A Path to Healing: An African American Guide to Wellnessby Andrea D. Sullivan
Twenty years ago, at age twenty-nine, Andrea Sullivan was a high-level executive at HUD in a state of what she now calls "dis-ease": stressed out, thirty-pounds overweight, with a face full of acne. Moved by a desire to help her community and herself in a "meaningful way," she quit her job and decided to become a doctor. She applied and was accepted to Bastyr Medical School for Alternative Medicine and became a naturopathic physician.
Since then, Dr. Sullivan has been at the vanguard of naturopathic medicine and has helped hundreds of African Americans create dramatic and lasting lifestyle changes. Unlike traditional doctors, naturopathic physicians, with the aid of herbs, roots, and other natural remedies, treat the patient, not the disease.
Here, in easy-to-understand language, Dr. Sullivan provides an overview of alternative medicine (paying close attention to naturopathy), discusses the African American tradition and its link to naturopathic medicine, and delves into stress, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, depression, and diabetes (all problems that plague African Americans), and prescribes an overall guide to maintaining health and keeping disease at bay.
In A Path to Healing, Dr. Sullivan makes a convincing case for naturopathic medicine as the best way to prevent disease and treat chronic illnesses, while not discounting the use of traditional Western medicine, especially in cases of traumatic injury.
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Read an Excerpt
One of the reasons I decided to go to graduate school to study sociology and psychology was that I wanted to have a better understanding of human behavior. I was in my early twenties, fresh out of college and a little naive about what I wanted to do with my life, although I knew I wanted to "save the world." I had a lot of unanswered questions about the way people acted--the way they responded to things and expressed themselves to one another. I thought that an advanced degree in a field which deals with the interaction of individuals would provide some of these answers.
Long before I made this decision, however, I had always wanted to believe there was more to me than my mind and emotions, my acquisitions and success. No matter how well I did in school, I still felt inadequate. No matter how many friends I made, I still felt separated and distant from them. I needed to make some sense of all the suffering in the world, including my own. I needed to know more about Truth, about the idea that there is something greater than man and his intellect.
I also wanted to rid myself of the sense of inferiority and pain I had accumulated as a black female in this country. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know who I was. I wanted an awareness of myself and how I fit into life. I wanted to understand others so that I might have more compassion and kindness. And I wanted the same for others.
But sociology didn't provide the answers. Nor did my job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It wasn't until I began studying natural medicine that I was able to find my true self--and along with that the Truth. As I mentioned in the Introduction, between my second andthird year of naturopathic school, while traveling in the Holy Land, I discovered the soul, the part that is connected to the universal spirit that connects to us all. As the New Testament declares, the kingdom of heaven is within us. The true self focuses on the divinity within. It uses love and wisdom to create harmony with God's creations. We are all part of creation. We are made in God's image, and we have the right to be joyful, healthy, and wealthy. We deserve it. This new awareness helped me replace my false self, the self that harbored feelings of fear, insecurity, and pain. This awareness answered my many questions.
The false self is a great force, but not the greatest force. Opposites exist everywhere in nature, including the human psyche. Underneath the negativity of the false self is the positive nature of the true self. Likewise, with homeopathy, the remedies replace the unhealthy patterns and thoughts of the false self with those of the true self. Homeopathic remedies work to eliminate limitations and fixed ideas that make the individual more susceptible to disease.
George Vithoulkas is a world-renowned homeopath and was one of the first Europeans to revitalize homeopathy in North America. About health, in The Science of Homeopathy, Mr. Vithoulkas specifically says:
Health is freedom from pain in the physical body, having attained a state of well-being; freedom from passion on the emotional level, having as a result a dynamic state of serenity and calm; and freedom from selfishness in the mental sphere, having as a result total unification with Truth.
I was intrigued. Going to naturopathic school was a continuation of my search for Truth. I thought homeopathy was a way for myself and my patients to gain freedom and discover the Truth. I was right.
How does all of this talk about God, true self, and false self relate to homeopathy?
