Western medicine says that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is incurable, but my blood tests are now normal. I’m symptom-free, pain-free, and I’ve been off all my meds for over two years now.
Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease. Two years ago, I went to the Amazon jungle in Peru for shamanic healing as a last resort. After two months of shamanic dieting and ceremony, I am cured. Western medicine says that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is incurable, but my blood tests are now normal. I’m symptom-free, pain-free, and I’ve been off all my meds for over two years now.
Diagnosis and Illness
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the tissue and joints, resulting in pain and fatigue. RA gets worse over time, and eventually causes bone erosion and joint deformity. When I was was diagnosed in 2011, after several years of mysterious symptoms, my doctor told me that if I didn’t start medication right away, I could be in a wheelchair soon.
My whole body hurt and I was paralyzed with fear: fear of my body falling apart, fear of the future, fear of what my life had become.
Prior to Peru, my life had fallen apart twice. First, when I was diagnosed; and then, a couple of years later, when my husband left me, saying I had changed. I was no longer the energetic, adventurous woman he had first met. And he was absolutely right. I was dead inside. My whole body hurt and I was paralyzed with fear: fear of my body falling apart, fear of the future, fear of what my life had become.
It seemed that, overnight, I went from an active life of rock-climbing and hiking to barely being able to use the stairs. In reality, this disease had been slowly creeping up on me for years until I had a flare that was debilitating, which led to my diagnosis and subsequent med-popping. I couldn’t hold a pen. Food shopping and simple errands would drain me for the rest of the day. I had “trigger finger” in all my fingers and toes, a condition in which a finger gets locked in a bent position and then snaps straight.
I started taking medications to help me get out of bed every morning and get to work. First was prednisone, which initially gave me a much-needed boost of energy. It also depleted my bones of calcium, resulting in another diagnosis; this time, of osteoporosis. This, in turn, required a medicine that I had to take intravenously. I began giving myself a weekly injection in my stomach for the pain and inflammation caused by RA. Over time, I needed medicine for low thyroid, vertigo, and migraines. I hated being sick.
Hitting Rock Bottom
So, I closed down my psychotherapy business, shipped some boxes of stuff to my parents’ home to store in their basement, left my house and everything in it to my now ex-husband, and headed to Peru with a backpack of clothes.
When my husband left me, I hit rock bottom. It was the final push to change. I knew that things had to change, and that things could change. I had been reading about shamanism and the medicinal plants of the Amazon and I had hope and faith that this was my answer. So, I closed down my psychotherapy business, shipped some boxes of stuff to my parents’ home to store in their basement, left my house and everything in it to my now ex-husband, and headed to Peru with a backpack of clothes.
Healing With the Plants
When I got to the jungle, I immediately got off all my meds and started a shamanic “dieta.” A dieta involves drinking a tea made from plants or trees from the jungle, while eating a simple salt-free and sugar-free diet, and living in isolation, immersed in nature. Reading or listening to music is too distracting, while journaling is ok. I spent a lot of time in the river, listening to the rain, or just watching the trees. Thoughts slow down, time slows down, and other things bubble up. This is how healing can happen.
There is nothing special about me; true healing can happen to anyone.
Changing involved some blind faith, and showing up when I had to. It involved trusting myself, and tapping into something much bigger than me. There is nothing special about me; true healing can happen to anyone.
How I healed, and what happened; well, it’s complicated and indescribable. It’s difficult to talk about, as things are constantly changing, and still unfolding. Where do I begin, and where does it end? I’ve been living off and on in the jungle since I did my dietas. I’m neither a teacher nor a healer. I only have a story to share. There are so many things I don’t understand, and the more I try to understand, the less I know. It only becomes more mysterious and unexplainable.
In the jungle, I was given the time and space to work through things on my own, immersed in nature and often in solitude. I was always offered a smile, a joke, or some wise words when I needed it. I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of the core group of people helping me. I was shown that there are things that we simply don’t talk about, and taught to respect the plants and to respect the jungle; that there is power in silence and what it means to hold something sacred. When we work with the plants in a shamanic dieta, it is a journey inward, going within to find our true selves. It’s a cleansing of emotions, memories, attachments, and past experiences. It’s about breaking down the ego; all of our beliefs and ideas of who we are. It’s a meditation. I am still trying to fully understand all these lessons, as the layers run deep. I am reminded again and again that I know nothing.
The journey inward has no ending. I may be healed, and I had some type of spiritual breakthrough, but the process of breaking down the ego takes time: a lifetime. Maybe many lifetimes! There are so many buzzwords popular now: awakening, upgrade, activation. What do these words mean? Everyone has a different definition, but as soon as we define our experience, we get locked into that one way of thinking, trapped within another belief system. In the end, I think it’s not the definitions we have, it’s how we choose to live.
Healing also involved learning to be patient, something I still wrestle with. As a foreigner in Peru, I have a different mindset. I come from a culture that values multitasking, watching the clock, and having a sense of urgency. In dieta, my brain felt lighter and more spacious than it had in years, as I was relieved of the constant thoughts of running a business. In the jungle, we are often without Internet, and even electricity. I don’t have a TV. Life is simple and slower, more in tune with nature. It feels more fulfilling.
Hope and Faith
When I was sick in San Francisco, I was constantly looking for ways to feel better, to decrease the constant pain and fatigue. It could feel overwhelming meeting so many people who call themselves teachers, experts, and healers. It seems that people are quick to adopt these labels. I would research information online for alternative treatments or diets that would often contradict something I had read a day earlier. I know that frustration. It’s good to be skeptical. But don’t give up.
Along the way, there have been highs and lows, challenges and triumphs, and an ongoing struggle to maintain a balance between the two extremes. I’ve been inspired by so many people, found incredible guides, and made new friends. I’ve had dark days and experienced loss. I thought about quitting more than once, but ultimately kept plugging along. And now I see it’s all been part of my journey and part of my healing. You can’t have one extreme without the other. Every challenge has served a purpose, ultimately helping me to heal.
A New Life
Today, I’m free of doctor visits, blood tests, and medications that were once part of my daily life. When I’m out hiking, or just walking upstairs, I remember how it used to be. Life offers so many lessons and opportunities. I’m still friends with my ex-husband. I couldn’t see it at the time, but him leaving me was the biggest gift, as it opened the door to a new life, a life without disease.
My experience and similar healing stories shine light on the critical importance of the conservation of the Amazon, which is at risk from illegal logging and mining.
I’m grateful for everything that happened and everyone involved: for my family and friends for their unwavering support and, of course, to the curandero (healer) who guided and supported me. None of this would be possible without him and the incredible powers of the medicinal plants. My experience and similar healing stories shine light on the critical importance of the conservation of the Amazon, which is at risk from illegal logging and mining. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon hold the knowledge of the plants. This knowledge and their traditions will be lost if we do not respect and protect them. My healing isn’t just for me. It is for everyone. It shows us all that anything is possible.