Tuesday, 19 February 2013
The recovery dis-position - part 2. 20.02.13
“Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal.” I found myself subjected to Linkin Park’s “Crawling” due to the vagaries of someone else’s iPod. My immediate response was to suggest that the boys involved ought to eat more broccoli, as they might be suffering from iron deficiency hence their wound healing problems. Yes, I was being an insufferable arse, but that level of whiny self-pity just grates on me. However, as per normal with songs that really get on my nerves I’ve not been able to get it out of my head for days now.
In between wishing I could stick a corkscrew in my ear and remove the offensive tune, I have been thinking. I wonder whether the kids have a point. Do wounds really heal? At which point can we classify ourselves as recovered? I have been a bit obsessed with recovery of late, largely because I got seriously walloped by life in the last few years and I needed to help myself, to save myself. I think I might have got it wrong all along.
Do wounds heal? I have a history of thankfully minor physical injuries largely due to sporting mishaps. If you entertain certain sorts of activities, damage just tends to come with the territory. I guess if you are both talented and lucky there is a chance that you might escape unscathed, but I am not sure. Even taking sod’s law out of the picture, if you stretch yourself to your limits, if you try to really achieve all you can, chances are that at some point you will come to some degree of harm. Hell, sometimes I have only learnt what my limits were by smacking right up against them. Maybe that is just me being an idiot and by following a judicious learning programme you might avoid such instances, but I don’t think so. Being a coward, I have always taken care not to do anything completely stupid and yet I have ended up hurting myself.
I don’t regret a thing, but my body bears the marks of the years of fun I’ve had with it. Some of the damage has gone altogether, thanks to the body’s wonderful ability to get itself back to normal. Some of the larger flesh wounds are still visible but do not affect me at all, existing just as scars. However, some of the structural injuries – dislocated joints, ruptured ligaments, pulled muscles, a few bits of bone broken off –are still there, and sometimes they like to remind me. I have mostly regained functionality but there are various parts that don’t work quite as they used to. I know what they say about bones growing back stronger after a break, but the same does not seem to apply to soft tissue. I have a weaker ankle, a weaker knee, a weaker shoulder, and so on. In daily life and in training I am aware of the fact that those areas may let me down, that I need to be mindful of them without overcompensating.
I consider my ankle healed, even though it has remained weaker and prone to dislocating. Ditto my knee, my shoulder, my elbow and other various body parts. I do not consider myself crippled or damaged. Why should I, when I can still do most things? I have come to realise, though, that for reasons beyond my understanding I have not applied the same criteria to emotional or psychological wounds.
I must admit that just using the phrase “emotional wound” makes me want to reach for a sick bucket. I am not a stoic, I really am not. I am in fact a wussbag. I get hurt easy and I get hurt hard. However, I hate the expression. I get twitchy when people say things like “such-and-such happened to me a gazillion of years ago, which is why I am messed up now”. I find it abhorrent. I totally, utterly, entirely understand that horrible things happen and they leave their mark, but shouldn’t we strive to get over them? I hate it when people seem to cling to the reasons (or excuses) for what they know are their weaknesses as if they were get-out-of-jail-free cards or badges of honour.
Please believe that I am not completely devoid of heart and empathy, nor of experience in the subject. I have plenty of issues I struggle with due to past events, my upbringing in particular. I am aware that I need to be on my guard because certain ingrained reactions, certain aspects of my personality, may otherwise let me down. However, I do not go around telling myself that “my parents never loved me so I’m gloriously fucked up” and carry on merrily fucking my life up left, right and centre. I might fuck up, that’s a fact, but it won’t be for lack of trying to do the best I can, not only for the people around me but first and foremost for myself. I want to live the best possible life I can. That is the bit that really vexes me, when people essentially seem to give up on themselves. If we hold onto the shit in our lives, we are going to have shitty lives.
The above-normal percentage of swearwords in the above paragraph may convey to you how incredibly angry this sort of thing makes me. What makes me even angrier is when people do not try to help themselves yet expect everyone’s sympathy and understanding, when they use their problems as leverage. For instance, I had a boyfriend in his late 20s whose stock sentence was “I do <insert-reckless-or-illegal-behaviour-here> because my stepdad was a disciplinarian.” Well, I’m sorry, but he had well over a decade to get over that, or at least try. But no, he just used the fact that he had admittedly serious childhood problems to justify all his behaviours. Because of his past traumas, the people around him were expected to put up with everything he threw at them. I am pretty confident of the fact that, with that sort of attitude, he will be doing the same for the rest of his life. I have no respect for that.
My lack of tolerance gets worse. If you really want to make my blood boil, you can add yet another element to this. You can have an issue, give up on sorting it, use it to justify anything you might do and be PROUD of it. You would be surprised how common this is. I recently met someone who told me that he suffered from serious insomnia. He could not sleep more than 2-3 hours per night. I have had rampant insomnia at times, so he had all my sympathy as I know how it can seriously affect your life. I asked him if the doctors had not been able to help, and he told me that none of the remedies they had tried worked. He had had all sorts of tests and they could not find anything wrong. As the problem started when his mother died, they reckoned that it was an emotional issue. I felt acutely sorry for the guy, but that didn’t last. I asked him how long ago his mother had died. “Over five years now.”
“You have not been able to sleep for five years?”
“Yes – that is how emotionally sensitive I am, unlike most guys.”
