Some thoughts before I take a week off work for vacation

Guest post by Lauren Breau

When I was 21, I knew nothing about Chinese medicine. My first experience with acupuncture was a private treatment in a small office located in a nursing home; I showed up stuffed with skepticism yet desperate for relief. I’d not been feeling well for over a year, and my mother, bewildered by my decline, convinced me to give acupuncture a try. The acupuncturist was an acquaintance of hers who’d left the field of education to study Chinese medicine, and anecdotal reports from those who’d seen her were positive. Try it, my mother urged, worried about my leaden energy and withdrawn mood. Though I argued that the session would be 60 minutes of quackery, I scheduled because my mother had insurance that covered it, and because a spark of curiosity flashed in a darkness that wanted to swallow me. 

What I despised most about the way I felt was that I could not find the words to describe it – perhaps this woman, whom I’d heard dedicated a significant amount of time to learning a different way of understanding the body, could shake me from this heavy slumber. Within 15 minutes of meeting the acupuncturist, I was supine on a massage table, my navel filled with salt and topped with a thick slice of ginger that smoked with moxa. I watched the smoke spiral toward the ceiling and thought what the fuck. 

I know now that she was warming me up, in the words of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Using moxibustion, the acupuncturist was fixing my pilot light, which had gone out. If you were to think about it energetically, you could say I had no source-heat, so all the movement inside of me had slowed and stagnated, solidifying into a deep and stubborn chill. 

I was bewildered by the treatment, but I went back, and committed to weekly treatments for a month at her suggestion. By my 3rd treatment, I’d begun the process of thawing. I could think straight again. I called a few friends and set up dates to hang. I began to exercise again. I embraced the return of my appetite. 

In retrospect – I understand that one way acupuncture had helped was that it allowed me to begin dealing with trauma that was frozen, energetically and physically, in my body. Though I’d always identified as a brazen person, like countless other women I’d had one too many experiences with some scrote who’d intentionally or carelessly abused their power. Or tusk. 

Getting acupuncture didn’t magically heal everything that was wrong – I needed therapy too – but it did begin to remove a sticky ball of bullshit that had made my body its home. Whatever happened in those sessions cracked the quiet narrative of succumbing to spreading discomfort (i.e. powerlessness) and placed power back into my own hands by allowing me to feel something other than pain. 

Another way to think about it? Acupuncture untwigged the beaver dam that had formed in a few of the rivers that were essential to the growth of spirit, but just enough so that the river’s natural current took care of the rest. Things started flowing again, and it was tangible. How the fuck did she do that, I asked myself. During my last appointment, I asked her directly. And similar to how most great things have happened in my life, she handed me a book. 

Though I’ve been practicing for 15 years, I’ve spent the past 12 working in the community acupuncture setting (shout out to Dan and Sasha of Wildwood Medicine). Since 2017, I’ve been the sole practitioner and executive director at a nonprofit community acupuncture clinic that generates just under 4,500 visits per year. A few people told me, when I shared plans of hanging a shingle in my hometown, that people here were too lazy to show any interest in self-care. But those naysayers had conveniently overlooked the fact that the biggest barrier to acupuncture is cost, not curiosity. 

I have a lot of pride in the fact that I run a thriving community-based practice in the working class city where I grew up, which is also one of the poorest counties in Maine. Most of my pride stems from the fact that once I opened shop, my community showed up. Because the truth is – and nothing will bend my mind against this – everyone wants to feel better. 

I get to spend my days working alongside a woman named Sacha, who manages the front desk in addition to doing a million other things that help the clinic thrive. Sacha orients new patients with a quiet kindness that’s hard to describe, other than it immediately chills them out. The treatment starts the moment they walk through the front door, and by the time they reach me and my needles, they’re already feeling the love. Sacha is also gifted with an appreciation of the absurd, since let’s be real – a coworker who is willing to open-mouth laugh at the ridiculousness of certain days is a gift.

I’ve flipped breech babies, induced labor, restored chemo-reduced appetites, eased anxiety in teenagers, treated itching in an amputated limb (yes), relieved the granite forearms of landscapers and chefs, and released the wiry traps of fishermen and nursing moms. I’ve let exhausted sons and daughters who are caring for a dying parent nap for extra 30 minutes. Once, I helped a young man calm the heck down from the overjoy he was experiencing; he had fallen wildly in love and could not sleep due to his excitement. Two constipated 6 year old twins once filled my clinic with hair-singeing farts. And who doesn’t have tech neck, amiright? Treat that too.

I go to work to treat any and every body, as long as one simple rule is followed, which is to respect the dignity of those who come to the clinic to practice healing, and are healing together. I do not put up with bullshit, and I’m happy to say that bullshit is rare, since the environment does not foster it. All people deserve respite from pain. We need accessibility, affordability, and trusting healthcare relationships. We need warmth. People will seek out medicine that works if it’s available to them. I like to think of my clinic as a salt-filled, smoking cone of moxa in the big ol’ belly button of Lewiston, Maine.

Ellen Vincent
Author: Ellen Vincent

is a punk at Philadelphia Community Acupuncture and POCA's current membership coordinator. Email her at membership@pocacoop.com.

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