ILLNESS AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO AWAKEN CONSCIOUSNESS
I can recall the day like it was yesterday. Sitting on the edge of the examination table of my former GI doctor’s office feeling anxious and full of uncertainty. At this point, I had been on over nine medications for the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, in which none of them were successfully treating the disease, and the side effects were causing me more suffering. The last drug I had been prescribed required an intravenous infusion every 4 weeks and blood work every 2 weeks. The blood work was to monitor my liver enzymes to be sure my liver could process the drug. After being on the medication for approximately 12 months, I received a call from my doctor saying “you need to get off this drug immediately and go see a hepatologist.” I suddenly began to panic and think of the worst possible outcome, surgery. I was so afraid that the disease would take over my life again. Without knowing what else to do, I followed the doctor’s orders and saw the hepatologist.
Sitting in the waiting room felt like an eternity. As he walked into the examination room he began to acutely examine me and commented on the fact that my face was “rather flushed.” During this time, I had also developed a severe sensitivity to chemicals and pollutants known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Exposure to even the slightest trace of chemicals or fragrance would trigger a response within my body and cause major brain fog and my face to flush beat red. As he proceeded the examination he told me that I would need a liver biopsy. The biopsy was performed days later to discover the medication was causing me to develop autoimmune hepatitis. I was told if I did not address this hepatitis that I could possibly need a liver transplant within seven years. I was at a loss for words.
How did I go from being a young healthy male full of energy and life? To having a debilitating autoimmune disease and potentially needing a liver transplant? I was suffering so much, at times I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be live or die.
Riddled with fear, I took the suggestion of the hepatologist and began taking a high dose of prednisone to bring down my liver enzymes. In a matter of weeks, my enzymes returned to normal. The intravenous medication was causing autoimmune hepatitis. Not knowing where to go, I returned to the GI doctor’s office in hopes for him to have a backup plan for treating the ulcerative colitis. That backup plan came in the form of a business card for a surgeon. The nurse practitioner suggested I give him a call and set up a consultation. I knew the consultation would lead to the surgeon suggesting to remove my colon and live the rest of my life with a pouch. I threw the card in the trunk of my car and had no intention of calling him. My intuition knew if I was to heal, it would no longer be in the hands of conventional medicine, neither would my inflamed colon have a chance to heal if it was to be cut out of my body.
I began to meditate to calm my mind and body. The therapeutic benefits of meditation began to not only to set the environment for healing but also created space for me to hang out in the “unknown,” the very place where healing is possible. The continuous desire and struggle to alleviate my symptoms caused me further pain and to be stuck in the cycle of suffering. Learning to “be” with what was present in my mind/body allowed me to get clear and reflect on the steps I needed to take in order to initiate the healing process.
As I began to listen to the whispers within, the fear of illness and disease began to dissipate. As the fear began to fall away, it was clear to me that this illness was more than just a crippling disease, it was also my teacher. It manifested in “service for me.” It allowed me to get in touch with the deeper meaning of life and experience a sense of wholeness and love that I have never felt before. The experience of intense suffering allowed my heart to crack open and touch the suffering of all beings. Leading to a deeper understanding of consciousness and awakening me to the truth of how I came to be this way.
A shift in consciousness is essential to initiate the healing process within the body/mind. Many times our unconscious behaviors are perpetuating the very actions that lead us to illness and disease and not toward health and wholeness. For me, three main underlying factors contributing to my disease were: I was constantly stuck in a fight or flight response, caused by never fully addressing childhood trauma and relating to life in “survival mode”. Two, I was in the habit of over-exercising, literally running from myself and creating an inflammatory response within my body. And three, I was not eating a proper diet to support my overall physical health.
Physical pain is often followed by mental suffering. If we have the willingness to go within and investigate our own heart and mind, healing and awakening of our consciousness is possible. Carl Jung said it perfectly. “One does not become enlightened by imagining images of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Shifting our consciousness allows us to see with new eyes, allowing our pain and illness to be the very catalyst to transformation and healing.
Going within, I began to listen to what my body was telling me. My intuition or “higher self” began to speak to me. This isn’t some mystical gift or magical power, we all have the ability to access this higher intelligence from within. It takes being open-minded, willing and able to get quiet enough to listen. As I began to listen and take action undeniable signs and synchronicities began to show up in my life. The universe began to align me with various healers, doctors, and practitioners whom would play an integral part in my healing process.
As Ajahn Chah (the great Thai Forrest Monk) would say; “There are two kinds of suffering. There is suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free.”
By turning toward my suffering I was able to transcend the pain and open to the infinite possibilities in the present moment. Allowing the fear of surgery to slip away and begin to walk a conscious path towards healing.