Books as a Healing Elixir
Rachel (Rae) Delisle On Reading Into Your Own Health Journey
Updated and Corrected From This Morning
Someone recently asked me about what my main sources were for being introduced to new books. I responded by saying that it was often the result of random recommendations from fellow readers, either online or in public.
This was recently the case with a hot new read entitled "The Myth of Normal," written by the father and son duo Gabor Mate and Daniel Mate. A woman by the name of Rae Delisle who I met in a social media discussion thread mentioned this book. So I asked her if she would be willing to share a bit about it. Gratefully, she jumped at the opportunity.
By the acclaimed author of “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” which offers a profoundly important look into the causes of illness, a sobering perspective of how our society breeds disease, and a roadmap to healing and health, "The Myth of Normal" leads readers on a adventure into Western healthcare systems and their methods for addressing chronic illness and generally poor health.
With over four decades of clinical experience, Maté believes that prevailing narratives around normal health are false, often overlooking the impact of trauma, stress, and other pressures of modern-day living on our bodies and minds at the expense of good health. The book goes on to assert that for all of our expertise and technological sophistication, Western medicine often falls short in treating the whole person by overlooking cultural stress on the body and immune system burdens that undermine emotional balance.
It’s here where the Maté’s deliver some unique insights around what really makes us sick by unknotting the intersections between the maladies of individuals and the societal milieus that are impacting us.
Pursuant to our brief LinkedIn dialogue, Rae was willing to share a bit about the impact this book has had on her own healing journey. I was delighted to see that she, too, has a Substack publication. Entitled Creative Human Healing, she takes her subscribers through a documented journey of poetry, art and thoughts on how to heal, live. and mother as a whole human.
In fact, I was struck by her newsletter intro which read:
“Thank you for coming along on this journey with me. This is a weekly letter, about how I am managing life as a creative human and full time mom. At the same time I am in the ongoing process of healing my whole being so I can live as a whole being. As I am recovering from ongoing depression. and anxiety, ptsd and postpartum depression, I write, and paint through it all. And just like life is not perfect or finished, none of the work you see will truly ever be done and might not even be done well. But that is not the point.
I am alive and I am here. I am ready to create and build my life in the way that is true to me. To be what I want to see in this world, more authenticity, more emotional honesty. Someone who is wholeheartedly living.”
One moment, one hour, one day at a time.
Rae’s Nuggets of Wisdom From “The Gift of Normal.”
When I asked Rae about the impact that “The Gift of Normal” has had on her life, she opened with this:
“What I have discovered in this book has been nothing short of life changing for me. It has given me a sense of confidence in my own understanding of self, and the human experience. The personal knowledge I have gained from my own healing journey in combination with this book confirms what I have understood in my bones, namely, that there is a reason for all our pain and anger. And we suppress it in order to survive.”
“Adaptations from early childhood, in adverse circumstances, can cause great suffering into adult life. At first it manifests as an invisible split and determination that the self is not enough or worthy. This split from self manifested as depression and anxiety for me. What I learned is that I’d been suppressing my own self unknowingly for 33 years.”
Rae says that she is actually thankful that her psyche and emotional states spoke louder than her ability to shove it all down and keep pushing through. If it had been forced, she says, she believes that she would have ended up with a chronic physical illness or autoimmune disease at a later age.”
Rae then offered this quote from the beginning of the book that sets this up nicely:
"I have come to believe that behind the entire epidemic of chronic afflictions, mental and physical, that beset our current moment, something is amiss in our culture itself, generating both the rash of ailments we are suffering and crucially, the ideological blind spots that keep us from seeing our own predicament clearly, the better to do something about it. These blind spots - prevalent throughout the culture but endemic to a tragic extent in my own profession- keep us ignorant of the connections that bind our health to our social-emotional lives.”
“Another way of saying this is that chronic illness whether mental or physical is to a large extent a function or feature of the way things just simply are in life rather than a glitch; a consequence of how we live, not a mysterious aberration"
Rae shared with me that she is a mom of two young girls (2.5 and 5 years old). Prior to having her children she had a successful toy design career. She says that giving birth to her 2.5 year old, moving 8 weeks after she was born, during a pandemic prompted a severe disruption in her psyche.
