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Last summer I almost died. Not the holy-crap-that-car-almost-hit-us kind. Not the guy-held-me-at-gunpoint type either. No, my body was slowly killing me. Over the course of two months.
In June 2012 I was a happy-go-lucky, rising healthcare PR hotshot. At 24 years old, I was part owner of an up-and-coming PR agency. I was also essentially a complete alcoholic, drinking six days a week. I had friends, parties and events. I thought I had it all. Everything except real happiness.
On June 29, my stomach hurt a little. I was in the midst of planning a double surprise party for both my sister and my best friend. Two invitation lists, two sets of lies, two stories to keep straight. Oh yeah, and my stomach hurt. A little.
Just get through the party, I told myself. So I did. And it was a success. I was the charming host who stood on a chair and made a speech. People laughed. They bought me drinks. I drank until I couldn’t see straight.
The next day, I woke up and puked. Too much booze, I told myself. Next came bloody diarrhea. Every half hour. Food poisoning, I told myself.
I couldn’t believe my bad luck. I got food poisoning at such an inconvenient time.
As the blood worsened, I began to feel woozy and was rushed to the emergency room. Doctors couldn’t quite figure it out. They gave me antibiotics. I was sent to a gastroenterologist. He had no idea.
A blood test came back showing I had severe pancreatitis. And liver infection. And kidney infection. And colon infection. My body was eating itself, with no sign of slowing down. I was on track to get pancreatic cancer.
I'd hit the deepest low of my life. At best, I’d never be able to drink again. At worst, I’d die.
The next few weeks were a blur. I tried meditation, reflexology, Reiki and acupuncture. I read every book I could get my hands on. I changed my diet. I learned about the healing power of forgiveness. I wrote e-mails to people from my past. I broke down and cried. I spent more time alone than I ever had. I learned things about myself I never dreamed were true. I saw a shaman. I went to a psychic. I became spiritual.
I had died. Who I was had died. And someone new—someone who was in there all along—was born.
Without having to see test results, I knew I was better. Not like, hey-you’re-kind-slowing-down-disease, but better. When the doctor read my results, he was astounded. There was no sign of any disease. No scar tissue. It must not have been severe pancreatitis.
Must not have been.
The past eight months have been the craziest, wildest ride of my life. I’ve taken acting and self-esteem classes. I’ve gone to hippie spiritual retreats and psychic workshops. I’ve studied Feng Shui and herbalism. I’ve read more than I care to admit about Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung.
I wanted to tear down every assumption I’d ever made about myself. I wanted to know who I was in my heart. Any moment that I wasn’t completely true to myself was one moment when I didn’t practice absolute self-love.
I wanted to learn everything and know nothing. I wanted to feel every emotion in my soul. I wanted to look in the mirror with tears in my eyes and tell myself how grateful I was for everything I had done.
I did all of it. Then something weird happened. All around me, people started to change. My roommate, my friend, my mom, my sister. Lives started to change.
Having worked in PR for a number of years, I can tell you that I truly believed persuasion was the ultimate gift in life — the ability to influence people. And, while that’s all well-and-great, it’s completely disempowering.
I don’t want to influence anyone. I want to inspire them. I want to be as much of myself as I can be — and, through that process, I want them to follow their own path. I don’t know what’s best for them. Hell, I don’t even know what’s best for myself. That’s why the universe had to strike me down with this nearly fatal illness. I would have taken a subtler hint.
But I would never dream of robbing anyone of the greatest gift in the world: personal transformation. Witnessing it is amazing. Being a part of it is transformative. But actually experiencing it — there aren’t even words.
So I totally got the bug. I’ve got my new addiction, and it isn’t booze (which I almost never touch anymore). I’m addicted to helping people see that when you clear out all the crap you think you know about life, you actually let what’s really in there rise up. You’re already good enough. You already have all the tools you need. All you have to do is give yourself a fighting chance to truly live.
Now I’m a wellness coach, and I’m studying to become a certified health coach. And an herbalist. And a Reiki practitioner. And an Integrated Energy Therapy practitioner. And maybe a shaman.
Because I’m totally an extremist. But that’s who I really am. And I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore. After taking a peek at death, I know what makes me feel alive.
So what makes you alive?