How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story

<div>How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story</div>
<div>How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story</div>

How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story

<div>How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story</div>

Since I’m gearing up to teach the Memoir As Medicine class with Nancy Aronie, I wanted to take a moment to write you all a love story. It’s about my long term friend and now romantic partner, who you all may know from his work as the medical director of the inpatient psychiatric hospital at Harvard or for his divinity school studies at Princeton or for his bestselling book about spontaneous remission, CURED. But none of those accomplishments have anything to do with why this is a love story, other than how we met.

Jeff (Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv to be nerdy about all his academic degrees) and I met almost four years ago at the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology conference, where I had been the keynoter a year before and Jeff was keynoting the next year. We met at a resort on Native American reservation land near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I was doing research for my book Sacred Medicine and he was presenting the results of years of collecting data on people with “incurable” or “terminal” diseases who had medically documented cures since 2003. The psychologist and head of the conference Robert Schwartz suggested I listen to Jeff’s lecture, and when I realized how much professional overlap we had, and how both of us were studying the intersection of science and spirituality as rigorously as we could, I introduced myself afterwards. We spent all afternoon sitting on a sunny deck overlooking the Rio Grande, comparing notes and learning about one another. 

Jeff had a live in girlfriend at the time and I was recovering from a broken heart because the man I had partnered with briefly had left me quite unexpectedly, so neither of us were thinking about romance. But we spent all day and then attended the gala together that night, and we kept in touch quite closely during the next half a year before his book CURED was published just before the pandemic began. As the pandemic hit, Jeff and I were on a text thread with a couple other smarty-pants doctors and philosophers who were trying to make sense out of what was happening. The philosophers became conspiracy theorist promoters and anti-vaxxers soon afterwards and we dropped them from the thread, but we kept texting, pretty much all day, every day, during lockdown and into the following year of social isolation. 

One of the other people on our text thread- a front line Covid doctor in the emergency room, who was privy to many of our deep philosophical text exchanges and who has been a good friend of mine for nine years, said, “Lissa, I feel like I’m watching a Wimbledon match between two star tennis players. I think you’ve finally met your match.” I brushed it off at the time, but we did enjoy volleying back and forth about everything from Civil Rights to public health guidelines to spirituality to literature to healing trauma to spontaneous remission to the meaning of life to the state of mental health in the world. When the rest of the world had shut down so much, it was enlivening to have an intellectual sparring partner. If nothing else, it made the pandemic more bearable for us both.

I wound up inviting Jeff to co-teach my community with me about a year after CURED was published, and in preparation, I re-read his book. Upon the second read, I found myself wondering… If I found out I only had three months to live, would I have any regrets? Was there some area of my life where I was not being as proactive as I possibly could towards realizing dreams, pursuing goals, or opening myself to desires that I might be too scared to even admit to myself?

By that point I had been single for quite some time, and I really wanted to find my last partner, the one who I would only lose at one of our funerals. But I had a magical thinking part that seemed to think maybe someone would knock on my door during quarantine and say “Hi, I got your name and address in meditation and I’m here to apply to be your soulmate.”

I mean, really. I had hardly left the house other than to walk my dog on a deserted coastal Northern California beach all year, and I was definitely not going to find my last partner holed up in quarantine. 

So I let my friend Tiffany convince me to try online dating with her, inspired by Jeff to live life to its fullest, in the middle of a pandemic, before vaccines. My own mortality seemed so potentially close that I figured, “What the hell do I have to lose other than a little pride?”

It never occurred to me that I would get on OKCupid to try to find a partner and wind up with the guy who inspired me to do so by writing a book about terminal illness and unexpected cure. But that’s what happened. 

Jeff’s Book CURED Inspired Me To Try Online Dating- But I Wound Up Dating Him Instead

I filled out my online dating profile on the Winter Solstice of 2020 and told Jeff about every single date. He lives in Boston and I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, so by that point, we hadn’t seen each other in person for a year and a half, but we had been texting many times per day and talking on the phone, mostly about professional stuff. But like so many romances that fell apart during Covid, Jeff and his girlfriend broke up in March 2021 under the strain of it all, although I did not know about the breakup for many more months, during which I continued to unsuccessfully date guys I met on OKCupid, which I whined about to Jeff, who sweetly held space for my recurring disappointment and loneliness.

Then something shifted in the vulnerability and intimacy of our communication in the summer of 2021, and that’s when he told me he was no longer partnered and was in recovery from a painful break up. We still hadn’t seen each other for over two years by that point, but we both started getting antsy about getting together in person once we were both vaccinated. We wound up attending an IFS workshop at Omega Institute with Richard Schwartz, who I had introduced Jeff to, in October of 2021, and then we went for a holiday at Acadia National Park after that. I consider that time in Acadia on November 6, 2021 the anniversary of when we got together. Jeff doesn’t count our anniversary until six months later on April 6, 2022, the day after my Sacred Medicine book launch, when we went skiing in Tahoe with my daughter, but we had been staying in each other’s homes, visiting each together, part time in Boston, part time in California, during that whole six months previously. 

