Story of Recovery: Carol Welch

SEEKING: LIFE ALONG THE WAY

MY STORY ~ PART ONE
I wasn't raised with a specific church doctrine, but my family attended a Methodist Church and a Methodist camp meeting with some regularity in my younger years. From about age 8 years old and into my teen years I was fascinated with the supernatural reading books on UFOs, playing with Ouija boards, intrigued by witchcraft, and dabbling with astrology. I attended some sort of Baptist revival with a friend when I was maybe 10; I remember going up for the altar call. I recall seeing the movie about Nicky Cruise sometime in my preteen or teen years. Around 12 years old, I attended a Methodist confirmation but to my recollection never completed the requirements.

Around 13 years old, I read the four gospels and concluded that Jesus Christ was the biggest egomaniac that ever walked. However, I did like the poetic flow of the gospel of John. In the Old Testament I read about a vengeful God who annihilated people. Of the folks I talked with about the Bible, no one could explain to me apparent contradictions. I could argue most Bible believers into a corner, and for some reason I enjoyed it. Understandably I rejected the Bible as an ultimate authority but thought it contained some truth alongside other religions.

Also at 13 years of age I fell in love for the first time and gave my whole self, body and soul. I craved attention and touch, to be wanted, and to please. I was involved with 4 such all-encompassing relationships between the ages of 13 and 18. In the second of these relationships, I was a recipient of physical abuse. I ended that relationship after about one year which coincided with the final hitting session; that time I fought back. At the time, I did not reveal the physical abuse to anyone; I was embarrassed and didn't want people to think badly of him or me. He was a jock 4 years older than I; I was a cheerleader. I decided then to switch peer groups and became friends with the "freaks."

At 15 years of age I got heavily into marijuana and, shortly thereafter, psychedelic drugs. I began dating and became romantically involved with one of the main high school drug dealers; we were never in short supply of mind-altering substances. Being intrigued with the supernatural, I felt the trips on psychedelics connected me with the spiritual realm. During this experimental phase I overdosed on datura stramonium, a four-day sleepless nightmare filled with hellish hallucinations while strapped to a bed in ICU; my boyfriend was restrained with a straight jacket. Yet, even after the stramonium, I continued experimentation with various kinds of hallucinogens seeking spiritual oneness through LSD, windowpane, blotter acid, mescaline, MDA, and a few other drugs. As the months passed, I became more and more paranoid and withdrawn. The trips began to turn bad and the feeling of tripping lingered even without having dropped any acid. Needless to say I had many thoughts of insanity. My saving thought was, If I was insane I wouldn't know it. I quit drugs about 9 months after the stramonium incident.

At that point, in desperation for my sanity, I turned to Transcendental Meditation and got 100% involved volunteering at the TM Center, assisting with classes and initiations, and planning to attend the Maharishi University in Iowa. Within 8 months of starting TM I broke the relationship with my dealer boyfriend. He got busted within a couple months after our breakup.

After a little over 1 year into TM, I met (my next) boyfriend (5 years older than I) and moved in with him the summer before my senior year of high school. He was faithfully involved with a small Baptist Church; yet he smoked dope on an almost daily basis and we cohabitated "living in sin" for 10+ months. Because I wanted to please him I dropped my involvement with TM and decided I'd try to believe the Baptist doctrine which was difficult for me, especially the hellfire teachings. Almost every Sunday I found myself at the altar in tears of shame wondering if I was "saved." We had wedding plans for a few weeks after I graduated from high school, but I broke the engagement. I couldn't come to terms with belief in a God of damnation. I was also struggling with mood swings, depression, and feelings of low self-worth.



Shortly after the split from my fiance I moved onto a farm with some hippie types who had moved to the North Carolina mountains from New York. I felt driven to find "the truth," to discover God, to find my way "back to the garden." I dabbled with TM (again), Ram Dass, yoga, and the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. I visited a cousin with the intent purpose to go to a WICCA meeting. He ended up having to work so I ended up spending the day with my aunt with whom I attended a Charismatic fellowship. At that meeting I heard speaking in tongues for the first time. That day I was led into tongues and began to see another side to the scriptures. Upon return to the farm I told all my yoga hippie friends that they didn't have to do all that meditation to be one with God; just believe on Jesus Christ and speak in tongues. I became engrossed in the scriptures, trying to understand and craving to comprehend the "breadth and length and depth and height," "to know the love of Christ," and to be "filled with all the fullness of God."

