“Do you think you’re holding your stress in that shoulder?” she asked.
Tears sprang to my eyes. “Yes,” I replied in the high pitched voice that indicates I’m on the brink of sobbing. I had been talking for the last half hour with the acupuncturist. It was my first time; we were reviewing my issues and what I hoped to accomplish by having someone stick little needles all over my body.
I wanted my shoulder to stop hurting, some stress relief, and maybe even diabetes management and making sure my one kidney stayed up and running until the day I turn 97.
Dr. Lara assured me that tears were a good thing. I knew that, but it was nice to have permission. She would start with a general well-being treatment while I lay on my back. Then she’d flip me over and work on my shoulder.
She left the room while I got undressed and put on a smock. I layed on a table with a pillow under my knees. She came back in and started to talk about the general theory of acupuncture. Honestly, I don’t remember much of it, due to the extreme relaxation I was about to experience. The left side of our bodies are “yin” — emotional and nurturing. The right side is Yang — more intellectual side. The goal is to keep them in balance. I am dramatically oversimplifying this concepts.
She looked at my tongue, the be-all-end-all of Chinese medicine diagnostic tools and felt around on my belly.
Soon, she started started sticking needles in me. It felt like a very slight prick, really just a tiny pinch. Not painful. She told me of the sensations I may experience, depending on the area the needle went in and where my issues were. Sometimes, I would feel a tinge when the needle would go in. Sometimes nothing. In some spots, it was almost a swelling feeling as the “chi” — or energy — was released.
Ears are a big deal — They are linked to the whole body. She stuck a pin in my left ear, and then another. I began to cry. She told me she had just poked the area of the ear that’s linked with the heart. “Your heart must be very active right now.” I nodded and sobbed — those racking sobs you get when you have stuffed your feelings for weeks on end, so you can attend to day to day business.
I remember hearing a Garrison Keillor monologue where he extolled the virtues of catharsis. He encouraged people to do whatever it takes — think of something tragic, like the death of a child — to have a good cry. I was having little holes poked in me, so I could get it all out.
Dr. Lara coached me to breathe: in through the nose and out through the mouth. She assured me I was okay. She stuck a bunch more pins in and once I was settled, gave me an eye pillow and left the room so I could relax for about 15 minutes.
If I could put those 15 minutes in a jar so I can have them back whenver I wanted, I would be the most content person on the planet. All the cold storage of grief, pain and anxiety was dripping out through dozens of tiny holes in my skin. I thought about my husband and my daughter and how much I loved them. Beautiful little moments of our lives flitted through my mind. Nothing episodic, just a look of love on Ben’s face, Nora’s gigantic smile. It was epiphany time:
- writing is intrumental to my life
- unhappiness is clinging to the notion of control
- lives are wasted when we don’t make space for who and what we love
Dr. Lara came back in, cracking the door at first, approaching softly and respectfully. She removed the eye pillow which made me very, very sad for a moment.
It was time to work on that shoulder. I was on my stomach now. The needles were still in my ears. She started working on my back and shoulder. The goal was to activate the muscles causing the pain and get them to release. She would stick a needle in and wiggle it until the muscle would jump a bit. If you’ve ever had someone work on a knot in your back and actually make your body jump, it’s like that, but more. Once all the needles were in place in my back, she went away again. This rest period was not as emotional. It was relaxing, yet my muscles were giving some back talk.
When she took the needles out, she gave me a light massage. My skin was a bit sore from the needles, I didn’t know it until she started rubbing.
“Now I’m going to wake you up,” she said. She started rocking my body back and forth vigorously. I definitely needed waking.
I got dressed and stretched a bit. My shoulder was very sore in two places: at the base of my neck and next to my spine right above my bra strap. I mentioned it and she put two little mentholated pain relieving pads on those spots. She advised an epsom salt bath, as those muscle would be full of lactic acid from all the poking around and a good soak would pull some of that out.
She expressed how impressed she was that I had weathered the emotional release part of the treatment. Apparently, some people freak out at that point and she has to talk them down. I told her I have a tendency to store things up, but I’m never sorry to let them out. (The past few years, I’ve been doing too much storing and not enough releasing.)
I made my next appointment and walked onto the street with a floaty feeling.
The best way to describe the after effect? A space had been created inside my thoracic cavity. It had been full of thick stuff, without my noticing, and now it was gone. I was lighter, calmer — and stronger.