So those are the facts of how we met and what brought us together. But that doesn’t even begin to tell you the mystery of the love story or why Jeff and I decided to share this story with you. The real story is a story about recovery from relational trauma, the rebuilding of trust after trust has been shattered, the healing of trauma from narcissistic abuse and coercive control and how it impacts relational intimacy, and how a love affair with our “parts” (using IFS) can actually help us love someone else more deeply and purely, without throwing our own parts under the bus.

How Vulnerability Opens To Door To The Potential For Intimacy

The turning point that changed my relationship with Jeff from a professional and platonic friendship to a love story was the day he began to open up about the severity of his childhood trauma. I had known Jeff for over two years before he ever told me his ACE score was 7, that his parents used Amish-based fundamentalism and violence to break his will as a strong Indiana farm boy, that this set him up to reflexively submit to and obey entitled, dominating, sometimes criminally abusive narcissists his whole life, and that he’d been through hell because nobody ever showed him how to relate safely to kind people who care about his wellbeing. Once I realized this, I became hell bent on not turning into the next person who exerts undue influence over this beautiful man or hurts him unwittingly. I also became aware of how vulnerable this made me, since nobody has ever taught him how to relate in a functional, reciprocal, mutually generous way.

Because we were both raised by narcissistic mothers and both developed the “parentified child” patterning of over-functioning, over-responsible, over-achieving parts that try to cover up feelings of worthlessness, unlovability, and “not enough” wounding, because it’s hard for both of us to be vulnerable, to ask for what we need or even know what we need, because we both struggle to receive care from each other when we’re used to being the caregivers, and because he’s WAY more conservative, with his New England Harvard sensibilities a hilarious foil to my California nature loving hippie girl looseness, our relationship sometimes feels like we’re climbing Mount Everest.

Climbing Mount Everest

We were in therapy together before we were ever lovers, and we now have four therapists (a profound luxury, we know) to help us summit the sometimes seemingly insurmountable hurdles we face as a couple. Sometimes the very thing I need for my recovery is the exact opposite of what he needs for his, and it often feels like we’re walking a razor’s edge to find a way that neither of us is either unduly overpowering or unequally martyring and submitting to the other. We struggle with knowing where our boundaries are and communicating clearly what’s okay and not okay, and because I’m many years further in my IFS work than Jeff is, my admittedly messy boundary setting sometimes feels controlling to him, even though I’ve worked so hard to try to get it right and learn how to stand up for myself without being too forceful. Because I can’t get it right and he can’t seem to uphold the boundaries we agree upon, that triggers my perfectionistic parts that feel like I’m failing, no matter how hard I try, just like I failed to ever please my mother. And it makes us struggle to trust each other, even though trust and safety and creating a sanctuary of refuge we can both relax into is our deepest desire- and simultaneously, also our deepest fear, since we’ve both been quite exploited and very hurt relationally.

We joke that if we can’t make this work, as an IFS teacher and a Harvard psychiatrist with four therapists, then we should just become monks. But we’re not really joking. If this doesn’t work, we might run out of stream to keep trying, after all the heartbreak we’ve both experienced. Part of why we decided to share this publicly with you all is because we wanted you to know that very often, the people who look like they have it the most together professionally have the hardest time in intimate relationships. And very often, the people who might not be taking up much of the limelight have a great deal more success in relationships.

When I compare our relationship to climbing Mount Everest, I know better than to have any illusion about some skip-to-my-Lou honeymoon period we never got to experience. We went straight into the climb, although we do take breaks from healing work and processing to laugh a ton, have fun, get out in nature, go on adventures, host dinner parties- and for the first time in his life, Jeff is learning to dance!

Coming Out Publicly In Case It Helps You Heal

We just spend the last ten days weathering out the Northern California storms. 80 mph winds, torrential atmospheric rivers of rain and hail, and no power turns out to be a sweet way to really bond and rest and settle after all this metaphorical mountain climbing. As the storms parted just long enough to get Jeff back to Boston for a work day today, we realized that after almost four years of friendship and over a year of dating (by my anniversary at least), our compatibility testing and discernment period is coming to a close, and we are in love. We are clear that we are choosing each other, we are committed, we want to be each other’s last partner, and Jeff just applied for his California medical license so we can try to find a way to spend less time apart and less time on cross country plane rides, especially since I’m still mothering a 17 year old high school junior and don’t want to miss a minute of this precious last bit of time together with her.

And so, at the risk of having an embarrassing public break up if we fail to make it up Mount Everest, we decided to invite you on the journey with us, as we learn and grow and risk and make mistakes. With Jeff’s consent, I’ll be sharing some of what we’re learning along the way, in case it helps any of you who are also trauma survivors struggling to deal with issues of power and control, struggling with discernment and knowing who to trust, learning to love instead of transact, exploring intimacy instead of avoiding it, setting and upholding jointly negotiated boundaries, taking turns taking up space and being the one to lead the way, sharing vulnerability and neediness and receiving care mutually (it’s NOT about gender, in spite of what many guys have been taught!), containing ourselves without walls and sharing without oversharing, healing attachment wounding and learning to lean into each other with vulnerability rather than “fixing” each other or falling in love with someone’s potential- these are big obstacles to overcome! 

