Allie is from a long line of women healers and has spent many years refining her skills, which range from standard therapeutic through shamanic healing.
She has struggled with her feminine identity. Abused as a child, she has been married twice but found herself unable to bear children. Finally she chose adoption. She now has a woman partner.
Her interview reveals how much spiritual work she has had to do to get where she is now and it has been a long journey of the soul. Read her insights in her book, Exploring Our Multidimensional Selves: A Shamanic Perspective. It is available both in a Kindle Edition and as a downloadable ebook.
My name is Allie and I’m 76 years old. I started having my period probably around the age of 10 and went into menopause around 42.
I’m a Shamanic practitioner and licensed clinical social worker. I’m also a graduate of Bangor Theological Seminary, which was my beginning point for being a minister for several years before entering social work. There is an overlap between the pastoral counseling I was trained for at seminary and the more clinical aspects I studied to obtain my Master of Social Work. Ultimately, through both the pastoral and clinical applications, my interest in pursuing spiritual counseling grew to become my current profession. I realized what interfered with people’s divinity were life experiences that introduced old, haunting patterns of inadequacy, and I work with recognizing those patterns so that they don’t limit a person’s potential. The core value all my life in every professional situation I’ve been involved with has been to help people access the strengths they carry within themselves.
I don’t have many memories of family members discussing menopause when I was growing up. My grandmother lived with us for a while but never talked about those sorts of things. My mother was an alcoholic and died at the age of 68. I don’t really recall anything about how she went through that stage in her life because it was a time clouded by her active drinking. She was an understanding person and people were drawn to her compassion, and that’s the memory I hold of her. She actually came to me a few years ago in a meditation—what we call a journey—and asked my forgiveness, which was very compelling.
The most important aspect of my menopausal history, aside from the fact that it started at a relatively young age, was that I had horrible hot flashes—it was like a vice inside my brain, a clamping-down sensation; and when I’ve told physicians about this none of them had heard of it before—I’d get a kind you’re-crazy look from them, which wasn’t particularly affirming of my womanhood, to say the least. It was as if I were imagining it or being melodramatic, which is actually contrary to my nature. Having grown up in an alcoholic family, you can’t be the dramatic one.
Now I’m with an integrated medical center, where the principal physician has contributed to a book on women’s hormones for the upstream medicine that’s coming along, so she’s an expert, and someone I wish I’d known when I was 42, as there was not a great deal known then about how to make things gentler in menopause.
It has always been important for me to support how amazing women are, and to acknowledge the range of internal resources they bring to whatever’s happening in their lives. Women have their own inner strength and wisdom, and can use menopause as a time for releasing antiquated patterns and tensions. This is connected to the ancient Native American concept of women being in their power, and listening to their dreams; and I’ve always also thought of it as a way of honoring that time in life rather than viewing it as something merely to endure.
When I was a therapist the fact of not being able to think clearly during a hot flash was quite inconvenient, so I consulted a physician who was highly regarded in that arena. She had recently returned from a conference where there had been a round table on the negative permutations of hormone replacement therapy for women, and she recommended I have a vaginal biopsy every six months if she were to put me on hormones; being a sexual abuse survivor, that was not a suitable course for me. I changed physicians and was on hormone replacement therapy for quite a few years thereafter, which definitely helped with my hot flashes and other symptoms. Then, at one point, my body just said that’s it for that—no more hormone replacement—and then I went through the whole cycle with the hot flashes all over again, and spent considerable time in front of an air conditioner, which was not much fun.
In terms of my own sexuality, growing up in rural Maine at the time I did, nobody was out of the closet per se, though in hindsight my best friend came out as gay very early. Her father was a minister, and she experienced enormous turmoil which we realized later was attributable both to her being a minister’s daughter and living in a rural culture where there was no awareness of same-sex sexuality. For me, having been married to two different men, the sexuality piece was not quite that clear, and the shift was more than anything about me coming into my own as a woman. I maintained a private practice in Portland, I was successful, I had my own identity even though I was married—and that was around the time I met my current partner. Right now I don’t necessarily identify myself with a lot of what goes on in lesbian culture—it’s more a matter of living as someone I classify as being me. What I couldn’t figure out for a long time was how much of my early sexuality was reclaiming my power from being a victim of abuse. One of my mother’s best friends was a gay man whom I adored, and she was quite comfortable with him even though she was a highly conservative Christian. When I got divorced and decided to change my name, I did a journey and met my great grandmother, who clearly said when you change your name you have to call your uncle who has the family bible—this bible held her real name, the woman I had only known as “Grandma.” My uncle was a converted Catholic so I thought, well, that’s not going to go over—but when we spoke he said he was very glad that I was finally going to be happy. It was through this great-grandmother that I was introduced me to a lineage of grandmothers who did healing that I had never been aware of, which was quite impressive. And then I discovered that my uncle’s favorite daughter and my favorite cousin were also gay. My present belief is that we’re drawn to people in a soul group who we meet in-between lifetimes, and occasionally we cross paths and simply move on, and other times we meet in a way that propels us forward. It doesn’t depend so much on male or female as it does on the soul agreement between lifetimes that ignites that fire.