I began reading and rereading Acts and the Pauline epistles, mainly Ephesians through Colossians. I drove over an hour one way to attend church services where I had been led into tongues. The message at this church was different from what I'd been exposed to at the Baptist Church. The theme was love, grace, mercy, and understanding; not to mention they had good music! I was full of questions and wanted to understand the Bible, to be able to reconcile at least a majority of the contradictions. I decided to attend college focusing on biblical studies and counseling. I also had an interest in service work with either VISTA or The Peace Corps.

I chose a college that had "spirit-filled" connections, Montreat Anderson near Black Mtn., NC, in the heart of Billy Graham country. During my few months at Montreat, I attended Montreat's Presbyterian Church services along with various flavors of Charismatic meetings in the local vicinity. However, the same insecurity and shame that I experienced in the Baptist Church again haunted me. I couldn't seem to find satisfactory answers to my questions nor a remedy for my shame.

I became friends with some students on campus who were considered to be spiritually mature. We met regularly for prayer meetings. Talk went on qualifying who was spiritual enough to be allowed at these assemblies. Looking back, these meetings mainly served to achieve an emotional high with some participants being slain in the spirit and speaking in tongues in an uncontrollable manner. During one of these sessions I had to leave because I felt like I was tripping; I felt paranoid and dirty. I don't think I went to any more prayer sessions after that one.

On one occasion Ruth Graham visited the campus. I attended a small gathering with about 20 young ladies and Mrs. Graham. We met in an informal living room setting, attired with a few upholstered chairs for seating and the rest of us on the floor. It was very comfortable. I asked Mrs. Graham questions regarding speaking in tongues and the holy spirit field. Her answer was that she simply didn't know the answers. I thought to myself, If Ruth Graham doesn't know, who does? Around this time is when I found The Way.

Friends from the prayer group at college warned me that The Way was a cult. I considered their words and read about The Way in cult literature. It appeared to me that those who claimed The Way was a cult, based that conclusion mainly on the fact that The Way did not believe in the traditional doctrine of the trinity. Until shortly after starting college I never realized that Christians believed that Jesus was God. At that time I was stunned that anyone would think such a thing, that a man could be God. Therefore the main thrust of The Way being a cult because it was non-trinitarian didn't concern me, much.

Fellowship meetings with The Way were tender and welcoming and didn't involve the frenzied spirit-filled confusion I was experiencing at some of the Charismatic gatherings. At Way fellowships I witnessed what I had read in sections of Acts and the Pauline epistles: all things common, decent and in order, fruit of the spirit, greeting with a holy kiss, etc. I enrolled and took The Way's Foundational/Intermediate class. For once I was getting answers to many of the questions that plagued me. I learned that I was righteous before God and that I had "sonship rights." I began to "retemorize" King James scriptures, repeating them over and over in my mind convincing my self of "the truth." I was finally learning God's will for my life.

In my college Old Testament History class I wrote an answer in response to an essay question on a test asking to compare Old Testament faith with New Testament faith. My essay was based on research from The Way. I received an A+ on that essay with a note from my professor, "Excellent research. I have questions about some of your findings." Having been warned The Way was a cult, I felt uncomfortable approaching the professor on the matter.

The same friends who warned me about The Way subjected me to a type of interrogation with an emphasis on the trinity. I was seated in a classroom. About five of them were standing with one at the chalkboard writing. Their examination included questions, authoritarian proclamations, and accusations regarding The Way and its "devilish doctrines." I recall a couple of them raising their voices at me, I think in an attempt to wake me from what they considered my delusion and to save me from the "cult." I felt attacked, cross-examined, and fearful.

