If you had told my 25-year-old self that someday she would empower people to rise above their doubts and fears, she would have laughed and said,
“That’s crazy! Only wacky woo-woo people do stuff like that.”
What changed? I did.
This is what happened
I spend 20 years in media and the arts as a journalist, performer, and model, among other things.
It all ends with a back injury from heavy lifting on the job. As a card-carrying gym rat, I often lift 50-pound boxes. It’s no big deal. Until the day it is.
All I feel is a little “snick” in my lower back when I lift the box, so I carry it down to the mail room, bring down two more boxes, and go back upstairs to finish the workday.
Later, I go to my hangout in Venice Beach to watch the sunset.
Halfway through my Guinness, I notice how uncomfortable it feels to sit. I walk home and go to bed at 6:30 that evening.
About 3 in the morning, a stabbing pain wakes me up. It feels like a jackhammer biting into my spine. The hammering pain continues without letup.
I try to shift my position and can’t. I am paralyzed, trapped in my own flesh. Panic makes me frantic to jump out of my skin – only I can’t move.
Sheer exhaustion makes me calm down eventually. I just lay there breathing in and out, wondering, “Now what?”
A little experimentation reveals that if I move a millimeter at a time, I can shift my position. When I try to speed it up, the body locks down. The crawl to the nearest phone, in the living room, takes four or five hours.
I call my doctor’s office for help. They aren’t open yet, so I leave a message for the on-call physician.
It never occurs to me to call 911. I feel sure that if a medical professional tells me what to do, I will be able to go to work. Such is the power of denial.
Within 24 hours of the injury I lose my:
- Ability to put on a pair of pants
In the weeks that follow, I feel like I’m losing myself
Who is this person looking back at me in the bathroom mirror, with her filthy hair and yellowed skin and cheeks hollowed out by pain?
She can only stand by propping herself up on a sink, a wall, the nearest chair.
Every day, she must choose between eating and showering because she only has enough strength for one or the other.
Ugh. I want my life back. I want me back!
The system takes over
The worker’s compensation system sends me to an orthopedic surgeon who, unsurprisingly, tells me I need surgery.
I ask if I can try physical therapy (PT) first. The surgeon okays it.
My father Phil kindly drives me to my first appointment for PT. It is also my last. My ultra-fit, gym-honed body cannot do one thing the therapist wants me to do.
Dad wordlessly takes my hand as he drives me home. I hold on to him for dear life.
Under the knife
Six weeks later, I go under the surgeon’s knife for a Lumbar microdiskectomy at the L4-5 to remove a herniated disk the size of a golf ball.
The surgery fails.
Four more failed surgeries, hundreds of painkillers, and one near-fatal complication later – I still can’t be vertical for more than 2 or 3 minutes a day.
“Is this it?”
One day, I find the courage to ask my latest doctor a question I’m not sure I want to be answered:
“Is this going to be my life? Looking at four walls every day? Someone driving me to see you once a month?”
The doctor gently says, “We’ve fused your spine. There’s nothing left to do. Surgically, you’re at the end of the road.”
Wait. What? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Words fail me.
I don’t know what to say as my stepmother Diana, who acts as my chauffeur and advocate that day, drives me home.
Diana’s compassionate glances at me, her respectful silence until I feel up to talking, make me feel cared about in this moment of profound grief and loss.
Her quietness gives me room to feel all that I am feeling. Shock. Rage. Sadness. Hopelessness. Despair.
At home, I reflect: “I’m already living the life of a sickly 85-year-old woman.
“Can I face another 40 or 50 years of this? Do I want to?”
As I replay the conversation with the doctor in my mind, a still, small voice inside says to him, “Thank you for your opinion. I’m going to go and get well now.”
I have never heard that voice before. I wait for more words, but none come.
Even so, my spirit settles into something like peace.
Help and hope
I’m not sure what to do after one of the best back doctors in Western medicine admits he’s given up on me.
My father knows a hypnotherapist who specializes in helping folks with chronic pain. Would I consider seeing him?
I say yes. What do I have to lose?
I tell Hypnotherapist David Bingham Fox (now retired) my story. He works on me for an hour. He teaches me how to control the back pain with my mind.
The pain feels much less intense by the time he is done, so we agree to meet again the following week.
I call my back doctor as soon as I get home.
“I want to go off the painkillers. How do I do it without going through withdrawals?”
The startled but willing physician gives me a taper-down program. (Within 3 months I am narcotic-free)
Weird and wonderful
In the week after my first hypnotherapy session, I notice:
- I sleep through the night for the first time in years
- My chronic anxiety evaporates
- My depression lightens up
We had not worked on those symptoms in our first session – but they go away anyhow. Weird, right?
David and I work together weekly for the next eight months.
I can see clearly
My mind begins to clear. Quitting the painkillers, which made my brain feel like cotton candy, certainly helps.
But what helps even more is David unraveling decades of emotional trauma and distorted thinking that made me see the world as a dark and scary place long before the back injury took place.
By the time we agree the treatment is complete, my life has completely changed.
With my newly clear mind, I start getting antsy.
I can now sit, stand, and walk for 7-10 minutes a day, which is great – but I want more.
I want to do something. Be productive again.
Maybe if I work at something, I will feel more like a person and less like a useless lump.
I research the matter.
With the help of vocational rehabilitation counselor Orrin Kohon, I launch a freelance writing business from my daybed. All it takes is a computer and an internet connection for me to create content for small business owners’ websites, blogs, brochures – even business cards.
Thanks to the miracles of phone and email, my clients never know my physical condition – only my work.
The new business leads to networking with other entrepreneurs to socialize, learn business tips, and refer clients to each other.
I lay stretched out on a portable chaise during our meetings since I can’t sit for long. I feel childlike and foolish, down on the floor while all the grown-ups sit at their tables, but I don’t care. I want to be there.
Change your mind, change your life
One day at a networking luncheon, speaker Christopher Howard talks about how changing your mind can change your life.
Christopher puts his audience in a trance and gives us a post-hypnotic suggestion: We will each wake up with at least 3 million-dollar ideas over the next 7 days.
As an excellent hypnotic subject, I love that idea. Anything can happen!
That night, loving voices wake me out of a sound sleep. They call to me,
“Moira, get up! We need you! It’s time for you to play your part in healing the world. GET UP!”
For seven long years before that night, nothing can get me out of bed.
After that night, nothing can keep me in bed.
Where to start? No idea.
What to do? Haven’t a clue.
How to do it without mobility or money? Not an inkling.
But I vow to do it with all my heart and soul and might.
On the path
Today, I continue to do what I was called to do, with joy and gratitude and awe that I get to devote my life to this work.
One day, after hearing my story, a new friend said, “Wow! Seven years in bed. That must have really knocked you off your path.”
Without stopping to think, I reply, “No. It knocked me onto my path.”
For that blessing – and many others – I am forever grateful.
If that makes me a wacky woo-woo person, so be it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!
If you’d like to see how following my calling looks these days, you can find out here.
If you have any comments or questions, please share them in the box below. I’d love to hear from you!