Ask someone to name medicinal herbs, and they are likely to include lavender in their list. Lavender has long been appreciated for its many uses — such as the herb’s alleged ability to preserve one’s chastity (when carried in a sachet), its aid in relieving headaches or melancholy, and even its antimicrobial properties for cleaning one’s home. Today, laundry detergents, candles, room deodorizers, bubble baths, and more, all promise to infuse our world with the soothing scent of fresh lavender.
I have not been an admirer of lavender. The plant and its flowers are beautiful, but the smell has never appealed to me. Lavender sachets, candles, oils, and sprays always seem so pungent. The smell overpowers all others, and sometimes it even makes my head ache. When I was pregnant, it even made me vomit. Lavender was an herb I preferred to admire from afar.
This has changed in recent years. Lavender has become surprisingly appealing. At first, I didn’t even recognize the scent. One spring I was walking around a garden center when the light fragrance caught my attention. I started looking for its source, and I think I walked past the lavender twice before I acknowledged that it was the plant I was looking for. At first I thought it must be a different variety of lavender, one that I had never encountered before. So, I brought it home and planted it. A few weeks later, I was at Chalice Well and Gardens in Glastonbury, England, when I finally admitted to myself the implausible truth: I suddenly enjoyed lavender.
I wondered about the timing: was this indicative of a hormonal shift? Has my knowledge of the herb’s uses shifted my experience of its scent? I could not imagine why I suddenly found lavender appealing. Delightful, even. Soothing.
While I was in Glastonbury, I rather impulsively sought the assistance of a shamanic healer. I have been committed to trying any opportunity that comes my way on my healing journey for chronic pain, and when I looked up to see myself before The Bridget Healing Centre, I decided to see what was there. I met Kestrel, a kind and friendly man, who offered a short healing session. I couldn’t possibly find words to describe this experience. It was amazing. In the end, Kestrel suggested I was carrying emotional pain from relationships that ended eight or so years ago, and I needed to find a way to let that pain go. When I did, I would be able to heal.
This was in 2018. Eight years earlier, a twenty-year friendship had begun unraveling. In January 2011, what hope I had of restoring this relationship died in a very public and dramatic fashion. I finally understood that we were through. This was horrendously painful. I still have dreams that we are laughing together. Then I wake up and remember that even my memories of our good times are now tainted by the knowledge that they never saw me for who I truly am or could be.
Around that same time, another dear friendship began to strain. Having just lost one close friend, I couldn’t face the possibility of losing another. My fear meant that I kept suppressing my own frustrations with this relationship rather than confronting them. And then one day, this friend lashed out at me. The strike was deep and intentional, filled with their own pain and rage. I retreated and withdrew. I later attempted to reconnect, but it was too late. I still miss them very much. The pain of not having this person in my life continues to surprise me.
So, when Kestrel referenced emotional pain from past relationships, I knew exactly what and who he meant. We tend to focus on heartbreak in the context of romantic break ups. But there is nothing in my romantic history that compares to the pain of losing these two friends; the pain of having two people who knew the worst sides of me use this knowledge against me in anger; the betrayal of having loved ones intentionally hurt me; the bewilderment; the disappointment; the anger; the grief; the loss.
Clearly, my healing journey must be emotional as well as physical. At times, I imagine that the emotional walls I built to protect myself from further heartache took corporeal form, entering my muscles and ligaments as I held myself rigid and defensive against any further assault. According to one scientific study, “Memories of devastating heartbreaks appear to trigger activity in the brain that’s similar to when people suffer physical pain.” There certainly are material causes to my pain — arthritis and bulging discs, for example. But fibromyalgia is widespread pain with no clear cause. Instead, the brain seems to be caught in a cycle of misfiring, as neurotransmitters misinterpret and amplify pain signals again and again. The idea that a broken heart could be the cause of this misfiring somehow makes perfect sense.
Perhaps this is why lavender suddenly began to appeal to me. My heart and my body sensed the healing it had to offer. Now that I am open to the gifts that lavender has to offer, my senses welcome its gentle perfume.
Life will bring more heartaches. My body will continue to feel those and other pains. And I will turn to lavender and other herbs to soothe my spirit and my body. The healing journey will continue.