In 2009, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I’d been experiencing debilitating periods and enduring pain throughout the month. Two surgeries in the span of six months revealed I had an extremely aggressive case. At just 26 years of age, my doctor informed me that a hysterectomy was in my very near future.
Medically, I was doing everything that could be done. I went on a drug that made my hair fall out and caused me to feel nauseous almost every single day. It was supposed to put me into temporary menopause and hopefully buy me some time to make decisions about what to do next. I was consulting with a fertility specialist about the potential for pursuing in vitro fertilization before it was too late. And I was seeing an acupuncturist in the hopes of alleviating some of my other symptoms.
I loved acupuncture, if only because it was the one thing I was doing that actually made me feel as though I might have some control. My acupuncturist was amazing, teaching me a bit more about my body at each and every session.
Then came the day when she told me she wanted to try something new. That’s when I first experienced cupping. And it wasn’t as sexy as Michael Phelps or Gwyneth Paltrow make it out to be, let me tell you.
My acupuncturist’s previous method of torture had always been going for my ears. I’m telling you, there are certain points around your ear that will send zings down your entire spine when someone places a needle in them. When she went for my ears or my toes, I always knew I had to breathe deeply in order to stop myself from leaping off the table.
But she swore my ears were connected to my ovaries, so I let her stick me every time.
This day was different, though. After working on my ears, toes, and eyelids (yes, my eyelids) for a while, my acupuncturist told me to turn over on my stomach. “We’re going to try cupping you,” she announced.
Having no idea what she was talking about, I immediately had to stifle a laugh. (Am I wrong, or is there just something that sounds a little dirty about that?)
She started pulling out some massage oils and other goodies. I actually got excited. For a minute there, I thought I was about to get a serious massage, the kind that a girl who is in a constant state of pain lives for. When she started dripping the oils down my back and rubbing them in, I was sure this was about to be my best appointment yet.
Then, I heard her say, “OK, this might hurt a bit.” Seconds later, I felt the life being sucked out of me.
I wish I was joking, but I’m not. She had placed a cup on my back and I could immediately feel it attempting to suck every inch of skin I had into it. You know when you’re a kid and you suck a cup to your mouth and it kind of suctions there? Yeah, this was nothing like that.
It really and truly sucked the breath out of me.
When I regained my composure four cups in, I finally asked her how the heck she got them to pull so tight. She laughed and responded, “Fire.”
So basically, without me realizing it, there were matches being lit above my back, too. I later learned she used those to suck all the oxygen out of the cups before quickly placing them on my back. That lack of oxygen was what then caused the seal.
At least, that’s how I think it worked. I honestly couldn’t pay enough attention to figure it out. My life force was being drained — that kind of makes it hard to concentrate.
The whole ordeal lasted no more than five minutes. And once I got used to the shock of each cup being placed, I realized it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t even painful, really. I don’t know how to explain it. It was just a very weird, intense feeling.
But I can say for sure, when she pulled those cups off of me, all the tension that had been building up in my back for months was gone.
And I remembered why I loved my acupuncturist so much.
She rubbed me down with oils again and told me not to shower until the morning. She also advised me to keep my back covered, saying something about all my pores being open and in need of protection. I smelled like a eucalyptus factory and knew I would have to wash everything I touched in the next 24 hours. But I didn’t care.
My back felt amazing!
Then I got up and saw it in the mirror.
Even in feeling the intensity of those cups, I had never expected to see the two rows of hickies that were already forming down my back. I realized very quickly I would not be wearing backless dresses anytime soon, although I give Jennifer Aniston major props for being confident enough to walk down the red carpet with cupping marks on her back.
For days after my excruciating appointment, I was sore. But it was a good sore. The kind you get after an intense workout or massage.
And so, I was a convert. Over the next few years, I let my acupuncturist cup me a handful of times. I still can’t say whether or not it had an effect on my overall health (my IVF cycles failed, and it wasn’t until I had aggressive surgery with one of the top endometriosis specialists in the country that I truly found relief). But I can say that cupping and acupuncture were both big factors in my maintaining some semblance of health and wellness over the years of battling a chronic condition.
They might not have cured me, but these treatments did help me to manage my symptoms and to feel proactive in my care.
Plus, those marks were like badges of honor to me. They were the physical proof that I was doing everything in my power to be well.
And at least in that, there was something to find strength in.