So I’m still in recovery mode for my back injury earlier this summer (I had a bulging disc in my spine). Thanks to the team of folks who are caring for me, I’m moving much better now, I’m not in a overwhelming pain anymore. It’s not exactly good yet but I’ll take it, you know? I have gone from excruciating pain to daily discomfort: I’ll call that a win.
Today I had to go to my registered massage therapist to get the muscles in my back sorted out again. In response to the spine issues, my muscles are in a snarl to compensate because apparently you can’t hurt your skeleton without hurting your muscles and you can’t hurt your spine without hurting your nerves (as I have learned from my numb and useless left arm). She tells me every time that everything is connected, no part of our body lives in isolation from the rest of the body. So when one part of my body is hurt, the rest of the body feels it, too.
Whenever I say to her “Here is where it hurts” what I mean is “don’t touch this part.” But when I say those words, she promptly puts her hands right into that mess. Same thing with my physiotherapist: I say, “here is where it hurts,” she immediately presses right there and begins to get to work.
All week long between our visits, I baby those parts of me. I compensate for those parts of my body. I guard them and heat them or ice them and keep them from any exertion. And then I go to these two professionals – the ones who have gotten me from crying in pain to picking up my toddler again – and they lean right into my pain. They see my pain as an indicator, as an invitation, as the place where healing begins. If they avoided the places where it hurt, I would not be healing.
As I lay on the table today, what we were doing hurt. It did. It hurt a lot, actually. She worked my back right over with her strong hands and she released every single snarl out of my muscles. If anything she did was too much, she would back off and circle the spot and then return to it, over and over, until my body was released from pain. I had to learn to cooperate with my healing by breathing.
My physiotherapist tells me every week she is returning my spine and my discs back to where they belong. And every week they stay there a little better – degree by degree, it’s healing. Every week, she tells my spine where to be and every week my spine recovers just barely. All of those “barelys” will add up to whole. One of these days, my spine will remember how to stay in place and then our work will be done.
I keep thinking of my massage therapist’s words: everything is connected. I think that applies to our whole selves, not just our bodies. I think our souls and our minds and our memories all are connected, too, and there is pain in these places and it bleeds over to our lives. I have often spoken about “leaning into the pain” when it comes to our spiritual lives. We run from pain, we are afraid of pain, but by leaning into it, we relax into it and often we can ride that pain right into release and new life. But now I would also say that sometimes the only way out of pain is to embrace the site of the pain as the very site of the healing.
We want to immobilize during pain or flee from pain or even medicate it (and I have done a lot of that too, no shame here). If I only did what felt good to me during this healing process, I would still be laying on my couch, crying every time I drew a breath. But instead here is the truth of all of our lives, not just of bulging discs: pain means something and the place of pain is the place of healing.
And we are gentle with ourselves during that process, too, we need warmth and rest and care and recovery before we lean back in to the pain again.
Because the only way to really heal our pain – particularly our soul pain, I believe – is to do the work at the place of the pain, to chase it all the way down, over and over, week after week, moment by moment, to keep resetting ourselves to the truth in hopes that someday the truth will hold, to believe that all of the healing by degrees that we are doing will someday turn into wholeness.