Week 14: The Chiropractor
I know: 'the chiropractor' might not sound interesting, at first glance. I mean, I also had my first past life regression this week. But although it sounds cooler and more esoteric, I have found more to learn from an episode that landed me at the chiropractor.
Lesson #1: Be careful what you wish for. When I hiked Angel's Landing, I kept muttering to myself that I would rather be on a bucking horse than hiking that peak.
And after I ended up at the chiropractor's on Thursday, my mother told me that whenever she went to his office in all the years I wasn't living here, she always wished I could meet him and his partner.
Well. You guess what happened.
Three days after fretting over the prospect of falling 1500 feet at Angel's Landing, I fell five feet off a horse and landed with first impact to my lower back. Not a bucking horse, but the same idea.
It did quite a number.
Lesson #2: Gratitude. Those first few moments on the ground were full of such intense physical pain, I wasn't aware of anything else. My trainer was right there, as well as two other spectators, and over the next hour, she walked me through everything.
As painful as it was, and IT WAS, I am so grateful that it wasn't worse. My only thought while I was falling was hope that my left foot, the last body part to leave contact with my horse, would leave the stirrup so I wouldn't be dragged on the ground with him while he ran (I guess the more you fall, the more you start to think coherent and logical thoughts while you're falling).
I saw with relief as it left the stirrup in the moments before I hit the ground, and I was grateful during those brief moments, until I landed and forgot everything else but the pain.
Riding accidents can leave people paralyzed, in longstanding pain, brain-dead, or dead. On the first day, I thought recovery - even just walking normally - would take months, but my body has already bounced back incredibly fast. Even if it did take months, to be able to fully recover is a blessing that cannot be emphasized enough.
Lesson #3: Trust your gut. The people around me wanted me to go to take pain meds and go to urgent care, and even in that condition, I had this surefire thing about going to a chiropractor. I didn't know of one and had never been, so I called my mother and asked. She had one - the same one she had wanted me to see for years - and he had an appointment the same afternoon.
And chiropractic care is amazing. I had this conception of a chiropractor as a 'back doctor,' which is a part of it, but there's so much more. Because the health of the spine directly correlates to the health of the nervous system (if you have a spinal misalignment, the nerves exiting out of that area are compromised in their communication with the organs, cells, and tissues they connect with), chiropractic care is concerned with the holistic wellness of the body.
What made me giddy, though, was learning of the self-healing principle behind chiropractic: “the treatments themselves do not ‘cure’ the condition, they simply restore the body’s self-healing ability.” This was stated by famous chiropractor Leon Chaitow, but relates the philosophy behind the practice in general. I had thought chiropractic was a practice of addressing symptoms, like most western medicine is, but it seeks to address the cause of pain. It thus makes sense that its foundational principle, emphasizing the innate intelligence of the body, puts it "at odds" with mainstream medicine.
Anyways, although I believe in and support modern medicine's capacity to save a life in a dire emergency, I know towards which of the two I lean for all choices concerning lifestyle and sustenance.
I've not followed my gut enough times by now to know to trust it when it says something, so this was a rewarding experience in that sense, and one that I got through it without pain meds.
Lesson #4: Things build up. And then explode, if they're not addressed when they happen on smaller scales.
I've had ten falls from horseback before this, but not recently and never this painful or damaging. Then there was the upside down car accident. When I was little I fell down a flight of stairs, but regained consciousness and was able to walk away. So I thought I had 'made it through' all this without injury.
So not really. Like we may tolerate an unacceptable behavior in a relationship and then one day explode, or like a tire may stay intact over many potholes and then bust over a tiny one, so it is with the body. I don't know if this injury would not have happened if I hadn't slammed my body every which way in the past, but it likely would not have been this intense.
What is really intriguing, though, is that these kinds of traumas can open a hornet's nest of other issues we have been shoving down - often emotional ones. There is a science behind this: our bodies are holding containers for all kinds of things, and unprocessed emotions or experiences are physically stored in different areas. This is why someone can be overcome with, say, grief after going into a yoga pose that opens a part of the body like the hips.
So the force of a physical impact or trauma, depending on its strength, can literally jar open other areas of pain, including emotional pain and unpleasant memories, that we have buried. It is easier to tend to our brushes, however light, against life when they happen.
Lesson #5: Inch by inch. The same lesson from Angel's Landing, and one that I have been diving into this past week. I used to think this was a cliché thing, but in the face of fear and pain, it's sometimes all we can hold on to. An understanding of our goal is nice, but so often we face paralysis when we - what to speak of accomplishing a herculean task - just want to do something simple that seems very scary.
