‘Surrendering to Heal’ by Ellie Schoenberger


Last week I had two blogs on Ellie Schoenberger, one an interview and the other focused on Ellie’s work. Couldn’t resist including one of Ellie’s blogs, this one from WomenHeal.

‘I am currently in recovery from two chronic, life altering diseases that if left untreated are always fatal.


The first one is alcoholism. In 2007, after years suffering in silence and struggling in vain to get sober on my own, I gave up. I stopped kicking and screaming and trying to do things my way and went to rehab. For thirty days. I had been to rehab before. Twice, in fact. The difference with my last rehab was that I surrendered. I got out of my own way and let people who had walked the path before me carry me when I didn’t feel like carrying myself.

I had always envisioned giving up as the wimpiest of wimpy things one could do. Waving the white flag was, for me, akin to admitting I was weak, helpless. I have since learned that giving up – surrendering – is giving over. Giving yourself, your soul and spirit over to people who can help, to your Higher Power, the Universe or God – whatever you choose to call that Great Spirit that is way bigger than you.

I surrendered to my alcoholism with a prayer. At the time I didn’t know who or what I was praying to, I just knew that everything I had tried, with my own limited power, had failed. My prayer was short – only three words – but I had never uttered them in my life: Please Help Me.

I walked into my first recovery meeting full of despair and hopelessness. And what did I see? Women laughing, smiling, chatting and hugging. Didn’t they know they were alcoholics? Didn’t they know alcoholism is serious?

These women encircled me, taught me to laugh again, to trust, to be open and vulnerable. Over time, my short prayer grew:  Please help me. I can’t do this alone. Please let me become the person you wish me to be, to get away from the bondage of self. Please help me get out of my own way by helping others.

Once I surrendered the healing could begin. I am certain that I did not heal myself. I am certain that when it comes to the disease of alcoholism it is impossible to heal yourself. People – mostly women – came into my life and gave freely of themselves, shared their experience, strength and hope with me. I was agape at their courage; not because they were in recovery from alcoholism, but because they made vulnerability look easy, natural.

These women taught me that the key to living sober, to being present in your own life, was to have the courage to open your heart and spirit to others. Once I opened my mouth and started talking, saying things I thought I was supposed to keep tucked deep inside, like: I’m terrified, I don’t know how to exist without alcohol, life is so fragile and precarious and I’m scared right down into the core of me.

Last November, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 tonsil cancer. It turns out that there is an epidemic of oral cancers forming in men and women in their 40s and 50s from HPV (Humanpapillomavirus) usually associated with cervical cancers. It turns out HPV causes oral cancers, too.

I went from busy, healthy, thriving and feeling totally in control of my life (mistake number one: I forgot about surrendering, daily, to my Higher Power) to devastated, terrified and certain I was going to die.

The days following my diagnosis were dark and scary. I forgot to apply all the things I had learned in my recovery from alcoholism: talk about it, find a community of women who have walked this path, open up, be vulnerable, pray.

I walked into my first cancer waiting room full of despair and hopelessness, staring at the floor, fighting back tears. In my mind, cancer was a death sentence. I didn’t know how I could ever get through the grueling treatment regiment the doctors had outlined for me.

Eventually, I mustered the courage to look up at my fellow patients. Many smiled at me. Some were sipping coffee, chatting, or quietly holding hands with a loved one. They all looked determined. They all looked brave. They all looked serene.

A woman leaned over and introduced herself. Breast cancer, stage three, she said. Then she winked and said, of all things, “welcome, you’re among friends here”.

After a stunned silence, my walls crumbled and I remembered the power of vulnerability, the healing power of words, of the truth.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “Although I wish we were meeting in a coffee shop.” I gave her a tentative smile as she threw her head back and laughed. Laughed.

She is in one of my cancer support groups, now. I go to two. I have surrounded myself with another tribe of women who carry me when I don’t feel like carrying myself. The healing power of our collective truths is something almost tangible, like a vibration in the air.

I am currently seven months in remission, and I did not do this by myself. If I had tried, I doubt I would have made it.

I am healed, today (for it is all one day – sometimes one moment – at a time) through the power of giving over – to doctors, to medicine, to women who understand, to my Higher Power.

I am healed because I surrender, every day.’