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And How It Affects Your Freedom To Enjoy the Human Experience

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I spent 10 of the last 14 days in severe pain, with only four short days in between two relentless Herxheimer reactions. It is pain on a level I’ve never had to deal with before. At least with childbirth, you get breaks between contractions; moments where you get a bit of relief from the pain. Not so with Herxheimer reactions. The pain NEVER. STOPS. And nothing helps.

The first 12 hours or so are excruciating pain. They always start at night for some reason. So all night long, I’m sobbing in pain. I’m on the floor. I’m walking around. I’m in and out of the shower or the bath. I’m changing positions every 5 seconds, trying to find a position that will give me some relief. Hour after relentless hour, in between sobbing sessions and puking my guts out, you’ll hear me muttering things like, “Please make it stop,” “I can’t do this,” and “I’m not going to make it.”

After that first 12 hours, the pain lessens just enough that I’m no longer sobbing, muttering, puking, or thinking it’s my last day on earth. But I’ve still got 4.5 more days of pain. So much pain that I can’t think. I can’t focus. I can’t sleep. I can’t concentrate. My whole world is just pain.

Now let me tell you why this is the absolute best thing that could be happening to me.

A Herxheimer reaction means my immune system is doing such a good job of getting rid of pathogens and toxins that my detox system can’t keep up. My blood is full of dead bodies from a successful battle against Lyme and all its coninfections.

A Herxheimer reaction is a sign that we’re winning the war.

And with two this close to each other and ten times more severe than any I’ve experienced thus far, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Because the goal is to feel good again. The goal is to be rid of all these pathogens that have been making my life miserable. The goal is excellent health.

And to get it, I apparently have to walk right into the very pit of Hell.

Charles Dickens said it perfectly, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

My divorce was much the same. The pain of infidelity, betrayal, divorce, and then having your kids ripped away from you half the time was excruciating. What I didn’t anticipate was the levels of positive emotion I would be able to reach on the other side of it. I am so much happier since my divorce. I have reached levels of positive emotions I didn’t know existed before I went through those levels of negative emotion.

And there were times the pain felt unbearable, as if I wasn’t going to make it through. In both cases, this wasn’t true. I made it just fine. I always have, and I always will. Pain doesn’t kill us; it opens up new levels of amazingness (which means there isn’t a good reason to avoid or resist it).

There are two sides to every coin. And each side matches the intensity of the other. If one side is the best, the other side is the worst. If one side is feeling excellent in your body, the other side is feeling atrocious in your body.

Anytime you choose to love someone, the flip side of that coin is pain. If you choose to love them at a level 1, you will experience pain at a level 1. That pain can come from any number of things, but you will experience it. When you choose love, you choose pain.

If you choose to love someone at a level 10, you will experience pain at a level 10. The more you love them, the more it will hurt if you lose them, the more it hurts when you fight with them, the more it hurts if they betray you, the more it hurts to watch them in pain.

Think about my poor husband during these Herxheimer reactions. He had to watch all this, and not be able to help. It was painful for him to watch because he loves me. With love comes pain.

There is opposition in all things. It is the human experience. When we resist the negative side of the coin, we give up our freedom to enjoy the positive side of the coin – at least at the level that we could.

Seeking Happiness

We are taught to seek happiness above all else. Advertisements bombard us with images of eternal bliss, seeming to promise that if we just buy the right product or live the right lifestyle, we can cast off darkness and sadness for good.

But is unbroken happiness really the ideal state for human beings? Or has our society’s obsession with positivity actually distorted our experience of life? What if a life without darkness is no more desirable than a life without light?

The ancient concept of yin and yang expresses the fundamental duality at the heart of existence. All phenomena arise in relation to their opposites – there is no light without darkness, no pleasure without pain, no growth without decay. Yin and yang represent the two opposite but complementary forces that shape all of nature.

This principle applies just as much to our inner lives as to the outer world. A human being is not a creature of pure positivity. We are a balance of light and shadow, joy and sorrow, attachment and letting go. To expect unremitting happiness is to reject half of what makes us whole.

The “negative” side of human experience – sadness, anger, jealousy, loss, failure – is not something to be eliminated but something to be deeply felt and understood. It is through sitting with difficult emotions and circumstances that we access the full depth and richness of life. To embrace the 50/50 is to stop running from half of our humanity.

When we use spiritual bypassing to avoid or repress difficult experiences, we cut ourselves off from growth. The “negative” emotions we try to escape carry messages about our deeper selves – messages we need to hear in order to become whole. Jealousy points to our feelings of lack, anger to our experience of injustice or violation. Sadness asks us to honor what has been lost.

Trying to sustain a life of pure positivity is like living on a diet of frosted cupcakes – our sweet tooth is satisfied, but our bodies and souls become starved of nourishment. We need the difficult flavors as well as the sweet ones to feel truly satiated.

So how can we embrace the 50/50 and give ourselves over to the full human experience?

Steps To Embracing the Darkness

1. Recognize the inevitability of darkness. There will always be difficult emotions, losses, failings, and sufferings as part of the human journey. Learn to expect them rather than being shocked when they arise.

2. Stop fighting against difficult experiences. When we meet challenges with resistance, we only increase our suffering. Practice accepting each moment as it is, without judgment.

3. Get curious about your “negative” emotions. Rather than shaming yourself for feeling jealous, sad, or angry, explore where these feelings are coming from with an attitude of compassionate curiosity.

4. Sit with the sensations of difficult emotion in your body. Breathe into them and observe how they feel physically rather than getting lost in the mental storyline. This helps process and transform stuck emotional energy.

5. Trust that difficult experiences will pass in time. Nothing is permanent. When you can fully feel and accept darkness, it will naturally transform.

6. Look for the silver lining and growth opportunities. What wisdom can you extract from a difficult experience? How can it serve as a catalyst for positive change?

7. Find the sweet moments amidst the bitter ones. Even when life is full of hardship, there are almost always small joys and pleasures if we can learn to recognize them. Noticing and savoring these offers relief.

8. Remember, your innermost essence is not defined by circumstances. At your core, you are whole, unbroken, fundamentally okay. Difficult external circumstances cannot shake your deepest being.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Where are you resisting the darkness?
  2. Why are you resisting it? What does your brain think resistance will accomplish?
  3. What will it take to embrace it instead?
  4. What new levels of positivity will be available if you’re willing to do so?


As paradoxical as it may seem, when we surrender to the full 50/50 of life, we gain access to a deeper happiness than we could ever achieve by seeking constant positivity. This happiness is not contingent on circumstances but arises from the profound acceptance of what is.

This doesn’t mean you must go seeking out difficult experiences. Life has a way of providing exactly the challenges we need to grow. But by shifting your attitude from avoidance to acceptance, you free yourself to really live. The sweet and the bitter, joy and sorrow, light and darkness – this is the full human journey. Embrace it all.

Live Free. Love Life.

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