(As always, I am not a medical doctor. This information is based on my personal experiences and should not be substituted for medical diagnosis or treatment. Please speak to your health care providers about your personal situation.)
Sorry, guys. I know it’s not a topic you find fascinating for the most part.
Like most women, menstrual cramps have been very bothersome for me at various points of my life. I do not have endometriosis, so my suggestions may not be of use for those with more severe pain. However, I have found a few things that help make life a little less painful in this regard.
When I was having problems with cramping in college, I was advised to change my diet: No chocolate and less sugar. Those are not recommendations that a woman with PMS wants to hear, and at that point, I didn’t have the willpower or desire to follow them. I wanted an “easy” magic solution. However, as I’ve aged and I’ve had to make far more severe changes to my diet, I’ve found that it does affect cramping greatly. The most important thing for me is eating organic. It really does reduce the cramping.
What I’ve discovered overall is that the more I’m detoxing, the worse the cramps can get. Our bodies have to detox all the chemicals we are exposed to, including pesticides on conventional foods. Menstruation is one of our bodies’ ways of detoxing: It is a means of elimination just like mucus, sweat, urine, feces, and vomit. Thus, eating organic is helping reduce my cramps by reducing the amount of toxins I’m exposed to. However, I also find that the more chemical exposures from being out in public in scented places, the more intense and painful my cramps are in a given month.
At some point along the line I read somewhere that orgasm can help relieve menstrual cramps. I’ve found that sometimes it helps for a very short while, but sex is not usually on the top of one’s list of things to try when cramps are bad. (However, this is the part of the article that I’m sure many guys would find interesting!)
Cramp bark is an herbal option to help reduce menstrual cramps. I learned about it during my last pregnancy at the recommendation of my midwife when it really helped with intense Braxton Hicks contractions. It also can help reduce the cramping pain during menstruation. In tincture form, it’s pretty strong tasting, but if you follow it with a chaser of a strong tasting beverage (like orange juice), you can get the taste out of your mouth fairly quickly.
One other correlation that I’ve found is that when Lyme is dying off intensely in my body at the same time as my period, the pain from both gets worse. I’m not sure what the exact mechanism of this is, but I suspect that it has to do with the total load of pain my body is dealing with creating an exponential rather than linear increase in pain. I’m not alone in dealing with this phenomenon: Many women end up with menstrual cycles and Lyme cycles happening at the same time, and it can create a great deal of misery.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
Many therapists and life coaches are fond of journaling or writing as a way to release emotions. Occasionally, I find it very helpful to use writing to bring issues to consciousness. However, I have found for me personally, the act of writing about something doesn’t actually release the stored trauma. For that, I need to do metaphysical or physical work after the journaling has begun the process.
On the many occasions when I have used journaling or freewriting in order to help me get all my ideas out on paper, I find it helps me to see patterns in the issues I was dealing with. I have also written many unsent letters to people to help me get closure when getting true closure wasn’t possible. I use both the old fashioned pen and paper method as well as composing on a computer. It depends on what I am processing as to which method feels better for me. For me, prose is the best way of voicing my thoughts and emotions. For others, though, writing poetry and song lyrics can be more helpful. Regardless of what specific approach works for you, getting things on paper can be a great way to understand your emotions.
So where to start? Many people suffer from a brain freeze when faced with a blank piece of paper and a writing device. If you are working with a therapist or life coach, that person may be able to help guide you in selecting topics that would be great for you to write about. If you’d like to do some emotional exploring on your own, I have created some general prompts below. Some of these are easy prompts that may not stir up much for you; others have the potential to trigger a great deal of pain. In those cases, I highly recommend you work with a life coach or therapist to help you process the pain that will surface in the process. Working with a practitioner who facilitates holistic healing using processes such as energy work, EFT, EMDR, or other methods can help to fully release the issues after you’ve brought them to the surface through writing. This can bring about healing that is not otherwise possible for many.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
In this lifetime, no, I do not identify as a witch. I have many friends who identify as witches, though.
