Will the real healer please stand up?

From the first skinned knee or cut finger and the first band-aid, we are led to assume that healing comes from outside ourselves. The magic appears to be delivered via an adult’s caring kiss, the startling sting of the antiseptic spray, or some mystic property of the sterile strip. Each of us assigns power and builds beliefs based on which remedies our caregivers trust and what seems to work most reliably.

At the physical level, what’s really going on is much more remarkable and complex than any magician’s conjuring act. With no conscious guidance or even awareness from us, a team of platelets adheres to the site within minutes, activating coagulation and clotting, launching invisible processes that result in a marvelous skin remodeling project taking place at miraculously high speeds without your conscious supervision.

Healing is one of our deepest instincts. How differently might we behave if we believed this?

Who is the healer? Many of us are taught by example, experience and advertising that if we are wounded or ill, we need an authority or expert to heal our bodies and minds. We expect a diagnosis, medication, surgery, therapy, nutritional guidelines, some kind of fix. Often we unconsciously relinquish power and authority over our own well-being as we hand ourselves into another’s care or trust someone’s recommendation.

Most of us think of these experts as healers and their tools as healing, but no matter what anyone else does for you, they can, at best, simply support a process that only you can undertake. You are always the healer.

You are always the healer.

This is fairly new news for me, although in hindsight I can see I’ve been playing it out in my life in quite dramatic ways. I started noticing that my beliefs tended to prove true in my experience. When I believed I was irreparably flawed and shameful, my life mirrored that. When I glimpsed a different angle and began to entertain a new possibility, my experiences started reflecting my realignment.

An experiment in belief. Just over a year ago, I decided to test a new belief: returning to wholeness and balance is my body and mind’s natural inclination. This is the sort of thing I might have believed without question if my mom had known how to explain the natural process of wound repair to me as a child instead of teaching me to believe in the magic of band-aids. I’d read about this basic concept in placebo studies and other experimental inquiries into the power of beliefs. I decided to undertake my own experiment to see if mind over matter was a positive-thinking fantasy or the real deal.

I picked something visible and chronic as my proving-ground. For 30 years I’d been dependent on chiropractors to address my back problems, a condition I’d assumed was partially inherited from my dad and the rest a cost of heavy lifting in a factory in my 20s. Since the 1980s I’d had regular discomfort and occasionally severe misalignments that immobilized me in excruciating pain. I’d come to depend on regular chiropractic adjustments, usually at least monthly, sometimes more often.

For decades I’d repeated the story that I had a “bad back” and needed support for optimum functioning. For years I’d validated the belief, often at exceedingly inconvenient times, like on vacation or in the middle of an important project, when I would suddenly become disabled.

In October of 2013, I saw my chiropractor for the last time. I took as my mental refrain the belief that my back would love to support me and is naturally inclined to return to alignment. I paid attention to my thoughts and chose again and again to trust my body’s wisdom. I was willing to let something new and wonderful be true. I literally and symbolically “took back” my authority as a healer.

Conscious healership. This return to conscious healership actually began 20 years earlier when I awakened suddenly as if from a lengthy and nightmarish sleep and realized I was self-destructing at a painfully slow pace. Seemingly against the odds, I realized I wanted to live, wanted to get to the bottom of my despair, wanted to understand why I was in chronic emotional pain.

The details are a story for another day. What’s important to know today is that some inner grace awakened me, my natural instincts toward healing led me forward flawlessly, and I believe I am alive because I trusted them.

A therapist helped me process my feelings and reconstruct my trauma story in a way that brought it out of the shadows and into the light for resolution. A therapy group, a self-help group and laboriously building a diverse resource network helped me grow by quantum leaps. But this I now realize: every single step of the way, I was the healer.

Wounded healers. I will confess without apology to living a good share of my adulthood as a wounded healer. There are many different ways of defining or explaining the term, but the resolution comes down, I think, to this matter of recognizing who the real healer is.

If I know you are the healer of you and I am the healer of myself, we will relate much differently. I will not try to save you and tell you what to do as a distraction from my own work.

That is where I live now, bringing my own self-healing into community and being willing to support others as they do the same.

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