Not long after that incident my college roommate exhibited mental illness and was found in the parking lot trying to pick up sparkling diamonds out of the pavement. She had also recently begun using the window instead of the door to exit and enter our college dorm room. The same friends who led the prayer group and who had interrogated me, blamed me for tainting my roommate and causing her to get "possessed with demons," all because I was attending a Way class and fellowships. I was the only student at Montreat involved with The Way.

These were the people warning me that The Way was a cult? I guess it takes one to know one. Jesting aside, I want to believe these friends' intentions were good. But their approach, for obvious reasons, sent me running in the other direction. I finished my first semester at Montreat and then dropped college to study and serve with The Way.


MY STORY ~ PART TWO
As my manner was, I got 100% involved with The Way. In January, 1978, at the age of 18, shortly after dropping out of college, I moved in with Way believers and got a job in the laundry department of a local hospital. In February, 1978, I met the president and founder of The Way whose charisma and fatherly demeanor left an indelible impression on my young heart and my desire to serve. He signed me up for the next wave of Word Over the World (WOW) Ambassadors to be commissioned in August, 1978.

Prior to that August commission I jumped on board and served with Summer Outreach from late May until the end of July. Somewhere between January, 1978, and July, 1978, I made the commitment to enter the Way's leadership training program, The Way Corps. Members of the Corps volunteered for a "lifetime commitment to Christian service" with The Way International. My August WOW commission began my apprentice year for the Way Corps; I served as a WOW Ambassador family coordinator.

All outreach programs with The Way were on a volunteer basis with participants supporting themselves financially while doing the work of the ministry; there was no monetary compensation from The Way. Volunteers were expected to continue to tithe from income received through their part-time secular jobs during their full-time service with The Way.

The Way Corps training program was not an outreach program, per se, though outreach and teaching were the final goals as part of the lifetime commitment to service. The training program consisted of one apprenticeship year, two years in-residence at Way "root locales," and one interim or practicum year. The in-residence years were work/study programs and were financed via funds solicited by the Way Corps trainee. Those who funded the trainee were called "spiritual partners" and agreed to a monthly or other non-tax deductible financial donation. The Way Corps trainee was to pray for and write to each spiritual partner each month during that in-residence year. A Way Corps trainee could be assigned to an outreach program during the apprentice and interim years or after graduation. The in-residence years included a two-week outreach exercise called Lightbearers and included hitchhiking requirements where trainees were to believe God to arrive at assigned destinations within given time periods and "witness" to those who gave them rides.

Through my Corps years I spent time at three of The Way's root locales in Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio. Though I spent over 4 years in Way Corps training I never graduated. I left the program, not once but twice, midstream in the training. Yet, to break one's Way Corps commitment was akin to a Judas betrayal. The ensuing shame from those betrayals clouded my (already skewed) self-image. I shined during my in-residence years and for the most part enjoyed them. The proving years (interim/practicum) were my death of confidence. The following paragraphs offer a glimpse of that storm.

The first time I abandoned my Way Corps commitment was during the third year of training, called the interim year. I was serving for a 2nd time as a WOW Ambassador, as a team coordinator. One fall day my mind was reeling, as it had done other times: How could I ever fulfill the Way Corps calling? I wasn't good enough; I didn't have the believing. I was a sorry excuse for Way Corps. I couldn't live up to the standards. My WOW team would do better without me. Maybe I shouldn't even be with The Way. Is this really what I wanted to be doing? I was too small spiritually. I short circuited. With my mind racing and fearful (of what I am not sure), I hitchhiked alone from Connecticut to North Carolina.

In the aftermath I was overcome with shame. I had let down my WOW team. I had let down the Way Corps. I had let down my spiritual partners. I had let down God. I had let down myself. Filled with remorse and confusion, I wrote letters of apology. In response I received a kind and encouraging letter from the president/founder of The Way. I communicated back and forth in writing over the following months with the Way Corps Director, who later became the second president. Within those months I felt it was my calling and responsibility to fulfill my Way Corps training and commitment.

Probably because I dropped my assignment in an AWOL fashion, I was denied the option of picking up where I had left off in Corps training and was required to start the program over. I had to wait about 9 months to begin the process anew. During that time I plummeted into self-destructive behavior with alcohol and secret promiscuity. Though I had been sexually active from an early age, I had never before engaged in promiscuity.

