A woman’s journey into shamanism and dynamic health
Featured in the Lansing City Pulse

Colleen Deatsman steps into the autumn sun outside of her Mason home and immediately you see that she is a beautiful woman. But it’s more than that. Dressed in a vivid skirt and blouse, long red hair flowing around her face, skin and eyes glowing, she looks like she just stepped off the cover of a national health magazine. She radiates life itself.

It’s almost impossible to believe that some years ago she was sitting on the edge of her bed with a loaded 20-gauge shotgun in her mouth, having decided to end the pain and despair of living with chronic, debilitating illness – illness that traditional medicine could not effectively treat.

“This gun and I are best friends, having spent hundreds of hours alone together in the woods,” she would later write in “Naked to the Soul: How I Beat Chronic Illness,” the book that chronicles her 10-year battle with chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, asthma and fibromyalgia.

“We’ve been up before dawn, witnessed countless sunsets, been soaking wet, frozen cold, and baked by the sun together. I have held her in my arms more than any other lover I have ever known,” Deatsman writes about the gun, remembering earlier days of robust health and energy when she would spend hours camping, fishing, canoeing and deer hunting in and around her rural central Michigan home.

“It feels somehow right that this nightmare might be ended by such a beloved companion,” she writes. “The bright black metal gleams up at me invitingly with the promise of release. I raise the barrel and feel the satisfying heft of this weapon. Just one quick flick of the finger and this hell would end. I look down the end of the barrel and smell the slightest hint of gunpowder and oil as I open my mouth. I am barely cognizant of the cold metal resting on my lips in this state of desperate confusion created by the mix of pain, depression and mind fog. I think I hear the distant tinkling of some strange and engaging wind chime as my eyes close and my left hand tightens around the steel. The rhythmic sound carries me away until I realize that it is the sound of the gun barrel clanking against the bottom row of my teeth. My shaking finger rests precariously on the trigger and it is a wonder that the gun does not discharge from the shaking of my finger alone.”

Talking about that morning now, Deatsman recalls that “fortunately in order to ‘do it,’ I had to tilt my head back and look up and when I did I saw the silhouette of my daughter’s picture from kindergarten and I said ‘oh my God, what am I doing?’ The thought of my beautiful daughter having to deal with the suicide of her mother . . . I laid the gun down and cried and cried and cried and cried.”

That morning still a raw memory, Deatsman says: “Every time I read that part in the book I cry because it’s so scary to have almost done that. But today that’s all behind me. Today I’m not just surviving – I’m thriving. It’s just remarkable.”

A wake-up call

The remarkable turnabout began when Deatsman began to see her illness as a wake-up call. Having been told by her doctor that there was basically nothing he could do for her and “just to go home and rest,” she started the painful process of looking honestly at her life. “I began the quest for healing in the only logical place that was left for me,” she remembers now. “I looked deep within myself.”

Many of the realizations were bad news insights. “I had lost my soul to the rules and roles of being who I thought I was expected to be as a wife, daughter, parent, competitive athlete and as a career therapist,” she says. “I had attempted to take care of everyone else around me and in the process neglected myself. I no longer made time for the things that nurtured my soul and everyday mundane life drained my precious life force. I had relinquished my very being to the expectations of society and this was slowly, painfully, killing me.”

Over a period of time she tried multitudes of self-healing methods and explored practically every alternative healing technique available in the mid-Michigan area. She was grateful for the opportunity to do helpful work like massage and acupuncture, but there were money considerations.

Deatsman says the insights she received from these alternative healing sessions did bring her closer to what was her truth – that she had become powerless and “dis-spirited,” but she also started realizing that many of these healing methods were all about moving energy through the body. She began to think she could do this for herself.

Spurred on by this knowledge and by her determined quest for healing, she began to explore even more deeply her connection with spirit. She received training in hypnosis, visualization, meditation, and Reiki. Each of these trainings led her deeper into “the world of spirits and universal energy consciousness.”

“Before I became ill, I wasn’t even convinced I had a soul,” she writes in her book. “In the end, my naked soul was the only thing I had left. Through this illness, I was strengthened and initiated into a world of spirit, light and self-actualization.”

