In early June my back went out. It happens every once in a while, especially when I teach advanced classes or in the late spring/early summer when I spend a lot of time outside hiking and biking and gardening. I’m lucky. I don’t have chronic back problems and have been able to manage the ongoing pain with yoga, bodywork, and meditation. It’s lingered a lot longer this time around…nearly a month…starting the day after I published “She speaks for me”.
I’m not surprised.
Whenever my sacrum seizes up, I know there’s something out of balance in my life or something that’s rising up for me to recognize, for I often tell my students, “Pain is your body’s way of letting you know where you’re holding on to suffering.” These days, it's often been difficult to stand up at all, let alone walk, so I'm spending more time outside in the garden. Even if I can't really dig in the dirt, I can at least put my bare feet on the soft grass in an effort to become more grounded.
I’ve been blessed as my new boss at the Rolfing office is a physical therapist and has been working on an incipient scoliosis in my spine for the past month or so. Lately Kim and I have been spending our Thursdays painting and refurbishing the office space, then I get on the Rolfing table for some intense, yet extremely helpful adjustments. The first week I went home and went to bed, unable to move or speak or think. The second week I felt better and was able to hit the gym the next day, lifting more weight than I ever had.
Recently, it's been “two steps forward, one step back”, as another wave of pain hit me like a baseball bat in my sacrum and it was difficult to play ball with Satish and Danta as I pitched with no problem, but could hardly bend over to pick up a grounder. Earlier in the day, the discomfort was immediately exacerbated when I ran into someone I’d rather not, so that was the first clue as to how to deal with the tender places deep inside me.
“Your L5 is out of place,” Kim explained while adjusting my tailbone. “So your upper body torques to the right and your pelvis goes to the left. This has been a chronic problem for a long, long time.”
I knew exactly what she meant.
We were in the very same room, the exact same place I had been more than eighteen years ago when I had my first Rolfing session. Back then, I was very quiet when the work began, exposed and unsure I was doing the right thing. My stomach churned. My head ached. All I wanted was to get off the table and get out of there fast.
Tony studied the structure of my body for a while, then walked around to my left side. I was stunned when he said, “I can see you had a pretty severe trauma when you were younger.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“See this?” He pointed to my ribs. “You were lying on your left side and whatever happened, you were surely holding your breath.” He gently touched my rib cage. “Let’s start here."
I was stunned that, in less than a minute, Tony could see the visceral memory of the exact position I had been in the moment my body twisted itself into a posture that has taken decades to unwind. At the time, my mind was still sifting through the pieces, struggling to put them together, yet my body was fully ready to tell the story.
Now, through working with Kim, I’ve discovered the incredible power in owning the pain, embracing the opportunity to work through my propensity to shift off center and split my body in two. I’m no masochist, but I refuse to deny the discomfort any longer. Every morning, noon, and night I’m on the floor doing my physical therapy exercises. I hit the gym five or more days a week and do what I can. I rest when I need to, propped up by a mound of pillows.
I’ve learned that this time around, the pain is reiterating the fact that what I’m experiencing is not about the past; it’s about my body continuing to behave and manifest itself as if the initial experience is happening in the present. Now, instead of treating the symptoms, I’m more than willing to treat the cause. It’s time to finally straighten my spine, align my head, my heart, and my pelvis so that I can fly right into the future.
Through it all, I stay vigilant for signs of healing…and they come in the most miraculous of ways.
A week ago, my friend, Angie, texted me after she had published her first mini-blog on her Facebook page. She wrote in part: Katie Belle, thank you so much for supporting me! You have such a sweet heart, gentle soul, and a burning fire. You inspired me to put my thoughts into words and share.
My closest friends know I have a sensitive, tender heart, encompassed inside a fiery spirit, and it’s often difficult to find balance between the two. For the past three years I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to share parts of my journey with you in Open Road, yet I keep the most intimate and intricate details private. I’ve learned how to be honest and discreet, telling enough of the story to inspire others to share their own, yet am still discerning about the details. Someone recently wrote to me: I don't know you, but from your stories I have read, I feel I know you better than some of my close friends. Your stories are very honest almost to the point I wish they were fictional.
Sometimes I do, too.
Still, since “She speaks for me” was published, it’s been read more than any blog I’ve written, by people all around the world. I’m humbled by the heart-opening response it’s received, by the notes and phone messages and emails sent by readers from near and far, who thank me for my honesty, share their stories, and reveal more of who they are in the process. Some have come over for a visit, sharing deeply personal memories, revealing the truth of their own lives. When they leave, they all seem lighter, more free, transcendent. Each person has been a light in the darkness of the pain I’ve been enduring this summer, a beacon of hope that reveals I’m on the healthiest path, one that will lead me ever onward…no matter how long the healing may take.
It’s curious to note that all summer long, an unusually large round of robins has been flying around my backyard, playing in the birdbaths, twittering in the treetops. They sing to me while I struggle to weed and water and wait for the right time to harvest greens from the garden. As they hop from limb to limb feeding their babies, the robins chirp out a merry song of freedom.
There’s one scruffy-looking bird that loves to take a late-afternoon bath near my front porch swing where I often sit and read until twilight. When he’s done, the robin will fly to my mailbox, then whistle at the top of his little lungs until I acknowledge his presence.
“Hello, pretty bird,” I smile.
He proudly flutters his feathers, then effortlessly flies off to the cherry blossom. “Straighten up, Kate,” I imagine the robin saying as he chirps and lengthens his spine. “Straighten up so you can fly right.”
This week, I'm doing much, much better. Last night, as I was listening to him sing, I remembered an old photo from my baby book. In the shot, I'm nearly a year old, sitting in the grass of my parents' backyard. My face is pensive...an expression I often see these days when I look in the mirror. I'm sitting up straight, my tiny feet in goddess pose, my arms relaxed, yet poised. Even though I'm decades older than the little one I used to be, she's still deep inside, reminding me of how it felt to be able to sit up tall. Reminding me that one day, I'd be able to walk across the yard and water the vegetable garden with an impish smile on my face...and a spring in my step.
Just like I plan to do this evening in my own backyard.