I have no doubt that this self-numbing behavior was a response to my deep shame and self-loathing which I continued to bury; part of which was a result from my broken Corps and WOW commitments, from an abortion I received during my first WOW year (a consequence resulting because of an indiscriminate assignment decision by top Way leadership), from the recent broken relationship with the father who was still in Way Corps training, and from endeavoring to live up to unrelenting standards of which I continually fell short. Yet throughout those months of illicit activities I lived with Way believers and helped run fellowships and classes, possibly as an endeavor to prove my worth to myself.

Following that 9 months I moved in with Way believers in another state and embarked upon my second attempt at The Way Corps. I gave up alcohol (for the most part) and put an end to the undisclosed promiscuity. But every fiber in my being was screaming in rebellion against starting the Corps process over. I interpreted this internal turmoil as temptation to not perform my duty of carrying out my calling before God. I expressed this in counsel with Way leadership who confirmed that it was my duty to "pay my vows" of my Corps pledge regardless of my internal misgivings. At that time I believed the scriptures taught to disobey leadership was to disobey God.

Within one month of determining that it was my obligation to fulfill that calling and standing against the temptation of my inner cry to not move forward with the commitment, I became physically ill. At age 22, for the first time in my life, I suffered with asthma and symptoms of an over-responsive immune system gone haywire. I had buried, and continued to bury, what I deemed as inappropriate emotions. Yet carry on I did with the same failing result as my first attempt with the Way Corps.

This time my broken commitment, again in AWOL fashion and during my third (interim) year while on staff at the Ohio Way Headquarters (HQ), was due to the same reasons as the first time with the added weight of the acquired chronic illnesses which had progressively worsened since their inception two years prior. On a fall day, my mind again reeling, I fell into the same short circuit. Surely this wasn't real; it was just a bad dream. It wasn't a bad dream; I had again failed my calling and my word.

In addition to my confusion and anxiety regarding my sold-out commitment, three months prior to my departure this second time, my father was in a head-on automobile collision leaving him to live his remaining thirteen years as a quadriplegic. Though his accident was not the reason I dropped (again) from The Way Corps, it was the reason I moved back home - to help care for him. It was now 1983; I was 24 years old. I was overcome with shame. I was physically and emotionally ill and drained. My integrity was compromised. At my core, I felt defective.

One of the Corps Coordinators (not the Director) announced to The Way Corps at HQ that I was not worth the cost of a dime for a phone call. However the local leadership in my hometown welcomed me with open arms. Shortly after arriving home, I wrote a letter of apology to the Corps Director who was also the new (second) president of The Way. He responded with encouragement and kindness (more about the second president follows). In spite of (or in part because of) my failures, I continued fellowshipping with The Way and serving locally where I could.

Why would I turn my back on my Corps commitment, not once but twice, when in my heart it was an epitome of betrayal? It has taken decades for me to unravel the causes, and still I am not sure of it all. Part of the reasons were due to emotional insecurity, low self image, lack of confidence, unrelenting standards, and fear of failure or perhaps success. Externally for the most part I appeared capable and confident; internally I simply felt an incredible urge to flee. I sought escape from an internal dissonance brought on by trying to run in shoes not designed to carry me, but that I believed were my duty to make fit. I think one reason I chose an AWOL approach was that if I counseled with someone and then disobeyed, in my confused perception, that was a more direct act of disobedience than if I just disappeared. Plus I felt any counsel would try to talk me into staying.

Thus my Corps years were over. Yet I paid consequences for decades, battling feelings of deep shame and reproach for breaking my commitment and never fulfilling my Way Corps calling.

To write an overview about the years from 1983 through 2005 would take a few more long narratives. Suffice it to say that in 1984, after about one year of moving back home, I married my current husband, John, who was involved with The Way on a local level. John provided a stable anchor for my life for which I am eternally grateful.