But what is a witch anyway? Despite some of the images in our mainstream culture, a witch is not a negative old woman who might eat small children for fun. A witch is often a woman who often practices Wicca, an earth-based religion. There are many other women who identify as witches but who are not active Wiccans. Part of being a witch for those women is doing spells. They use herbs, crystals, metals, elementals, and other items to create energetic transformations. While I do work with herbs and crystals, I do not use them to create spells. I work with energy in different ways. It’s a fine line of difference, but I just don’t identify with spells I read nor do I really identify with Wicca though my spiritual beliefs are very earth centered.
I have seen a past life which I lived as a witch. That life occurred hundreds of years ago in coastal southeastern Ireland. My father died when I was six, and as an unprotected and impoverished innocent girl, I fell victim to the sexual abuse of the parish priest. I didn’t dare tell my older brothers what the priest was doing to me for fear that they might kill him in revenge. However, the damage that the loss of my beloved father and the sexual abuse caused was great. My bitterness against the Catholic Church grew. I ended up becoming a hermit, retreating from the people of the village into a nearby forest. I was a practicing witch who functioned much like a medicine woman. Eventually some of the villagers felt I was a bad example to the children. I was captured, tortured with a pitchfork which punctured my diaphragm, and then burned at the stake. It was a horrific way to end that life.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
I freely admit that there are a few songs that immediately cause me to cry when I hear them played. One of those songs is Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” which was originally released in 1989. For the first decade or so after it was popular, I viewed the song as a beautiful breakup song about a couple who were no longer together.
Then, sometime in the early 2000s, I was looking at a list of suggestions for infant memorials on a random website. One of the songs suggested for playing at the service was “The Dance.” I listened to the song again reframing it in the light of infant loss, and suddenly the song took on new meaning for me. “The Dance” became the story of the love between a parent and a child who was never going to grow up. The song described a very different kind of lost love.
That new perspective on "The Dance" left me wondering about my own experience of my daughter, Rebecca, who died at birth in 1999. I questioned whether I would have chosen the path I had walked if I had been given the choice. Would I have rather never been pregnant with her if I had known what the outcome would be? The lyrics state, “Holding you, I held everything/ For a moment, wasn't I a king?/… I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance.” I truly only held my daughter for moments—just hours—yet I’d do almost anything to have a few more hours to hold her again. I definitely could have foresaken the agony of her death. There is nothing comparably painful to losing your child. However, Rebecca's death has changed my life and the lives of many others during those moments she was with us.
Ultimately I came to recognize that there is no point in arguing the “what ifs.” We have experienced what we were meant to, and then it is up to us to learn and grow from those experiences. Despite the pain, we can become better people through our struggles and loss.
Now any time I hear "The Dance," I am left in tears thinking about my daughter. Yet under those tears, there is gratitude for the beauty of the dance, for the “moment [when] all the world was right.”
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
Lately I’ve seen a lot of inspirational memes that are along the lines of, “Never look back. Your past is not your present.” On one hand, I agree that the past is not the present. We are not the people we were yesterday. We are also not the people we will become tomorrow. Our past is just that: Our past. However, I disagree strongly with the “never look back” idea that seems to be thriving right now in inspirational thinking. While it’s important not to dwell in the past, it is very important to examine the past in order not to repeat it and to improve ourselves.
An example might be a young man named George who lost his mother as a child. George certainly suffered a great deal of pain and loss at a young age, and that traumatic experience shaped who he became as a man. As he continues dwelling in the past, George devotes a part of every day to his deceased mother. He has built an elaborate shrine to her in his spare bedroom. George continues to set an empty place for his dead mother at the table at every meal. Furthermore, George makes it clear to everyone that the loss his mother at a young age was devastating and ruined his life. This is a situation where George is dwelling quite unhealthily in the past, letting the past control the present, and failing to move forward into a healthy life.
