Tossing her head back with laughter, Rachel Seguin's eyes are aglow as she describes what it feels like to awaken in the morning and embrace the day with a newfound joy; a feeling of weightlessness, like a "31-year-old living in a 61-year-old's body."
There is no pain, no resentment or sorrow in her eyes. Just sheer joy. It is hard to imagine only a few years ago the pain and suffering that she was experiencing, both from the physical pain of Sjögren's Syndrome and the emotional heaviness of past abuses, had nearly led her to take her own life.
It was eight years ago that the first signs of Sjögren's first began to appear; dry mouth, redness and inflammation throughout the inside of her mouth.
Sjögren's Syndrome is an incurable, autoimmune disease that results in the body's immune system attacking and destroying the moisture-producing glands, resulting in painfully dry eyes and mouth. There is no known cure for Sjögren's and it is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, according to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information.
For Seguin, a Greater Sudbury resident, a regime of seven pharmaceutical pills a day helped her cope with the symptoms, just enough to get by day after day, but the painful sores in her mouth didn't fade, eating was always difficult, the raw, excruciating pain continued day in and day out. The cure for Seguin's Sjögren's did not come in a bottle; it came in the form of a release of residual emotional pain from past abuses.
"I was suffering so much," Seguin says. "My energy level was so low. I had dark circles under my eyes and had lost weight because I couldn't eat. I went to bed at night crying and got up in the morning crying. It was so bad. I was concentrating so much on the physical pain in my life that I couldn't see the emotional side of it."
Reflecting back, she realized the trigger of the Sjögren's coincided with the diminishing health of her stepfather. Into the fourth year of Sjögren's, her stepfather passed away. "I was at a state where I felt there was so much I wanted to say to him, for him to understand how much he hurt me and I never spoke to him about it," Seguin says. "I was holding back and I just couldn't say it to him. "I didn't know it at the time, but he was the key to me getting better. "I didn't realize that my (disease) had anything to do with the past abuses."
Five years into the Sjögren's a colleague at her workplace came up to her and said, "From last year to this year I can tell that you're suffering so much; you're not yourself."
Her colleague suggested to Seguin that maybe time spent at an Aboriginal healing lodge could help her. "I knew then I was ready," Seguin says. "I went to the healing lodge to work on myself. I felt either I work at healing myself or die. I didn't know at the time that my mouth was going to heal. I was very depressed, but I didn't know I was going to heal myself."
Within a couple of days at the healing lodge, Seguin began to open up and start talking about the abuse. As she expressed her words and released the emotions that swelled within her, she knew that self-healing was beginning to manifest. Within those first three days she was relying less on her pharmaceuticals to cope with the physical symptoms of the Sjögren's.
"For me, just being able to express the feelings I was having was like medicine," Seguin recalls. "I really truly find that was the key to my life."
After five weeks of experiencing healing circles, sweat lodges, rituals and one-on-one healing sessions, she was cured from Sjögren's Syndrome.
"By the time five weeks was over and I was leaving I wasn't taking any medications," Seguin says. "I was able to eat, talk and laugh and all the symptoms were gone." "It had felt like my body had poison in it and when I released it, it felt like I didn't have it anymore." That was almost four years ago.
"It was hard because my husband would bring junk food in and I would pick at it and then feel the pain. At first I didn't want him to buy any junk food, but then I realized he's a grown man and my choices don't have to be his choices."
"There may be a lot of women out there, like me, who, for whatever pain they have inside, it's like a poison and it's so toxic" and manifesting into physical symptoms that they don't even realize.
"Don't wait to get to the point where you reach the bottom; I was at the very, very bottom and it's hard to go up. It feels so good to be free; to release. "It's so beautiful to be able to feel again and experience joy." The healing lodge experience was "enough to set me on the path to where I am now."