|Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert|
I’m recovering from cervical spine surgery. My cervical spine, code name C1-C7, is a mess. C4-5 literally caved on me and created all kinds of side effects like numb fingers and arms that felt like Mad Max was my personal trainer. Having had two previous surgeries in the past three years, I debated whether I could just live with the pain until the doctor informed me, without corrective surgery the progression of my degeneration would eventually leave me a paraplegic. When viewed on the MRI, my neck was like a bobble head doll, precariously wobbling on damaged vertebrae compromising an already bruised and inflamed spinal column. My hands were getting number by the day. That got my attention. I’m not afraid to die. I am afraid of being a living, breathing burden to my loved ones. This surgery was more risky than having my hip replaced less than nine months ago. It involved slitting my throat, close to my vocal chords, trachea, and carotid artery not to mention all those tiny nerves running up and down my spinal column. I had to force my mind into happier thoughts in order not to dwell there. My Ortho Surgeon reassured me he would be partnering with a Neurosurgeon, to assure a good outcome. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, which made it a little easier on me, however, I was warned to not fall or get in an accident before surgery and that left me gingerly tip-toeing for the weeks preceding.
I have to be honest, I am growing weary of surgeries. I am even more tired of these long, drawn out recoveries and six weeks with no driving, dependent on others to take care of my transportation to doctor visits, shopping and the added burden of entertaining me to keep social deprivation at bay. Normally gratitude is as natural for me as breathing, but I have to work a lot harder at it while in the midst of these recovery processes. Silence, isolation, and I think even the medication opens up a big, black hole that I know I shouldn’t dive into, but out of pain and boredom, I often do. It’s like an out of body experience. I can see myself heading there and try to talk this other me off of the precipice, but it doesn’t always work. There I go tumbling into a sea of self-pity and dangerous thoughts. The kind of thoughts that wipe out my hard drive with everything on it that I’ve learned to keep myself in good thinking order. It is more difficult, when my physical body is healed, to get back on track into some semblance of healthy patterns, routine, and practice.
This time, for some reason, it has been just a few inches easier to maintain an optimistic outlook. Maybe I am becoming a pro at being broken and I’ve just accepted it. Or, maybe its something healthier than that. I not only recite the serenity prayer, I’ve woven it into my recovering lifestyle. I’ve accepted the things I cannot change. I don’t have to like it, but acceptance gets me at least halfway home.
Our thoughts have the capacity to make us miserable, and negative thinking can be especially insidious, feeding on itself, with the potential to become a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophesy. The process of pain recovery includes dramatically changing the negative progression starting with regaining cognitive and emotional balance through the application of acceptance strategies and mindfulness based practices. - Psychology Today
Peace then begins to settle in allowing me to find the truth, nestled in that part of my heart where God resides. When I get really quiet, He whispers, “All experiences are opportunities for you to learn lessons, grow, and evolve. Know this well and life will be easier.” I once again, sometimes begrudgingly, other times freely, depending on how miserable I've become- accept. He’s right. He always is.
After my first surgery in 2014, while I was recovering, I found out who my true friends were and how important it is to a positive, grateful life to surround myself with people who enhance it. I learned the true meaning of faith and walking boldly into the thing that scares you the most. I discovered I had no more patience for working in toxic environments, surrounded by bitter, unhappy, and mean-spirited people. I overcame my fear of lack and failure and had both the courage and faith to leave a miserable environment. God, as usual, stepped up to the plate and carved a path for me to continue to pay my bills and detox from the negativity, giving me back my serenity and my smile. Surgery One - Lesson Learned: Have Faith - Mustard Seed Faith.
My second surgery, I learned how incredibly independent, resourceful, and strong I could be as well as discovering the keys to my happiness were in my own pocket. No one else could make me happy. And no one was going to swoop in and rescue me. I was responsible for taking care of my mind and my needs, all of them; my loneliness, self-confidence, sense of worth, peace of mind and healthy liaisons were up to me. Surgery Two - Lesson Learned: I’ve been given all the resources to take care of me. I am responsible for my serenity and happiness.
With this recent surgery, suffering seemed inevitable as I tried to adapt to more than a few awkward changes. The neurosurgeon stressed, no BLT, not the sandwich, rather, bending, lifting, and twisting. I have to wear a hard collar monster brace around my neck 24-7 for six weeks, except to shower and eat. I predict I will have water-wrinkled, plucked chicken skin at the end of it all. And, stalling dining, like a little kid being forced to sit at the table until she finishes her dreaded peas, has become the norm for me. Anything to escape the suffocating clutches of my Miami J Brace which sounds like the name for a cool rapper dude. Only there is not one thing cool or attractive about it. I can't even figure out a way to bling it up being the diva lady I am. It's like they purposely made it ugly to slow you down. And, do you know how difficult it is to try to projectile spit your toothpaste out past six inches of brace ledge supporting your chin? The bathroom mirror looks like a tube of toothpaste has been murdered in there. I can't drink (neatly) without using a straw, including my coffee. The brightly colored neon ones I purchased do lend an air of whimsey to my morning ritual. Sleeping on my back is not a natural state under normal conditions, but back sleeping (and I use the word sleep loosely) with your head encased in a vice? It put an end to my traditional lullaby of Friends episodes pre-slumber, something light and funny to fall asleep to. I couldn’t even see the television. And, during the day, In my boredom, I tuned into the latest political updates, and spent time in my head wondering if our country would turn into a fascist state with a chubby, yellow skinned dictator with the chalkiest white teeth I’ve ever seen, at the helm. I wasn’t fooled by his expensive suit and red power tie. I found myself screaming at the television, “Use your big words. Give me a real plan and how you will achieve it!” I had myself worked up into a fever pitch, addicted to the political poison on continuous drip by Fox news and CNN.
Then, I read something:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl
What? Before I even had an opportunity for my blood pressure to skyrocket, I could turn the channel? I could watch The Chew or Hallmark movies, fall asleep to the gentle sounds of nature and plug in my essential oils diffuser with a little Ylang Ylang to soothe me to sleep. I could make a joyful ritual out of removing my brace and mindfully appreciate the delicious food in front of me, savoring every bite. I could stop complaining about the brace itself and be grateful that it is holding up my fragile neck, and keeping it safe while I heal.
Surgery Three - Lesson Learned: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Into focus comes the big picture and I am continuing the journey on my road to transformation. Thankfully, rest breaks are not only allowed, but encouraged.