Let's begin with an understanding of the mental state. Our mental state is responsible for our memory, concentration, and creativity, among other things. A mental disturbance comes in a variety of different conditions and refers to more than just medical diagnoses like schizophrenia or manic depression. For example, a mental disturbance may make it difficult to express one's thoughts or to find the right word in conversation.
A mental disturbance may also hinder your consciousness. When you begin to lose awareness of yourself in relationship to others and the environment, the result is harmful behavior like selfishness or greed. Self-absorption and intolerance are other signs of this mental disturbance. We cannot know the Truth when we are operating out of self-advancement and egotism. Instead, we become oblivious to others' needs.
We usually know when we are mentally healthy. We are aware of being part of a greater whole. Our behavior is likely to be productive and fruitful. We pursue goals of health, happiness, wealth, and love. We encourage others to do the same. We have selfless creativity for ourselves and others. When we are well, we can give freely of ourselves from the overflow of who we are. When we are well, it hurts not to give.
Emotional wellness requires the ability to feel. When patients say they have no feeling about a situation or life experience, I find they have likely suppressed the feeling or disassociated from it because it is too painful. In order to survive emotionally, these patients have had to separate themselves from the experience, as if it happened to someone else. There is an Ethiopian proverb, "He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured." We should try not to hide that which is making us sick. Also, when we react to things in the past, we are unable to deal with things in the present and therefore become emotionally unhealthy. We need to be able to feel the range of emotions, from good to bad, to be healthy. When we have emotional freedom, we are able to experience our feelings and let go of them. We don't burden ourselves with one emotion. We become angry, for example, but it is an anger that is appropriate in degree and intensity for that situation. Emotional freedom enables us to return to a state of peace and calm.
On the other hand, physical health is much easier to assess. We are used to focusing on our physical condition when we are sick. Physicians have grown accustomed to focusing on physical disease, picking out individual organs to heal rather than the entire person. In fact, the medical establishment was so intent on dealing with physical symptoms, it did not recognize a connection between mind and body until recently. Yet most people would admit that conditions like fatigue, chronic headaches, or arthritis are closely connected to our emotional state. Physical health allows us to be energetic and pain-free and to experience a state of well-being.
Now, having a greater understanding of wellness and homeopathy, I believe it is the one medicine that touches deeply into a person, truly creating wellness on all levels, for the homeopathic remedies touch the soul.
Treating the Whole Person: Body, Mind, and Soul--An Acute Condition
Whether we believe a condition like arthritic pain makes one irritable and angry, or whether an angry and irritable nature contributes to arthritic pain, we cannot deny the connection between our natures and our bodies. Homeopaths view the person and the symptoms in a totality; and it is the totality of symptoms in a person that we treat. The homeopath will individualize a treatment by assessing the state and the nature of the patient in order to give the correct remedy. However, there are times when the physical symptoms are so overwhelming that they must be the focus for a homeopath. Following is an example of when a homeopath recognizes a patient's acute condition.
Not long ago a patient named Patricia called to say she thought the cold she had had for the past week was moving into her lungs. She felt weak and exhausted and had spiking fevers of 104 degrees. During our conversation I noted a hard, dry cough she said was painful. She had aches all over her back, but particularly in an area just above her kidneys. Even the slightest movement increased the pain in this area. While normally a loving and active mother with three children, Patricia was extremely irritable because of her illness. She had barely eaten over the past few days, and complained of an intense and chronic thirst.
It was clear from the symptoms that Patricia's neglected cold had developed into pneumonia.
Homeopaths do not have one remedy for this condition. We have many remedies for people who have pneumonia. One of the options, bryonia (a plant known as wild hops), seemed to fit all of the patient's physical and emotional symptoms. I prescribed the remedy bryonia in 1M potency, which means the herbal tincture of bryonia was a 1:1000 (M) dilution and then diluted one more time (1)1. By the next day the patient was appreciably better. I repeated the bryonia 1M the third day and within the next week she was cheerful and healthy once again. Also on the third day, I prepared an herbal tincture of grindelia, lobelia, glycyrrhiza, phytolacca, and echinacea to be taken in 30-drop doses, four times a day. This combination of herbs acts as an immune stimulant, an antiviral, and an expectorant. Had her symptoms not been resolved by the third day, I would have referred her to a medical doctor for antibiotics.
