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How Do You Tell Your Story?

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

I had an important conversation with one of my acupuncture students the other day.  He is a chiropractor, in practice a long time. We were discussing the emotional weight that one of his patients appeared to be carrying, and he shared more of her story with me, what she had been through.  I love hearing people’s stories. Patients sometimes worry that they are “complaining too much,” but really this is why we are here, to witness and unburden.  But I am also listening for how they tell their story.  Is it one of struggle but ultimately triumph?  Is there resignation or is there hope?  Is their pain or sickness something they are dealing with or has it become their identity?  This is important. How Do You Tell Your Story?, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, OR

The patients who have the hardest time healing, from my experience, are those that are very imbedded in their unwellness. And who can blame them, many people have suffered greatly and are still struggling.  In my student’s words, some can become biophobic, afraid of life.  They don’t trust in life’s goodness, in others, or in their own bodies.  And yet there is the cancer patient who plans all the hikes they will do when they are feeling better, or the woman who has a hard time conceiving but makes amazing art or helps others birth.  They still suffer, they ache to be well or to have a child, but their spirit flourishes and guides them on.  This is not for me to take on, this is their story. 

Where I do see some role for Chinese Medicine is in showing them hope, glimpses of being pain-free, symptoms improving.  And also, we observe where their illness or struggle fits into the bigger story of their life, their pattern, as we refer to it.  The tendencies the body has shown, the vulnerabilities at times of transition, the evolution of their health journey.  In this, there is a sense of being on a path and uncovering where this challenge fits in, and what it has to teach us.  As an example, a patient might present with headaches, and we come to learn that they are very stressed and feel stuck in a job that they find unfulfilling.  In Chinese Medicine, this situation stagnates the Liver Qi, causing muscle stiffness and headaches, possibly chest tightness or abdominal pain.  Along with acupuncture and herbs, the solution might be a new job, or it might be to support the Liver by doing something creative, because the Liver is associated with vision and creativity.  As the wood element, it wants to grow and move.  Exercise is also great for this common pattern.  

But back to the story telling.  In this, we might hope to see a change in how patients perceive and tell their story.  As a birth doula, I am part of a facebook group for women who tried to birth naturally and instead had a cesarean.  For many women, this feels like a disappointment, maybe even a failure, that they carry with them.  There can be a lot to process when a birth experience is traumatic.  Someone in the group asked, “what if you told your story as if you were bragging?” I thought about this, not just with birth, but with so many things.  What if we looked back on our struggles, or even our current hardships and thought, wow, can you believe what I have been through? It’s impressive, right?  Especially if you can recognize in it something you have learned about yourself, perhaps even something you have overcome. Because the struggles don’t go away, but we can become more resilient.  We can recognize our patterns and gently untangle them and put them aside.  And then tell the story of our healing.