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Discussion in 'Success Stories Subforum' started by Stephanie71, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. Stephanie71

    Stephanie71 Peer Supporter

    A Tremendous Success Story

    I am truly finally getting free. If you’ve read my many posts on here, you can witness all the anxiety and questioning and fear and trauma, and you know, I just had to go through it. But it is all shifting. It really is. I have mind body pain; there is nothing structurally broken or damaged in my body, the the medical community has nothing to offer me. Surgery, pills, injections, chiropractic adjustments, etc. are not the solution. The solution is in my heart and soul, which thus translate to shifting my mind. This is a long post, so feel free to skim and skip around.


    Bear with me here, as you read a rather lengthy and detailed post about my journey through chronic pain and my recent depth of recovery after first discovering Sarno almost eight years ago. This post is for everyone, but it is particularly for those who have deeply struggled with accepting the diagnosis of TMS, who have had extremely slow healing or very stubborn symptoms, who have felt hopeless and sometimes suicidal from the syndrome, and who need to hear from someone who sometimes thought she was damaged beyond repair and would never get better. This is for you. I hope it provides hope, and I hope even more that it provides insight and a potential kickstart to your process of getting better and freer from pain, discomfort, and other symptoms. Here is my story, the ins and outs and all the way throughs. Feel free to scroll past the lengthy story and dive into the recovery realm.

    I am for sure an introvert, an empath, and a highly sensitive person. So all I have gone through was even more lacerating.

    First of all, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict, going on nearly eight years completely clean and sober from alcohol and drugs. I am a happy member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I would consider myself immersed in the recovery world. I have probably read every self-help book known to mankind. I have done years of therapy. I am a pretty regular pray-er and meditator. I spent a good solid three years in Al-Anon, as I grew up in a dysfunctional family affected by addiction and other issues. I am a big believer in the 12 step process and believe it saved my life (though I do have some qualms about it in terms of chronic pain recovery, which I will go into later.)

    I started drinking and doing drugs on an almost daily basis when I was fourteen. Although I grew up in a rather affluent town in Los Angeles, CA, for some reason heavy partying was normal among my peers, even though looking back I can see that none of what I was doing was normal. I was fourteen and shoveling as much alcohol, pot, pills, and other drugs into my system as often as possible, so that I didn't have to feel. I also had issues with food and eating disorders. Underneath my partying, I was deeply depressed and believe I had been so since probably ten or eleven years old, to a degree. My parents divorced when I was five, and on top of that my father is, in my honest opinion, a narcissist personality type. He also has suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis (not TMS but potentially made worse by repressed emotions) since he was nineteen, and having a parent with a chronic pain disorder is similar to a parent having a drug problem in terms of their availability and consistency. I have two older brothers who have also suffered many problems at the hands of divorce and a tough, emotionally and verbally abusive dad.

    My parents aren't bad people, but they were not emotionally supportive parents. They were high school sweethearts and going through what I imagine was a deeply painful split, and so their own denial about their failed marriage was forced upon us. We were not exactly allowed to grieve what happened, as they kept insisting it was a "good" divorce because they would stay friends (which they have.) They both are married today to the people they left each other for, so in a sense, my brothers and I grew up with four parents.

    I have no idea what affected me more - the split of my parents or my father's immense shortcomings as a nurturing and loving presence. For those who have been raised by a narcissist, you understand, and it is possible that not living with him was actually its own strange blessing. Who knows.

    I remember feeling different by age ten. Puberty was approaching. I started to feel sad, anxious, and uncomfortable in my skin. In terms of TMS, I had other ailments that are common with our types: chronic ear infections, headaches, stomach aches, over-eating - later I would have pretty terrible acne, anxiety that gave way to panic attacks a handful of times in middle school, and more depression. The worst part was that my parents truly did not understand my highly sensitive nature, and I learned very early not to rock the boat too much - I learned emotions were bad, weird, not normal. I kept a lot inside and pretended very well. I look back and can see how unhappy I was but how completely out of touch I was with that unhappiness.