If Patricia had exhibited other symptoms with the pneumonia, I would have prescribed a different remedy. If, for instance, she wept frequently, craved affection and attention, and was thirstless, I would have prescribed pulsatilla rather than bryonia. Like any homeopath, I adjusted the treatment according to the patient's needs. Her story is an example of an acute condition that requires an understanding of the person's nature in order to determine the correct remedy.
Treating the Whole Person: Mind, Body, and Soul--A Chronic Condition
For homeopaths, chronic conditions are similar to acute ones. We must understand the patient in order to find the right remedy. Classical homeopaths are resolved to assist patients to be in harmony with the universe, to reestablish them in a partnership with themselves and with their God. We are vehicles through which God offers positive rather than negative energy, light rather than darkness.
My first visit with a new patient lasts at least an hour and a half. This is a time when I have an opportunity to understand who the patient is: his or her fears, grief, anxieties--past and present--and the patient's goals and hopes for the future. Whatever patients remember to tell me during the interview is typically what is most important to them or what is affecting them the most. It is a time when I am listening, not advising or directing, but just being with them. For many patients, it is a time to share concerns or feelings about themselves that they have never voiced before. Sometimes they cry as they have never cried before. It can be a cathartic time.
Because there are many remedies for fear and grief and because homeopaths individualize the treatment for every patient, it is critical for the homeopath to know as much about the person's history as possible. The history brings me closer to understanding the disease state: a state adopted by the person for survival in a particular situation, a function in response to a sensation, a constriction or a band that forms around the person.
I recall the case of a fifty-year-old patient who came into my office complaining of lethargy, anemia, and allergies. She was medicated on nasal sprays, antihistamines, and an antidepressant. She also took decongestants even though they made her anxious. She required lots of sleep and still had low energy.
"My body shuts down, closes down on me," she told me. "I feel it. Then I feel sick."
Michelle had suffered from allergies and eczema since she was a baby. Her condition was so bad as a child that her parents had to put gloves on her hands to keep her from scratching herself. She had received allergy shots, on and off, for many years. But whenever she went off the shots, she was prone to get nasty, lingering colds.
After explaining that there are many remedies for allergies and fatigue, and that the goal in my office is to treat people, not conditions, I asked her to tell me about herself: her nature, mood, and the challenges in her life. The story that unfolded was filled with pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. Once she finished describing her life, I had no doubt why she was sick.
Michelle was the youngest of four children and the only daughter in the family. One of her brothers was diagnosed with diabetes at an early age and received her mother's constant attention. Another brother, the oldest, was without question her mother's favorite, a fact that her mother would admit to friends even in front of the other children. Michelle had an absentee father who spent most of his time drinking with friends. He would leave the house on Friday and not come back until Sunday evening. It wasn't until Michelle was sixteen, when her father hit her mother for the first and last time, that he was finally asked to leave.
For much of her childhood Michelle felt rejected and unloved, as if her needs and desires were not important. As she grew older, that didn't change. She worked at a department store to save money for college, despite the fact that her mother wanted the oldest son to go to school instead. For her mother, it wasn't enough that Michelle wanted to go, or that both of these children, if they so desired, could go to college. It was more important that the oldest son have a better opportunity than the rest of the kids.
When Michelle was ten, the brother closest to her was killed in a car accident. He was crossing the road after being dropped off by the school bus. The driver had no chance of seeing him. Michelle was devastated. She turned to other family members for support, but neither her mother nor her two other brothers could help. They had shut themselves down emotionally to deal with the tragedy.
