Writing from the Heart: Body and soul

Sometimes you have to shine a light on the dark night of the soul.


About 30 years ago I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. It came on right after I had lost a document in the middle of writing something that I thought was probably the best thing I had ever written. The writer’s nightmare: I lost the whole document. Completely. Gone. No sign of anything remotely related to my piece. 

That night I felt a sharp pain in my stomach and chest. It didn’t go away. And around 11:30 every day it returned. It was debilitating to the point where I really couldn’t function. I had to scurry around all morning and get everything done I needed to get done before the pain would hit again like an 18-wheeler rolling over and parking itself on top of my upper body. When I described it to my doctor, I said it feels as if there’s a truck on my chest and a knife in my sternum and as if there were a piece of meat stuck in my throat. His diagnosis? A hiatal hernia.

He recommended antacids and an endoscopy, a procedure where they put a tiny camera down the esophagus to see if there is a section that might be torn. He told me not to have spicy foods and not to drink any liquid with my meals and the less water in my day the better. 

After going to acupuncture and chiropractic and eating bland food and chewing like a professional masticator and not drinking any water and still not getting any better, I consulted a bible I had sitting and accumulating dust on my bookshelf. Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” was one of those tomes my sister and I had bought in the 60s like the Whole Earth Catalog and “The Complete Book of Food Combining.” In those days when we didn’t trust the medical establishment, we would use it as a reference and we were always surprised by the innate wisdom of the hippie culture that was more interested in healing than in selling products.

The index had an alphabetical list of physiological diseases and then explanations as to what the psychological origin of your problem might be. I turned to hiatal hernia and it said: ruptured relationships, unexpressed grief, and incorrect creative expression. I was so offended by her completely off-base analysis I slammed the book shut and thought no wonder there is so much dust on that book. It’s full of bull****! 

All my relationships were nothing but harmonious, I cried easily and often but, well, the incorrect creative expression part had some validity. At the time I was an editor and mostly my job was slicing and dicing other people’s writing. It didn’t feel creative. I felt like a mean surgeon. 

After I closed the book I spent another year suffering. 

One day in an act of total desperation I pulled the book down once again. This time when I read the words “ruptured relationships” I had to admit that my sister and I had had what we both were calling a divorce. We had agreed that we needed space from each other. Of course this was a ruptured relationship. So that was two out of two. 

Then one day I got a call from a woman who said she wanted to take one of my Writing from the Heart workshops but she had no money. She was a massage therapist and asked if we could trade. I had never had a massage and I said sure. She arrived with her table and the minute she touched me I started sobbing. And sobbing. And weeping and sobbing. Not crying. But wailing. I had had so many losses in my life that I must have stuffed down until they said “no more.” I got off the table and the hiatal hernia was gone. Unexpressed grief. Bingo. Voila. Number three! 

But four months ago it came back with a vengeance. This time I knew the piece of meat stuck in my throat was grief. But knowing and healing are two different things. My sister died last year and even though I’ve had moments of deep sorrow, I hadn’t really allowed myself to FEEL my broken heart. 

Instead of re-membering, once again I went to doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, took antacids, stopped eating spicy foods, drinking seltzer. But the pain persisted. 

Finally about three weeks ago, I got real and made myself go where no one wants to go voluntarily: the dark night of the soul. With all the support from friends, my magnificent family and having the luxury of time, I did it. I sobbed my way back into health. 

I’m not a doctor so don’t try this at home. But maybe what the heck? Try this at home.