Turning point

But the real turning point in her fight against disease came when circumstances led her to shamanism. “The tangible turnaround happened as soon as I learned to journey and tap into the powerful healing energy of my spirit teachers,” she says. (Shamanism is the world’s oldest healing tradition, with shamans found in all cultures on earth. Shamans are sometimes described as a bridge between this world and the next. See related story below.)

“I believe I get the most benefit from shaman work,” Deatsman says. “There is nothing like going into a journey and meeting with your spirit teachers. There’s such an intimacy, such a kinship – it’s like always being with your loved ones or your family or your soul family. It feels so good and it’s so relaxing.

“When I was really sick, journeying would be the only time during the day that I would have no pain,” Deatsman remembers. “Even today if I have an occasional flare-up, I just go into the journey and it takes care of it and changes things energetically.”

Describing a little of what a shamanic session is like, Deatsman says: “When a client comes in for the first time, we talk some, I go into a trance state, and we lay on the floor together with blankets and comforters with my arm touching the person so I can track them in the spirit realm. Then I go in and ask the spirit teachers what needs to be done – it’s up to them to decide. It’s often right then that I meet the other person’s spirit guide and they tell me what he or she needs.”

Deatsman explains that we are all born with spirit teachers or spirit guides. “A lot of times we disconnect with them because we are really busy just living life,” she says. “I teach my clients how to do it themselves,” says Deatsman, who teaches both beginning and advanced shamanism classes and in the spring of 2004 is planning to start a year-long apprenticeship program for students.

“I’m all for empowering people,” she adds, explaining that this is one of the main reasons she wrote her two books, “Naked To My Soul” and “Power Tools for Self-Healing and Personal Growth.”

“My spirit teachers advised me in an absolute way that I needed to write a book about my experience and then teach people how to do this,” she says.

Getting the message out

Right now she is in the process of trying to find the right publisher for her manuscripts. She recently sent out more than 20 set of proposals to publishing companies and has already gotten back a few rejection slips. She laughs about that – one of those wonderful deep laughs – but she is dead serious about getting her message of healing and empowerment out to others.

“I am hoping and praying that it will land on the right desk, in the right place, at the right time,” she says. “I really, really want to get those out there.” In the meantime, the manuscripts are for sale at $16 per book plus $3.50 for shipping. For more information, go to www.colleendeatsman.com.

Deatsman, 43, did her undergraduate work at Central Michigan University and received her M.A. in rehabilitation counseling from Michigan State University. For a number of years, she worked for Community Mental Health. In addition to her alternative work, she still does traditional counseling and has been in private practice for 10 years.

Deatsman has been married to second husband Pat Kelley for 13 years. He is employed with Community Mental Health and teaches beginning psychology at Lansing Community College. Her daughter, Lauren, is a senior at Mason High School. She also has two step-daughters who are grown and on their own.

Deatsman does not take her current health and wholeness for granted. Each summer she bicycles more than 4,000 miles and she runs four or five times a week, while still having “plenty of energy for working, teaching, parenting, training and living life to the fullest.

“I also walk every day. That’s a gift to me. I go into a light trance and either meditate or journey. That keeps me strong and healthy.”

Deatsman says she has three main spirit guides. The one who has been with her from the beginning and who appears to her in physical form has asked her to call him Great Grandfather. He also has another name, but does not want to reveal that to others. “He has been a shaman many, many times on this earth,” says Deatsman. “He teaches me techniques. He helps me with my personal healing and also helps me with my healing work with other people.”

Connecting with nature

Another essential aspect of Deatsman’s continued healing is to stay connected with nature. She and various family members as they are available go to Lake Superior Provincial Park in northern Canada tent-camping a couple of times a year.

“I get up every morning before sunrise and get into the canoe and sit on the lake with the loons,” says Deatsman. “The loon is one of my power animals and it fills my soul to be in solitude.” (Her main power animal is Moose. Others are Eagle, Sea Turtle and Whale.)

As Deatsman thinks about the future, one thing she would like to do after her daughter leaves for college is to source and organize what she calls Wild Woman Weekends, “when women can just go and release all that stuff we hang on to, be ourselves, bond with other women and reconnect with nature.”