It’s 3.14 a.m. I am sitting in bed crying, rocking back and forth, holding myself while I am praying, begging and pleading into the dark night: please help me, please end this agony, please make this go away…
For the past year a strange skin condition has been torturing me. Red blotches of some kind of rash has appeared in different places all over my body, but worst on my feet. It itches 24/7 and oozes. My right foot is so swollen I can’t fit a sock or shoe on it so I limp around the house in my sweetie’s size 12 slippers. I can’t stop itching even though the itching makes it worse; my skin falls off in chunks exposing my raw, stinky flesh. Sometimes when I drag myself up in the morning a trail of blood from my right foot marks my floor. Big tender lumps are in my armpits, my belly, my neck, my legs and I squeeze greenish puss out of them.
No doctor or dermatology specialist has been able to figure out what is going on with me. All tests come back negative or inconclusive. They give me antibiotics and steroids. The steroids suppress everything and I feel a lot better but as soon as I come off them it all comes back with a vengeance. The natural practitioners that I see have a lot of suggestions and ideas, none of which has given any results so far.
I can’t sleep because I am so uncomfortable; the itching is intense, I can’t find a comfortable position because of my tender boils and anything that touches my skin feels harsh and hurts, even my flannel sheets. So, I am huddling in a soft cashmere blanket, rocking and crying.
During the day I get by on coffee, pain killers and antihistamines. I guide my online clients and classes through inquiry with my right foot in an ice bucket. I manage to focus on my clients and my daughter’s needs during the day but at night I kind of break down. My mind is obsessed with finding out what this condition is and how to cure it; how make it GO AWAY!
One of those awful, restless nights I hear a clear voice from within: “You wanted to learn surrender? This is it.” Everything shifts; I stop fighting and resisting. I become one with the itching and the pain, the sensations become an exhilarating ride. My heart opens towards the disgustingness of the oozing and the boils; they are innocent. My mind opens enough to question the painful, itching stories that have been running in circles in my head.
“I can’t take this anymore.” Not true! I am right here, taking it, in this very moment. And the present moment is all I ever have to deal with.
“I need the itching to go away!” Is that true? (Question 1 in The Work.) I let the questions sink like little pebbles in a pond and wait for the heart to answer. No! In this moment, now, I am fine with these tingling, interesting sensations in my body. And in the next moment and the next… My mind opens to the possibility that it may never go away and that many people, including many of my clients, live with chronic conditions that are much worse. Maybe this will be mine. Life is still pretty great, even with this weird thing going on in my body.
“I need to know what this is, then I will be able to fix it and make it GO AWAY!” Can I absolutely know that’s true? (Question 2 in The Work.) No. Even if I do figure out the cause I can’t know for sure that I can make it go away. There are many skin conditions that are chronic, uncurable, and you just have to learn how to manage them. And I can’t absolutely know that my body won’t come back to balance without me ever knowing what the cause is.
“It’s going to get worse!” Awful, disgusting, scary, painful images from all my Google searches fill my mind and I see my body completely covered in this rash thing. Can I absolutely know that it’s going to get worse? No, I can’t know anything about the future.
“I should have healed this by now!” Now I am laughing. As one of my Making Peace with Disease Class participants said: “Well, if I had the power to get rid of my cancer, I would have flipping done that!”
Last story: “I need someone to help me.” How do you react when you believe that thought? (Question 3 in The Work.) I am out of my own business, desperately seeking for someone out there to fix me. I am not able to listen my intuition, not able to help myself. Who would I be without that thought? (Question 4 in The Work.) I am back home in myself.
This is it, Helena! This is surrender. Relaxation fills me, I am pulled deep within, when I am not resisting the itching it lessens considerably, now I am resting in that which is witnessing the itching sensations. A tender love is emanating from the tender boils. The breath deepens and I am filled with gratitude and love for my beautiful life.
I am willing to continue having this condition. I look forward to continue having this condition. (The turn-around of number 6 on The Work worksheet.) It has brought a lot of beauty and vulnerability to my life. I have had to ask for help and learn how to receive support. I have shared some vulnerable things that I needed to say for a long time to some family members and friends. I have learned to be tender with myself and accept my limitations. I have expanded my capacity to stay in the present moment and to enjoy every little thing to the fullest. A cup of tea is just orgasmic! The beauty of the constant itching sensation is a constant reminder to meditate, every moment has become an invitation to take some deep breaths and look within.
But I also found a deeper reservoir of strength and determination within. Some nights I just said: Fuck it! I refuse to let myself be controlled by this condition! I am going dancing with my sweetie tonight! I would squeeze my swollen, oozing feet into my high heel red boots, take a double dose of painkillers, drink an energy drink, smoke a joint and for two glorious hours dance the night away with my sweetie at the Crazy Horse Salon in my rocking home town Nevada City! I gave it my all until I couldn’t anymore and then Hubert would drive me home fast to put my feet in an ice bucket and take more pain killers! The next day my feet would be worse-but it was worth it!
After my “disgusting surrender” I was truly at peace with my condition, it could stay or go; either was welcome. (I call it disgusting surrender cause the whole rash/boil thing was so unattractive, ugly, stinky and gross.) As life would have it; once I was fine with it, I did find an Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist that actually cured me. My wonderful witch gave me really weird herbs and dried little snakes (!) to make tea out of and that, together with a super cleansing diet and acupuncture slowly, slowly helped my body to come into balance. We think my body may have been cleaning out a build-up of my HIV meds. I don’t know if that’s true, seems like it could be.
What I do know to be true is that this condition came in as a deepening spiritual teaching in my life. I learned so much and it gave me an opportunity to literally put my feet up and forced me to meditate a LOT as it was the only way to not go completely crazy. It opened me to even deeper levels of compassion and understanding for my all my clients with chronic and painful conditions. I thought this condition was wearing me out and came to realize that the only thing that gets worn down when you are sick is ego. Your identity of who you believe you are gets worn down, so a new fresh you can sprout!
I learned that surrender is easy when you sit at the feet of some spiritual guru in some beautiful ashram, in the arms of the love of your life or during a Yoga class when you are completely healthy. Real surrender happens when you soften up, open your heart and mind, to that which you believe you really don’t want. And as you open to it, who knows what shifts and blessings might occur.
To learn more about my classes around disease: www.lookwithininstitute.com
To learn more about The Work of Byron Katie: www.thework.com