Celebrity Health: Melissa Etheridge
Rock star turned Oscar winner talks life after cancer and how the happiness of the mind makes for the healthiest of bodies
“Grit” is the word that won’t go away. Melissa Etheridge has grit. Fortitude. Tenacity. Take your pick. Or take all three.
She was born in a prison town, “black-and-blue and close to death,” as described in her 2001 memoir “The Truth Is …” Her mother went into labor in the middle of the day, and nurses held her legs closed until a doctor arrived. “I was not allowed to enter the world as planned.”
Growing up grappling with feelings of shame and isolation, she found solace in songs and security on the stage. In sixth grade, she wrote what she considers her first real song, “Lonely Is a Child,” and performed it with friends at a local talent show. As a finalist, she earned her first award for her music, a small trophy. Today, it stands alongside her Grammy Awards and her Oscar.
From the day she packed everything she owned into her car and drove from Kansas City to L.A., hers has been a journey of rock ’n’ roll on the road to awareness, with wellness along for the ride. The road, it is worth noting, contains occasional, necessary, feelgood detours.
With her diet, for example, she tries to avoid wheat, dairy and sugar, but she makes exceptions, like breakfast at her favorite place for pancakes when she’s in Chicago on tour. “You have to,” she says, on the phone from her home in California. “I would lose my mind if I just said, ‘Never.’ And I don’t think that’s what health is all about. I think health is about the pretty much constant awareness of what’s going in your body and how you’re treating it and the track that it’s on. And part of that is being aware of your fun side, of treating yourself, of understanding.”
Etheridge is mindful of the connection of her body and spirit. “I think that’s something that we get messed up here in Western medicine,” she says. “We think that there’s no emotion or spirit involved in our health, and that’s just madness.”
She cites stress as the No. 1 factor in degenerative disease. “Each individual has to take responsibility for what they’re putting their body and their spirit through – things they don’t like, where they’re living, who they’re living with, where they’re working, how they feel about themselves, all those.”
“It’s all being out of vibration with yourself,” she continues. “That vibration we’re supposed to be in, which is peace and well-being and love. As we go further down that road, I believe there’s only two things in the world, there’s only two vibrations, there’s only two choices, and that’s love and fear. If you’re not in that vibration of love, you’re in the other one, and that’s where the body starts breaking down.” Illnesses are symptoms.
Even cancer. Especially cancer. Etheridge has been very open about her battle with breast cancer, but she perceives it in an atypical way. For her, cancer was a means to an evolving end.
“I started changing right before cancer, like weeks before,” she says. “I had an enlightenment, an awakening ... where everything that I thought was as it was, was not, and I got really turned upside-down.”
Noting her penchant for reading celebrity magazines when traveling, she says, “I just fed on the snack food of our reality, and all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Wait a minute. What am I doing? What life am I living?’ And I remember being at the airport, and I walked into the bookstore. And I found myself walking back to the philosophy section, and I picked up Ken Wilber’s ‘A Brief History of Everything’ – which is from quantum physics to cosmology – and I understood it, which blew my mind. And I started on this path.
“A few weeks later, it was like I almost came to peace with what life and death was, that death wasn’t really the end, then all the sudden I get this cancer diagnosis. But I had already changed right before it, so I just saw my body break down metaphorically because I knew that what I was doing was breaking down all of my old beliefs. So then I fell into this cancer, which was a perfect excuse to check out and rearrange.
“I mean, it was horrible. I wouldn’t do it that way again. Our bodies need health and less stress. They can get all the way to cancer and then we either find it or die, or you can change before. So I saw my body kind of break down and reassemble, with my spirit, with everything. So yes, it changed me and there was life before and after, but I would say cancer was more symptomatic of the change than what made it change.”
Etheridge writes honestly about her life in her music. But her latest efforts suggest a larger shift.
“The last five years have been a lesson in really speaking my truth in everything, just being fearless,” she says. “When I first started, after cancer, when I started getting into what reality is, and what spirit is, and what health is, what life is, when I really started walking it every day, I knew that it would have to go into my music because my music has always been a reflection of me.”
But make no mistake: Etheridge hasn’t strayed from her rock ’n’ roll roots. Music may empower her own exploration, but more than ever, she wants to help others connect with their emotions.
“That’s what rock ’n’ roll is,” says Etheridge. “It should be part of your soul.”
© CTW Features