The other day I was watching a television program with my wife. The program was about disease and the part we can play in it. At one point, the presenter stated how several people had received wonderful benefits from being sick and that they did not experience the disease itself as a negative which needed to be eliminated. He further stated that the healing people seek may not necessarily include the complete healing of their body.
After the program I turned to her and said, “Yes, I agree that disease can be a teacher, but if one does not know that they can eliminate their disease then it’s just another box. A glorious box, perhaps, with great lessons and insights to be gained. But, it is still a box and something that we 'can’t change'. And in that box there is no freedom in choice, only degrees of helplessness.”
When I was sick with what my doctors said was an incurable infection in my spine, I was sent to a psychiatrist who wanted me to work with him so that I could learn to live within what he called “my human limitations.” He said that there was a good chance I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and he could help me face that reality with dignity. I told him that I didn’t want to learn how to live in a wheelchair with dignity, but that I wanted instead to learn how to get well. He said that I was living in a dream world.
We argued for almost an hour. He read from my medical records and I quoted from scripture and self-help books saying, “All things are possible if only I believe.” It became a very heated discussion. He told me that I was in denial and I told him that I thought he was a jerk. He confronted me with all the evidence that he knew about me being an angry young man who was afraid. And I threatened him with bodily harm.
Finally, I stood up and told him, “I won’t believe you! I am not my medical records, I am not my past, and I won’t use what is going on now as a predictor of my future!” As I walked out of the office I heard him ask, “Who do you think you are?” With that question filling my mind I went back to my hospital room. This hospital stay happened to be for the fourteenth surgery on my spine.
At first I was just angry and resented him for confronting me. Then that anger, mixed with the fear I had within my own beliefs, really plugged me in. But the more I thought about what he had said, the more I had a sense that he was getting to a core issue when he asked, “Who do you think you are?”
Oh, I had read positive books. I had sayings and positive affirmations on my wall. I had started my days with various rituals that were supposed to be meaningful. Yet, when I stood in front of the mirror after shaving to declare my reality I would begin with “I am a survivor.” The entire universe would respond with “Ok, survive this” and I then would own up to all the rest of what I had been taught: I am the adult child of an alcoholic parent…I’m terribly co-dependent. My small self and the saboteur within were always separating me from my good and my ego was always leading me astray.
I was so busy owning up to my human frailties and shortcomings I had no clue about my divine magnificence and authority. And from that limiting perception of self I began to realize that there was no way I would be able to create the health I wanted. That’s when I changed my mind. I was no longer going to validate suffering and disease as the great teacher.
It was nine years and thirteen surgeries later before I was whole and infection free. It then took another five or six years for me to create my body so that it was pain free. I wasn’t always on track or disciplined with what I thought I should be doing. But I did it. There were days, weeks and even months when I was angry and depressed, but I kept using the tools of choice as I knew them and, finally, I created the health that I wanted.
Certainly, I learned some great lessons while I was sick. And the most important lesson was: I am not my stuff, I am not my past, I wasn’t even what was going on in my now. I was and am a magnificent expression of the Divine, and the rest I get to make up.
Looking back, I know the psychiatrist gave me just what I needed when he asked, “Who do you think you are?"
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