Leaving the Cult of Alternative Medicine

How I left my alternative upbringing to enter the modern world.

Aaron Shea
7 min readSep 14, 2020

The first time I can remember going to the doctor was at the age of 18. I needed a physical to study abroad so I went to my doctor, although I didn’t know I actually had one. I remember sitting in the “healthy” side of the waiting room, watching kids play in the corner, overlooking the constant hubbub of a paediatricians office. I was shocked at how nice and welcoming he was — a trait now I assume is expected among paediatricians. Growing up in a house of alternative medicine, I was always afraid of doctors. When I was sick, I’d would take 3–5 emergen-Cs, a vitamin c powder you mix into water that has 1000 milligrams of vitamin C per package. If I were really sick, maybe with some sort of infection or whatnot, I would talk to the homeopath and go the the local health-food store to pick up a homeopathic remedy. But the doctor? Never. The doctor was only in cases of dire emergencies, near death experiences.

We weren’t allowed to take pain killers; my mother opted to give me a shot of whiskey when I had strep throat in middle school, instead of an Advil. I would always get better from whatever ailed me. Maybe I would be sick longer or more often than other people, maybe I’d be in more pain, but I always recovered. As a child, this was what I came to expect and understand as the world of medicine. I learned that allopathic, western medicine, was a sham most of the world had been gullible enough to buy into. I learned that there was a whole world, a network, of real alternative treatments out there kept in the dark by pharmaceutical companies and governments. But we were in on the secret; we understood how to really be healed, from the common cold to bad bug bites, from strep throat to a UTI, from depression to perverted attractions.

I first started doubting alternative medicine when I came out to myself. After I’d accepted and come to terms my queer-ness was when I first started to see gaps in the medicinal program I’d been brought up on. Our specific sect of alternative medicine was a cross between naturopathy and homeopathy, one where you were constantly taking medicine. Since I was a toddler I had always been on homeopathic medicine: tiny sugar pills, which are made in the “essence” of something, like bee venom, calcium, different flowers, all sorts of things. The reason they can often be found at health food stores is because there is no actual trace of the starting ingredient in them, having been diluted thousands of time in the process of being made.

The way our system worked medicine wasn’t just for when something went wrong. You were constantly on homeopathic remedies to better yourself. As a child — to help grow, as a teenager to help with acne or depression, as an adult to help with a cough or your business. It was a medicine that worked both on the whole body, both the physical and spiritual level, so there was never a time when you didn’t take it — since it was very rare for your spirt to be perfect. Inadvertently we all became accustomed to this idea that by definition, we were flawed. Ultimately, the decision of what a ‘good spirit’ looked like, came down to the homeopath who met with us like a doctor on a monthly basis and decided which remedies we needed to be on. I never thought against any of this growing up. Until I realized I was gay; until I’d had enough late night conversations with myself to accept this and the fact that I was still normal, that I wasn’t perverted or wrong in some way. According to our homeopath, this was a symptom. Just like a cough, being gay was part of your flawed spirit. It was only then, at 17 years old that I started to think, this doesn’t makes much sense. It was only after that when I was sick or in pain, I would start sneaking chewable cherry flavored baby Aspirin —something we kept only for cases of emergency. It was only then that I had said yes to a Benedryill when I had an allergic reaction from a friend’s dogs. Some kids started sneaking alcohol in high school, I started sneaking over the counter medicine.

When I went to my paediatrician for the first time, I remember how comfortable I felt with him; how badly I wanted to tell him about… everything. How I thought to myself, that this here, this is a real doctor. Maybe he could help me in some way, maybe he could tell me what to do. But I couldn’t say anything. I grew up being told that the rest of the world wasn’t in on the secret, they didn’t know the truth. And even though I knew that was wrong in a sense, I couldn’t betray my family so violently. I was in too deep, too far gone. The depth my family had traveled into the alternative medicine network left too much room for pain if I exposed them. The lack of treatment I’d had growing up. The forged vaccination reports given to schools and camps. The smuggling of remedies so they wouldn’t have to go through x-rays. The tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into learning fake medicine from a fake doctor. Whether they were wrong or not, I would not betray my family and open them to the scrutiny of the allopathic world.

Time heals most ailments. Though, I’ve learned, seeing a doctor and getting medicine helps, a lot. After I moved away from home, I started slowly taking myself to doctors appointments. I got blood work done for the first time, took antibiotics for the first time. And every single time I walked into the eggshell walls of a doctors office, I found it difficult to breath. My heart would start to race and sweat would drip down my body. You shouldn’t be here. Get out now. The voice in my head runs over and over again. Like leaving a religion, I was waiting for the lighting strike, the wrath of god to tell me I’d walked away from true salvation into the belly of the medical beast.

I remember the first time I went to a hospital — it was to visit my first boyfriend after he had gotten a cyst that became infected and needed a minor surgery to remove it. I took a bus there and stood outside the doors watching people walk in out, trying not to hyperventilate too loudly. I walked inside, looked at the nurses station and stood there silently until someone asked me if I needed help. I couldn’t speak, until I eventually stuttered out his name and was lead to find him in a bed, trying to relax. Every time a doctor walked passed, I tensed up; when his nurse came in the room, I thought I would vomit. I was surrounded by disease, by the sickness I had spent my whole youth in fear of, running away from.

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

He got better within a few weeks. Seven years later, I am still terrified of hospitals. I still get anxious every time I see a doctor, even if it’s just to go over a routine blood test, or for a very minor meeting. I also, however, listen to doctors. I do my best to take their advice, to know that they only want to help with the knowledge they have on hand. Turns out, for all of my family’s focus on being healthy, I am not so healthy. I had a myriad of problems that likely could have been treated had I known from an earlier age. Better late than never, I’ve been seeing doctors and specialists and tried to get on top of my health, to learn about my body and how I can best treat it. I’ve had blood-tests, ultrasounds, had cameras stuck down my throat and up my ass.

And I have been thoroughly anxious and terrified through every single moment of it.

The solace here, is that it’s not just time in effect. It’s medicine, family doctors, gastroenterologists, technicians, psychologists — it’s people, actively working with me towards becoming a healthier person. It’s not just me, alone, trying to tolerate out the pain until it goes away on its own. It’s me putting trust in a system that has been birthed over hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s me, choosing to have my children vaccinated, to be part of the global solution. It’s me, choosing to walk away from my family and the system of care that I grew up in.

It’s unfortunately not so clear cut. While I don’t agree with the alternative medicine my family used growing up, I can’t deny the simple fact that it came from a place of care. No one in our alternative medicine world was operating out of a scam, or malice. They were all just trying to protect and help the people they love. So where do you draw the line? What do you do when the people you care about believe that scientific report is fiction, believe in the hidden world, the spirit we can only begin to conceive of?

I once asked my mom why she got involved with naturopathy and homeopathy. She told me it was because she was looking for someone, or something, to explain the world. Why things are the way they are. She was provided with a system that not only explained it, but gave her the tools to control it, get a handle on the entropy of life. I will not take that away from her. Wrong as I may think it is, I will not burn down her church.

I choose to let her be, let time heal any wounds between us.



Aaron Shea

Software engineer and literature nerd. Can be found drinking coffee and thinking about Lord of the Rings.