What would happen if you replaced a language of violence toward illness with a language of compassion and nurturance? An integrative MD explores.
Throughout my medical training, I was bombarded with war metaphors. We were taught to attack disease. We were at war with cancer. We conducted disease surveillance and eradication campaigns. Pathogenic microbes were considered enemy combatants.
Our medical vernacular is laden with war motifs. This phenomenon may seem harmless, but the words that we use in medicine matter. Though they are used metaphorically, these words become battle cries, signaling a state of emergency to our bodies. Our bodily systems optimize for fighting, fleeing, or freezing—but not for healing.
When I begin working with a patient, I often find their body and psyche locked in a fight state. They are up to date on the latest disease treatments and strategies. They have consulted the highest-ranking institutions. The patient is prepared to wage war against their illness. But we heal at an optimal rate when resting in a state of calm, safety, and social connection.
I invite my patients to discard their learned war metaphors and shift toward embracing their illness in both word and deed. In doing so, a new vernacular is born with terms such as acceptance, deep listening, nurturing, attending, wisdom, embodying, possibility, ecology, fluidity, and presence.
With this new language comes a fresh way of relating to their disease process. When we view illness as something separate from ourselves, we are prone to see it as other. Other becomes enemy, and an inner battle ensues, propagating states of fear and anxiety.
Instead of being at odds with one’s illness, we can learn to dance with it. We can shift from being a passive recipient of disease to being actively engaged with our experience. We can transform the static notion of disease and engage in relational dynamism. Deep within ourselves, we can create a sense of alliance.
The next time illness arises, instead of posturing for attack, consider bowing in humility and holding yourself with love and care. Such gestures signal radical acceptance, spiritual maturity, and the ability to embrace life as it is. By nurturing our disease processes, we are able to attend to the totality of our being with wise attention and care.
Such a shift does not preclude discernment and wise treatment decisions. But when we abandon our adversarial stance against disease, we can engage our faculties of wisdom and deep knowing.
By using language of alliance, we soothe and befriend not only our disease state, but our entire being. We learn to move with and respond to the dynamic terrain of illness. We become our own caretakers, finely attuned to what our bodies are communicating and able to see the needs that are not being met. We become present to our innate healing wisdom.
As we begin to understand that we are not separate from our disease process, we become inspired to make transformative shifts in our lives. We leave no-longer-meaningful professions, end toxic relationships, and put self-care and planetary care as our highest priorities. We begin a new relationship of stewardship with our bodies and our homes.
We heal, not when we are against an aspect of ourselves, but when we welcome it all.
Read Dr. Rangel's thoughts on breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.