27: Healing

I haven’t written on my blog since the week Brian died. Six months ago. On December 27, 2015, inspired by a feel-good article I read on the internet about Mark Zuckerberg, I resolved to write, every day, in 2016.

When I moved to Detroit on January 11th, I’d missed 10 days in a row.

I frequently compare myself to Mark Zuckerberg. We are the same age and graduated the same year from high school and college. He and his Harvard friends were inventing Facebook 3,000 miles from where me and my UCLA friends were transforming the lives of under-served youth, one game of freeze tag at a time.

Mark and I were on pace to contribute equally to humanity until he took a company public and became a billionaire before I got my first job with health insurance.

I’m the dark horse, but still believe I’ll catch up.

And the resolution to do something for 365 days in a row, just like he does, was bound to kick-start my comeback.

It’s been a less-than-inspiring start to my year of writing. I’ve channeled my limited energy for it through Facebook posts about my journey as a lifetime Californian, plucked from home on short notice, and planted in the middle of a Midwestern winter during the coldest month of the year. My cultural transplant adventure has all the elements of experience I love to write about: humor, irony, unexpected life lessons in ordinary, every day occurrences.

Despite the joy I feel from the encouraging messages and loving replies from my social media friends and family, my lack of motivation to dig into the deep stuff continues to plague me, and keep me from writing.

This morning, I’m thinking about the year I’ve had.

12 months ago, I was hobbling through my life with a mangled right knee and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge what I needed, physically and emotionally. I pushed forward through pain and frustration and anger and fear and resentment. I didn’t have the patience to slow down and take care of myself. I wanted the healing to be over before it even stared and my resistance, to everything, showed up all over my life.

I shudder when I think about the casualties strewn across my unintended war path.

11 months ago, I was at work an hour and a half before I went into surgery. My doctor recommended I take four to six weeks off. I compromised, and took four days. I remember bouncing around on crutches in my mom’s kitchen 36 hours after I got home from the hospital, gleefully declaring I’d be the fastest recovering ACL patient in history. By the end of the night, I was curled up on the couch, delirious and nauseous from medication and exhaustion. Those first two days were both a metaphor and a foreshadowing of the year I’ve had navigating recovery.

Bursts of energy and hope unexpectedly and dramatically upended by a setback. Over and over again.

5 months ago it was Thanksgiving. The peak insanity of a year-in-the-life of a retail manager was in full swing. I hustled around the floor of lululemon on Black Friday with the familiar agility of my pre-injury condition. I climbed to the top of the “big ladder” for the first time since March and logged more than 10,000 steps on my fitbit with limited soreness and only a twinge of hesitation in my turns and pivots. I was feeling healthy, but not healed.

My body was stitching itself back together but my heart was broken.

The morning of Brian’s death I was wearing speed shorts and tank top and the high support running shoes I bought in Boston because I was finally feeling capable of moderate physical activity and extra responsible for taking long-term care of my body. I was about to leave my breakfast spot for my physical therapist’s office when I got the devastating phone call from my mom. I’d planned to get serious about my “return to sport” plan and lock down a date for my first game back to adult soccer- planning for anything ceased immediately when I hung up the phone.

I spent the next three months mostly surviving. My primary concern was making sure my mom got up every day and decided to keep living. My secondary concern was the health and growth of my business and my team at lululemon. My personal well-being was barely an afterthought. I lost my appetite and mostly sidelined my otherwise aggressive recovery plan. I never made it back into the gym before I cancelled my membership completely. My butt got flat and my right leg once again looked dramatically skinnier than the left one.

All signs of the unexpected setbacks, upending my forward progress, once again.

Before I moved to Michigan, I pictured myself here, struggling at everything. I anticipated barely making it, reluctantly shoveling snow and waddling down slick sidewalks, late for everything and cold constantly and regretful of the impulsive decision I made to move  here.

“Dammit. My mom was right.”

Instead, the combination of a mild winter and significant alone time has brought me a surprising amount of peace. I have space to breathe and permission to feel and a bunch of new yoga classes where the unfamiliarity of the pace and the poses and the voices calling them demand that I stay present in the room and my body.

I have more unstructured free time than I’ve had since before I was in Kindergarten and I’m determined to get back on the soccer field before the first day of summer. I’ve been running and weight lifting and doing all of those ridiculous movements we do in barre class that make me feel like an idiot but magically, inexplicably, produce results.

My right leg is still smaller than my left one, but it’s barely detectable now and I can finally see the faint outline of my hard-earned quadricep, a muscle that all but disappeared shortly after the tackle I entered with too much enthusiasm, over a year ago.

Healing has been an uneven process. I’ve had to adjust my relationship with time and progress. I’ve had to accept that feelings of discomfort aren’t always a signal of failure or a prompt to bail from what’s happening. Treadmill sprints sometimes leave my knee feeling stiff and my post-workout walk looking a little lopsided.  A sweet memory of Brian sometimes leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach and deep sadness in my heart. My instinct has always been to escape those sensations as quickly as possible, to skip the pain and messiness in the middle and move straight to a clear resolution.

As much as I hate to admit it, there may not be such a destination. The neat completion of the healing process I’ve been looking forward to, likely, doesn’t exist. My body will never be the same as it was before my knee surgery. My heart is changed from love and loss and love and loss again. My body is not the same as it was yesterday, or three hours ago, even. My heart is constantly at risk of hurt and constantly in the process of healing. It’s all happening now and in the future and overlapping with other parts of me that are breaking and renewing and repairing all at once.

The only thing I know about healing is that I’m still learning how it happens, and then doesn’t, and then does again. I can’t force it but I also can’t ignore it. Instead, I dance in the space between commitment and obsession, forward motion and present circumstance. Patience. And Peace.

Over and over again.

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