Why I Became an Acupuncturist

Norah Charles at Longhopes Donkey Shelter

Twenty years ago I was standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes when an insight crept into my head. “I’m supposed to be an acupuncturist,” I thought.

Growing up my family never used alternative medicine. In desperation, I had recently started seeing an acupuncturist for help with asthma. I loved the work we were doing together, but the idea that I should become an acupuncturist came as a shock. I thought I was going to be a writer.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had received a call to action that would reverberate throughout my life over the next two decades.

Five years later, after finishing my prerequisite classes and moonlighting as a journalist, I finally enrolled in acupuncture school. The first time I worked on a patient—one of my fellow students—I experienced a flood of warmth flowing through my hands. It felt like I was handling light. I also sensed that the vulnerability and self-trust necessary to facilitate true healing would be new terrain for me. It didn’t matter—I was ready for something big.

Just six weeks into acupuncture school, my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He would go on to receive two surgeries, both of which failed to adequately remove what would be diagnosed as a fast-growing type of cancer. Just ten days after discovering this malignancy, he passed away after complications from surgery. Deep in grief, I dropped out of acupuncture school.

During this challenging time in my life I learned that the call to purpose is like any other meaningful tug at the heart. No matter what we do to ignore our true desires, purpose never actually disappears. It simply hibernates. As I made my way through the first few months of bereavement, I felt my sense of purpose walking with me, offering me a glimpse of solace.

A year after my husband’s passing, I enrolled in acupuncture school again. I hoped it would pull me from the uncertainty I felt wandering in the wilderness of young widowhood. And it did, briefly. But it only took one semester of school for me to discover that, at that time, I was not equipped to help anyone on their healing path. I was too emotionally and physically weak to be the one who mends. I dropped out once more.

Over the next seven years, I didn’t think about acupuncture school at all. Instead, I focused on healing myself. I worked regular jobs. I finished my degree in English and remarried. I discovered a spiritual practice, wrote, and repaired my body from the trauma of grief.

In time, I decided to see an acupuncturist once more. My new practitioner in Boulder ran a low-cost clinic that enabled me to get acupuncture every week. I was moved by her dedication to providing affordable care for patients who might not normally seek out an acupuncturist due to the cost. Over six months of regular treatment, my health improved. My mood brightened as well. Everything seemed manageable with this healing light in my life.

That fall I enrolled in the school I’d dropped out of seven years earlier. This time, I graduated. From the moment the call of purpose nudged me into action until the time I could actually practice as a licensed acupuncturist, nineteen years had elapsed.

I feel unspeakably lucky to be a practitioner of Chinese medicine. I get to express a genuine feeling of compassion in my work, which allows me to be vulnerable, caring, and very human while doing my job. My work inspires me to claim a place on behalf of the people I serve so that the benefits of this medicine can reach those who need it most.

Thank you for supporting my work in the world and for inviting me to walk with you as your practitioner. I am grateful to be here.

In health and happiness,