The Cause of Our Physical Discomfort is Not Always Physical
A woman experiencing challenging post-surgical symptoms finds relief by opening to the wisdom of the body even when it suggested the most unlikely of causes.
What if you could be free of your pain or your client could be free of theirs?
My client Bridget had had a difficult several years. Diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her neck, she had required extensive surgery to ensure her best chance for a full recovery. In addition to the introspection that a diagnosis like this invites, Bridget was dealing with a very unusual and agitating symptom as a result of the surgery which plagued her every waking hour. She was experiencing a sensation that could best be described as “having a noose tied around my neck,” which was “maddening.” It was so maddening that at the end of each day, Bridget would tear her clothes off, hoping that by doing so she would get relief. But she never did. Bridget was frustrated because her surgeon told her repeatedly that nothing about the surgery could account for such a symptom. It was at this point that Bridget decided to explore Life Centered Therapy. She had heard that the work invited people into new ways of being in relationship to their symptoms and to change the way they make sense of them.
Even though she professed to be grateful that her illness had not returned after the surgery, and even though she “protested” that she ought to feel wonderful about how her life was working out, nonetheless, Bridget was not happy. In fact, she was so unhappy that she admitted at our first meeting to feeling ambivalent about living since recovering from surgery. Not only did this make no sense to her, but she also felt extreme judgment towards herself for this ambivalence. Furthermore, she was deeply anxious about the effect that this ambivalence would have on her physical well-being, worrying that it could cause the disease to return.
In working together, we discovered Bridget’s ambivalence about living and the “maddening” sensation in her neck were connected even though this made no apparent sense. The first thing we uncovered, in ways that we will share with you later, was that Bridget experienced herself in a no-win situation. Even though she did not consciously know the full nature of this no-win situation, when she allowed herself to experience it, she felt a profound sadness, which she described as a deep heaviness and constriction in her heart. When she brought all of her attention to the sensations in her heart and asked her heart pain what it had come to share with her, it articulated clearly and concisely the unconscious dilemma she was experiencing. The heart said, “If I should survive and be able to live, and be here to take care of my children and I am not able to truly open my heart to them, to nourish and care for them fully, I would be better off dead.” The heart went on to share its profound fear that it was Bridget’s time to explore her own needs and soul longings, which would intrinsically limit her ability to nurture her children. When Bridget was able to bring this dilemma to her consciousness and do some simple practices that allowed her to change her relationship to it, she began to realize that the only way that she could be there for her children and her loved ones was if she followed her soul’s longings. It wasn’t one or the other.
Yet we were still left with this mystifying symptom. Again, in using our diagnostic system, we were able to uncover something that I anticipated might be very difficult for Bridget to accept - that this “maddening” sensation was related to a ghost(s) and that these ghost(s) were in some way draining her energy. As we started to discuss this, Bridget had a different reaction than I anticipated, “This makes total sense to me, as last week I had a very strange idea. It came to me that this uncomfortable sensation was caused by a ghost, which I picked up during surgery. This seemed so outrageous to me that I didn’t want to tell you, and, in fact, it had almost slipped my mind.” As Bridget began to focus on the noose-like feeling in her neck, she became aware of a community of little ghost children who were saying that they wanted their mommies, that she was like their mommies and that they wanted to stay with her and not leave. In this moment, Bridget realized that the feeling was focused in her neck because it was the place of her greatest vulnerability and that these ghost children were hanging on to her neck for dear life. At this time it became apparent how the physical symptom, the ghost, and the no-win situation were all really one difficulty. Her susceptibility to the “ghost(s),” and her inability to let go of them, and the bind she felt in relation to her children mirrored each other, and this very awareness was the necessary step to be able to release the ghost(s).
When we were able to explain to the ghost children that we understood that they missed their mommies and Bridget, with her new-found awareness, was able to both hold empathy for them and the boundary of her own position, we invited the ghosts’ energies to return to Source (the Divine, God, Unity Consciousness…). Bridget was able to release the ghost energy when she was able to tell them that while she had been glad to care for them by helping them feel safe, it was now time to go to a place where they would be even happier. Bridget reported, “During the story I could feel the children’s longing, pain and agitation, and when they left I felt a peaceful, calm quietness.”
Two years have passed since Bridget had this session. The sensation that was so agitating to her has never recurred. Regarding the sensation Bridget had this to say, “It is amazing to me that the terrible sensation has gone away. It was awful. I want to cry I feel so grateful.” She has also reported that her ambivalence about living has subsided and that she has accepted the need to listen to the call of her soul. She said it was startling to realize that as she accepted the need to listen to this calling, she became more available to her family in a heartfelt way. Bridget is passionately following her spiritual path; she is working for an organization that supports people in life transitions, and she has returned to school.
Whether there was actual “ghost” energy around Bridget’s neck, we don’t know. While from my perspective that possibility is real, the other possibility is that the ghost of children around Bridget’s neck is a metaphor for how her identity as a mother to the exclusion of other aspects of herself was beginning to choke the life out of her. Both her unusual post-surgical symptom and the malignancy itself (on one level) could have been manifestations of that limitation.
Bridget’s case, while dramatic, is not so unusual. We invite you to share your reflections and/or your experiences in the comments section below.