My only previous experience with acupuncture was from Sex and the City, the episode when Charlotte York, after months of unsuccessful attempts to increase her fertility, visits the famed Dr. Mao. According to Bitsy von Muffling, Dr. Mao was a miracle worker, and although he made you ”feel like a pincushion”, his eastern medicine made forty-something and fifty-something women all over Manhattan miracle mamas. Charlotte, however, is a little too high strung for Dr. Mao’s methods. She can’t center her mind to get the acupuncture to work. In her second session, as the noise of sirens, protesters, and cars honking outside her examination room window rages on, she pleads with Dr. Mao, “I’m trying to get relaxed and centered, but I can’t with all this noise.”
“The city will never quiet down,” Dr. Mao says. “You’re going to have to learn how to block out that new York noise and listen only to yourself.”
As it turns out, blocking out the noise of unsolicited advice givers like Bitsy von Muffling brought Charlotte back to her center. She stopped seeing Dr. Mao, but the experience was a turning point in her infertility.
Lately, I’ve found myself in acupuncture sessions. No, I’m not trying to boost my fertility. Rather, it’s my dog who’s the pincushion. And although I was never the intended patient, I can’t say that I haven’t re-centered.
I came upon acupuncture for my pooch from my neighbor when we were discussing Katie, my old collie/shepherd mix who’d had a terrible bout of pancreatitis on the heels of hip dysplasia. The whole experience left her nearly crippled in her hind legs, and I wasn’t prepared to give up on her yet.
“I don’t know how it works,” my neighbor explained. “But when we go (she and her Doberman) these needles come out all bent and twisted and you just know something good happened in there.”
I didn’t know how it worked either. I didn’t know what acupuncture was beyond Dr. Mao and Bitsy von Muffling. Thankfully, Google has all the credible answers: “Acupuncture follows specific points in an energy meridian that flows through the body.”
Say what? An energy meridian?
I’m all for namaste and wellness, but if this ended up being another one of my kooky, hippie dippie hacks, like when I ate three Brazil nuts a day to eliminate adult acne (fail) or when I slept with hot rice in my socks to fight insomnia, (epic, scalding fail ) I was really going to be pissed that I dished out cash for some New Age energy meridian in my dog.
But on our first visit, as I skeptically watched the veterinarian poke holes in my old girl, she explained that acupuncture applies pressure to certain points along a dog's body through needles, stimulating nerves, muscles, and connective tissue and, in turn, creating a natural painkiller for the body. (Hmmm...sort of like a super-precise massage?) That softened my skepticism enough to proceed with the pincushioning. Plus, if Katie’s body responded well to a few weeks of consistent treatment, she would maybe only need acupuncture every eight weeks or as needed. That was less of a commitment than coloring my hair (which is why I don’t color my hair -- because of its time commitment). I determined a little hippie dippie might be worth it.
And worth it, it was!
Katie took acupuncture like it was no big deal to be stabbed on the ass. Would I be so chill? I can’t even get a papercut without complaining that my fingertip has a heartbeat. But Katie was as strong as an ox (a dwarfed, fuzzy ox.) And within two days of her first treatment, she was no longer wobbly on her legs. She wasn’t even lame. After her second visit, she started walking up stairs again. By the third treatment, she was walking down stairs. And by her fourth visit, my girl wasn’t moving like an old girl. She’s in better shape now than before the pancreatitis — even before the hip dysplasia. Hot rice in socks be damned, but acupuncture was a different story.
I was no Bitsy von Muffling, but I was a believer. And like Charlotte York, I had experienced enough pressure in the last year that something about all the centering and energy talk stimulated a necessary change in me too.
I never thought I'd see my Katie wag her tail again,
but here she is after just four weeks of acupuncture.
This has been a year of challenge after repeated challenge. I feel like I’ve been at a boiling point for nine months. It’s as if the pressure I’ve kept under a tight lid could burst out of me at any moment and leave a big mess across every surface of my life. That being said, the strange thing about this year is that some of the pressure that has escaped me I didn’t know was so restrictive.