“I was ungrounded, unsupported and had post-partum depression to the point of being suicidal. I look back and remember that time. I could have been one of those women on the news who feels such lack that the only way out is to end it all. Something deep within me called out for help. By sheer will and heart I asked for support from other humans. I pushed through the fears of asking for help in a town where I really did not know anyone. The initial support I received allowed me to begin to really start my reading and healing journey.”
In terms of the broader impact of books on her life, Rae notes:
“My story and relationship with books is nothing short of meant to be. I happened upon the grace of books by accident when my therapist recommended a book called “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace. I thought, very certainly, that my therapist said “crit lit”, like critical literature that looks at a subject critically. It was, in fact, a book that looked at alcohol with a discerning eye. But it was actually “Quit Lit”. I thank my source(god) for letting me mis-hear her because I don’t think I would have read it otherwise. Or maybe it would have taken me many more years to read it.”
This book she says altered the course of my life for while reading it in August of 2020, she decided to quit drinking entirely.
“Removing my numbing agent and coping with life “skill”, I was left with many questions, misunderstandings of my own self and my own human experience. What the heck happened to me? Why do I act the way I do? Why do I feel this way? Why, if there is a reason, am I so sensitive? Why do I struggle with daily life when others seem to do just fine?”
With the help of writing, talking with her therapist and a whole lot of trial and error, Rae says that she had been working her way through her own self-guided healing process aided by whatever the next book she is meant to read on her healing path.
She adds this:
“Reading has been my mode of understanding myself and my world around me. Initially, when I had no ground to stand on, books were a tether to my inner voice, helping me along the incredibly hard road of healing myself. This journey of books, the themes tying into one another in creating a whole picture of life have been useful as I process and respond in my own writing and self inquiry. I can honestly says that reading and learning from others' wisdom whom I trust, has been my road out of a fractured self. Books are the cobblestones while time and reflection are the mortar.”
In terms of specific book that have been particularly interwoven into her journey of self healing and wholeness, here are the top one’s she has read, which, of course, now includes “The Myth of Normal”
What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma,Resilience, and Healing by Dr Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Motherwelmed by Beth Berry
The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck
Motherbrain: How Neuroscience is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood by Chelsea Conaboy
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown
Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
At this point, I couldn’t help but ask Rae what’s on her “to read” list for 2023. Here’s what she unpacked:
“This year, I will continue on the path of “what book is calling to me next, what next do I need to learn”. That being said, I do have a few books on my radar. I intend to read “The Seven Circles: Indigenous Teachings for Living Well” by Chelsey Luger & Thosh Collins. I find ancient wisdom and practices to be most beneficial to living a whole life. Confirmed by The Myth of Normal, we as a society and as individuals are all so disconnected from all our “parts”. We compartmentalize and act as if we can separate them and still live a healthy and whole lifestyle when the fact of the matter is that we are human and we are nature. In other words, not one part exists without components of another.”
Another book Rae says that she is interested in is called “Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe" by Dean Radin. She says:
“I am pulled towards those very subjects where spirituality, ancient wisdom, science and magic come into play. It is interesting to me that perspectives on these subjects can be viewed from a very close mind or a very open mind and everywhere in between. The conscious state of the reader is the basis for how the content is consumed. Some people might look at “magic” as not real and fantastical while others may believe in the fantasy of it. But what I believe in, is everyday magic. I believe in the magic of heart and will. I believe in the magic of what our bodies are trying to communicate.”
Rae then offered this concluding thought:
“I am 35 years old. Some people don't come to these realizations until in their 70s, like Gabor. And some never return to self, with their full self eventually dying by means of a terrible preventable disease. I am thankful for my sensitive nature because I am one of many canaries in this coal mine that is our culture. I am so happy I have found my voice.”
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Diamond-Michael Scott, Global Book Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds —“Igniting a New World of Community, Connection, and Belonging, One Book at a Time”