There’s no way to completely tell the story of how I came to aromatherapy and how aromatherapy changed my life without sharing what I least like to discuss, what haunts my dreams still, and what I’m most afraid to share. But as writers, we learn that is exactly the story that needs expression.

I don’t necessarily feel it’s always right to “make your pain your platform”, as is so commonplace across media and social media, especially when others may be affected by it. My past is in publishing and I understand what creates and drives a career and a market. But, as an artist friend intimated to me recently, not all pain is meant to be public. I agree, which is why I don’t often write about it.

I completed my year-and-a-half long aromatherapy certification training all during a time when I, at 39, would live on my own for the first time in my life. I was terrified. I was terrified to leave my children out of my care for the times they couldn’t be with me. I sobbed coming home to an empty apartment for at least the first six months. I felt gutted. I was terrified if I was going to make it on my own or not – it took me a year to hang art on the walls. I called my sisters daily. They were my lifeline. All my family lived West of the Rockies, but I had just started attending yoga classes at a local yoga studio and began to make friends, several of them teachers, who were very kind and supportive of me and have become dear friends. The practice itself, in no small way, was lifesaving. I worked with a therapist, got to a place where I felt I was OK (I wasn’t), so I discontinued, and then started seeing another therapist maybe a year later. I was diagnosed with PTSD.

There were a few times I had to stare myself in the mirror during a panic attack and say, you cannot go back. You have to do this. God has got you. Be still.

I worked with the oils, one by one. Learning their Latin names, their common names, their constituents (which I forget most of the time, let me just be honest), their precautions, and all the stuff that comes along with learning about essential oils and aromatherapy. This is how I spent my alone time. Geranium was my mother, her loving, steady hand guided me in so many ways in those early days. Then vetiver, which proved to root me when I felt I had no anchor. Pine, on my walks, not just the oil, reminded me of the strength of grandmothers and how this was mine, too. Rose reminded me of the truth of unconditional love. It is the scent of Mary, who would later come to me in a dream and tell every cell in my body, You must love yourself. This is not what we learn in the Materia Medica but what is vital to experience on our own if we are to truly understand aromatherapy and the spirit of plants.

I hiked the Loess Hills of my home state weekly. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I read my Grandad’s sermons. I made a deal with Thomas Merton that if he continued to hound me, even all the way up in Sandpoint, Idaho, I would bite. And he did. And I did. I breathed deeply, noticed every scent, how it made me feel, and spent as much time in quiet contemplation as possible (and my sisters would allow).

I learned to blend like new writers learn to write, by copying. I followed recipes. I learned that sweet orange, Roman chamomile, and lavender are basically the mirepoix of sleep blends. That a simple blend of helichrysum, rose, and peppermint always finds souls to comfort, and sandalwood resonates like a Bach cello suite. I learned that when moved in the moment by what I felt and saw deeply in my heart as I blended for someone, to not question it. Refer to the texts for clarity and affirmation afterward, but create first, ensure the blend is solid, then report to the recipient with compassion. The intuition I had abandoned when I should have honored it, became a constant companion in my process, and now, in my life once again.

In essence, I was my first study. That’s why I choose to blend for mood, spirit, and creative support – because that’s what I’ve lived with my whole being, still.

I often have reoccurring nightmares. There are still times when I find it hard to be brave, when shame is deep, when anger is a hole burning through my chest and I don’t know what to do with the watercolor of forgiveness, but that’s okay. Every year I become stronger and I am more at home in myself. Aromatherapy has done this. Story has done this. Friendship, family, and love have done this. I have done this, with God’s help.

Photo: Heather Hall Photography