    In middle school I gained weight (my father was already commenting on my body and food choices as young as nine and ten), and though I have done immense work around self-esteem and releasing toxic shame, this period of my life and all that came before it, the neglect of my parents, the abuse of my father, illicit tremendous pain for me. Looking at pictures of me in 8th grade, when I was probably twenty pounds overweight while the rest of my girlfriends were normal, breaks my heart. I remember feeling sick and infected, as if the stuck emotions in me were making me ill. The second I got into ninth grade and got stoned and drunk for the first time, I was, as they say in AA, off and running.

    I'm getting to the chronic pain, believe me. I just wanted to paint a picture of what shaped me in terms of later being a people-pleasing, perfectionist, fear-based, anxiety- riddled Type T personality.

    In high school the most important thing was getting stoned every day and drunk every weekend. If I could have that, I felt capable of doing moderately well in school and having a social life. I wasn't an extreme rebel like my older brother, who stayed out all night and basically turned his bedroom into a drug den. I mostly followed my mom's loose rules, and I liked what I was learning in a handful of classes. I was always a reader and a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories. I loved music. I was still a dancer and started to get into yoga in 10th grade. I also had tremendous anxiety and was a bit of a hypochondriac. I always thought I was sick or there was something wrong with me. I sometimes got paranoid. Drinking was the only thing that made me feel free of all that, but it was temporary. I believe I became an alcoholic by sixteen or seventeen. I started blacking out every time I drank liquor. I could drink a fifth of vodka to myself in a night, no problem. I had horrible horrible hangovers. My family life was more of the same, with my mom working full time - warm but still clueless- and my dad around on the weekends but more of a tyrant than a parent.

    I had become very concerned with my weight and appearance. Though I never really starved myself in high school or made myself throw up (that came later) I got very into dieting and exercising. I ran on the treadmill and did sweaty yoga classes. I counted every calorie and rarely ate junk food. Sometimes, though, when I got drunk and high, I would binge and eat boxes or cereal late at night. Then I would feel extreme guilt and shame and resolve to diet even harder or stop drinking or do something to control my eating. I was convinced that if I had the perfect body, the prettiest face, the right clothes, then men would love me and I would be OK. I was certainly always looking for my father's approval and outside validation wherever I could get it.

    I got pretty good at yoga by my senior year, and I showed up for it consistently. It was the one thing besides alcohol that made me feel a sense of peace and serenity. It made me want to better my life. At the end of a good class, I felt safe inside. Tragically, I would lose this when the chronic pain struck me.

    I ended up going off to UC Boulder for college after being accepted off the waitlist - I hadn't applied to many schools because I had the intuition that I would do community college and transfer to UCLA or Berkeley after two years. When I was accepted, I got sort of excited, but I was also nervous because I knew I had issues, namely, a big fat drinking problem. But my dad took me to the orientation, and I got swept up in the party scene, the beautiful campus, the quick friends I made. I so much just wanted to be "normal."

    Around this time, just before high school graduation, I had an injury after running on the treadmill. I was doing a deep yoga "dancer pose" stretch, with my right leg pulled behind me, and I heard something pop loudly in the back of my left leg, likely in the hamstring. The sound was awful, and there was some initial discomfort, but there wasn't any excruciating pain or disability. I didn't fall to the floor. I was able to walk and everything. I am fairly sure I still went to dance class and yoga. I remember just ignoring it. No doctors or anything. The rest is a blur, as I was only eighteen and I was also regularly under the influence of alcohol and drugs. This instance, however, would set the stage for years and years of chronic pain.

    Boulder was a big mess from the beginning. I hated living in the dorms, I only liked one class and could barely show up for the rest, and I fell in with a crowd who liked to drink the way I did - hard and daily. I was out of my comfort zone. I didn't know how to manage money or take care of myself. The cheap liquor I was constantly drinking was making me feel sick. I had terrible anxiety and outbursts of sobbing while drunk. I was taking birth control and an anti-depressant, so who knows how that was influencing my system on top of everything else. I started bingeing and trying to make myself throw up. I felt sick all the time. I would wake up early with vicious hangovers and terrible anxiety. I almost got arrested for marijuana possession. All within two months. When my parents came for parent weekend in October, I smiled the first two nights and broke down in their hotel room the day they were leaving. Not one of them really understood, though. I was always written off as being too sensitive and emotional, not tough enough. They were in deeper denial than I was.