In intense pain, whether physical or subtle, the next step, the next minute, the next breath, is the only one that seems possible. It's also the only one that matters.
Lesson #6: Even painful or heartbreaking things do happen in perfect timing. As I go further and further down the road of this life, I notice they are always meant to teach me something, make me slow down, force a mindset shift. And the more I ignore smaller lessons meant to teach me the same thing, the heavier the experience that actually demands and extracts the learning.
Still, when I finally will myself to open my eyes, it is not hard to see the orchestration in the threads of life that bring us to these places of tough learning. It is also not easy to admit to needing that, and usually easier to blame life for taking us there. But when I do take responsibility - not in a self-accusatory way, but just acknowledge that I needed to learn a lesson that has been delivered by way of a blow - things give way. The frustration behind the question 'why is this happening?' settles, and the way out clarifies.
Until I understand and appreciate what is being taught, it's a bitter and confusing ride. But I notice that I don't understand or appreciate anything until I become fully open, in the midst of pain, to wanting to know what I am meant to learn, and then willing to accept it. It is the hardest part, and worth everything in the end.
And this has been my greatest lesson through this experience:
Lesson #7: A shift in mindset.
Yesterday, I rode a (different) horse for the first time since the fall. Johnny is easily anxious, and yet we had one of the best, most relaxing rides. Why? Because we weren't pushing anything. I was delicate and allowing with both him and my body. He responded by softening, which doesn't often happen in my normal mental state. It was a breakthrough for us, and one that could only happen with a shift in mentality, not through this physical adjustment or that.
A champion of the 'get things done' mindset, it is always hard for me to s.l.o.w. the hell down.
The only way I will do it is by force. So, here I am! Slowed down.
Even in this recovery state, when the resting part is ending and I can wriggle around a bit, I chomp at the bit (#punalert) to get it down faster. As if I can will my body into its pre-fall state. And my body is saying no.
Ultimately, in the moments when basic health and functionality are challenged, all these things fall to the wayside. Forfeiting my Derby Day (ironic, no?) run at the Santa Anita Racetrack? That's fine. And letting go of a 5 mile trail challenge the next day? Easy, I couldn't even shuffle to the bathroom. Burning holes in my britches to pay for the chiropractor visits? Not painful. Having an unlimited two-month pass for a yoga studio I won't be frequenting? No problem.
But now, as I enter this recovery state, I find myself wanting to be where I was a week ago in all physical areas (except riding, praise be). I didn't think I would be able to bend over weeks from now, and here I am able to walk. Yet I find myself comparing myself to myself when I stretch and want to go deeper, when I walk and long to run, when I tiptoe instead of jump from downward dog to forward fold. I ask myself why, when I am so grateful to have a much faster recovery than I was thought, my mind is trying to push myself like this, in a way that precipitates a relapse.
Yes, it is stupid, but it also indicates the overuse of an achievement-oriented mentality that is so set to the tune of #GoGoGo, I am easily blinded to the natural flow and pace of life that my body is asking for.
I've had to postpone riding moving forward, because as gentle as yesterday was, I feel my back isn't ready to absorb any kind of impact, and there is always impact in riding a horse. It is an important lesson for me to learn: the body never lies. To always trust the healing process my body wants, to listen to my gut, to trust my heart, to let go of what my head dictates for my body and even for my life - is to step into a different world, governed by a much deeper sense than the one the mind rules.
Allowing the body to speak is like living a different life than the one I am used to. Truly inhabiting my body is graceful - it allows for mistakes, it allows for breath, it allows for room to feel all kinds of things without labels. It allows room for others to express themselves, it allows me to hear them, it allows me to hear myself.
And this open space is the basis of all possibility, all creativity. Living from the mind alone, from the will to get things done, is constricting. It strips self-expression from the foundation of any other potential, would-be possibility, and demands something specific happen.
The mask of the mind markets itself as logical. This parading around is often an extremely manipulative thing; as long as the mind and body are out of sync, the mind will try to guile us into seeing ourselves a certain way through the achievements, or lack thereof, we make in this world. The mind will cover our lack of self-integrity and self-love with "sense" for why we need to do F, Q, or W. It will blanket out hurting with action.
The body, with its native intuition, is truly the center of logic.
All of us will learn, if we have not already, that this acting from the mind's conception of reality will keep us spinning in circles. This is a constant exercise for me, and probably for most: learning to step away from the mindspin of "what I need to do," "what happened," or "who I am depends on X."
May your circles break, and with something less dramatic than an accident or a loss.