A Touchstone of Grief and Compassion
I, Judyth, am writing this article. I cannot remember such a shared pool of grief and disbelief as has been generated in this country by the Latino immigrant children debacle since perhaps the Vietnam War. Besides my own personal heartache on hearing and seeing the heartless treatment of these devastated parents and children, even babies, wherever I go others confide in me their deep pain. Recently a longtime patient, whose family I have treated for over 30 years, asked me to share lunch. The topic of conversation was, “How do we hold this inconceivable injustice and do something with our compassion that makes a genuine difference?” As Bob and I were leaving the movie theater recently after seeing, “The Pope: A Man of His Words,” the mother of another longtime patient came running up to me in tears asking, “What can we possibly do?”
I find myself devouring books (a few of us have formed a study group) about refugees, the latest being Exit West, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl’s story was beyond horrific and heroic. As a Jew in World War II, he had the choice of escaping to the U.S. or remaining in Europe with his parents. An Austrian neurologist, he chose to stay to stay in Austria and devoted whatever energy he could rally to doing psychotherapy with the inmates of the Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, and Dachau concentration camps, where he was also a prisoner. Please, if any of you reading this article does not believe that the Holocaust really happened, Google Victor Frankl and take in his story and the bone-chilling photos of the concentration camp survivors. This book, published in 1946, included as one of the ten most influential books in the U.S., had sold over 10 million copies by the time the author died in 1997. “To give light“, Dr. Frankl concluded, “must endure burning.” How many of us would have made the choice that he did, rather than avoid the unspeakable horrors and cruelty to which he was subjected? What carried him through all of it was a search for a deeper, abiding meaning or purpose of life.
Fortunately, Bob and I live in a very refugee-friendly community. Although Langley, WA didn’t opt to become a Sanctuary City initially (out of fear on the part of some board members of loss of federal funding), it did, a couple of months later, issue an immigrant-friendly statement. Many of the one thousand residents of our “village” are avid travelers and benefits, cross-cultural events sponsored by the Northwest Whidbey Language Association (NWLA) and various churches tend to be well-attended and generously supported. In 2007 Bob and I held a fundraiser for a Peruvian family from the island of Amantaní on Lake Titicaca and raised $3500 in an evening. Just last week NWOLA sponsored a poignant, eye-opening evening with three amazing women survivors on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which, we learned, is the rape capital of the world. I offered my services to treat these women with homeopathy for their PTSD and other health issues, and hope that bears fruit.
I am reminded of my early introduction to refugee trauma in my third year of Bastyr. As a student doctor in the naturopathic clinic in its very early days, I happened to be the only one fluent in Spanish when a wave of Salvadorean refugees arrived in Seattle, welcomed with open arms by a nearby Christian church. Since the supervising doctors could not communicate with these women and children, I was, thankfully, on my own. Their personal stories were truly harrowing. I especially remember María, who had been raped, piled atop a truck of dead bodies, and survived only by seizing the moment to jump off and escape. Her story and those of her companions stuck with me for life. Those stories and many far worse surface daily in the media due to the forced displacement of so many families worldwide.
Now, for those of us who have the eyes and willingness to look, refugee families in so many parts of the world are struggling for survival, risking drowning, starvation, murder, rape, indifference, and neglect. Fortunately homeopathy can be a balm to body, mind, and soul. Constitutional prescribing, for the whole person, requires expertise, sensitivity, and time. It can be of tremendous benefit in healing physical, mental, and emotional wounds, even those too terrible to imagine. However, for those of you who are not homeopaths skill enough to do that, I would like to share some more basic homeopathic remedies that can also relieve pain and suffering significantly. If left unaddressed, these issues and states can remain with the individuals for life and be passed onto future generations.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Remedies to consider first are Aconite, Ignatia, Arnica, and Stramonium.