And that was it for me. He was actually proud of not being able to sleep, hence function. He did not see it as a problem, as something marring his life. He had given up fighting it, because in essence he was proud of it as it showed how special he was. Sorry, but that is not something I can tolerate.
Ultimately, everyone has got the right to live their lives the way they want. I don’t believe I have all the answers – hell, I don’t even believe I have all the questions. However, I have my own set of principles and this sort of thing goes right against them. Life is full of sharp corners and we are all going to die in the end, but shouldn’t that give us a reason to strive for wellness, for inner progress, for ourselves? Shouldn’t we try to make the best of it?
I don’t see how holding onto our emotional wounds can help. Robyn Hobb puts it best, I think: “This terrible event – whatever it is – is over and done. Cling to it and let it shape you and you are doomed to live it forever. You are granting it power over you. Set it aside, and shape your future as you wish it to be. Then you have seized control of it.” Isn’t that a wonderful quote? I have referred to it many a time in my life, trying to use it as a compass to guide me through difficult times.
As I have learnt in the recent past, it is a lovely sentiment, but it can also be classed as horseshit. Life can hit you so hard at times that you just haven’t got it in you to fight. It can wind you and maim you and torture you and make you wish that you had died the day before it all started, when you were still happy, when you were so blessedly innocent and stupid and blind that you did not know what was to come. It can hurt you so badly that you cannot see an end to the pain, that you cannot envisage ever overcoming it. As Rocky Balboa says, “The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.” But he also has an answer: “But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done.”
I don’t think I won. I put one foot in front of the other, because I could not afford not to. I asked for help and clung onto some people for dear life. I have no idea where I would be without the comfort they gave me. Even with all the help I got, I messed up on a variety of fronts a staggering number of times. Some of the mistakes can’t be undone now. I let people down. That was the past, ok, and I ought to be able to suck it up and move on, but I keep looking at myself now and finding broken places, missing functionality, weaknesses. It seems at times that my recovery is taking place on some sort of spiral, with recurring cycles of turmoil. I seem to be going over old ground again and again, slowly and painfully putting together a complicated picture in my mind, a jigsaw made of barbed wire.
Sometimes I feel as if I am climbing up the steps of an Aztec pyramid. At every painfully gained new level, I have to go through the whole recovery process anew. The higher I get, the better I feel when I feel better, but the worse I hurt when I feel bad. I generally feel and think more clearly and acutely, which is both a blessing and a curse. The proportion of good versus bad periods is getting larger and larger, but am I over it? No way. I cannot see the top of the pyramid. I am not healed. I am not well. I am not back to normal.
That is the crux of the matter. If I had suffered an equivalent degree of physical damage, I do not think I would expect myself to ever get back to normal. I would strive to regain as much use from the affected part as possible, I would do my physio and do my level best to heal as much as I could, but I would not expect normality. I most definitely would not crucify myself for not getting better quickly or fully enough. I believe I’d think myself lucky I survived.
Maybe it is inevitable that some wounds will never fully heal, be they made in flesh, bone, mind or heart. Maybe I ought to change tack. I am not yet back to full strength, that’s a fact, but rather than seeing it as a failure I ought to accept that in recovery you just have to do the time, that you can’t force it. Maybe I need to expect to hurt a little (or a lot) every time I push myself further because I am pushing against an injury. Maybe I also have to accept that I might never get back to how I was before, because real damage has taken place.
I find that sort of acceptance difficult, because it smells a bit like surrender. However, the fact that I am not going back to how I was before the events took place may not be a bad thing at all. I have developed in ways that I did not believe were possible. In fact, if you had told me three years ago what I would be destined to go through, I would have told you straight up that there was no way I could cope with it. But I did cope, I am still here and some days are even good – isn’t that a success? If I went back to how I was, after all, it would mean that I could find myself going through it all again. I might be a different person when I finally come out of this, but change, in this situation, may also mean improvement, learning, development.
Giving up on the idea of returning to how I was before could take a weight off my shoulders and help me focus on managing whatever changes are taking place. One of my favourite quotes on emotional anguish is, characteristically, from a rather irrelevant children’s movie, “The Tale of Desperaux”: "When your heart breaks, it can grow back crooked.” Yes, it may sound like a platitude, but you can’t tell me that it isn’t true. The same applies to your mind, soul and body. Instead of comparing myself to the old me, which has been effectively obliterated by events, and finding myself wanting, I could concentrate on nurturing the new, up-and-coming me. That’s a job that needs doing carefully and thoroughly, like any rehab or physio. Plus, I don’t know much about anything, but I know that the me who pulled through is a girl with mileage. That’s a girl who’s seen a lot and done a lot and dealt with a hell of a lot. That’s a girl with cojones. The girl before, the one who got trounced, couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag.
There is a wonderful quote by Hemingway that everyone loves to use when they are talking about survival: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” Doesn’t it just sound wonderful? Unfortunately, it is only half the story, as he went on to say: “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” I guess I should be glad that I’m not that special. I survived this round, just. It was my hardest one to date but there are, no doubt, more rounds to come. The rounds will only end when I die, this not being the land of “happily ever after”.
The more I do, the more I risk. The more I risk, the more chances I have of getting hurt. The more I get hurt, the more chances I have of suffering permanent damage. Some wounds will not heal. The thing is, I have no intention to stop doing stuff, because that would mean not living life to the full and still dying at the end. I have no intention of deliberately courting pain, but I don’t see much point in being an entirely pristine corpse. Now I just have to stop getting in my own way and get on with it.