    I began having strange symptoms in my left leg. The pain seemed to start behind my knee, so if I were lying in bed and had both legs straight, the leg felt hyper-extended, heavy, with sharp and painful twinges, especially compared to the right. When I tried to go to the gym or do yoga there was pain and other weird symptoms, and I was afraid something was terribly wrong, so I quit going. I thought maybe I had hurt my knee somehow. There were definitely many drunken falls in the night. I was angry about these symptoms because I had always loved working out. Not only did it help me feel like I could control my weight, but it made me feel better in terms of anxiety and depression. Everything seemed to have fallen apart at once. And that strange infected feeling I talked about having in middle school? I had that full force. I just didn't understand what it meant. I was completely disconnected. In my honest opinion, I feel I had dissociated.

    Finally in November, I wrote my mom a lengthy email and told her what was going on. I was desperate, practically suicidal. I couldn't stop getting black out drunk. I knew I needed to go home and get help.

    Thus began years of stopping and starting with recovering from addiction and everything else, and years of chronic pain. I made zero connection at the time between the pain having anything to do with what was happening to me emotionally and the obvious trauma I had faced, both in childhood and more recently. Looking back, I was understand I was suffering from complex PTSD and other forms of trauma. But I always thought the pain was from some injury. I saw an orthopedist at eighteen or nineteen who did an MRI of my knee and gave me orthotics. Ha! I went on to greatly and widely ignore the pain. I had bigger fish to fry. I was convinced something was "wrong" in my body, but I got by adjusting to this "malfunction." I compensated. I didn't sit and lie certain ways. I completely stopped yoga and dance and running altogether. I occasionally did the elliptical or went for walks, even though I felt the same discomfort in my leg, which by this time (or maybe from the start - hard to remember) was also in the gluteal muscle and low back, still only on the left side. I also had strange tingling when I pressed the skin around my ankle that went into the top of the foot. I noticed this while shaving. But by this time I was living in South Orange County after attending rehab there and going to school. I was a great student, had an apartment, and was in a (terrible) relationship with a fellow sober addict.

    Note: as I write this, I feel twinges of pain - I think it is very difficult, no matter what, to relive and remember some of these very painful experiences. It makes me put my hand to my heart and say, sweet girl, I love you. I am so sorry.

    By 22 I had transferred to UCLA and was living back in Los Angeles. I was one of those people in AA who would get a year or so sober and then relapse. I was a "serial monogamist" and incapable of being without a boyfriend. I still had a lot of trouble with food and body issues. At UCLA, I spiraled into the worst eating disorder I had ever had. My weight dropped from 135 to 112 in six months due to drastic dieting and health obsession/anxiety. My period stopped. My skin turned orange from eating too many carrots. I was getting almost straight A's and loved school, but I was highly anxious and depressed. The pain also seemed to get worse to where I couldn't ignore it anymore, and I was angry that I couldn't exercise the way I wanted. (I was also having other mindbody issues at the time, such as interstitial cystitis symptoms and what I thought were chronic yeast infections. This was part of what kicked off my extreme dieting.)

    I started seeing doctors. Lots of them. I was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome and sent to physical therapy, which did nothing. I had injections in random places along the low back and leg, extensive massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractor work, strange diet programs, reiki, etc. Nothing worked. I began to feel extremely angry and subsequently suicidal. I knew I had rage about my childhood, my father, the different family dynamics that were dysfunctional, but I still made no connection to them causing the pain in my body. I was convinced my body was broken and damaged beyond repair.

    After a horrific relapse into drugs, I resurfaced six months later in my first year of graduate school, determined to transform my life. I knew I needed to go back to AA, but I also knew I had other issues to attend to, namely my eating disorders and chronic pain. I knew I would never have a shot at truly staying sober if I couldn't get some answers about the pain in my body.

    Miraculously, in January 2011, with a handful of days sober and a hefty resolve to save my life, a Google search led me to TMS and Dr. Sarno, as well as Dr. Schecter in Los Angeles and the wonderful TMS therapist, Jill Solomon. I had done a thousand Google searches on chronic pain, and this was the first time TMS showed up. It made sense as I read about it, but I was still quite dubious and skeptical. I think for many of us, even when it makes sense in our minds, to really embrace that emotions can cause such strange pain and symptoms takes a whole new perspective.