I’m a big fan of comfort zones. If you’ve read enough of this thought hub, you know that as a recovering people pleaser, I enjoy the security of as little disruption and conflict as possible. But the tricky thing about comfort zones is that often we don’t realize we’re actually uncomfortable in the fake sanctity of what we believe to be safer, smarter, and less painful. Comfort zones are less likely to fail (safer, because they don’t try). Comfort zones are profitable even (smarter, because they are often the practical choice). Comfort zones are easy on the ego (less painful, because their lack of risk leaves little room for disappointment). But comfort zones are also stuck and timid, kind of like the hind leg of a dog with hip dysplasia further aggravated by pancreatitis. Katie was better off with a stiff leg that barely moved because to do any different hurt too much. Or so she thought until her body was poked by needles and reminded of what it can do with a little extra effort, and until her mind remembered just how badass she once was.
But Katie’s weekly pokes and prods also came as I was approaching an epiphany...
Like the climbing percentage of people who’ve had their paychecks interrupted or relinquished this year, I’ve had my share of loss. When a significant portion of your income is generated from working with businesses in the hospitality industry, you get gutted in a global pandemic. As such, I’ve had to consider where my path goes from here. The clock is ticking. The needles are poking me to act. How will I respond to the pressure?
When I was performing and directing in my twenties, one of the best tools I used when tackling a tough scene were these two questions: What do I want? What am I willing to do to get it? They’ve served me well beyond the blackbox. Katie wanted to walk again. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have taken to the needles in her backside so willingly. It was her way of saying to me, (and herself) “I’m not giving up, so don’t you give up on me either.” As I look ahead, what is propelling me forward? What temporary discomfort and I willing to live with to get it?
I have this groovy vision board in my office (There goes Hippie Dippie Annie again) with a picture of a field. It’s immense open land, like a vast English countryside where a small pack of dogs can run amok . On my board is also a Boston Whaler, one that I can captain while my family reels in redfish, snapper, and grouper. There is a clipping of a magnificent sunset — something I could try to reproduce with that box of watercolor paints I’ve yet to crack open. Then there’s a Viennese Whirl, the pastry I’ve been wanting to attempt ever since I saw Mary Berry’s on The Great British Baking Show. There are also photographs of mountains, trails, old European villages, and exotic beaches I’ve only read about. And of course, a cozy writing room with a view worth a thousand prompts.
However, the elements of my vision have been altered. What’s missing is the noise from last year’s board. Gone is the classic uptown house on the parade route in New Orleans. Gone are the trendy clothes. Gone is the list of “can’t miss restaurants” and all the keywords and phrases like “I don’t lose ever” — inspiration to keep this aspiring New York Times Bestseller on track. And I can’t help but wonder why it all looks so different. Perhaps it’s because sometimes what we truly want is at the heart of the bigger picture. And what’s more, sometimes we don’t know what we want until we’re poked with a needle or, as in the case of 2020, pressure is applied to the areas in our lives that were overdue for a reboot.
So what do I want? It looks to me like open air, time to boat, bake, paint, and write and a peaceful place in which to do them. That sounds like retirement. Seriously, I sound twenty years older than I am. Has 2020 done such a number on me that I’ve jumped to my sixties? I mean, I might as well apply for early AARP membership now. “Book me that early bird table at Denny’s, Honey!” “Pass me the Metamucil, please!”
Or, is it more that I’m fed up with trying to move along an energy that doesn’t energize me as I thought it did?
What do I want? How badly do I want it? Am I willing to break from my comfort zone and take a chance? Acupuncture reminds the body of how it works. Will the pressures of this year be strong enough to remind me of what I can do if I let go of that which has held me back?
Needles dangled from my dog’s backside every week this last month as I looked on at my own evolving meridian. Like so many of you, I’ve been challenged and kicked in the gut. But I know enough to know that if my dog, whose death was imminent, can walk again, so can I and so can you.
Charlotte York couldn’t block out the opinions of others until she formed her own opinion, which led to the adoption of a sweet baby girl. Ultimately, her energy would never flow in the right direction until she responded to the pokes and prods of the Bitsy von Mufflings of Manhattan. It wasn’t acupuncture, but it was stimulating all the same. Perhaps in the end what I’ll see as I round this year, is that what has been holding me back from getting what I want wouldn’t have come into view without a little pain and a big poke.