In contrast, a healthy adult named Susan lost her father as a child, but she has not forgotten her father by any means. Susan continues to cherish her father in her daily prayers and in her heart. She has hung a picture collage of him in her family room along with pictures of other family members. At her wedding, she offered a tribute to her father, wishing that he could have been with her on her wedding day walking her down the aisle. However, Susan also understands that her father is gone, and that she is still living. She has not stopped her life because her father is gone, and she does not let her father’s death hamper her personal growth. She understands that death is a part of life, and she has let go of the bitterness that she once felt towards whatever higher power took her father away from her at such a young age.
When Susan became seriously involved with her fiancé, she found herself unintentionally doing things that were sabotaging the relationship. She didn’t mean to cause the problems, but clearly something was askew. Thus, she met with a therapist who was able to help her determine what was happening. Susan had a deep-seated unconscious fear of her fiancé abandoning her just as her father had abandoned her (through death) when she was a child. In this case, it becomes very necessary for Susan to look back to the past to understand her present behavior and to correct it so that she can have the wonderful future with the man she loves. In this case, it’s not a matter of dwelling in the past but rather re-examining the past to bring about positive change.
For me, I have had to look back to issues across this life and into my past lives in order to bring about physical, emotional and spiritual healing. I don’t dwell in the past, but I do recognize that those events shaped who I am today. In studying and working with those past traumas, I have been able to release pain that was holding me back. Without that pain, I am able to live life more fully in the present and move forward into a future that amazes me. However, without looking back on those past events, none of it would be possible. It’s hard and often painful work, but the results are amazing.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
To me, one of the definitions of a great book is that after I finish it, I continue thinking about its content and/or characters for days afterward. The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley (Ecco, 2013) is just such a piece of fiction. While technically a work of fantasy, this novel is also grounded in some very deep ideas about love and loss.
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope tells the tale of Evelyn starting from her Great Depression and World War II childhood and continuing to her declining years of life at the end of the 20th century. Along the way, she negotiates the challenges that many of us face in life. As a farmer in rural North Carolina, Evelyn experiences quite a bit of independence for a woman. It is on her farm, inherited from her beloved aunt, that she begins encountering her lovers, both male and female. One of the lovers, Adam, becomes her husband and the main focus of the story. Together, they find a deep love that many of us strive to find in our lives, filled with intimacy and passion. They have a large brood of children together, and the tale continues to walk their lives’ journey as parents.
During the course of the story, Evelyn and Adam must cope with the deaths of both a child and a parent. Riley’s descriptions of their grief pulled me back to the days and months after the loss of my daughter. Her words capture the emotions one experiences in such devastating times in a way I’ve never seen so clearly described. She writes,
Grief is a powerful river in flood. It cannot be argued or reasoned or wrestled down to a trickle. You must let it take you where it is going. When it pulls you under, all you can do is keep your eyes open for rocks and fallen trees, try not to panic, and stay faceup so you will know where the sky is. You will need that information later. Eventually, its waters calm and you will be on a shore far from where you began, raw and sore, but clean and as close to whole as you will ever be again.
In particular, Riley relates the intimacy of sex after a loss in a way that I’ve rarely seen discussed nonetheless described so powerfully:
Since [her] death, [Adam had] held himself back in everything, even with me. Days went by without intimacy. Then he would turn silently to me in the dark, not out of love but out of need, and there was a fierceness to his touch that overwhelmed me. We went at each other as if the hounds of hell were after us. Or we were the hounds themselves. The act was not lovemaking, but grief-making, a new beat manifest, without tenderness, raw and exhausting, throwing us into black, dreamless sleep.
The book branches into fantasy as one of the leads is not human, and yet that plot line helps feed much of the deeper philosophy in the book about our identities. The questions of what it means to be human, to live, to love, and to die are at the core of the work.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance
Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D.
Holistic Life Coach and