    Now, please keep in mind that while attempting to heal from chronic pain the TMS route, I was also getting sober (and off a 20-40 pills a day Norco habit), confronting compulsive and restrictive eating and occasional bulimia, the whole family system trauma, showing up regularly to AA and working the steps, and in my second year of graduate school where I was student teaching for LAUSD and writing a thesis and a state-required portfolio. Whew! It was a shitty time, no doubt about it. I was very overwhelmed. Looking back, I took on way too much, but because my parents didn't understand what I was dealing with at all, and because I honestly wanted to get school over with so I could start earning some money, I didn't take the year off.

    I saw Dr. Schecter, who diagnosed me with TMS. I saw Jill once a week for nearly a year. I did all the TMS writing and read the Mindbody Prescription and other TMS books. I understood it and believed in it, but I really struggled accepting the diagnosis. My body still hurt. I still felt screwed up in my left leg. I was still nervous to do yoga and go running. I was also pretty damn miserable piecing my life back together with all the recovery work I was doing, as well as being a perfectionist with grad school.

    But what did happen was that the TMS stopped being the center of my life. I slowly stopped paying attention to it. I grew to completely ignore it all over again. The pains I had in my neck and shoulder were mostly gone (which makes sense, because I didn't think there was anything structurally wrong in that area, as opposed to the back and leg.) Even though I still had weird symptoms of pain, stiffness, tingling, tightness, clicking, etc. in my left leg, I ignored them. I started teaching full time at a private school and was staying sober, attending AA and Al-Anon, going to therapy, living in my own little apartment, and just sort of coping. I went for walks regularly and ignored the TMS. It was as if my mind was just elsewhere, distracted by so much else. A huge amount of my energy was going into my career and recovering from eating disorders. I definitely wasn't suicidal from the pain anymore, and I rarely thought about it. There was definite progress. I wouldn't, however, say I was recovered, looking back, and a huge pain relapse was imminent.

    I firmly believe I was so distracted by the stress of recovery and full-time English teaching that TMS took a back seat. I do also think that knowing about TMS and doing some work around it perhaps made the symptoms more mild. But I still had this old nagging idea that there was something wrong with my body, I still moved/didn't move to avoid pain, I still had conditioning.

    In June 2015, I quit teaching and took a few months off work. I felt like my nervous system was fried, and the job no longer fulfilled me - it completely wiped me out. My wealthy father has a home in Los Angeles, and so I decided I would live there intermittently and travel a bit, working part time here and there as a tutor. Needless to say, the traveling did not go as planned. Instead, I relished in my time off from work - I felt like I could finally breathe. I also felt like I became a woman again - teaching made me feel like an old, sexless crone, and though I was no longer bulimic or fully in the throes of eating disorder land, I definitely emotionally ate to soothe the stress of teaching. When I quit, all of my food issues vanished in a couple of months. My years of hard work at eating disorder recovery and time off to enjoy myself coalesced, and I dropped excess weight eating whatever wanted. I believe I retuned my hunger signals. This was huge progress.

    Around October, I decided I would return to yoga with commitment, meaning I would go at least two to three times a week and build back my strength and flexibility. I also wanted to get in better shape. I can't remember the exact timeline, but I started having pain again that I couldn't ignore. I think part of it might have been that I became so body-focused once more now that I was back in yoga and working out. I also believe that because I was no longer distracted by an all-encompassing career that drained me, I had room for feelings to come up, and I had tons of fear and anxiety. I had returned to regular AA at this time (I had been doing a lot more Al-Anon) and was also redeveloping a stronger social life. Teaching had allowed me to put both of those on the back burner as well, as I had little energy to do much else. (I also learned I was highly introverted, go figure.) So I don't know if the pain came on stronger because I was less distracted or because I addressing other issues of my life, but back it came, and what really came back was being caught in the whole syndrome of TMS, meaning fear, searching for what was wrong with me, returning to doctors, looking on the internet, and all that other miserable stuff that goes with chronic pain. This would continue for a few years.

