I’ve been in a lot of pain for a very long time.
I have a lower back issue that’s worsened over the past few years. Several members of my family have had similar issues and had to treat them surgically, so my assumption was that I had genetic predisposition to it. I figured that combined with stress and a couple of years in special ed (which can be pretty grueling physically) led me to where I am now.
Anyway, I am in pain all day, every day- and it’s been getting worse.
For Mother’s Day, my Favorite gave me a gift certificate for a massage every month for a year. I know. Best. Anyway, I’ve been using them, and after a not-great experience the first month I’ve found a therapist who is fabulous and it’s been helping- not with my lower back, but the rest of my back which has been in knots as a result of compensating for the main issue. Solidarity.
On one visit, she mentioned to me that I carried a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders (which I knew) and also, she said, “Oddly, you carry a lot in your feet.”
Huh, I thought.
The last visit with her, after my six-hour return drive from Maine, I was in so much pain it was hard to lay in any one position for long enough to let her work. She suggested that perhaps I try reflexology- she thought it might help. Dr. Andrew Weil says, “Reflexology (or foot reflexology) is a therapy based on the principle that there are small and specific areas of innervation in the hands and feet that correspond to specific muscle groups or organs of the body.”
I am tired of being in pain, and am willing to try anything that might forestall surgery.
I had an appointment today. I had no idea what to expect- I knew the focus would be on my hands and feet, but beyond that I knew nothing. The therapist said, “Your hands are where you hold your recent pain, your feet is where older pain is stored.”
In retrospect, there really ought to have been ominous music in place of the eerie lute music that is apparently mandatory in spas.
She began working on my right hand. It was a little uncomfortable at first, and then she put pressure on a point on my hand below my thumb. I am not kidding you, I gasped. She continued to work, and I could not believe how painful it was. I mean, excruciating.
I feel it’s important to note here that I have a really high tolerance for pain. I am not a complainer, it has to be BAD before I do anything about it. My daughter was almost eleven pounds and I gave birth to her with no pain meds- if I say it hurts, it hurts.
The therapist said in an offhand way, “I notice you aren’t breathing.” I said yes, that’s a thing I do. Not breathe. She said, “When you’re in pain?” I said, “Yeah, and also, y’know, in general.” She suggested I try breathing.
It actually was. It still hurt like hell, but it is actually more manageable if you’re allowing your body to function properly. Then she said, “Is control an issue for you?”
Me: “…………………………” (cue helpless laughter)
I acknowledged that it might be. She said, “Do you know anything about chakras?” I said, “I know they’re a THING, but I don’t know anything about them, really.” She gave me a little overview, recommended a book I could read if I wanted to learn more, and then she said, “The lower back is the second chakra. The second chakra is about sex, control and money.”
That’s when I got really scared about my feet.
I was right to be scared. It. Hurt. Like. Hell. I mean, excruciating- but it felt like it was doing something, you know? Pain with a purpose. She asked at one point if I wanted her to use less pressure- she could, she said, “but that pain is where you need the work.”
Tell me something I don’t know, sister.
I said, “No. Keep going.”
About halfway through she said, “You know, just because several of your family members had this same pain doesn’t mean you have to, or that surgery is inevitable. You can choose to heal differently.”
By the time she was done I was drenched in sweat. She gave me some post-treatment recommendations, told me I might cry tonight (it was dark in the room so I didn’t clue her into the fact I MIGHT already be crying) and sent me on my way.
I finished Bessel van der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score” a while back. In it, he notes:
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past;
it is also the imprint left by that experience on
mind, brain, and body.
This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.
The body remembers.
I have focused on healing my soul and my brain and my heart- but I have largely neglected my body. This is extremely common among survivors of sexual trauma. We leave easily managed things untreated until they become big and emergent. We overeat or starve. We abuse substances. We over-exercise or not at all. We are prone to insomnia.
We develop a really high tolerance for pain.
We don’t breathe.
That disconnect from our bodies serves a purpose. It’s a coping mechanism we employ when we are IN IT. When we are being abused it’s helpful to be able to float away. To view our bodies as “other.” After all, who wants to spend time at a crime scene?
I think it might be the right time to start focusing on my body. To begin thinking of it not only as the scene of the crime but also as my home. As the dwelling gifted to me by God in which to live in this world. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that there are unhealed wounds encoded deep in my very bones and muscles. To finally allow for the possibility that pain does not have to be my baseline. It might be time to learn to breathe, and to lean into the pain.
The pain that John Green so brilliantly points out, “demands to be felt.”
I just got off the phone with my Favorite. I told him that my back feels better than it has in two years. That I can sit down and stand up without wincing. I don’t know if that will remain. I said to my sister when I called her afterward, “Maybe it’s like that thing where someone offers to stomp on your foot to make you forget about your headache.”
Maybe, just maybe, instead of putting pressure on myself to charge through the pain, I can put the pressure on those points connected to my original wounds and sit through that pain. Feel it, acknowledge it- maybe cry a little. And then heal.
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
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I’ve had lower back pain for years. And every where else too, but it all starts in my lower back. About a year ago, my friend starting telling me that her massage therapist specialized in trauma. I didn’t know that was a thing. A massage therapist who specializes in working with trauma. I started in January, and the work has been so hard, but absolutely life changing. I’m a big fan and proponent of survivors doing some sort of body work. Find a really good practitioner and commit to doing the work, just another part of your team and therapy!
Syndal Leigh says
This post made me a little weepy. It makes so much sense. I too read the body keeps the score but I couldn’t go through all of it. Too many emotions. I am so sorry for the pain you’re in. Mine started when I was 17ish.. At least the diagnosis’ started then. I hear you on the pain sister. I’m so sorry!
This has been extremely informative. I had to have physical therapy on my lower back before I was physically able to have sex, insert a tampon, have a Pap, etc. I’ve started having back pain again in the last year and have thought about going back. I’ve also never, ever been good on my feet for long periods; they hurt way before most peoples’ start.
Wow – this lower back pain o’mine has been a mess. But it never occurred to me that it could be due to the trauma of living a lifetime of abuse from one person or another. Thank you for sharing your story. <3
I read all of this….while holding my breath. Of course. I have so, so much to say and so many things I want to do and ways I want to try to heal. This: “…I can put the pressure on those points connected to my original wounds and sit through that pain. Feel it, acknowledge it- maybe cry a little. And then heal.” THIS is what I want to try, figure out how to try. I guess we just keep trying, moment by moment, sister. Xoxoxoxo
I have a zillion thoughts on this. But to spare you a long, rambling diatribe, I’ll just say: I so get it. Xoxo
Blue Sky says
This was so timely for me! Thank you for sharing these experiences and insight!