As she spoke to me about her brother's death, Michelle recalled times when she and her brother would play in the house after school. Sometimes they would make cardboard toys out of cereal boxes, or play practical jokes on other kids in the neighborhood. One time, when Michelle cut herself in the head playing on a swing, her brother sprinted all the way home to get their mother. It was just a slight cut, but her brother was convinced she was going to bleed to death and hurried home as fast as he could. It showed how much he cared about her.
Michelle began to cry as she told me these stories. It had been years since she had thought about these memories of her brother, she admitted to me.
With tears flowing down her cheeks, Michelle told me she wasn't good at expressing her feelings to other people. She talked only after she felt comfortable with people. She needed to feel accepted in order to talk; she needed to know that people had a desire to be with her. She would introduce herself to people again and again because she didn't think she was interesting enough to be remembered. She felt ashamed that no one took the time to groom her. No one taught her manners or social graces. She never knew how to interact at a party. She was often left out of group activities. She was also self-conscious about her appearance. She worried that her dark skin and short hair made her unappealing.
Michelle often internalized her feelings because she had few people in life to share them with. At the slightest hint of rejection, she would shut down and deny her feelings. Her introversion was perceived as aloofness. It was a defense mechanism that protected her from being hurt.
Her ex-husband was an angry and negative person who demanded a lot of her attention. He drained her emotionally. A few months after their wedding, Michelle could no longer take his demanding nature and withdrew from him emotionally. She stopped confiding in him. In response, he turned to other people for attention. He began to date other women and stayed out late at night. They had been separated for three and a half years and were now in the process of getting a divorce.
On a physical level, Michelle also had problems. She was about twenty pounds overweight, and she moved her bowels only every other day even with Metamucil. Her long-term memory was not good and her short-term memory was only fair, though her concentration seemed fine. She craved salty foods, chocolate, and wine.
By the end of our first session I knew Michelle was an intelligent, capable woman, but someone who had suffered tremendous grief. It was clear that the source of this grief dated back to her childhood, from experiencing the death of her brother to the neglect by both her parents, but especially her mother. And from this grief arose feelings of insecurity and distrust. Michelle's failed marriage and her belief that she was unattractive only compounded these feelings. As a result, Michelle had built a wall, or shield, around her so that she would not be vulnerable to being hurt ever again. She was sensitive, not aloof, and very responsible. She became academically accomplished at an early age by using her emotional energy to study and by suppressing her emotions through her involvement in school.
Remember the comment about the body shutting down? All of Michelle's bodies--mental, emotional, physical--shut down. It was clear that, though the source of grief dated to a time in her youth, she was brooding and agonizing over the circumstances. In her current condition, she was not free to fully experience other emotions, to fully experience physical or spiritual well-being. I prescribed the remedy natrum muriaticum 200 c for lethargy, anemia, and depression.
Three weeks after our initial visit, she returned to the office to see one of my assistants, who instructed her on my detoxification diet. The diet was to be followed for a ten-day period after which she returned to see me. Upon her third visit, I gave her a diet based on her blood type. (The detoxification process and diets for blood types are explained in Chapter 4.) Six weeks after her first visit she reported feeling much better. She had stopped all over-the-counter medication and took herself off the antidepressant. Her sleep, energy level, and mood were much improved.
"I feel like myself," she said. "I feel like a normal person."
Four months later she returned for a checkup. Her divorce was final. She said she cried a lot because of it but was not depressed. After a hard campaign, she was elected as an officer of a national organization. She was offered a job in another state but turned it down. She now had several job offers for local consulting positions, but she turned all of them down and was developing a career as a writer and researcher. She was still feeling well.
How does homeopathy bring about wellness for someone like Michelle? How is it that the remedy natrum muriaticum (chloride of sodium) could have possibly created mental, emotional, and physical changes in the patient? How do we know what remedy to choose from the hundreds of remedies we have for "depression" or "allergies"? These answers are the essence of homeopathy.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Andrea Sullivan, N.D., lives and practices in Washington, D.C., is a member of several national homeopathic organizations, and is a founding member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She appears frequently on television and radio.
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