    I went back to Dr. Schecter sometime in 2016 to explain to him that I was having worse pain and a lot of doubt about the TMS diagnosis. He had done a low back MRI on me in 2011, which came back clean as a whistle, but we had never looked at my hamstring, where I had that first injury way back in 2003. The MRI was normal. I couldn't believe it. You would think that would have been sufficient. It wasn't. You can imagine where my mind went - it must be in the glute or SI joint or some nerve the MRI can't recognize yada yada yada. But I still exercised. I did yoga, hikes, running, walking, the occasional dance class. Often afterwards I felt more pain the leg, which led me to believe I was irritating some nerve or muscle. I started having immense self-pity, anger, and subsequent suicidal thoughts about the pain.

    I read every book on TMS. I did a lot of journal writing. I meditated off and on. Nothing worked. I see I was very much in the rational-minded trying to figure it out phase. I also had tremendous fear and doubt, and that clouded any ability to get better. My brain was so stubborn. It wouldn't relent.

    It occurred to me around this time that I never talked about my chronic pain with anyone. I didn't share about it in AA meetings, I didn't really talk to my sponsor about it. People tended to look at me blankly - it's very difficult to try to share a chronic pain experience with someone who doesn't understand. I looked at the world and felt angry - why don't they have pain and I do? Why do all these women at yoga get to practice completely free of pain and hyper-awareness of their body symptoms? (What the hell did I know, right.) So that was a factor - it was still a secret and a source of shame. I was pretending. Again.

    I also think living in my dad's home, even though he wasn't there, wasn't the healthiest thing for me overall. It was a blessing in a way, because I was able to work part-time and tend to other areas of my life, but something about it was affecting my psyche. Or maybe not - do you get the idea that I like to over analyze?

    I was dating a lot again, feeling like an attractive and sexy woman for the first time maybe ever (still with the nagging not good enough feelings beneath), but I found myself ending up with or chasing emotionally unavailable, unstable, narcissistic, love avoidant type men. My father. And every time these men hurt me, I thought it was because I wasn't good enough. That there was something wrong with me. That if only I were prettier or sexier or something-er they would commit to me and take care of me.

    I made my way through all of that with a bit of therapy and some deeper work in AA with a new sponsor. I didn't actually believe those ideas of me not being good enough deep down, it was just an old pattern, and I wasn't used to dating healthy, available men who treated me the way I deserved. And then I met the love of my life. In Chicago.

    I joke with John that our love story is the greatest of all time. Because it really was very romantic, and very whirlwind, and here I am now living with him in Chicago (and pregnant) due to marry him next year. We moved fast, but it didn't matter with him, because I knew he was the one, and I knew even more that he was an incredibly decent, good-hearted, loyal man. He was the guy I never would have noticed at a bar, or who I would have blown off if we had met on Tinder a year before for being too normal or whatever, but it was the right place at the right time when we met (at a bar!), and I love him more with each passing day. As much as someone like me can trust, I trust him completely.

    But oh the physical pain I felt while we were first falling in love. And oh the physical pain I felt when I first moved to Chicago to be with him. And oh how much I was in the whole shitty syndrome of TMS fear, doubt, believing it is all structural pain. It was a very difficult year of being caught up in the syndrome. but of course. My nervous system must have been freaked out. I was in a new relationship, living in a new city where I knew basically no one, AND I got pregnant... scary stuff to the inner child!

    So let me finally fast-forward. John and I married, and we have a beautiful newborn son. I could not be more in love with him and with motherhood, despite it being difficult!

    Just recently it occurred to me that my biggest character "flaw" that absolutely keeps the pain cycle going, is being hard on myself. The next one is feeling like I don't have permission to be myself. So that's quite a trap. I often tell myself this story that I don't really have trauma or a past of that bad of suffering because I grew up with affluence. But that's a lie and denial of truth. Everything I went through was traumatic to my human body as a mind body and spirit. It was traumatic to have a father who was hateful and narcissistic. It was traumatic to hurt myself. It was traumatic to go through what I went through as an addict. it was traumatic to shove all my suffering away. Yes, others suffer in even more heavy ways, unspeakable tragedy, but that doesn't mean I didn't with what I went through. My dad's voice had to go. He denies his trauma through toughness and rage - I cannot any longer.

    Also, of course, is fear. Fear and obsession. And not breathing. I'm a huge huge huge breath holder. Since I was a kid, I have struggled with deep healthy breathing!

    Here is what I am discovering on the road to being set free.