MY STORY ~ PART 3
Through the following years we stayed busy meeting the challenges of me living with chronic illness, raising our children, and helping care for my dad. We stayed closely involved overseeing fellowships and serving with The Way on a local level; however, seldom did we approach Way leadership for specific personal counsel. For the most part we made our personal decisions and informed leadership if we deemed it appropriate. The Way as an organization became more controlling as the years progressed, step by step endeavoring (and most often succeeding) to meddle deeper and deeper into members' personal lives.

This widespread progressive micromanagement (especially regarding time, commitment/obedience to "the Ministry," personal finances, and shunning those who left) was due mainly to control tactics, abuses, and doctrines gradually instigated by the second president of The Way. He served in that position from 1982 until 2000 and was dismissed from his position after an out-of-court settlement regarding (in part) sexual harassment.

Followers were informed by admission from the second president that he had been involved in a "consensual affair" and thus had agreed to step down from his position as President. Within a year or so of the confession and dismissal, the second president quietly disappeared from The Way, out of sight to the faithful. Questions were not encouraged, which was the standard mode of operation when anyone departed; an uneasy hush with a pretense that nothing had happened and all was o.k.

My husband and I later learned that there were multiple sexual encounters, and the "affair" the president confessed to followers was not consensual. Also, from what I've read and been told by folks who were directly involved with top leadership, other top leaders were aware of/involved with the abuse of authority in regard to sex. Yet, the second president took the full brunt of the fall while some of these other leaders stayed or rose in their leadership positions. From my viewpoint top Way leadership used this opportunity to save their own faces as leaders in the eyes of the followers of The Way. As of 2006, Way followers I had spoken with blamed solely the second president (once highly respected and loved by followers) for The Way's upheaval/downfall. As of 2005, most followers were unaware of the other sexual abuse allegations regarding other top leaders or the founder (who died in 1985). Since 2000 Way leadership appears to have kept itself clean in regard to sexual abuses.

Like other followers, John and I had invested a lot of time, energy, and finances into The Way believing it taught and practiced God's rightly divided Word. We were unaware of the many sexual abuse allegations against The Way until a year or so before I left. We were aware of a few, but not the many. Until after I left, we were unaware of the number of abortions women in The Way had received. As mentioned previously I experienced an abortion while on the WOW Ambassador program in 1978, suppressing that experience and not dealing with it until 28 years later.

There were four major crossroads when John and I had to make the decision of whether to continue our loyalty to The Way or take up allegiance with a Way splinter group/fellowship. It never occurred to us that we had a third alternative: to walk away from all Way-related structure and/or doctrine. We believed Way doctrine to be the proper interpretation of the scriptures and the Bible to be the "revealed word and will of God." One of the determining factors in our decision to stay with The Way was our deeply held belief that it was the "true household of God;" to desert was to walk away from our heavenly father and his true family. Another factor was local leadership; for most of those years we had kind, approachable local leadership. At each crossroad we had to make a choice of who to trust. There were other factors as well.

In October, 2005, after 28 years of involvement and running fellowships at various levels for over 12 of those years, I exited The Way. But this time was not in AWOL fashion; while trembling I informed leadership via phone about my decision.

Their responses were that perhaps I needed to be going to more functions and that I wasn't giving enough, that I should have counseled with leadership before making my decision, that if I had sincerely prayed and contemplated regarding my decision I would have chosen to stay with The Way, that The Way had experienced some problems through the years not unlike the first-century church, that most followers who leave never return, and that I was welcome to come back at anytime. Their answers simply confirmed and reinforced my decision. Plus, at that point no one could convince me to continue; I no longer believed certain doctrines and my eyes began to open to the exclusivity that The Way propounds. My heart was a vast, empty hole; I felt like a shell of a person. I wanted to know who Carol was; I had lost her somewhere along the way.

Looking back, my cutting ties via an official exit had begun 8 years prior, if not more. It was a difficult decision riddled with internal chaos. In my mind, by choosing to leave I would be playing the Judas role 3 times and breaking a salt covenant (worthy of death according to Old Testament standards) I had taken at a previous Way Advanced Class. Through those last years I continued with The Way mainly for my family, not wanting to split us over being non-likeminded; because of my commitment, motivated partly by shame; and because I believed The Way to be the "household of God." I left The Way for my own integrity and for my family; the vast hole I felt was affecting us. Within 6 to 8 months after my decision, John and our children (at the time ages 15 and 18) cut allegiances from The Way.

