As an acupuncturist I tend to see people after they have already suffered for years and "tried everything." They are so desperate for some relief that they want to know everything about how to get better, right now.
When I first started out in practice my brain was swimming with this new knowledge and I was so passionate about sharing it with everyone; I was excited to treat these people and heap tons of information on them all at once. Here's the foods you should eat, the foods you should not eat, the stretches you should do every day, the exercises, the meditations, the herbs, and, of course, the acupuncture!
Needless to say, it was overwhelming. Countless patients - even the ones that were improving through acupuncture alone - would disappear into the ether. As the years progressed, some of these patients would come back months or even years later and tell me that they "failed." They tried to change their lives and be healthy, but "fell off the wagon" and would eat junk food and stop exercising, and they were so embarrassed by their failure they didn't have the heart to face me. This broke my heart, because at the end of the day, I was here for them and would never judge the life choices they made.
An interesting parallel was happening in my own life. I, too, suffered from headaches, migraines, and fatigue. When I stayed on top of getting acupuncture regularly and taking my herbs, poof! my pain was gone. But with three children, a busy practice, and life in general, I would go through periods of time where I wouldn't do anything to take care of my health and I suffered greatly. Now why would someone who is trained in healthcare, who knows all there is to know about being "healthy," let herself suffer instead of following through with what I knew needed to be done? The answer is complicated, but the most common answer I have found in both myself and my patients is this: a lifetime of behavior cannot be reversed all at once, even when we "know" better.
Trying to take on too much at once, completely reversing a lifetime of stored behaviors, is like asking someone to suddenly believe in a religion they've never heard of or seen before. Even if they want to change, true lifestyle changes must be cultivated as it is up against a programmed paradigm instilled since birth. So what does this mean? Don't even try? NO! The answer is simple–start with just one thing. For my patients, even the gung-ho ones that beg me to "lay it all on them," I have them start with just acupuncture. Its passive and really only requires them walking in my door. Then we start with herbs. Over time, as they start to feel better, we introduce foods. Then exercise. And so on. The key is one step at a time. Be patient. Let that one step saturate your being and begin reprogramming the negative behavior steps so that you lay a foundation to good health. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? Well, neither is your set of behaviors, beliefs, and patterns.
Now to step two: this might be the most important step of all. For those patients, and myself, that "failed" at getting healthy—this was not a bad thing. The truly important part of those times was to sincerely ask myself–without judgment–why was I letting myself suffer? Really delve deep into the why. Each time was a different answer, and each time I got a little deeper into understanding who I am. When I would feed my children breakfast, make their lunches, and head out the door starving myself, with a headache soon to follow for skipping a meal–it was time to ask myself why. The answer was interesting. Somewhere along the line I picked up the belief that the best way I could take care of my children was to sacrifice my own needs to tend to theirs. Its absolute nonsense when spoken aloud, but, nonetheless, I had been clinging to that belief the whole time. And had I not "failed" in my health and taken the time to look deep at that belief, I would have continued to carry it, suffering ever deeper, being less of a mom than I knew I was capable of, all the while never knowing why or how to stop myself.
Analyzing your "failures" is the most powerful thing you can do for your health, life, and relationships. Good health is not a destination–once you reach it all the work is done and you can relax. It is an ever-changing, growing, and expanding journey of self-discovery. The trick is to not be angry at yourself when you fail–because truly, in the grand scheme of the universe, there is no such thing as failure.
The trick is to embrace our failures as opportunities to get to know ourselves that much better. You are a unique gift to this world and the obstacles keeping you from expressing that gift are not meant to hold you down, but to help you navigate what you want and don't want in this life. Embrace that. Forgive yourself for setbacks and never let those setbacks keep you down. If you fall off the wagon, you can always jump back on, but this time armed with a little more information that had been making "the wagon" so elusive all these years. Be kind to yourself and know that at the heart of it all, you are already healed.
Jamie L. Davis is a licensed Acupuncturist and owns a natural health center in Burien, Washington. She uses her previous training in medical anthropology to help educate her patients, and her focus is on creating community and whole family wellness. She can be reached at