In retrospect I regret some of the sexual acting out and flirtatiousness that was a response to my sexual abuse—I don’t think it caused any great harm, but it was one of those uncomfortable times in life until I learned what was going on and redeemed my identity. In seminary I was the only female for my first year, and obviously, at age 17, you don’t discuss those kinds of things with your classmates. And then later on I married and became a minister, and those weren’t contexts in which I would be talking about that either. I was employed for twelve years as a social worker in a mental health center, which was a great place to get an education about every conceivable type of human behavior. Over those years I counseled incest survivors and others who’d experienced severe trauma and were unable to remember entire stretches of their own history in any detail. I’d learned to dissociate as a child and would use that capacity when it came to experiencing hot flashes while I was in a clinical setting so the professional part of me could remain very focused. Even though I can’t do that anymore, because I’m far more present in my body now, at the time it helped me a great deal. As we age many of the things we used for survival can tend to get in the way of our thriving, so we have to undo, with appreciation, some of the ways we got to where we are. I have hot flashes to this day, and I take a supplement that helps sort out the good estrogen we require from the estrogen our body manufactures from some of the foods we eat and other elements we’re environmentally exposed to; but I still have hot flashes that come on with anxiety or stress or heat, I’m still sitting in my office with a shawl off and on, off and on. I don’t know if it’s going to go on forever, but I of think I’m in that category permanently.
I went into menopause with mixed feelings. I perceived the hot flashes as extremely inconvenient, and along with that I had a couple of miscarriages and could not conceive, so I adopted children– the whole female process was complicated for me. I was always confused about why I couldn’t seem to carry an embryo past four months, and then a few years ago I was being examined by a physician who was trying to get something to move in my pelvic region, but encountered a strain of resistance repeatedly. My partner was there with her teacher, who showed an image that when my mother was pregnant at four months I was unwanted by her. The way we approached this was by bringing my parents together—who’d divorced after thirty years of marriage but remained friends—and having them hold me and received me in unison. And that put so many factors in place about why I couldn’t carry a baby past four months. On the other hand, after I’d already had children by adoption, I went to a workshop with a woman from Holland who analyzed my spine as a way of determining what my whole life had been about, and even though I’d never told her anything about myself at all, she ended up saying I was never supposed to be a bearer of children, rather a mother of numerous souls– which sort of fits, as I’ve been perceived as a nurturer for many people. At an unconscious level my body held the theme of not being wanted, and also the theme of cooperating with my soul in being alive for other positive purposes. So now I encourage people to follow what their body says to them, apart from culture or family or friends or anything else normative. Going into menopause was in some ways a relief, because I always had the worry and fear of getting pregnant, and at that point I would not have been prepared to bring anyone else into the world. Menopause was a way of beginning to be freed from that concern. The negatives were the hot flashes, and I also definitely gained weight, though I’m not exactly certain how much that had to do with becoming more sedentary in terms of the requirements of my job.
All of my family on my mother’s side died of cancer, and I’m at high risk for breast cancer; I’ve also inherited arthritis from my mother’s side that started noticeably worsening around the time of menopause. My mother used to be a classical pianist, and at some point her fingers stopped functioning properly, so in the seven years of sobriety she had before she died she started taking piano lessons, learning to play Scott Joplin and other kinds of music that didn’t depend so much on rigorous precision.
I have a way about me that lets me see the good in people, and part of the work I had to do on myself was to uncover the damage my mother’s alcoholism had done to me, and that’s a passage that continues to this day. But through journeying I can relive an old sense perception, like the not-being-good-enough feeling, and the spirit will help to heal it, and that enables me to resolve things more quickly. There was a lot more abuse in my childhood than I have conscious memories of, so when something gets triggered, more often in the past than the present, I’m able to take it on a journey and see a picture within a picture, and that way I don’t have to relive it. For example, I had trouble with a knee once, and it wasn’t from anything physical I’d done to cause it, and the journey showed me trying to kick my mother’s bedroom door down, because she’d been drinking and crying, and wasn’t fully conscious. My body was giving me that memory in order to heal. The biggest challenge was dealing with events or responses I hadn’t been conscious of, and after that to be healthier and move on.
My primary advice would be for women to get information that helps them sort out what their unique processes are from what is common to women in general, so they don’t have to go through feeling crazy when they’re not, that it’s merely hormones changing within the body. It’s not another element that separates women, but rather something that brings them into a community of women; instead of being isolating it can be a kind of celebration of the whole female process. Today there are so many more holistic pieces that women have access to than when I was going through menopause. To take advantage of all the good material that’s available—to be educated, to go to groups where you can hear other women’s stories and get the support that’s needed to make it as gentle a process as possible. Patricia C. Rice wrote an essay titled “Prehistoric Venuses” that appeared in The Journal of Anthropological Research, where she recounts a time in ancient Greece when women, after their child-bearing years, were led to a temple where younger women would cradle them in a scented bath and guide them in envisioning the next part of their lives. And some of these women would go mad in the process, because they’d never focused on themselves, and had no conception of what to expect of their futures. They were all shepherded through this transition to reclaim and rejoin the world, and to begin the next part of their lives.
Sometimes I wish we had something like that in our own culture, that kind of formal rite of passage. In my specialty, I frequently see women who are right in the middle of menopause, and I encourage them to get support: medical if it needs to be medical, because for many people their vitamin D is low, or their adrenaline bank has been tapped and they need to rebuild that, or various supplements are going to be helpful. And then, attendant to that, to encourage them as they consider the question of who they really want to be now, to have support in that odyssey rather than continue doing something that’s only barely getting them through the day. A gentle, loving, compassionate foundation is crucial–spiritual, mental and physical.