Ex-followers'/followers' experiences can differ (sometimes widely) according to their local leadership and the years that person was/is involved. As noted earlier, The Way became progressively and more outwardly abusive over a period of time. The most obvious years for John and I were in the mid to latter 90's. However, around 1999, micromanaging and verbal abuse were relaxed. Within about one year of this loosened grip, the 2nd president was dismissed. Yes, the reigns were loosened; yet, the emotional, verbal, financial, and other abuses were never addressed. It was as if they never occurred. I don't think I'm alone when I say there was an air of hush making these events taboo to discuss. That continues to bother me, especially that I allowed myself to succumb to the muzzle. From 2000 onward The Way became stagnant. I have described my last few years with The Way as "a flat tortilla shell with no substance."

Since exiting I've cycled with a myriad of emotions including periods of bitterness and rage regarding hypocrisy and cover-up, a deep sense of overwhelming loss and grief for various reasons, identity issues, the feeling of being shattered, feelings of shame and self-blame regarding certain personal decisions and my blindness to manipulations. Yet, I'm thankful for my many good times in The Way; and there were many, filled with rich learning experiences, "God moments," regular exposure to some excellent teachings and teachers, and relationships with some wonderful people, one still being with my husband of over two decades.

For the most part I do not begrudge any inappropriate counsel I received; people were only doing as they had been taught. I take responsibility for my decisions; yet I do not want to be naive regarding manipulations/abuses that occurred. I am confused at times in regard to my godly experiences in The Way compared with the abuses and abuse allegations. These present a dichotomy which, at times, is difficult for me to reconcile.

I'm aware that my mixed emotional responses are not atypical. From discussing The Way with ex-members of other religious/authoritarian groups and from reading accounts from various books and articles and comparing these stories with those of The Way, I've learned that The Way was(is) not unique in its approach to group think, control tactics and doctrines, and emotional/religious/other abuses.

Upon departure, I visited a few churches but nothing resonated. I dabbled with some ex-Way splinter groups, one of which was very helpful, but I was(am) hyper-sensitive to any sort of group think. I also got involved with an anti-Way online forum which provided needed support and connections at the time. However, after 1-1/2 years I quit participating with that forum due to its own cultic bent and some unpleasant experiences which were similar to certain abuses in The Way. In the summer of 2008 I sought professional counsel with a therapist who specializes in cult recovery.

I continue to consider various schools of thought regarding different beliefs, including atheism. I am coming to terms with the reality that I think I no longer believe that the scriptures as originally given are infallible; nor are they the inerrant "Word of God." If I decide to continue with certain Christian tenets, these will probably be along the lines with certain tenets of Christian Universalism. But my main focus at this point is to discover me and to find my voice, so to speak.

Of course I don't know where my journey will lead from here, yet I want to have a fervent hope that there is a loving creator and that one day all wrongs will be made right. I am willing to be wrong; yet I know that hope has served me well and enriched my life thus far.

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BEYOND SURVIVAL: HEALTH STORY

The following ties in directly to the story above. I think that the fundamentalist mindset caused me to bury my own emotional responses which then developed into chronic immune disorders. Evidence to support this lies in the fact of how well I became as I emerged from the belief system.
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In the summer of 2004, one of my counselors asked if I would write my health story to be included in a book, "Beyond Survival: A Woman's Guide to Hope." She asked a few of her clients this same request. She had specific topics she wanted covered...and thus the content of the following story, a rendition of what I submitted for the book.
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At 46 years old I sat across from my counselor. She looked in my eyes and stated, "Carol, I want you to start thinking like a well person."

The statement stunned me. I felt nebulously lost within it having no concept of what her words meant. Over the next few days I rolled the statement over and over in my head and heart. The ensuing story is the journey discovering what it means to think like a well person.