We listen to cult recovery podcasts like Indoctrination and are working professionally with Rachel Bernstein, the therapist who hosts that podcast. We’ve also befriended Steven Hassan, the world’s cult recovery expert who lives right near Jeff in Boston. We also have a whole team of IFS folks helping us climb Mount Everest and helping support parts of us that got shocked and dissociated, especially in the last few years of chaos globally, and for Jeff, chaos relationally.

What If One Of You Has Relative “Nervous System Privilege?”

Part of what makes this relationship challenging is that I have a relative “nervous system privilege” (hat tip to Steph Jagger for turning me onto this type of privilege) compared to Jeff. My ACE score is zero, although I definitely have my own developmental trauma, which doesn’t translate into the ACE score. And that means that some relational issues are just easier for me, somatically, emotionally, and neurologically, than they are for him. It is not in any way Jeff’s fault that he lacks nervous system privilege, any more than it’s someone’s fault for lacking the privilege of whiteness, wealth, or heterosexuality. As Steph explained to me, this gives me the opportunity to be generous with Jeff in ways that might not always feel equal or fair, like a kind of affirmative action to try to even the playing field.  This requires me to do a lot of IFS work with my own parts so I don’t repeat my own patterns of over-giving and martyring myself in the service of connection with someone whose trauma is more severe than mine. 

Walking that fine line of being soft, generous, and compassionate with Jeff’s parts without overriding and neglecting my own is a daily challenge and opportunity for the deepest personal healing work I’ve ever experienced in my life. Trying to make Self-led decisions requires a concerted effort with my whole system, which has definitely become my spiritual path and daily spiritual practice.  Anyone can find God in a cave, but try finding the Divine love inside when two trauma survivors trying to explore real intimacy for the first time together and bump into everything that gets in the way of love!

IFS founder Dick Schwartz has been a relationship-saver and generous supporter on our healing team, and he points out that Jeff and I are good “tor-mentors” for one another- people who mentor us by tormenting us and helping us find our “trailheads” for healing, which we work on separately with our own IFS therapists. But we are not just tormenting one another, which would be a drag. The blessings of our relationship are really beautiful and make the effort feel worth it.

The Beautiful Parts That Give Us A Sanctuary For Healing

We laugh a ton. We play a lot. We can “iterate” (Jeff’s word) on intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, and social justice topics ad nauseum in ways that would probably bore anyone else. We love to snuggle in front of fires and hold hands on National Park trails. We like writing together in bed. We say “I love you” all the time, and because we’re both writers, sometimes we are very eloquent in our written love languages. We eat a lot of oysters now that Jeff has figured out how to shuck them, both in Cape Cod and in Tomales Bay in my neck of the woods. We’re planning two international trips to Belize and Greece, one a family trip and one a shared keynote to a community of German doctors renewing their Hippocratic Oaths on the island of Kos. We nerd out on reading and spend hours engrossed in books. We read each other poetry (well, mostly that’s only me, but Jeff listens and appreciates.) We watch Netflix documentaries and saw 5 Broadway shows in the past year. And we spend a lot of time spooning, holding each other to co-regulate one another’s nervous systems, especially after we’ve just done some hard therapeutic work.

We try to build little nests of safety with white lights in trees and music and soft pajamas and candlelight and hot tea and sometimes way too much wine, like we’re wrapping ourselves in a metaphorical alpaca blanket to soften the blows we seem to keep experiencing as a result of our deepening intimacy.  When we face the hard parts, whoever remembers first says “Nobody’s leaving,” and then our nervous systems can relax while we get to the heart of what’s hurting and soften our protectors so we can come back our love for one another. 

Please Send Your Best Wishes For Our Journey

And so we ask you to hold us in your prayers and send us strength and endurance for our journey together and generally wish us well. And if we can’t make it and we fail, please be soft with us. It won’t be for lack of trying…

If there’s any part of this journey you’d like to hear more from us about, please let us know. We’re happy to leverage the privilege of our therapy as we learn to share what’s shareable if it helps anyone else who might struggle to let down your guard and let someone else come close in a healthy, functional, well boundaried way- without enmeshing, getting into power struggles, pushing one another away, shutting down, numbing out, overworking, distracting, dissociating, or otherwise being unavailable for real intimacy as a transformational spiritual path. We welcome your input and feedback about what you’d love to hear more about.

Jeff is planning to join me and Nancy Aronie in our Memoir As Medicine class, writing some memoir material as part of his personal healing journey and maybe one day publishing a memoir about being shunned from a high demand Amish-fundamentalism based family and how that has impacted his life path. Nancy and I also welcome any of you who might feel like writing your story among other compassionate witnesses who will support your own journey.

Join Us For Memoir As Medicine Here

The post How Jeffrey Rediger & I Are Choosing To Heal Together – A Love Story first appeared on Lissa Rankin.

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