We set up my recovery from hip replacement surgery well this time—food delivery, friends coming over in shifts to relieve Patrick so he could get out of the house and move his body, a new bed desk that tilts for computer use and flattens for meals—and still we ended up in a big fight on day 6.
I wasn’t prepared for how irritable I became. How I needed several things done quickly and didn’t always have clear words to convey that through the pain and haze of meds. How I wished he would anticipate my needs, a skill he has when he’s not stressed out, and got disappointed when he didn’t.
I noticed that as he slowed, caught in the crosshairs of his emotional triggers and less able to respond, I got more impatient. I started making up a story that he was dumb and slow. It felt like he would deliberately not understand me, or turn away just as I was struggling with something, so I would have to repeat myself or stop and ask for help.
He couldn’t understand why I was so irritable, why when I asked him for help there was no love in my request, why he felt disdain coming through my words. He expressed that he felt pummeled, which I couldn’t hear at all. It felt like unnecessary drama to label my words as boxing gloves. Locked in my view, I couldn’t let him have his.
We were triggered and locked in a pattern determined to play itself out like this:
Patrick: “Being in pain doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole.”
Me: “Having a feeling doesn’t give you the right to not have your attention on me. If you had your attention on me instead of snarled up inside yourself I wouldn’t have to repeat myself so many times and I wouldn’t get so irritated.”
Patrick: “That’s not true. You’re irritated whether I do it right or not. Why can’t you be nice to me?”
Me: “Hellooooo, I’m in pain. It’s not about you.”
He went downstairs and left the house. When he returned, he went into our bedroom and slammed the door.
To me, that meant he needed the room to himself, cutting off access to the bed and the only toilet in the house accessible to me because it has the temporary potty over it that makes it high enough. In my anger, all I could see was him blocking me from peeing because he was having a feeling.
I felt my pain had primacy. Why? Because I can only use one damn toilet in the whole house and he can sulk anywhere. The fact that he claimed the bedroom, denying me rest and the ability to pee meant that he was clueless about my needs. It felt selfish.
I got madder and madder until I couldn’t wait any longer and texted him to ask if I could please come in and use the bathroom. Except maybe a bit more resentfully than that.
Come to find out that he was watching funny videos to bring himself out of his triggered state. For him, a slammed door doesn’t carry the same meaning as it does for me. He couldn’t understand why I was so mad and why I didn’t ask to come in sooner. In his view, I made an incorrect assumption around having to wait until he reemerged that served to ramp up my anger and gave me more evidence that he was clueless and insensitive to my needs.
It took a while for me to see that although Patrick was in his victim and I was in the perpetrator role with him with my irritation and disdain, I was in my victim also and making him a perpetrator blocking me from the bathroom.
We both had firmly taken up residence on the victim triangle and it sucked.
I had to admit that I felt my pain from surgery was more important than his emotional state and I wanted him to man up and be there for me, no matter how I behaved. When I read it now, I see how that line of thinking is off-base and will not lead to the kind of relationship I want to have. But I was too angry to see that at the time.
I forgot the most important part: love. We love each other and Patrick responds impeccably to clear, loving requests. If he feels good, he serves like a motherfucker. There’s no one better.
I had to choose: Do I let my competitive need for my surgical pain to be more important poison our relationship, or do I soften and acknowledge that his emotional pain matters, too?
I made the second choice. Ultimately, having a happy, confident man around who skillfully attends to me and our dog is more important to me than my victim jockeying for the upper hand.
All of this went down on Sunday and the massacre in Las Vegas happened on Monday. What kind of pain and isolation would have a man think that mowing down a bunch of people enjoying a concert is a thing to do? Being in pain doesn’t give you the right to kill and injure a slew of people, that’s for sure.
The micro-violence Patrick and I experienced in our fight, if left unchecked, expands to the extreme violence happening all over our country right now. Lately, as a society, many of us can’t get to a place where we can hear and empathize with each other’s pain because we’re so focused on our own.
The antidote that worked for us was remembering that we love each other and are on each other’s side, even though it didn’t feel that way during our fight. As a country, may we remember to love one another. Love your neighbor, you are your brother’s keeper, and all that. Even when your neighbor is a shit. Even when you think you have it worse than they do. Especially then.
We often come to the work of change thinking that if we could be more disciplined and have a clear list of goals and steps then we could make our lives work. Some people do need more structure and certain types of coaching use this approach. I’m talking here to those of us who are already disciplined and know what we want to do, but we aren’t doing it and can’t figure out why.
The kind of change we need in this situation is internal. Instead of piling on more “shoulds” and making goals that we further stress ourselves out over trying to meet, we need permission to dive in to discover who we are and what we want beneath our ability to produce results.
First, we need to develop integrity and the power to express it. In this case, integrity means being whole and undivided. For example, in the past I wanted to have more clients but deep down I doubted myself, which meant I was out of integrity. I was clear about my skill as a coach but I feared that my many privileges—white, wealth, higher education, mobility—might trigger potential clients. I didn’t trust how well I’d respond if they got reactive and attacked me when I challenged them on their limiting beliefs. In talking with me, potential clients could feel these subtle places where I held back out of fear and chose not to work with me. Maybe they wouldn’t have called what they sensed a lack of integrity, but that’s what it was.
Once I got clear about who I am, what I offer, and developed confidence in my ability to handle people’s reactivity and resistance, I developed the integrity that I had been lacking. At that point, people I met would became curious and would initiate conversations about working with me. The thing that changed the equation and led to having more clients was integrity rather than a strategic implementation of some new, fancy marketing.
We also need to learn how to distinguish when we are trying to make things happen through willpower versus acting in alignment with our deeper desires and values. For ten years I tried to quit smoking using willpower, which always failed. One day I realized that I saw myself as a smoker who had quit smoking. Once my willpower relaxed its vigilance, my smoker identity would reassert itself and I’d pick up a cigarette. I worked as a health practitioner at the time and decided in that moment that to smoke would make me a hypocrite. I could not smoke and have integrity as an example of health for my clients, which was my deeper desire. I never smoked again, with zero struggle. Why? Because my identity shifted and smoking no longer fit who I was. The change stuck because it came from within instead of being imposed on a resistant identity (the smoker) through willpower.
Eight months ago, I saw a neurofeedback practitioner to work with the pain circuit in my brain, since I’d lived with chronic pain for nine years and had developed debilitating reactivity to it. I was hooked up to a computer that read my brain signals while I tried to complete a mental task. Even though I did the exercise twice, it seemed like I failed since I couldn’t consistently do it right. But gradually in the last eight months, I’ve had a dramatic reduction in pain and an increase in emotional stability in the face of the pain I still have. Those exercises, in which it seemed like nothing happened, made my brain start to rewire itself and my life changed.
The way change happens through coaching and other personal growth work is like the rewiring process I went through with my brain’s pain circuit. Sometimes there’s a dramatic shift, a light-bulb-moment that changes everything, like when I quit smoking forever, but more often we coach for a while and one day my client says, “You know that thing that used to happen when I felt rejected? That doesn’t happen anymore.” Or s/he says, “When my partner freaked out last night, I was able to stay centered and stay connected, as well as respond from clarity. I had no idea I could do that.”
Change is often more noticeable in the disappearance of reactivity or a newfound ability to receive and less often accompanied by fireworks. As a coach, I see again and again that our conversations and homework exercises initiate a rewiring process. Two terrific resources that you could use on your own right away are The Work by Byron Katie and this article on The Three Faces of Victim by Lynne Forrest. That said, I recommend eventually working with a coach because it’s hard to see your own blind spots, especially as you get into deeper layers and want to create subtler changes.
At first it can seem like nothing is happening, like the time of waiting after a seed is planted and before the new shoot pokes through the soil. Over time, with the right nourishment, the shoot grows into a solidly planted tree and the landscape is forever changed. This kind of change from the inside out is the kind of change that sticks for a lifetime.
I had my home safety site visit today with Jamie, the physical therapist assigned to me by Kaiser for five visits post-surgery. This was the last of my pre-op appointments before the big day. We practiced getting in and out of bed and the car, going up and down stairs, finding the right height of chair to sit in, and picking up all the rugs so that my walker doesn’t get snagged. She also adjusted the cane and walker so that they’re the right height. The tools are gathered (see the pic below) and the house is ready!
I’m most excited about my new bed desk that can be flat for meals and tilted for reading or laptop use. Last time the incision and swelling made using my computer on my lap impossible. This little desk lifts everything off my legs while allowing me to stay in bed. I can’t wait to watch movies in bed on this desk while I’m whacked out on pain meds!
Last night we went to Pulse Float Studio in Culver City. It was a wonderful way for us both to relax in the midst of all the preparations. The darkness, silence, and sensation of being held by the salt-filled water made my mind completely stop. I slept/conked out for most of the hour and slept deeply last night, waking up later today than usual. My nervous system feels like it got taken down a notch, an unusual and welcome sensation.
I don’t know about you but I tend to prepare for things by pushing through and doing as much as possible without leaving much space for rest. I’m trying something different this time by inserting fun things like a float date, or dinner with friends, into the mix. As a result, the week feels less frenzied and my system has occasional chances to calm down instead of staying in pedal-to-the-metal mode.
That said, preparing for surgery in the midst of hurricanes and earthquakes affecting so many people isn’t the most calm experience. After the shaking we felt the other night from the quake in Westwood, I finally handled getting earthquake coverage today for our home. I also realized that we don’t have a go bag here, so Patrick began putting one together today for us and our dog.
I renewed my medical marijuana card yesterday and picked up supplies for post-surgery. Last time I found that CBD potentiated with a small amount of THC that didn’t get me high worked well as I titrated down the amount of pain medication I was taking. It took a bit of experimentation to find the dosage and ratio that worked best for pain relief, but once I did I was able to wean off the Percocet in 4-5 weeks. It was a relief because my body likes opiates a little too much. I was on Tramadol for four years prior to my first surgery and getting off of it was agonizing. I’m grateful to have been completely off all pain meds, including CBD, for the last nine months since it will make the recovery from surgery easier.
Patrick made a schedule spreadsheet and reached out to several friends yesterday to invite them to pick blocks of time when they can come over. This way he can get a break and not go batty from trying to handle everything himself. Every time a friend chooses another slot, it feels so good!
I feel well-held. Between our friends offering to help, and others who have offered to pray, I feel loved and supported. I’ve reached out to the Agape Prayer Ministry to ask for prayer support. The day before my surgery I get to sing with the Agape choir on choir Sunday, which is so uplifting. Then I’m getting a massage in the late afternoon and going to bed early since we have to be at the hospital at 5:45 am on Monday.
Here’s the miraculous thing about hip surgery: when you come out of it there’s the trauma to heal from, the flesh that has to knit back together, the fluids that have to get reabsorbed, all of which is painful and takes time. But the deteriorated joint that’s been limiting mobility and creating a grinding pain with muscle compensation for years is gone, replaced by a smooth motion when walking and no pain. It’s like stepping out of a cave I’ve lived in for years and blinking in the unexpected, nourishing light. I look forward to experiencing that again.
Lately I’ve been marveling at being able to hold my right (operated) leg in a parallel position with ease. For the first time in my life, I can stand with my foot pointing straight ahead and not work to keep it there. Because of undiagnosed hip dysplasia and muscular development that created a natural turn-out, parallel position has always been hard for me to access. Once my hip joints deteriorated, standing in parallel created searing pain in my hips that often shot down my legs. To be able to point my foot straight ahead is amazing, as is being able to cross my right leg over the left, which I wasn’t able to do for over five years.
Soon, I will look down at my feet and have them both be pointing straight ahead. I wonder how my life will change, what power will be released by having two properly-situated hips for the first time in my life.
Since about a week ago, my mind has turned to preparing for my second hip replacement, which is scheduled for Sept. 25th. I got my medical clearance on Thursday and am chugging through the next round of pre-op appointments this week.
I’m reviewing this brilliant list of surgery recovery tips, authored last year by moi, and implementing the ones that make sense to start doing now. I’m also resuming my work with the book and relaxation CD I used last year, Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster, by Peggy Huddleston.
I feel more relaxed this time because I’ve been through it once already and recovered well. And now that I have one hip already done, my recovery should go even better than last time, since last time I was also contending with pain in my un-operated hip.
I started going to the gym over a week ago to ride the stationary bike and lift weights to improve circulation and get stronger before surgery. It will make recovery easier and also give my body more muscle to draw on to heal itself. It feels really good to have more strength going into surgery this time, thanks to being able to move more due to the right hip already having been done.
But I still have anxiety coming up. Will I have an infection in my suture and painful skin nerve damage like last time? Will I remember what to do if the PT isn’t as amazing as the last one they assigned me? Will the caretaker/patient dynamic affect my relationship for as long as it did last time?
Since we’re living in a vertical condo this go around and the kitchen is upstairs, we’re going to have most meals delivered, at least for the first few weeks. Having to do less grocery shopping and cooking will be easier on Patrick, since now he’ll also have to bring meals downstairs to me.
I’m asking for more help from friends so that the burden of care in the early weeks doesn’t fall entirely on him. He’s going to stay more on top of his practices, like meditation and golf, this time around, so that he doesn’t get batty and overwhelmed like before.
We’ve moved the hyperbaric chamber into the bedroom so that I can access it post-surgery. And we’re switching sides of the bed so that I’ll have a straighter shot to the bathroom while I’m using the walker, as well as having an easier time getting out of bed. That’ll be interesting, to sleep on “his” side of the bed after about two years of sleeping on “mine.” We’ll have to re-learn how to spoon! I’m looking forward to how the shift in position might shake things up between us.
Thanks to a well-timed conversation with my coach last week, I’m choosing to give myself real space to heal instead of rushing back to coaching my clients as soon as I’m not a drooling pain-pill-addled space cadet. I’ve decided to pause my coaching practice for three weeks and give my clients reading and writing assignments to do each week to keep their learning going while I’m resting and learning to walk again. I’m excited for the possibilities of the discoveries they will make while I’m laid up and for the chance to dive in anew when I return well-rested and they return with new skills and awareness under their belts.
I’m lucky that I feel mobile enough this time to go squeeze in a dive trip next week. I’ve been wanting to shoot sea lions for years and finally have a chance to go on a photo trip to the Sea of Cortez! Maybe it’s nuts to go away so soon before surgery, but maybe it’s great to spend a week in the water doing what I love shortly before I can’t go anywhere for three months. And I’ll have lots of shots to edit while I’m recovering!
I’ll be blogging more consistently again as I go through this next surgery. It was fun to share the experience with you last time and it’ll be fun to see what’s similar and what changes this time. If you have questions or just want to connect, please leave a comment. I also have a free, down-to-earth guide to intuition that’s offered below as a gift for signing up for my email list. I’m going to be putting my intuition on overdrive through this process, so join me and learn how to do so for yourself!
Let’s hope I don’t end up like this guy!
Do you think spiritual people shouldn’t be angry? Is your friend still sleeping on your couch even though he said he’d only stay for three days (and you haven’t said a word)? Are you helping out at the weekly event again even though you’re sick as a dog? If you answered yes to any of these questions this list is for you!
Now that we are exposed to many paths through the magic of the interwebs, we absorb spiritual ideas from different levels of consciousness. What’s true at one level may not be true at the level we’re hearing it. Here are ten often misunderstood ideas that can block our deeper awakening.
1. Be a good person.
We don’t have to try to be good. The more we get to the truth of who we are, the more goodness we express. Covering self-doubt or self-loathing with a veneer of niceness makes us untrustworthy. Others can sense the fakery even if they can’t articulate it. For example, when I call my mother because I should, the conversation stays superficial and I can’t wait to get off the phone. But when I call her because I want to, the conversation connects and I’m in no rush to leave.
2. Be selfless.
Trying to be selfless is a recipe for disaster. It’s like walking around with a sign on our foreheads saying, “Use me.” When Bill Withers sings it, it’s hot because the singer feels right with his desire to be used. When we’re trying to be selfless because we want approval, it’s not hot.
3. Your teacher/priest/rabbi/imam/shaman knows better than you.
If your teacher isn’t teaching you how to uncover your own wisdom get away. Teachers are necessary because they are further down the road. They see where you are and what you need for growth, but if they encourage dependency and leave you disempowered, nope.
4. You must always communicate with kindness and compassion.
About fifteen years ago I encountered Non-Violent Communication. While the technique itself has merit, the person using it said the non-violent words while trying to passive-aggressively control the whole room. Spiritual communication techniques, if co-opted by covert needs, don’t make us less of an asshole. In fact, they make us more of one because we’re pretending to be all love and light when we’re not.
5. Spiritual means orderly and calm.
For control freaks (my people!), there’s a fine line between doing every action from a place of devotion and micromanaging our environment to make it perfect before we can get centered. Yes, it feels better when the yoga mats all line up and the bed is made, but the universe couldn’t care less. Let’s stop outsourcing our need for order on God. Have you ever felt the holiness of a Prince concert at Madison Square Garden, every musician playing full out, the crowd screaming with joy? Have you seen the apparent chaos that is the natural world, the way it works without our intervention?
6. Your truth is what matters.
The need to assert our truth can also disguise a need for control. If everyone thinks their truth is THE truth, then we compete to out-truth each other, sacrificing real listening and depth. When it comes from our deepest self that is one with everyone’s deepest self, truth just is. Nobody’s dying to hear what our egos come up with as our truth of the day, but many people are dying to feel connected at that deeper level where our shared truth resides.
7. You’re above messy emotions.
Emotions are not problematic but our reactions to them are. I thought I was chill until I got feedback from a friend that he experienced a painful, high-pitched whine when I got uptight and clamped a lid on it. If we express our emotions in real time they eventually come out less messy and pass like a cloud on a windy day. Down the road we can choose when to express, not because we’re pretending to be someone we’re not but because we can feel what each moment calls for.
8. Do nothing. God or the Universe will bring you your good.
Sometimes it’s right to do nothing and wait for clarity and sometimes it’s passivity and a refusal to take responsibility for our lives. We are not beggars waiting for crumbs from an unreliable universe. Our desires, if they come from our deepest self, are God’s desires. It’s on us to do the work to align with our deepest self and act from there. An external God has nothing to do with it.
9. What’s mine is yours.
In the grand scheme, yes. But if we’re letting folks walk all over us in the name of being spiritual, it’s time to learn to set boundaries. Being generous from a place of overflow is divine, being generous from the need to be liked is not. I once lent someone $5000, though a little voice said not to, because I wanted to be liked. After paying a small portion back, she left town and never paid back the rest, even after getting a large settlement from her former job. I learned a good lesson: to listen to that little voice instead of my need to be liked.
10. Kill your ego.
For all my driven perfectionists (oh hey, tribe!), don’t punish yourself when your ego or shadow shows up. Don’t wield insight like a two-by-four toward yourself or anyone else. Freedom and awakening happen gradually and we are already perfect in our imperfection. When we notice the next thing in an endless series of fucked up things about ourselves, let’s welcome it, ask it what it wants, what fear it has at its core. Let’s celebrate that we now have more freedom to make conscious choices and be less of an asshole, which is more than enough.
I’m a part of a dojo of coaches working together to up-level as coaches and people. Last week, we were given an assignment to create a manifesto for ourselves that would be a touchstone as well as a document to refer to in order to remind ourselves of who we are when we’ve forgotten. I had so much fun creating it that I wanted to share it with you so that you can see what I’m about!
Keep your eyes peeled for beauty and share it.
There’s always room for excellence, it’s the room of mediocrity that’s crowded.
Go inward to go outward.
Sidle up to your desires and ask them out.
Flirting keeps your tank topped up.
Stay connected to your pussy.
The wind has something to say. Remember to listen.
You’re made of stardust. Shine, shine, shine.
If you’re “doing you” and your partner is shutting down, check yourself.
Live in a way that invites your partner’s deeper opening.
Every moment is a chance for practice.
Breathe in gratitude, breathe out gratitude.
Let what you say and do flow from love. This includes tough love.
Feel the sensation of being held by the ocean in perfect buoyancy.
You are held like that by God. Always.
Anything you think you can do, God does better through you if you allow it.
The answer is there if you let go and listen.
If a door is shut, look for a window or turn and look behind you.
Your body is your home. Take care of it.
Be open to feedback. You don’t know the source of your next moment of awakening.
When in doubt, take a deep breath, drink water, let the next step show up.
Life is both as serious as you make it and totally meaningless.
You are here to play.
Curiosity is your North Star.
Love your weirdness. It’s probably what others love most about you.
Remember your shadow wants love, too.
Having money supports you in having a positive impact on the world.
The most generous thing you have to offer is your pristine attention.
Magic is everywhere.
Bring all of yourself to the page.
Ask each day, “How can I serve?”
Did you have something you loved doing as a child that you gave up because either you felt like you had to grow up and get serious, or it was taken away by life’s circumstances? For me, that thing is singing.
I have always loved to sing. I joined the youth choir at my church as soon as I was old enough to attend rehearsals. I spent hours each week squirreled away in my room during high school singing along to recordings of musicals—Ain’t Misbehaving, Jesus Christ Superstar, Dreamgirls. I began voice lessons at sixteen. My teacher noticed that I would get upset if I hit one wrong note and said, If you spend your life focusing on the notes you hit wrong instead of the overall phrases you sing well you will never be happy.
In a theater program the summer between my junior and senior year, I sang a solo in The Me Nobody Knows, a song so moving and sad that it made a teenage boy in the audience cry in front of his mom. In that moment, I saw that music accesses a deep place that can crack us out of our little constructed selves into an ocean of feeling and perspective that has the potential to transform our lives. I wanted to live in that ocean as much as possible and bring others there with me.
I sang in a vocal jazz ensemble in college and solo with a piano player at our local coffee house. After college, as I got into yoga and spiritual practices, I fell in love with kirtan, devotional call-and-response chants in Sanskrit. For a decade I played harmonium and sang kirtan with others, relishing the moment when my little sense of self would drop away and something larger would sing through us and draw us into an altered, joyful state.
I kept a framed card on my desk that said, God respects me when I work but God loves me when I sing.
The desire arose to lead kirtan on a larger scale. Krishna Das was getting popular, traveling to yoga centers and retreats to lead kirtan and I wanted to do that, too. I recorded a CD, and with the support of a prominent yoga teacher, started leading kirtan at retreats and yoga centers.
Almost immediately the problems started. The mood was off, my confidence tanked, my voice became unreliable. I started to panic, the very act of singing a reminder of what I was losing: that ecstatic, empty-vessel experience of letting something larger come through me. I couldn’t get out of myself, too afraid to sing flat. I believed that my ego hijacked my voice with its lust for fame so my voice got taken away. It felt like a punishment from God.
Vocal cords are like any other muscle in the body. They stiffen with injury and atrophy with disuse and need slow warm-ups and exercise to get strong and supple again. Like an athlete after a devastating injury, I had a choice: to put time and energy into rehab for the pure love of movement, not knowing if full mobility would ever return, or put that part of my life (and soul) away forever. I couldn’t face the loss of my voice, so I locked both the gift and the pain away and stopped singing altogether, even in the shower. I became a poet and learned to access that deep inner place through poetry instead of music.
In January 2015, I went to a service at the Agape International Spiritual Center while visiting L.A.. The music started and I sang full out for the first time in over a decade without caring that people would hear me and judge my terrible voice. Shortly after, I decided to move to Santa Monica, clear that I wanted to join a spiritual community that had music powerful enough to break through my shame. In the last two years at Agape, I’ve let go of my old concept of a judgmental God who would take away my voice as punishment and now experience God as a loving power that supports me in freeing myself from conditioning and limiting beliefs.
When the annual choir auditions began last week, I figured I’d wait until next year. But my friend’s invitation to audition with her yesterday was so infectious I decided to go for it. This would be the first time I revealed my voice in public since I gave up singing over a decade ago. I had no idea what would come out of my mouth when I got up to the mic.
A professional singer went first, blew everyone away, and was invited to audition later in the week as a soloist instead of joining the choir. I almost walked out, but it was my turn. Facing the choir, including several of my favorite soloists, I couldn’t find a good key at first, starting way too low. I shook as I sang, ironically, I release and I let go, I let the spirit run my life, in a couple of different keys for Rickie, the choir director, to determine where to place me. I apologized for being a little pitchy from vocal damage. She said she thinks I can sing second soprano but would place me in alto for now to let my voice heal. I cried in the car on the way home.
I woke up today with a desire to dig out my old recordings of vocal exercises and begin to stretch this muscle again. I want to get curious about what my voice can and can’t do, and gently challenge it to open up without spiraling into shame when I can’t hold the pitch. I want to enjoy singing the whole phrase instead of pouncing on each imperfect note as evidence of my unworthiness to open my mouth. I no longer want to pretend that I’m okay with only reading poems out loud for the rest of my life. I also want to sing for the love of it, surrounded by a kickass choir.
Yesterday I drove for the first time since my right hip replacement seven weeks ago. Despite being hypervigilant, it felt freeing, if unfamiliar, and I gradually settled in as I drove to my physical therapist.
This past week I also began PRP injections for my left hip and shoulder, areas where I have chronic pain. The doctor said that the pain in my left hip is not coming from the deterioration of the joint and bone spurs, but rather the surrounding soft tissues. Once those tissues heal I’ll likely be pain-free, since the joint is not the cause of the pain I experience when I walk. It’s a total reversal of how I’ve understood what’s happening in my hips and it means that I may be able to avoid having to replace the left hip for a long time!
I’ve been in pain most of my life. I remember being a dancer in high school and being constantly sore, as I was throughout my twenties doing Ashtanga yoga and being a bodyworker. By my thirties I had switched to Anusara yoga to try to heal some chronic issues. My hips began to hurt in my early forties, as I did HIIT and intense strength workouts and got in the best shape of my life. But by my mid-forties I largely stopped exercising and have had a couple of years since in which I barely even walked.
I told my PT yesterday, pain is how I know where I am in space. We talked about how you have to change the brain in order to change chronic pain states. We think pain is located in the tissues that are hurting, but that’s not accurate. The tissues send danger messages to the brain, which sends back the sensation of pain, largely to protect the area so it can heal. We treat the pain locally with massage, acupuncture, surgery, etc., but these treatments don’t cover the whole picture when dealing with pathways grooved into the nervous system by chronic pain.
I’ve noticed that my brain has recreated the sensation of pain in a particular location in my right hip that, before surgery, I thought was associated with the deteriorated joint. But now the joint works fine and that sharp zing has returned. That says to my PT and me that the brain hasn’t caught up to what’s now true for my hip. To retrain my brain, she is having me move my hip toward and into that zingy position for a few seconds at a time, with control, so my brain can learn that it’s safe down there and surrender a little more range.
My PT says many people who come to her don’t really want to get better, that they’re attached to their pain or to the circumstances that create the pain, and therefore are unwilling to do the work to fully allow their bodies to heal. I can relate to that, having focused for years on treating the areas that hurt, but not finding someone to work with who brought the pain issue back to the need to re-pattern my neurology. Nothing I did, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, held very long and it was frustrating and demoralizing. I’ve resisted and accepted my pain so many times it’s been an exhausting yo-yo in here.
I think that finding the doctor who does PRP injections and says my hip joint is not the source of my pain, undoing fixed thinking that could get in the way of healing, is a sign that I’m ready to shift it now. I think that finding a PT who understands pain and brain science is a sign. I think I’m finally ready to learn a new way of moving through the world and knowing where I am in space, a way based in awareness and connection rather than pain.
On Thanksgiving morning we went to Agape for an intimate morning service. It began with a silent meditation. A woman in our row breathed loudly as it started. I thought she was sighing a couple of times to drop in, but no. She did ujjayi breathing through the whole 20-minute sit. Ujjayi is a breathing used in certain styles of yoga in which you slightly close your throat to create a hissing, audible breath.
She was white, middle-aged with unruly hair, a poncho over her blouse and long skirt, and rings on most of her fingers, which she waved around when she felt moved by the spirit (yes, I peeked). My hackles went up and the litany began in my head:
How inconsiderate and selfish. I can’t stand when people have to display how spiritual they are in public, clueless to their impact on the rest of us trying to sit in silence.
I caught that line of thinking and stopped it. Back to my (silent) breath.
It sounds kind of like the ocean. Maybe I can pretend it’s the sound of waves. She can become a fancy relaxation track to help me relax instead of a disruption.
Back to my breath.
I want to tap her on the shoulder and ask her to stop. But I don’t want to interrupt her meditation the way she’s interrupting mine. I have a right to ask her to stop disturbing the silence. I don’t speak up for myself enough in life. But she has a right to meditate however she meditates. Fuck.
Back to my breath.
I can’t believe my Thanksgiving Day meditation has been co-opted by this selfish bitch. My quiet time has become all about her. How dare she pull for attention that way?
Back to my breath.
WTF. If I can be this derailed by the sound of breathing, what am I going to do when the water cannons are aimed at me? (Standing Rock was on my mind) I’m going to have to get a lot more solid in my focus if I’m to be effectual in the world in the face of people who don’t play by the same rules as me.
Back to my breath.
Shit. Oh, shit. This woman’s my teacher. She sat in my row so I could see how easily I get thrown by conditions not being ideal. I’m grateful she sat here. Ugh. Meditation is not the only time I let the outside affect me this way. Shit. I’ve got work to do.
Back to my breath.
After the meditation, she got up and someone else took her seat. I never got to meet her or thank her. It’s just as well because I’m not sure I could have thanked her without also pointing out what a pain in the ass she was. Clearly, I’ve got work to do.
It’s been hard to write for the last week, glued as I’ve been to the internet, as if watching a 100-car pileup on the 405. I can’t turn away and I feel sick, too sick to eat much more than yogurt for dinner most nights.
The good news: I’m walking well and today is my last dose of antibiotics for the partial incision infection. It is healing. Somehow despite everything my cells march on, stitching together into a thicker version of themselves.
Scar tissue is an odd thing. It heals stronger than normal tissue, but is more inflexible and has to be broken up since it won’t stretch. It has compromised blood flow and won’t grow hair. Instead of the basket weave appearance of normal tissue, scar tissue has a more complex and randomized structure. The chaos makes it stronger but also more inflexible. As a result of trauma, the body favors stability at the expense of flexibility. I start with a new physical therapist tomorrow and we will tackle this exact issue: adhesions that are a form of protection but also cause pain and immobility.
It feels like parts of the country are in a similar place. We’ve have had deep wounds ripped open of racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia. Just like cells, some people start to clean out and heal the wounds and others harden into scar-tissue-like stances of rightness. That’s great for creating stability in a destabilized land but it also brings inflexibility, pain, and reduced circulation.
I’ve noticed during my recovery that just as the body lays down scar tissue, so does the mind. I’ve dipped into old ways of thinking that have had me down for days. Trauma creates clumps of neurons that translate into habitual thinking and beliefs about the world. Just as it takes exercises and bodywork to break up scar tissue in the body, it takes self-reflection and active choices to shift thoughts in order to build new neural pathways that eventually, if chosen more often, will fire more readily than the old.
I find myself reading article after article, looking for someone who has the magic words, the outlook that can soften and free this lumpy and hardened tissue without further traumatizing the area. How to debride and cleanse the wounds without causing more trauma? I’ve heard some great ideas within the din and I still re-board the fear, grief, and anger train, still find old thoughts firing just as much as the new ones I actively turn toward. While those emotions are important to allow I also want to find a way to be resourceful and of use, and I can’t serve well from that calcified position.
I joked today that I picked the wrong week to come off narcotic painkillers. A part of me wants to take a Percocet, lie down, and call it a day. But the rest of me knows that’s not how healing works after the initial phase right after surgery or injury, that grinding out exercises and moving through pain, without creating further injury, is how optimal healing takes place.
So here it goes. Another day: another set of exercises, another meditation, another prayer. The choice to do practices to create and sustain a strong core-self so that my outer self can be receptive, flexible, soft, undefended, and therefore open to connect with people who think like me and those who don’t. May I have the strength to do the work on my body to walk well, the work on my mind to stay clear, and the work on my heart to love deeply and widely. More than ever, this feels like necessary work.