The Messiness of Healing


The Messiness of Healing

Photography by Julia Newman and writing by Raisa Tolchinsky, Poet and Herbal Crafter

Here at Brooklyn Herborium, we discuss, constantly, how to heal: how to make garlic honey and fire cider, what kind of echinacea root to make a tincture from, how many drops of No Evil  to use as a cleanser, how much sourdough starter you need in a pie crust, how to pickle vegetables, etcetera.

For so long I had a narrative of what my own healing would look like— physically, mentally, and spiritually. The narrative involved a lot of kale. It accumulated in an extremely serene, glowing version of myself that rarely, if ever, made mistakes or let people down.

This meant there was a constant refrain running through my head: if I go to enough therapy sessions, enough yoga classes, if I journal enough, if I read enough self-help books… I’ll be where I want to be. Essentially, I thought that if I could only work hard enough, I would be able to return to what my life was like before disordered eating, body image issues, anxiety, and all the other fun stuff I was attempting to work through.  

I’ve been coming to terms with lately, that maybe being whole, maybe healing itself, involves some mess.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from Emma and Molly since beginning to herbalcraft at the Herborium is that healing rarely occurs in a straight line. The process isn’t always chronological or how we imagine it should be. It isn’t all lavender salt baths and tea and soup (although those things can certainly be part of it).

After asking what I could do to get back on track after a few days of anxiety and a pint of ice cream, Emma said to me: “Direction is more important than speed.”

Yes. Direction is more important than speed. Lately I’ve been thinking more about where I want to aim my bow instead of whether it always pierces the bullseye.

The philosophy at Brooklyn Herborium is that healing is an upwards spiral: “We cannot stand in the same river twice.” The first time I heard this, it felt like taking a deep breath. It let off so much of the pressure I was putting on myself to return to the “perfect” version of myself I remembered from years ago (a person that never existed, because just as I’m not perfect now, I wasn’t perfect then, either).

So what if, while healing (because we are always healing, aren’t we?), we actually allow ourselves to “mess up”? By mess up, I mean that we scramble the perfect, end-goal image of ourselves and we allow our ACTUAL selves to be part of this “healed” version? Our actual selves are absurd, strange, imperfect, ridiculous, and also absolutely lovely. Maybe, by doing so, the vision of our ideal selves transforms from a glass figurine into a stained glass window. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”

Consider that the etymology of “to heal” is from Old English hælan:“to make whole.” Consider that the etymology of “whole” is from Old English hal:  “the full amount.”

I think of Japanese pottery, of the concept of wabi sabi— all those broken ceramics threaded with gold. Can our “full amount” contain a messiness, contain a brokenness within it? Is this how the light enters?

Lately, for me, healing looks like punching a heavy bag at the boxing gym until I look like I’ve been dunked in the dead sea. Sometimes it means writing until my hands ache. Sometimes, and this is is the hardest for me, it means doing nothing at all. It means just sitting, and watching, and letting things be, without trying to tell or write the story. Because sometimes telling the story doesn’t leave space for all the small, beautiful moments that can be healers: a woman smiling at a baby, a leaf falling just as you walk by.


Photo provided by Raisa Tolchinsky.