I developed asthma at age 22 and was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder at age 41. I experienced an overdose of sorts, a 4-day nightmare with datura stramonium, at the age of 15 and an abortion at the age of 19.

I choose the 39th year of my life as the threshold for the following meandering, a snippet of my journey. It was in that year that I began to submerge myself in ink and page, writing my way toward wellness. Journaling changed my course from death to life, from despair to hope.

At 39 years old I was married with 2 children, ages 8 & 10. For the last 17 years I had suffered with severe asthma; numerous bouts of pneumonia; multiple sinus surgeries; environmental, chemical, food, and inhalant allergies; hives, welts, and various skin disorders; systemic candida; depression; mood swings; chronic fatigue; body aches; and a myriad of other symptoms that go with an over-responsive/depleted immune system. I had been pumped with intravenous drugs, swallowed or inhaled a host of pharmaceuticals (including 1000's of doses of steroids), been pricked with needles 100's (if not 1000's) of times for various reasons, and received a myriad of allergy antigens. Alongside with conventional treatments, I had utilized alternative therapies including homeopathy, oral & intravenous vitamin/mineral supplementation, strict dietary protocols, acupuncture, herbs, bodywork, and some psychological counseling.

Exhaustion and depression were constant companions. I was caught in a sticky, mucous-coated, stagnant, thickened, stringy web that felt like it grew in every tissue and cell beneath my skin. I felt trapped in my own body. I craved to breathe freely. I thirsted for fluid energy and to move without pain. I dreamed of running like a deer, graceful & free through the woods. I hungered for freedom.

I often felt like a complete failure as a mother and a person. Shame coursed through my veins. My suicide plan was foolproof, but I couldn't leave my children with the legacy that their mother had committed suicide. My children were my saving grace, my reason to keep drawing breath, to keep trying.

Life was not always dreary. Alternative treatments had become my mainstay for recovery, and I had stretches of improvement and hope. But the improvement came in incremental bits. Yet now my hope was depleted; it was time to quit hoping. I had clung to the belief that God's will for me was complete health. It was time to give up the dream that I could actually get well; death seemed the only alternative for release.

At that point I took my pen to paper and began to write. Emotions crystallized into words upon the page detailing the self loathing, the asthma attacks, the pain that racked my body, the exhaustion, the anger, the murky darkness of it all. I felt such deep, deep shame and self-hatred. Day after day I filled the pages; I held nothing back. I poured it all onto paper, including dreams and hopes. I wrote because I had to; I did not know what else to do. I never imagined that by putting pen to parchment my circumstances would begin to change, but they did in a most powerful way.

Within a few months of starting to journal I was hospitalized yet again (October, 1998) and connected with a doctor that discovered I was suffering with mercury toxicity, a typical cause for immune dysfunction. In January, 1999, I was again hospitalized and connected with a different doctor who confirmed the mercury toxicity. That same month I began an intense 2-year detox regimen which included oral chelation therapy, intravenous and oral vitamin and mineral therapy, hydrocolon therapy, low heat saunas, and coffee enemas. I continued to journal profusely and began again to re-educate myself on healing. I began to have hope. My doctors believed I could gain wellness. Unknown to me at that time, I suffered my last severe episode of asthma attacks.

After 6 months from this last asthma attack, I was able to start addressing more definitively other symptoms: fatigue, mood swings, hives that crawled on and under my skin. Aches and pains surfaced all over my body continually pushing symptoms to the surface, desperately crying to be released. Yet I was hopeful; the asthma was curbed. I had new treatments to try. Maybe my body could get well, if I could learn better how to listen to what it was trying to communicate to me, maybe I could allow it to heal itself. Maybe, just maybe....

The next regimen on my agenda was a treatment known as Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization (EPD), a complex treatment that approached the reprogramming of miscoded T helper cells. For 1-1/2 years, every 8 weeks, I would go into quarantine; receive a shot to penetrate the miscoded cells; and eat only venison, tapioca flour with water, and sweet potatoes. My health improved with EPD: a "sore spot" in my left lung that had been present since my last bout with pneumonia cleared; some skin conditions improved; my sense of smell was restored; allergic reactions and energy improved. Again I was hopeful. Then the FDA abruptly stopped the use of EPD in the United States. My sense of smell was stolen again and some allergy troubles resurfaced. But I remained hopeful that other doors would open for me.

