Post Traumatic Growth, Pain, Healing

I once heard a minister say, “Whatever happens, praise God and thank Him. If things are going well, they will continue. If things are not going well, they will improve.” I practiced this attitude.

One time, I was hauling a heavily loaded cart at an elder facility where I worked as the Organic Gardening Coordinator. I was approaching the elevator of the newest house, pulling  hundreds of pounds of organic produce, to deliver to the chef. An elderly gentleman got off the elevator with his walker. I waited for him and backed the cart in, accustomed to the slow door speeds that were the Oregon law for elder facility elevators. The door closed on me and crushed me. All my muscles were strained to pull the heavy cart; I did not see it coming; it was mistakenly set to office speeds; the sensor was defective.

It hit me in my head, back, shoulder. I felt the powerful shock in my low back go down into my feet. I praised God and thanked Him for the impact not being 2” to the left where it would certainly have crushed my spine, or 3” to the right where it would certainly have fractured my pelvis. As it was, I was in terrible shock. The elevator door had broken on impact with me—it mostly closed, and would not move or open. The elevator was stuck and I used the intercom to call the emergency elevator service. They didn’t answer the phone. I yelled through the door for one of the elderly residents to get help and find a staff person.

Please note that I did not praise God and thank Him unconditionally. I needed more practice to attain post traumatic growth.

Six months later, still in continuous pain, my hands unable to grip tools, barely able to walk, impossible to fully resume the gardening work with elders that I loved with my whole heart, Worker’s Comp sent me for an MRI.

I will never forget when I got the news of the worst possible outcome. I had cancer of the spine in my neck. Without thinking, I wholeheartedly praised God and thanked Him. The next morning in the garden, pinching off tomato sprouts, I realized my heart was still open with gratitude and that I had finally succeeded in this spiritual practice!

Then I felt an unknown power come over me–what I now see as part of post traumatic growth. I cut back on my work hours to focus within. I looked up Louise Hay for cancer.1 I ate a raw foods diet. Many friends and my congregation prayed for me. I did intensive inner work, bringing up every tiny shadow of resentment for any event or woundedness in the past, no matter how many times I had processed it before; each one through the Emotional Tone Scale, with love and gratitude, up to forgiveness and enthusiasm. Within five months, the cancer was gone. And the new MRI showed something else: where my vertebrae hit on impact with a fingerlike destruction of the spinal cord myelin sheath–it had also regrown. And I was in much less pain.

I know that a massage business blog is not supposed to be about faith practices. This blog is about Post Traumatic Growth. For nearly everyone who goes through PTG, they have an experience of expansion of faith, closer relationships to people, emotional calmness. The elevator collision resulted in many years of severe pain. However I am very grateful. Without it, I would never have discovered the cancer and moved through the deep healings I needed to do.

I find this akin to some Buddhist practices. The Buddhist phrase, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”², has a lot of meaning for me. My reaction to events is what causes me suffering. The events will just happen, they are part of “what is”. There will be pain, so long as we are in the body. We choose to be alive. So there is pain. Suffering comes from our reaction to our pain.

We can choose to be at peace, whatever comes. This takes training and discipline. We can react to untoward events with anger, frustration, sadness, discontent, disconnection, despair, apathy, or resignation. Or we can choose the attitude of “I will find how to turn this into a gift.” This can become a personal triumph of the power of love, similar to “Whatever happens, praise God.” It is not always easy. Even with many years of practice, it may not be the automatic reaction to unexpected news.

But the rewards are immense. Having heard my story, three people from my congregation sought me out when they got the news of their diagnoses. Cancer is not always about death, although it can be. It can also be about deep inner healing, facing our woundedness, making new choices how to live, how to reconcile, how to forgive, how to love ourselves, how to walk the path with equanimity.

1 You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay 1986. Hay House Publishing.
² See Cheri Huber’s Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional