None of my recoveries were the same in my body or in my brain. The physical recovery hasn’t necessarily gotten easier (in fact it’s harder now that I’m older) but the mental recovery certainly has improved. Some of it is knowing what to expect, but far more than that, in my journey I have gradually learned to trust my body.
Without a doubt, surgery is a form of trauma. First, they drug you so you’re out of your mind. After that, someone comes for you with a knife to cut you open. Even if the mind is prepared and calm, the body still needs to process trauma afterward. Some people never do.
I was thinking about writing this piece, and last night this Twitter quote popped up on my Facebook feed:
In my personal experience, trauma around my right shoulder was deep and profound. I lost count of the number of times I’d dislocated it in the 23 years from the first time to surgical repair. I protected that shoulder for all I was worth. My life and activities narrowed. I held the shoulder in close and kept my arm resting against my body. I rounded my shoulders and back to keep it tightly in. I had constant neck and back pain related to how I used myself.
My Alexander Technique studies coincided with the last few years of this. In learning to open and soften my front, I had to start letting my arm release. I was terrified for anyone to pick it up. I resisted or I “helped.” Heaven forbid anyone tried to lift it over my head. Even after surgery, even after PT, I didn’t trust my shoulder not to dislocate again.
It took years of working with gentle Alexander teachers, skilled massage therapists and a Therapist or two to learn to let go of that trauma. Through all that work, I started listening to the messages my body was sending. I started to let go of fear and of my habitual patterns. As I said here, this important work now forms the basis of my Alexander teaching. I hope to reach people before those patterns of holding set in after PT.
Today’s recovery from my knee replacement is informed by all that work I’ve done in the past with myself and others. I do trust that my new titanium knee was ready from day 1 – it was just the rest of me that has had to heal around it. Early on I took myself on an energetic journey through my surgery to process the pain and fear. I moved my body into the position I imagined it was during the surgery due to the clamping bruises. My body told me I’d found it. I cried profoundly as I let the trauma go through Reiki.
Later, the temptation to limp on the cane was pulling me. I paused and reminded myself to walk the way I’d taught so many people to do it, rolling though my foot. I made sure my arms were strong enough before surgery to push myself up from a chair, and I used the hip hinging I teach people to make getting up with the head leading easier. I remind myself daily that the pain, twinges and leg cramps I feel are all part of healing. And when I get concerned or fearful that something else might be going on, I send a note to my doctor in the portal. Let’s stay in the now.
This opening to healing while opening to trust is the deep philosophy of Slow Forward. It’s not quick. It’s not supposed to be if we’re processing trauma. Someday, I’m just going to hurry down the stairs without noticing my knee first. That will be fun. We’re not there yet and that’s ok.