I pulled out previous books I had read on healing and reviewed them. I was led to new books about healing and devoured them. During this time I was diagnosed with a herniated disc, confirmed with an MRI. A friend loaned me the book, Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. Within 6 weeks of applying what I had read, the back spasms were 80% better; after 5 months they were completely gone. This book prompted me to delve more deeply into the relationship between emotions and physical illness, the effect of the dance between the two.

In late 2000, I began weekly psychological counseling. How many of my illnesses/symptoms could be due to suppressed emotions? Was I honest enough to be able to open up and see what really lurked in my soul? This excavation was a gruesome task at times, but in the end was more than worth each labor pain.

Over the next 4 years I developed a support network/program which consisted of journaling, bibliotherapy, and relationships with a handful of people and professionals that I could call upon. This support network was vital for me. I grew in my ability to open up, to peek within and see the ugliness and the beauty. Of course I saw more ugliness than beauty. But I began to understand that even the ugliness was okay; I didn't have to fear it. My hope grew. My life was changing.

During these 4 years my symptoms became less intense and then plateaued. I lived managing mood swings; hives and sneezing attacks a few times a week; and a hormone dysfunction that would manifest in severe aches, depression, and cognitive impairment at least 5 days per month. To manage these symptoms I sought answers through conventional means (including medications for the depression), bodywork, nutrition, homeopathy, and energy medicine. I took about 50 pills a day in the form of supplements and continued with counseling and journaling. I began to think that this was as well as I could get.

In 2004 I was introduced to a nutritional product that had more life-changing effects on me. Within 9 months of consuming this product my hives completely disappeared. The mood swings and debilitating hormone dysfunction were probably 85% better. I was able to get off my daily psychiatric medications and the daily supplements. My energy was more stable. I went from being hit by an 18-wheeler at least 5 days a month, to being bumped by a unicycle a few days per month. I was beginning to taste freedom.

It was during this time when I began to taste freedom, that my counselor stated those unforgettable words , "Carol I want you to start thinking like a well person." My adult life had revolved around sickness; a science of charts and foods and medications and treatments. This new experience of wellness was scary. Oddly I found myself wanting to break down, but couldn't. I thought I would run free once liberated from the tyranny of entrapment. Yet, I was in new territory, unfamiliar, uncomfortable. What was I to do with myself now? It took me 6 to 8 months to become comfortable with being "well."

By the end of 2005 I was well enough to make some major religious/spiritual changes in my life. After 28 years of involvement, I chose to leave what had became for me an abusive religious organization. In hindsight, certain teachings and practices of this group contributed to and intensified the emotional entrapment with which I had been enslaved. Without the wellness I had been granted, I do not believe I could have made the break from that organization; it took much resolve and emotional energy that I didn't have prior to 2004.

Since divorcing that organization, personal relationships that were shunned from decades past have been renewed; crevices I had sealed are being exhumed; step by step hidden bubbles are surfacing and closet doors opening. Certain of these exposures have allowed my heart a resuscitation of sorts. I am coming face to face with neglect and abandonment issues, grief, and loss. I see with greater clarity underlying emotional causes that contribute(ed) to the illnesses. My relationship with my husband has been restored. Music and poetry are integral parts of my life and wholeness. I have been able to tap into my heart again.

What are my maintenance practices? Decent nutrition, exercise, play, prayer, reading, and laughter. When I experience physiological symptoms or tumultuous emotions I simply need to be aware, to listen, and to follow the path that soothes. At the top of my wellness list are journaling, writing poetry, and relationships - with myself, my environment, and people. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. They are the fabric of life instilling hope and encouragement, even when times look dim and dark and when it seems the sun will not rise again.

What does it mean to think like a well person? It means I recognize that I am significant, worthy of love, fully human, and a vital member of the family of mankind; I am not an appliance that requires fixing. Rather, like all in this human family, I am a yearning individual with an innate need for love, acknowledgment, and to know my value.