Yesterday, something profound happened to me.
I was driving into town for an appointment with my therapist when I felt this overwhelming physical and emotional sense of panic come over me.
“Whoa. Is something bad about to happen?” I thought to myself. “Just keep your hands on the steering wheel and breathe.”
I felt this constriction in my chest. My breathing and heart rate felt normal, and then I can only describe what happened next as having a stress response on top of my stress response. My mouth was dry, and I felt that surge of adrenaline spread throughout my arms and legs.
“Just breathe and keep your hands on the wheel. The exit is almost here…”
This isn’t the first time I have had such an intense experience. It had happened once before. Instead of being in it fully with no coping mechanisms at all, I kept my observer in place and just continued to breathe.
A part of me wanted to pull my car off the road and dial 911, but then I was hit with a scene from the movie Something’s Gotta Give when Jack Nicholson goes to the hospital and he’s lying there thinking that he is having a heart attack, when the doctor comes in and says, “Nope. This is stress.”
That little voice inside me said, “Charlotte, this is your wake up call. You need to change something in your life.”
When I got to my therapist’s office (great timing or what?!), I immediately told her that I was going to chew a kava tablet that I had in my purse. So I chewed it, drank some water, and within about 10 minutes burst into tears. Kava is a skeletal muscle relaxant. I was holding so much tension in my body that as soon as my body relaxed, water started to flow in the form of sobbing tears.
Then, it hit me. As a mother and business owner, I have just kept on moving over the last few months. Something happens, and I want to cry but I don’t. I haven’t been going to bed early enough; I am weary, and the tension has just kept building in my body. And this presidential election...good Lord, the things I hear coming out of people’s mouths, hurt my heart.
As the kava worked on me, I had a safe place to let go and simply sob. Within about an hour, the heaviness in my chest and my sense of impending doom was gone. I literally felt it leave my body in a big whoosh. Bye. Bye.
Good quality herbal medicine astounds me in the way that it interacts with our spirits. Yes, I love science, too. In fact, if you want to read more about kava from this perspective, get your hands on the latest edition of Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy by Kerry Bone and Simon Mills p699-718.
Today, I want to bring you my visceral experience of this plant. While phytochemistry is real and important and explains a lot about how plants work, it is also true that herbal medicine brings forth the mystery of life. Real food and whole herbs is more than its chemistry, it has an energy to it.
The whole is greater than its parts, 1+1=3 and to me, that is the realm of Spirit.
Of the Universe.
Use whatever language you want to.
The bottom line is that anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines may temporarily take away an uncomfortable feeling, but they don’t touch the Spiritual component of being alive. You see, in my experience of kava, it brings me back to myself. If Spirit or God or Source or Being or Universe had a feeling it would be one of presence saying, "I am here with you.”
So when I say that kava brings me back to myself. It gets me out of my ego and out of survival mode. For me, it is an herb of connection. I come back to myself, so that I can be more present to you and all of life.
So when I lose myself, how do I feel? Like some version of the panic I described earlier. It might manifest as butterflies in my stomach, lots of mental chatter, the inability to find words, an upset stomach, a rising feeling of not being in my body or I just might feel global tension in my body.
Or worst of all: that feeling where everything becomes an emergency? Just that morning before the stress of driving into town, I literally could not figure out what to do next. I kept dragging myself from one task to another: pay the bill, answer the phone, reply to the email, send the text message, but the thing under that was this feeling of being paralyzed: is this REALLY what I need to be doing right now? I dunno! Ugh. It’s so awful, everything pulling on me.
Does anyone know what I am describing here?
Then, I chew a kava tablet and a sense of normalcy returns. I become a more grounded, higher version of myself. Open, and yet, contained. As a sensitive woman living in an insensitive world, kava is my herbal ally.
A river can’t flow when the water is dammed up. It gets stagnant. Kava entered my body yesterday and removed the dam. Life began to move through me again. My physical and spiritual heart relaxed and order was restored. I have recommitted myself to going to bed as close to 9PM as possible, knowing that enough is enough. Whatever it is that is undone will be there in the morning.
Let’s face it…people have lots of unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol, recreational drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, working, exercise, food, sugar, fill-in-the-blank. These are devices we use to numb ourselves from the pain of being alive. None of those coping strategies work in the body like an herb. Kava seems to facilitate some sort visceral feeling of enlightenment. It doesn’t numb me; it allows me to be MORE present while not feeling alone.
Here’s another kava story for you.
A few years ago, our entire family had the flu. My husband was sick. My one-year-old son was sick. And I was really, really sick, but it’s the same dynamic at work that was in the previous story: what’s a mother to do because I had to take care of my son, right?
Well, the aches and pains of the inflammatory cascade going on my body were keeping me awake. I hurt so bad that I was literally bracing against the pain. I was really concerned about my son, so now I wasn’t sleeping well at all and a fever was setting in. I finally got Drake to sleep one night when I found myself sitting at the bar in our kitchen with my head in my hands, weeping, wondering, “Is there anything else I can do here? Anything?” And, then, one word came to me – kava.
So then I did what any good herbalist would do. I chewed a tablet. Within minutes, I took a deep breath. I hadn’t been breathing. I felt my shoulders come down from my ears. I thought, “Yes, tonight I will sleep.” And I did…all night long. I woke up that morning drenched in sweat. My fever had broken and I could feel that I had turned a corner with the infection. I was on the mends. Instead of thwarting the healing process, like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug would have done, kava facilitated my healing process.
When I reflect on these experiences, the commonality is that under very different circumstances, kava restores flow. Remember, life is movement. Restoring flow in the physical, spiritual and emotional dimensions of being alive is NOT a little thing. It is a really, really BIG deal.
I salute you, kava, for bringing me back to myself over and over and over and over again. Thank you.
Before I go, it’s getting hot outside now here in Austin, so I want to leave you with one of my favorite recipes, which is the ultimate beverage of relaxation and restoration. From my heart to yours…
1 can organic, full fat coconut milk
1 bag frozen organic pineapple
8 Kava Forte tablets from MediHerb*, ground into a powder in a coffee grinder or crushed by hand with a mortar and pestle
1 Tablespoon organic vanilla extract (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pour into a wine glass and garnish with fresh strawberries. This will make about one quart.
*This is the brand of kava that I use. If you want understand why, then please read my previous blog Herbal Knowledge is Power.
You can adjust the amount of kava tablets for the portion sizes you serve (This proportion is 1 kava tablet in 4 ounces of the beverage. That’s ½ cup.) I have experimented with adding 1 cup of frozen strawberries, blueberries, and mangos to the recipe and all were delicious.
Drink in peace.
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