This is part 2 of a three-part series that explores the difference between healing and curing. You can read Part 1, “Illness As A Teacher” here.
Several weeks after returning from a backpacking trip in the late summer of 2006, I found myself walking down a country road with a group of women friends. I remember the crisp smell of fall in the air—and that first bite of cold that signals the waning of summer.
Heading back, we round the bend in the rutted road. I stop momentarily to watch a jack rabbit scamper across a nearby field. Then I take a single step, just one ordinary step like I’ve taken a million times before. When my foot hits the ground, a stab of electric pain shoots down the right side of my back and explodes into my leg. OMG! What just happened? I try taking another step, but the pain shoots through my leg again—only this time it feels so excruciating I’m gasping for air. …
Since that fateful day, I have been on an incredible healing journey. A journey to reclaim my body and my psyche from the ravages of chronic pain.
It’s been almost ten years since I left behind the resilient body of my youth. The body that could endure a fourteen-hour flight to the other side of the world, the body that scrambled up the scree slope of New Zealand’s Mt. Ngaruhoe, followed by a fifteen-mile trek back to camp. Bursting with pride, I reveled in my triumph—I was one of only five in our group who had made it to the top that day. In the decades that followed, my body continued to carry me through many other physically challenging adventures.
There is no way to predict when setbacks will occur or how they will affect us in the years ahead. We often don’t realize this fact when we are young. Instead, we imagine we have control. I had always taken care of my body, but I also took for granted the physical durability that made my adventures possible. I thought my “healthy habits” would protect me indefinitely—until they didn’t.
Moving on hasn’t been easy. Anyone who has struggled with chronic pain or illness understands the challenges. In the beginning, I made the rounds, searching for answers and fixes. Ever resourceful, I made my way through books and journals and web searches. I scheduled appointments with an assortment of healers: osteopaths, sports medicine specialists, body workers, physical therapists, trainers, and chiropractors. I meditated, prayed, rested, changed my diet, and strengthened my core. I ingested more ibuprofen in that first month than I had in my entire life.
Many of these treatments didn’t help, eventually, enough of them did—but none of them could turn back the clock. Through all of it, I’ve cried and raged and lamented the precipitous loss of my former physical glory. Ultimately, though, I’ve adjusted.
Making peace with my physical limitations has opened my life in unexpected ways. For the past several years, I’ve been reinventing myself as a swimmer, a painter, a blogger, and an author. I’m learning to enjoy my own company a whole lot more since I’ve had to cut down on all the running around I used to do. Best of all, I’ve discovered those few true friends who make time to visit when pain keeps me from making the drive to see them.
More recently, there’s been good news! For the past year, I’ve been mostly pain free. For much of my life, I presumed the ability to sleep, to sit, to drive, to clean the house, or work in the garden. Reclaiming my body’s capacity to function relatively normally feels like a gift.
Although a life without constant pain means I now have more energy, I am under no illusions that I can go back to my former lifestyle. I won’t be scaling any more fourteeners in the Colorado mountains or even hiking to the top of the nearby ridge. What I do have is more tolerance for older drivers who poke along a 50-mile-an-hour highway, oblivious of the line of cars trailing behind. What I do have is abundant empathy for my cranky landlord who has endured several rounds of chemo treatments for colon cancer. What I do have is a 77,000 word book that never would have been written if pain hadn’t forced me deeper into my interior.
I would be lying if I told you that I don’t miss the breathtaking view from the top of a jagged peak or that first invigorating dive into an ice blue high-country lake after a long, sweaty, satisfying day on the trail. But there are many more days now where I simply feel blessed to have been given a second chance to become something more than I might have otherwise become. Something more tender, more patient—and grateful.
Want to know more? Contact me for further information about my services to support your healing process. Read related posts: Illness As A Teacher and Strategies For Coping With Chronic Pain & Illness.