Aconite (Aconitum napellus or Monkshood)
This is the number one remedy to consider for those frozen by sheer panic and terror. Imagine being in a stadium, train station, market where a terrorist attack occurs. Or, as in the case of the Congolese women, when militants suddenly and unexpectedly charged into their villages and homes, raping, murdering, threatening, and terrorizing. This absolute panic, which may turn into a recurrent flashback or nightmares for the rest of one’s life, can be helped dramatically by Aconite. The symptoms are typically a racing, pounding heart, physical and mental restlessness, an overpowering feeling of imminent death. In one word: shock. Nerves are on edge, palpitations are persistent. The description of this remedy as “acute, sudden, and violent invasion” is the epitome of what many refugees have faced. Imagine having your family murdered, raped, or dismembered before your eyes. And of being terrorized tat you will be next. And having that horrendous scene replay again and again, even after you are safely out of the situation. This is the Aconite state.
has similar indications to Aconite. But it is particularly important to mention given the current trauma inflicted on immigrant children separated from their parents. A member of the nightshade family, the predominant fear in this remedy is being absolutely alone in the wilds at the mercy dangerous, wild animals. There is a terror of darkness, being injured, having no one around for her to cling to, and being absolutely forsaken. I just read that the migrant children ripped, literally from their parents and, sometimes, siblings, are being prevented from hugging, using nicknames, and, even remaining with their siblings. Being put in a cage or cell with no daylight, unprotected, without the protective covering of clothes (think flimsy space blanket in a cold cell or room) is exactly the etiology that will trigger a Stramonium state. This underlying panic can erupt as violence, but it is only because of the sheer fright.
Ignatia (St. Ignatius bean)
The key word for those needing this remedy is grief. It is often expressed in uncontrollable sobbing, sighing, and hysteria. But the other polarity is unexpressed grief. Disappointment is profound and the individual is inconsolable. She may become absolutely hysterical or fall into a state where she cannot cry despite the most profound grief, suffering, and loss. There may be a sensation of a lump in the throat and a pressure in the chest. Imagine a Central American mother whose child is yanked from her desperate grasp, or a Syrian family whose raft washes up on a Greek shore, having lost their toddler in the sea on the way. Or a Congolese woman having witnessed the massacre of her parents and somehow survived a gang military rape. Or the longstanding grief of families from Eritrea or Nigeria who spend fifteen or twenty years in an inadequate basic refugee camp because they have simply nowhere else to go.
Arnica (Leopard’s bane)
is the number one remedy for trauma. So be it having escaped with one’s life but not one’s limbs in a minefield explosion or being bruised and battered from miles-long walks out of African villages that were pillaged or burned. Arnica can soothe the fear of being hurt mentally as well as physically but it the classic remedy for accident or trauma victims following a physical injury, accident, fall, or shock. A common reaction of those needing Arnica, following a trauma, is to say they are fine, need no help, and just to walk away. But they are in shock and not okay. They may have profound injury, such as internal bleeding, even life threatening. So it is important to help them rather than to believe that they are fine. I remember years ago walking across a busy Seattle street in front of one stopped car and not seeing a second in the other lane due to a blind spot. The auto, fortunately, did see me and stopped just as it barely touched me. I went right on as usual and began to get in my parked car, but the driver stopped me to make sure I was all right. I was clearly in an Arnica state.
Deeper Remedies for Longstanding PTSD and Other Symptoms
Feel free to use the five remedies above for the indicated conditions. You are most likely to have a 30C potency, however many of these cases are very intense and I would use a 200C or 1M potency one time then follow the results closely. The substances not compatible with homeopathy are eucalyptus, camphor, menthol and tea tree. Remedies may have to be repeated if the person drinks coffee.
There are over 4000 constitutional remedies. Which one is needed constitutionally, at a deeper, chronic level, by a refugee with PTSD is highly individual. Remedies made from Magnesium, for example, are considered orphan remedies. Related mineral remedies including the Natrums, Silicas, Aluminas, and others address issues of identity. Highly sensitive individuals may need plant remedies and those with strong victim or aggressor themes are likely to need remedies from the animal kingdom. Since treatment is so individualized, the individual’s particular state can be addressed. I wish more traumatized refugees had access to homeopathic remedies and experienced homeopaths. In this world where so many are displaced, homeless, isolated, and suffering, homeopathy can make a profound difference.
Published with Permission of The Townsend Letter for Doctors
Phone: (425) 774-5599