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Breaking Habits that Cause Illness

Part 2 of a 3-part Series

By Charlene Muhammad

A friend of mine came to me one day asking my advice for overcoming a bad case of GERD. She has been suffering with gastric reflux for eight years and this past year, the occurrences were getting worse. My friend – Petra- went from resolving the problem using over-the-counter meds to getting a prescription for stronger pharmaceuticals, neither of which was working. Did I know of an herbal strategy to support her?

I did make some herbal and dietary suggestions and also asked her to try the Habit Observational exercise I wrote about in the last newsletter. Petra tried both the herbal/dietary and observational suggestions and brought me in a copy of her journal notes.

Here’s a summary of Petra’s GERD pattern:

Eight years ago, Petra found out that her husband had an affair. She found this out from another friend who knew about the affair for about one year and decided to tell Petra after drinking too much wine at Petra’s birthday party. Petra never told her husband that she knew about the affair even after reading his emails to confirm it was true.

Petra continued to live as the dutiful wife. She and her husband had been married for five years when she had found out about the affair and she continued to make dinner for her husband faithfully every evening because that is the one thing he always stated he admired about her.

Petra began having stomach issues. These usually occurred about an hour after dinner. Sometimes the episodes were so bad; she would not be able to eat but would still sit at the table with her husband to keep him company.

Journaling her experience for a month, Petra realized that as she was preparing dinner for her husband, she would begin having anxiety thoughts about her worthlessness in the marriage. These thoughts would cause a sour feeling in her stomach, a dull pain under her left shoulder blade and her heart to race. She would then take her prescription medication with a 16-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi to settle her stomach which made it easier to eat dinner. One hour later, she would have an episode of gastric reflux that would sometimes keep her up all night.

My friend and I discussed her journal writings. I thanked her for sharing these intimate thoughts (I hadn’t known about the affair: Petra and her husband gave the appearance of a “perfect” couple). I told Petra I was proud that she had uncovered the pattern for her illness. Petra confessed that she did not know what to do next. I asked her how she wanted to feel everyday. Petra stated, “I want to feel happy and relaxed.”

My friend is on the road to recovery. She took a big step by recognizing the pattern of thoughts and actions that are prompting her symptoms. Acknowledging our habits is the first step towards self-acceptance: becoming the observer in our own life. Once we begin to observe our actions, we can make a choice to change them. But first, we must grow past the comfort that habits bring. Usually, “comfort” feelings cover up our true emotions rather than help us get at the root cause of our problem. For my friend Petra, this may include her reflecting on the thoughts of worthlessness. Where do these thoughts come from? How long has she been thinking like this? How does such thinking serve her life?

Although it appears easy to blame Petra’s husband for her feelings, the key here is to stay within self. Healing is a personal reflective activity. If our thoughts and emotions are triggered by another’s behavior towards us, then we need to dissect why someone else’s behavior influences our actions. Ultimately, each of us is responsible only for one self.  We must take ownership for our actions and reactions to life. In this is our healing.

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