Snake Medicine: The Alchemy Of Shedding

Art by Kinuko Y. Craft

Each blend of Chinese herbs we take offers different teachings. This recent formula has been incredibly powerful for me. Over the past few years, I’ve been clearing a virus out of my system using Chinese herbs. (Western medicine has no way to remove a virus.) Operating under the premise that all illness is an invitation to change, the basic principle of Classical Chinese medicine, I’ve been focused on what the root cause of the virus might be, and releasing it. Each formula has brought up something different. This one was no exception.

I’ve talked about being an Empath before, and what that means. Over the past 40 years, my work as a counselor has focused on working with survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, survivors of narcissistic abuse, ( people in relationships with personality disordered individuals, people with mental illness, or addicts), and working with high-risk adolescents. That last group, while being difficult, was probably the most important out of all of them, for me.

The first high-risk teen I worked with was in 1993. A friend asked me to see his 14 year old daughter, who was in a very volatile place. She had already chewed up and spat out two other therapists. My initial reaction was, oh, fuck no. I hadn’t worked with many kids. And this was like jumping into the deep end of the pool. He begged me to reconsider, saying that I was his last resort. Oh, goody. No pressure, though. She was drinking, drugging, acting out sexually, and was a cutter. ( Self-injurious). She was defiant when she arrived for her first session. She was defiant for the first few months. She didn’t trust me, and made that perfectly clear. Trying to reach her was challenging, to say the least. I was close to giving up, until during one session, she said, “ Can I ask you a question “? Me: Sure. Her: Do you think it’s okay, that sometimes I still play with my Barbies? Me: ( In my head, oh, my god, she’s just a baby.) And in that moment I knew I was totally fucked, because she had me. She had my heart, and I was completely committed to keeping her on the planet, while she was doing her level best to self destruct. Yep. Fucked.

Our journey together was incredible. She learned to trust. She got into 12-Step recovery. She worked with Taoist Master Dr. Yuen, and drank nasty tasting herbs. She learned to meditate. She connected to her Higher Self. To Spirit. She blossomed. (She’s 38 now, is a vibrant, courageous, and loving woman.)

Another one was also 14. She had been in and out of rehab. She came for a few months, and began to stabilize. At that point, her Borderline mother decided that she didn’t need any more therapy. I suggested that that was not the case. But, that was it. I got a frantic call from the mother a few months later, that the daughter had run away, and they had no idea where she was. Could I help? I had a number of kids seeing me, going to the same school. I asked if anyone had seen her. Yes, actually, she was in class that day. I got a note to her, asking her if I could come to the school and talk to her. Yes, she said. I went the next day, and waited for school to get out. And there she was, in a group of kids, her hair was matted, she was a mess. She saw me, and ran to me. I hugged her. She agreed to come home with me. We got her cleaned up and fed. I contacted her parents. She went home. Then I found out that they had institutionalized her. Their insurance company wouldn’t pay for another rehab, so they put her in a mental hospital. I asked her parents if I could see her. They agreed to take me to the hospital. When we got inside, she again ran to me, sobbing. She wrapped herself around me like a koala, and wouldn’t let go. She was begging me not to leave her there. “ Please, Jude. Please. Don’t leave me here. I know I need a rehab, but not this. I’m scared”. The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life was to leave that child there. I lobbied all the way home with her parents, to find another solution for her. When I got home, I laid down on my bed. Sobbing. Devastated. We did find another place for her, a high school for high-risk adolescents. She graduated, and went on to nursing school.

So, somehow, the word spread that I could reach the wounded kids. The kids others had given up on. They found me. One after another. Sometimes, the kids would tell their friends about me, and one of them would call me, and ask for help. I never said no. And I fell in love with each and every one of them. I never saw them as kids. I saw them as baby dragons. Old, powerful souls that were fearless about everything. It was an honor to be trusted by them. And they all healed. I became a minister because of them. I found out that clergy could not be denied access to hospitals and prisons. I figured that was a plus, given what some of them were doing.

These kids all had one thing in common. They all had survived at least one mentally ill, alcoholic, or personality disordered parent. Sometimes both. What I learned was that if they had just one person in their lives that truly cared about them, loved them, they could heal. Sometimes, that one person was me. Now, loving humanity is easy for me. I’m an Empath. But here’s what’s hard for me, which brings me back to the title of this post: Shedding.

I very consciously absorb into myself some of the pain of a client, if I see that they need help processing trauma. That’s not a problem. The problem is that sometimes, I don’t realize that I haven’t let it go. It’s still floating around inside of me, invisible. Last night, I saw a clip from a movie someone had posted. It was brutal. It was a scene of an 8 year old little girl, following her narcissistic father out to his car, begging him to take her with him, while her mother stood back, watching. Knowing what that asshole was going to do. And let the father reject her, and ignore her pleading. And drive away, leaving her sobbing and devastated on the street. Who was the worst parent, the narcissist driving away, or the mother that did nothing to protect her child from the emotional abuse she knew was coming? ( She had been married to him, after all). That scene gutted me. It triggered an avalanche of very specific memories of all of those kids in my practice. Their pain. Their bewilderment. Their tears. Their grief. It was an endless, excruciating loop of traumatized kids playing in my head, complete with sound, color, and vivid detail.  And that’s when I got it. I had absorbed some of that, yes. But until that moment, I had no idea it was ALL STILL IN ME. Son of a bitch. I immediately got to work releasing it. I already feel lighter. I also wanted to smack the living shit out of the characters in the movie.

Snake Medicine is about alchemy. A snake sheds its skin as it grows. For me, the teaching here is about shedding. It’s about the importance of releasing everything that no longer serves us. If we don’t release, we can’t grow the way we need to. We’re going to be stuck in the old skin, constricted by it.

There was no reason for me to have held on to any of that old pain. ( All of those people are adults now, with wonderful lives. I officiated at the weddings of two of them. That brought me incredible joy.) The startling thing is, I had no idea it was still in there, a vast untapped reservoir of other people’s grief. Clearly, this is a soul pattern for me, and for many of us. This is my invitation to change. To immediately release what I have absorbed, after every session. To trust the person’s process. To trust Spirit. To give the best that’s in me in that moment, and trust that it’s enough. I’m ready.

To all of those wonderful souls I had the privilege of working with, I’m so proud of you all. You are fierce and fearless warriors. I’m so honored to have been a part of your journey. You all taught me so much. Be proud of yourself. You’re all miraculous. You humble me. I send you all love. Always. Blessings, Judith

** Kinuko Craft’s painting of the Medusa.**