Peeling Logs (Feb 1994)

I'm delighted that the communication era has arrived and everyone has easy access to books, videos and TV programming which are constantly updating the information available. It is indeed a time of great change and I believe this process will keep speeding up as we near the end of the 20th century.

Self-empowerment and self-responsibility are key words that I hear more and more as I mingle with people. Twenty years ago, when I started searching for answers to my health problems, there were only two naturopathic doctors in Canada, one in Vancouver and one in Toronto. I remember Dr. Mersery bemoaning the fact that not many young people were studying the natural sciences. In 1975, I got my hands on one of Dr. Vogel's books, The Nature Doctor, and followed his advice carefully, especially whenever my family got sick. I had the local health food store bring in his products, which usually took months, and I read everything I could find on health. There were only a few books available up north and few people had any knowledge of alternative health care. I travelled to Vancouver or Edmonton to get help for myself.

Browsing through my family pictures and looking for what feels right for the next front cover helps me to start piecing the next 'Musings' together. Not knowing where to start or what to write about, I would prefer to procrastinate, but I have learned from experience that putting things off only makes them more difficult. So now I choose a day, usually a month beforehand and write it on my calendar; when that day arrives, I keep my promise to start my column. Once I start typing, thoughts and words appear and after numerous rewrites it is ready to be edited by an English teacher. She adds the finishing touches making sure my grammar is correct. Writing this column is a challenge for me as I have been told most of my life that I wasn't good at English. I am awed by the response I get from so many people, who appreciate my openness about my life's journey, and I enjoy sharing my experiences and feel if I tell one person the story, I may as well share it with everyone. Perhaps it could even help someone else get started on their journey to wellness.

This month’s front cover shows my oldest brother David peeling a cedar log. Grandad, who taught us youngsters how to do things, is there for help and guidance. After the log is peeled it is cut into four-foot lengths. This particular cedar was three feet in diameter. It had a rotten centre and had fallen to the ground and dried naturally. This second photo is one of Grandad splitting it into shakes. Using a special technique, he usually got just the right amount of thickness to each cedar shake. It took many logs and many months of hard labour to build a 60 x 40 foot log barn complete with a shake roof. Besides peeling and cutting the logs and hauling away the bark, we children got to carry the shakes to the ladder and up to the roof and hand them to Dad or Grandad as they nailed them in place. As children we were taught that it didn’t matter if you didn't know how to do something at first. You were either told or shown how and then expected to be able to do it. For there was much to be done. I am learning to appreciate this part of my programming, for not everybody enjoys the risk of doing a task that you have no idea how to do except that it has to get done so you get started. And I love the thrill of completing a task.

Looking at my family pictures, I am reminded of my posture. Photos of me at the age of four show my shoulders starting to round. As a youngster on a farm I found hauling wood and water was hard work, but that didn’t seem to affect my brother's posture. He grew straighter than ever. As an adult needing to know why, I asked my doctor many questions about the tightness in my neck and the pressure under my ears. The answers didn't ring true for me and I gave up asking for such advice many years ago. Today I see my doctor for my yearly massage referral and the occasional test. I find that massages ease my sore shoulders and help me for awhile.

About six years ago, I started finding books on the body/mind connection. One day, someone suggested I visit Marsha Warman, a body/mind therapist. My first appointment with her seemed normal enough for the first hour. Then she started sweating and struggling with a spot just above my heart. She pushed and she grunted till she felt it move, but she wasn't physically touching me. When it was over she said, "That block I moved was old emotional pain, probably to do with your Mom and Dad and your heart." I knew she was right and started piecing the puzzle together.

I remembered the emotional turmoil I went through each time my Mom and Dad quarrelled. At the age of eleven, I remember running to the radio and slamming it off because there was a love song playing and I knew there was no such thing as love. My parents had finished the hard work of building our new place and now they actually had to spend time together. The quarrelling increased daily as the work load decreased and we children seemed to be caught in the middle, trying to figure out the world according to our parents' reactions and emotional states.

My Mom tried her best to help me as a teenager. She kept telling me to stand up straight, she enrolled me in a modelling course and even took me to see the doctor, who gave me a series of exercises which I did faithfully for many months. I think they did help for awhile but by the age of eighteen I was busy having children, washing clothes doing dishes and tending to a large garden. I became more stooped than ever. I remember walking past a mirror in a mall and noticing my posture. I would try for the next twenty minutes to walk upright but it seemed like a lot of work, and I didn't have the knowledge to figure out what kind of help I needed. As the children got bigger, I taught them to wash their clothes and do the dishes and they helped me with the weeding. I took dancing lessons and that helped for awhile, but I didn't know what to do except try to force my shoulders back. By now my shoulders were in chronic pain and a couple hours of typing or sewing would set them on fire. I learned to work within my limits but now my innards started protesting from the accumulating stress of everything being pushed downward.

Appointments with Marsha and doing the passive stretching exercises she recommended gave me more relief than I had had in a long time. I continued to read books and attended a variety of workshops. Each had a unique way that helped to lighten the load I was carrying. I started to understand that as pain happens, either you collapse into it to protect yourself or you build armour.

My rounded shoulders were my body’s way of protecting my heart. As I look back at the photos, I can see how the various events in my life shaped my body. After five years of consistent emotional clearing, bodywork, passive stretching and yoga, my sway back is disappearing and my shoulders are straightening without me having to be constantly reminding myself to hold them up. I still have a way to go, but it is getting easier and easier to stand up straight. Today when I pass in front of a mirror I notice my posture has improved, and I know it will get easier as I am learning to listen to my body and understand its language. I am grateful to all the health pioneers and their successors who have taken the time to share their research in books or through TV. Education and preventative health care is the wave of the future. I hope it will become more accessible and affordable so that people who want to help themselves will be supported by government funding or at least get a tax break for the money they spend on alternative health care for themselves.