January 25, 2013
I first learned acupuncture at the Lincoln Recovery Center, a drug rehab clinic in the South Bronx. The Lincoln Recovery Center was a truly inspiring place for me to first learn acupuncture. The Lincoln Recovery Center was started in the early 70’s as a response to the lack of attention given to addiction treatment in the neighborhoods in and around the South Bronx. Community organizing and civil disobedience coming from local groups such as the Black Panthers and Young lords were actively involved in the creation of this center. People literally locked arms outside the hospital and demanded drug addiction be taken seriously. Eventually, they had a bit of a victory and were given some money to start the clinic.
A friend of mine, Anna Grace Keller told me about the Lincoln Recovery Center. Her description and my visit to the center interested me enough to do Lincoln’s free and before I knew it I was with several good friends in NYC for two weeks getting trained.
Lincoln used the NADA protocol (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) which is a simple, safe, and effective ear acupuncture treatment for insomnia, addiction, and trauma. The nuances of why learning NADA turned me on to acupuncture for life is sometimes difficult to explain. I loved the treatment, but it’s not like in the two weeks I was there I was watching overt miracles. I didn’t even know the name of most of the people whose ears I put needles into and I knew nothing about their stories. I will probably never see any of them again. Some of the people getting treatment were grateful when I approached them while others looked annoyed. Regardless, when I walked out of Lincoln I walked out realizing a few main things:
-Acupuncture is extremely easy to learn and to do
-Acupuncture can be cheap and has the potential to be incredibly accessible
-Acupuncture works, whether you believe in it or not
-Acupuncture has the potential to offer a deep peace of mind
I was turned on quickly and started to try and do something with these lessons almost as soon as I got home to MA. At the time I was working with a grassroots, mental health justice oriented group called the Freedom Center.
Around this same time I heard of Barbara Weinberg, an acupuncturist in western MA who had been trained in the NADA protocol and who had also attended ITEA in Colorado. I contacted Barbara and asked her if she would be willing to do a free acupuncture clinic for the Freedom Center if the Freedom Center paid her. The Freedom Center wanted to start a clinic that could serve in some way as a safe space for people withdrawing from psychiatric medication.
Barbara agreed, and this clinic started and then took off very quickly. Within 6 months, we had a local newspaper article written about the clinic that resulted in between 30-40 people showing up for treatment every week.
I worked at several other NADA clinics in the years to follow. Each seemed to bring folks who didn’t usually seek out acupuncture and who appreciated the relative anonyminity of the whole experience.
The Freedom Center also referred folks to an affordable community- style full-body acupuncture clinic run by Claudia Sperber. For $15, I went and got my first full body treatment. It altered me dramatically, and I kept going back for more. I eventually started mentoring with Claudia and it was Claudia who first suggested I consider going to acupuncture school.
After Claudia suggested this, I visited a couple schools around the country and then talked to Barbara about the school she went to. Barbara told me that at this school (ITEA- the Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture in Louisville, Colorado) that sometimes they had class by the river. This intrigued me, as did the fact that this was a school I could attend while continuing to live in western MA for several years. So in 2006, I started the process of applying and taking pre-requisites for ITEA. I was accepted and started attending in the summer of 2008.
There were a lot of things I loved about the philosophies of 5-element acupuncture but it was no Lincoln Recovery Center as far as accessibility and philosophy. Traveling between Massachusetts and Colorado every few months for a couple years had it’s challenges and somewhere amongst the whirlwind of intensives, I decided it was time for a break. In addition to being exhausted from the travel, my partner of 6 years was pregnant and I wanted to support her through her pregnancy and birth and in the early stages of the baby’s life.
This year off was more action-packed than I suspected it would be. What happened in my personal life during this time is not for the faint of heart. It is a story of many intimacies, birth, death, breakups, cut-offs, betrayal, and deep transitions and it was a wildly roller-coastering and rapidly life-changing time for me. Yet as tumultuous as a lot of it was acupuncture itself— and the tiny, thin, sterile, needles that were inserted into my body were there for me each step along the way. Sometimes the effects of the needles were simple and subtle, while other times they breathed life back into me when I felt like I was emotionally drowning. Treatments from a huge range of people helped me feel more in my body, feel as though I could stand taller, and helped maintain my vision for what was to come. The inspiration and perspective I would feel after treatments were a constant reminder that I was on the right path by studying acupuncture.
My clinical time has resulted in hearing some painful or even horrific stories from clients. I had a client of mine pass away. I was somewhat consistently reminded through the personal stories of my clients of the fucked up things this system chronically does to people. I was reminded of the terrors of military abuse, of psychiatric abuse, of domestic abuse, and of drug abuse. I was also just reminded of the everyday suffering that comes from chronic illness, from an empty and dead culture, and from just boring and shitty capitalist jobs.
While acupuncture needles may not be able to penetrate through all the pain, it does seem everyone feels a little lighter after a good treatment. I love working with people, I love hearing their stories, and I love feeling their pulses change. I love watching symptoms ease up, moods improve, and a light come back into the eyes of my clients at the end of a good treatment. I often leave treatments with a vicarious buzz and a sense of rejuvenation that I hope can stick around for clients and practitioner alike….