Treating Chronic Degenerative Disease with Acupuncture Part 2: Patience, Detox and Perseverance
Chronic degenerative disease is a major health concern in the modern developed world. According to the Center for Disease Control, “7 out of 10 deaths among Americans are due to chronic illness. More than 133 million Americans have at least one chronic illness. Heart disease, cancer and stroke account for 50% of all deaths each year; arthritis is the most common cause of disability, and Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness.”
I work with people everyday who are dealing with degenerative conditions: cancer, diabetes, hypertension, degenerative disc disease, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, osteoporosis, Crohn’s Disease. Chronic illness is exhausting. It also becomes frightening when there is a degenerative component to it. There is lack of understanding as to what is going on in their bodies. The explanation they receive from their doctors doesn’t alleviate their worry. Much of what they are offered through traditional medicine is management strategy, or drugs to kill the pain, or reconstructive surgeries. Some feel there must be another way to address these concerns.
Alternative therapies like acupuncture are utilized by many, especially in large cities such as New York. Dissatisfied with traditional medicine alone, people seek out alternatives, where they can take matters into their own hands.
Acupuncture is a healing system that works with the body’s innate ability to heal itself. It is not a faith-based system, but one that is rooted in over 2000 years of research and practice. Chinese Medicine as a whole rests on a highly sophisticated cannon of medical texts written by master physicians and scholars. Theories and treatment strategies have been developed, tested and perfected for centuries.
The Chinese medical classics discuss treatment of degenerative diseases like cancer thoroughly. The ancient Chinese doctors had a highly sophisticated understanding of human physiology and how it evolves into disease states that involve pain, tissue degeneration, organ dysfunction, even mental-emotional disturbance.
The degenerative process is one that occurs over a long period of time. It can be a complicated process reversing years of damage. The body must be reset, inflammation cleared, and root cause identified. According to Chinese Medicine, the degenerative process can have it’s root in unresolved infections (viral, bacterial, fungal infections), dietary intemperance or longterm mental-emotional disturbance. Resolution requires commitment.
“Healing” is a subtle process. We’d like to think it’s as simple as going to the doctor and taking a pill. But, often it’s not.
The body is mysterious. It can take time to understand what it needs, why it is unwell, where things went wrong, and how to fix it. And then, once we gain some insight into the problem, it takes more time to untie the knot or wash away the stain. It’s easy to become dispirited; to lose hope; to give up.
During the course of treatment, symptoms can get worse, or stubbornly refuse to change. Other symptoms can appear. The body can hide problems. The degenerative process is one in which unresolved issues become “hidden” in the body, smoldering within, creating inflammation and consuming body tissue. During the healing process, hidden issues can emerge. The condition may appear as if it is getting worse, when its really getting better. Or, it may seem as if more problems are emerging. It is easy to mistake a “healing crisis” for a worsening of the condition.
Healing often requires detox. We are not used to this way of healing as a culture, as so much of our medicine is based on hiding symptoms through suppressive medications. We alleviate the pain and go on with our lives as if everything is okay. Just because we are not having symptoms, it does not mean we are free from disease. Just as having symptoms does not mean we are more unwell than those around us. If there is someone inside of us that is creating problems, we must allow it to come out and be released.
It is helpful to look at our relationship to physical and mental symptoms. They are not the enemy, as most of us feel them to be. They are clues; messages. We may feel our bodies are betraying us, slowing us down. In reality, they are trying to help us. Maybe we need to slow down to heal. Maybe we need to stop so we can see what is going wrong. Maybe we need to get sick to detox harmful toxins.
Symptoms are ways the body detoxes harmful toxins disrupting normal physiological function. A common cold, frequent urination diarrhea, sweating, a flu: conditions accompanied by a fluid release – are often a god-send. They are the mode by which detoxification occurs. The fluid carries out the toxins. The process can be unpleasant, but necessary for the change our bodies need.
Our bodies develop symptoms – be it pain, emotional upset, nausea, cough – to indicate something is wrong. Symptoms are messages meant to get our attention: like a crying child, or an adolescent who is rebelliously acting out. If we look beyond symptoms (or behavior) into reasons why, we can begin to solve the problem. If we ignore warning signs, or placate symptoms, it can lead to serious consequences.
Beyond the fear factor of “what might happen if,” ignoring our body’s messages damages our relationship with our ourselves. Partnerships, marriages, friendships where one person feels ignored, not listened to, placated – often don’t last very long. Or if they do, they are usually not very happy.
We can be very demanding with our bodies. We have our agenda: what we want to do and have. Our body is the vehicle to get us where we want to go. Some of us treat it as little more than that. We criticize it for not being what we want it to be. We take a pain pill and push it beyond its limits, like whipping a lame horse to keep running. Some of us push our bodies until they collapse.
Acupuncture is a holistic system. It puts us back in touch with our bodies, it calms our mind, boosts our immune and digestive functions. It puts us back in charge of our own health. Brings back our sense of empowerment and responsibility. As my longtime teacher Jeffrey says, “everyone has the capacity to heal. Yet not everyone knows how.” The job of the healer is to help empower the patient to find out how. And to support them as they go through the process, doing what they need to do: changing, letting go, detoxing.