    First of all, practicing as much as I can and as softly as I can being gentle and tender with myself no matter what. Seriously no matter what. And making sure I am breathing. Practicing as much as I can going beneath the rage and tight feelings to the very tender and sad grief. This is key. My default is anger and frustration and beating myself up, but underneath that is the scared sweet baby girl who deserves as much as anyone to feel safe. One of my being mean to myself habits is being extremely hard on myself about my body, weight, and looks. This is something that is highly correlated to the pain. I have to practice such sweet sweet sweet soft gentleness with my body. I had a baby three months ago and still have some lingering baby weight - of course I do! - and it occurred to me, why am I even for a second being mean to myself about this? First of all, I'm healthy. Second of all, I am not at all less lovable. My husband loves me just as much. Would I love him more if he lost weight? Of course not.

    The next practice is to stop hiding who I am. For whatever reason I still feel this need to hide away my truest self and my entire experience of suffering with addiction and pain. I guess I still have lurking shame or my father's voice telling me to quit being a victim, blah blah blah. Alcoholic families tend to send message that we are NOT TO TALK ABOUT the truth. I see this more and more deeply in myself and the rest of my family. It helps me tremendously with my pain and anxiety to share my truths through writing, even if shame pops up, doing it anyway. It releases the shame. it is extremely vulnerable and scary, but it sets me free.

    I have to keep writing letters to my father. Because my pain over our relationship runs very deep and doesn't go away. I have to write out the sadness and grief, which helps free me from the anger and resentment.

    I have to keep forgiving myself for the past and understanding that I truly was doing the best I could, and it's not my fault that it was hard, that it was messy, that it looked bad.

    I have written a blog over the past few years where I write a lot about my experience with recovery. I have always felt tremendous fear and reservation to share my stories. I feel guilt and shame by doing so. My instinct is to take care of the potential feelings my family members might have by me "airing the dirty laundry" as opposed to gently taking care of myself and trusting that the truth will always set me free.

    I still have symptoms crop up, but I know it's mindbody. I have to practice moving my body normally again. There is a lot of conditioning and memory with the pain, but working with the trauma releases it and allows me to move and bend without fear, which nourishes my body. I know it is soul work that I have to do for a lifetime, but that it is a gift and a path to personal transformation and emancipation. Fear and anger shut me down. Faith and truth are LIGHTS.

    So that is my recovery now with pain - being gentle gentle gentle with my sweet self always, and telling the truth, sharing the truth, telling all my stories. This is what allows me to get freer from pain and other symptoms, thus reinforcing that my body is healthy and that I can run, practice yoga, dance, stretch bend move however I want, and anytime the fear crops up that something might be wrong in my body, returning to gentleness and telling the truth.

    I am also a believer in finding what works for you. Obviously there are a lot of different resources out there about chronic pain being a mindbody experience, beyond just Sarno books, and for me, I had to sift through them. Sarno made perfect sense, but I couldn't get past the cerebral experience of it. So I have quite an arsenal of self-care techniques.

    I would really love to help others who are suffering with this path. Chronic pain made me want to die many many times. Today I want to live with faith, joy, celebration, gratitude, and service. I truly believe it is why I am here. Please feel free to email me anytime @ stephanie.ingraham@me.com I am here for you. If I can do it, so can you.
  2. Rosebud

    Rosebud Peer Supporter

    Wow, that's an amazing and inspiring story!

    I totally relate to that! Sometimes I want to put an ice pick in my ear to Shut. My. Brain. Up.
  3. SarahR

    SarahR New Member

    Hi Stephanie, thank you for your brave and inspiring story! I love it! I to struggle with an eating disorder and chronic pelvic pain. It is hard, but reading your story gives me hope. Thank you! Sarah
  4. Ines

    Ines Well known member

    Thank you for sharing your story. I really relate to the part about being hard on yourself and the pressure about looks and weight. My dad used to correct my eating and tell me I was fat all the time. I wanted to be a dancer. I was very good at it and very determined but in the end quit because I didn’t think I could be the best. I wish I can go back in time now and tell myself how wonderful and beautiful I was. Also forgetting to breath. So many parts of your story resonate. I never had a drug or alcohol addiction though. You must be so proud of yourself for getting sober. I think it takes tremendous bravery to look at the deep hurt and heal. It must take years of healing. That was such an honest story. Bravo on your healing and I wish you a really great life.

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