauma of cruel actions (verbal and/or physical) by bullies of one sort or another, whether they are strangers or relatives — to our body size, shape, skin color, ethnicity, religion, family of origin, gender, gender preference, or any other thing that identifies us as “different”. There are endless ways we get wounded.
But what comes next? We can live a life identifying our self as a victim, or we can work with our broken vessel, find the crack (as Leonard Cohen wrote) where the light gets in, find our motivation, our inspiration, and take the risk of making a choice to be brave and pro-active. Then, make the next choice, fall down, notice what falling down feels like, and make the next choice. First on your own behalf. Eventually for others’ well being too.
As a nurse, I had a lot of truly wonderful people as patients who inspired me with their kindness and other positive qualities. But I had one patient who inspired me with her negative qualities — the main one was her complete embrace of victimhood. I’ve never forgotten her.
She was a handful of years older than me. We both had one leg weakened by childhood polio. There the similarity ended, but that one fact was enough to catch my attention. True, I didn’t know all the details of her life. I didn’t know the other ways in which she’d been wounded that made her resolutely choose victimhood, but her stance in life inspired me to NOT go that route.
I didn’t know what my own choice would look like or how it would play out. At the time, it just meant I would not take to a wheelchair at age forty (despite the fact that one post polio specialist, Dr. Yarnell, at St. Mary’s Hospital had recommended it to me). I would not allow myself to become overweight from lack of exercise. And I would not become a self-pitying, demanding patient, expecting others to fix me. (Especially because as a practicing RN, I knew they couldn’t). I did try to help this patient (without success), though now I can’t remember exactly what I tried. I’m sure I could have been more compassionate toward her, but frankly her situation was too close to mine and it scared me.
Western medicine is great. For diagnosis. For surgery (when necessary). For serious infections (Yay antibiotics!) For some preventative measures, like vaccines, etc. It’s not great for a lot of other stuff. Especially chronic illnesses and inflammatory processes. The pharmaceuticals that western medicine offers to “treat” chronic illness often have heinous side effects. You need only listen to those TV ads offering images of people on swings in fields of flowers and sunshine, while citing the incomplete yet terrifying list of potential side effects.
Fortunately for me, I am like the canary in the mine. If there is a side effect to be had, I’ll have it. It took me many years to figure this out. But finally I did. As a result, I stay as far away from pharmaceutical medications as possible.
When my doctor saw my blood sugar numbers continue to rise into the diabetic range, she never once whispered the words “diet” or “exercise”. Instead she boldly offered up Metformin. This is a very popularly used drug for Type 2 Diabetes. I guess it slows the progression of the disease. It doesn’t cure it. AND it has a multitude of side effects. So I said no thank you.
Lucky for me, Kaiser had started offering — in a kind of lesser, step-child sort of way — access to a course in plant-based eating taught by one of their nutritionists. There was a four month waiting list. I signed up.
This is the kind of food I eat now. It’s real, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, and delicious.
What I learned there changed my life. Not that alone, but along with the other efforts I was making. I did some work with my friend Eileen Goldman who last year became a life coach. I was one of her practice students. Very fortuitous for me. Eileen excels at whatever she does and with her guidance, we did some serious work together. In the process I had an aha! moment. I saw that my most frequent way of being is an unconscious thought pattern which is negative, problem-searching, and blame-assigning (either to myself or someone else). When I had this aha! moment, I realized in that VERY moment that I have choice. I can default to this well-worn unconscious thought pattern, or I can consciously choose something more beneficial to me. I am aware my writing about this is short-hand for a very profound experience, but it’s the best I can do right now.
Together with the idea of choice and increasing degrees of knowledge about food and its power to create harm OR health, I became even more motivated to heal my body. I became more familiar with the idea of self-empowerment. Taking not-being-a-victim to the next level. To self-belief, to specific actions on behalf of my own health. I never learned this in nursing school.
The way we think, the way we eat, the way we move through the world physically and socially — these are old patterns. It’s not easy to change that, but it’s possible. It’s really possible.
On Facebook, I shared the other day that my HgbA1c is now in normal range — 5.8. According to this number, I am no longer diabetic. Western medicine does not offer self-healing. Food and exercise do.
It’s not like it didn’t take any hard work; it did. But no harder than if I was stuck in my negative thought pattern, no harder than if my numbers were going up instead of down, and I was taking medication with side effects and feeling worse and worse. By comparison, my hard work was a piece of cake (ok… a piece of vegan, gluten-free cake!)
The truth is I feel great. I feel healthy. I feel empowered. I want you to know it is possible for you too, and for friends or family you know. I’ll be happy to talk to anyone about this.
I am still a Registered Nurse (though retired). I am not a certified nutritionist, so I can’t counsel anyone on that level. But I know a lot. And if I can help motivate or inspire you, I’d be happy to. Because that’s what wounded warriors do.