Dear Alice: Confessions of a Legalistic Workaholic
It was in bible study about a year ago. I was at the beginning of a descent into a tsunami of pain and suffering I had never imagined. I was curled into a chair, barely able to talk, when I got up and said, “I have to leave.” You waited until I opened the door and blurted out to me, “God put it on my heart to tell you that you’re going to suffer, but He’s going to turn it into gold.”
I said “thank you,” and told everyone how sorry I was and how I loved them, but then I left. And the pain didn’t stop. I didn’t feel very thankful at all. And I surely wasn’t seeing any gold.
Up until that point, I was still working. I had a private practice. I was busy and happy with my work. It was barely one more month before I had to give it all up.
It was a stunning year. There was mystery. No one knew what was wrong with me. There were decisions. They took my gallbladder and they were wrong. There was suffering and confusion and shoulder-shrugging by physicians I thought I could trust.
I went from day to day in dread.
I began to understand what people meant by the phrase “lizard brain.” I was in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It wasn’t cognitive. It was physical and totally out of my control. It took 10 months of interminable panic and pain to find out that I had an atlas (C-1) subluxation.
Fast forward: I found a chiropractor who understood what atlas subluxations could do (sympathetic over-arousal, gut pain, thoracic pain, and so on interminably) and agreed to treat me as if my life depended on it. Things started to get a little better. I’m walking with people again. I’m talking to people again. I’m driving to the store on my own. So many simple things I couldn’t do before I am able to do today. But I’m coming up on a year without being able to make commitments or function at work.
My work requires that I am attentive, focused, and internally stable, like a grounding wire. And in many ways, that’s what I am for my patients—a stake driven deep into the ground that can take the lightning strike and drive it far away from both of us. But when I’m experiencing sensations of crawling and squeezing in my chest or abdomen, or the feeling that I’m having a heart attack or fear that my brain is going to explode, I don’t feel safe for myself. Forget about being safe for anyone else.
It has frustrated me, this waiting, this healing, this recovery. I feel like one of those therapy dogs, rooting around in the debris searching for little bits of myself, hoping I can reconstruct the entirety of me. I long for ordinary days. When I get bad days, I weep with fear that things won’t ever get better, that things are going to stay that way. I am deeply sad that I haven’t been able to be helpful or thoughtful or present for anyone else. I’m thrown around like a leaf in the wind. My expectations have been distorted by this experience. My hopes minimized. I am confined to my moments, living from moment one to moment two, breathing as I walk to the count of 4: In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4. And so it goes until I’ve breathed through a mile or two at a time.
The other day I found myself standing in the street with two friends and neighbors. I became suddenly anxious because I started experiencing the symptoms associated with atlas misalignment. And honestly, as I’ve gotten better, I’ve also grown tired of them. And angry. I admit it. I try to stay grateful and can usually find that grace when the symptoms aren’t bad, but when they are, I’m not the boss of me.
But that time, I also suddenly become self-aware. I’m “mindful.” I find myself standing like an angel on a single point somewhere between the frustration and the gratitude for the friendship and camaraderie.
I become a bit quieter and the fear passes. I’m just standing in the street. These are two women I really like. The spasms (or whatever they are) pass. I’m still healing. I’m breathing. And I’m okay.
Later that night, I’m standing in the kitchen making dinner, talking to the dog and suddenly I’m being given the golden gift that you, Alice, spoke about one year ago. It felt like a Divine epistle: “You are worried about work, but you don’t have to work for money right now. You don’t have to do anything. I’m right here. I love you. I’m right here. You are the fruit. I am the vine.”
While I know God loves our labors, He also let me know that for now, that’s not my job. My job is to get well, to be present, and to wait on the opportunities He—and only He provides. It’s okay not to have a formal practice. He commands us to feed His children and clothe His children, not to rent an office and advertise a specialty. My work is not His command. My love and prayer are.
The other day a patient referred someone to me. I didn’t charge. It wasn’t “business as usual.” I spoke to her as a friend. As a sister. As a member of a spiritual body so large and gracious and giving. She told me her story and, although I couldn’t “treat” her, I could lead her to people who really could, who specialized in what was ailing her. I listened. And I offered hope, because there really was hope.
There is gold in this sickness. I am not “successful” anymore. I don’t have a big business or a big blog anymore. I live in every moment and sometimes the moment is okay. It’s a gift. He’s right here.