Friday, June 4, 2010

The Fragility of Bones

Our skeleton is all that holds us up, at least when we are trying to ignore the pull of gravity.  Muscles, of course, need to be strong, too, but without the bones, we have no way to stand tall.
  My bones are healing, and I no longer wear a cast.  I am using a cane, so I can teach my ankle and foot how to walk, without experiencing too much pain.  I can walk on my own with my right foot at a more-than 45 degree outwards angle, but I don't want to lurch from step to step in that way forever, and so am seeing a physiotherapist and using the cane in the way she has shown me. 
    I haven't used painkillers since a couple of weeks after the surgery, but she warned me to use some before each appointment, as she has to move my foot and ankle to positions they haven't experienced in three months.  The bones, muscles, and ligaments are happy with the new position they assumed during the time since my injury, and are resistant to change, even though the new positions, which really are the old positions, will be healthier.  It's okay, I am willing to deal with the pain, since I know it will bring me to a healthier place.
  We have bones, muscles, and ligaments in the non-body parts of our lives, too.  When Carl left me, I succumbed to gravity and became a puddle, something with no skeleton, no shape.  I was just a raw pool of grief and poor self-esteem, that sought the lowest level.  Just as water always follows gravity, I sank, unable to rise up and chart my own course.
  But over time, my bones have once again begun to give me a shape.  It's been painful, even more painful than what I'm experiencing as my ankle once again learns to function.  Still, I've risen against the pull of gravity, found ways to move into new positions.
  It's not a completed process yet.  A surgeon here told me my ankle will probably always be a little stiff.  My physiotherapist said my ankle will never be as thin as it was, because the healing bones build up more thickly, to better cover the breaks.  I can understand than my mental injuries may well need a thicker protective coat to keep those parts of me strong enough to function.
  It's silly, when I was quite young, I read a novel in which a boy didn't like a girl because she had thick ankles.  Because of this, I've always been proud of having thin ones.  My right ankle is still very swollen, enough that it's difficult to even get a sock on, never mind a shoe.  I'm not sure how it will look once the swelling is gone and all the healing that can take place is complete.  I'm beginning to realize that it doesn't matter.  I may have a thick ankle, and the scar from the surgery will always show.  It's okay, though.  They are there because of things I've gone through.  There's no sense in pretending these things didn't happen, and if I meet a person who can't like me because I have a thick ankle, well, I don't want to like that person anyway.  I am who I am because all these things have happened to me, and I want to be loved not despite them, but because they are part of me.
  Even more important, I am learning to have compassion for myself.  For the person who tripped and fell, who was too concerned with not making a mess and so didn't fall well.  But also for the person who married a man who loved her more than anything, but whose love changed so quickly after the marriage, who was often cruel, critical, and controlling, but who also could make her laugh.  Who, in the last years of the marriage, was more supportive, was a good partner, but who I now know was less happy because I was more happy and more independent.  Who destroyed me in many ways, but I stayed anyway.
  I can never heal without finding new positions.  And it is painful, thinking about why I stayed for so long when I knew doing so was dangerous.  It's been tempting, to see myself in the role of victim.  All the therapists I've seen, during the marriage and after, have told me he was abusive and that I should leave.  Why didn't I?  Was I truly so weak?  I know that women with abusive partners often feel they don't deserve to find happiness, and don't have the strength to handle the new life that could be theirs.  It's frightening to look change in the eye.  It's easier to keep trying, and I can't blame anyone for feeling that way.  Trying is a strength, a gift, in many ways.  But there comes a time when we realize that what we are losing, what is being taken from us, is more important, more deadly.
   I didn't have the strength to leave.  He left me.  Now, more than a year later, I can realize just how beaten down I was.  When he told told me he was leaving, I made a bitter comment about how his first wife, who left him after only a few years, must have known things that I wish I did.  He got angry with me, said it was because I said things like that he was leaving, and so I immediately felt guilty and apologized.  That was what my reality was back then, I was always wrong, and I had no idea life could be different.  I don't have it in me, not yet, to thank him for finally ending the marriage, but I do need to forgive myself for not leaving.
    I have to find ways to feel compassion for the person I was, and to welcome the pain now as I push myself into new positions, a new life, a new way to stand up and resist the pull of gravity.  It hurts, maybe it always will, but I am doing my best to work through the pain to what it will give me.
  Bones are both strong and fragile.  I've only broken a bone once before, and that was two toes.  It happened because of the one crime I've committed.  It was a long time ago, when I was around twenty.  I was at an all-night party, and at around 4:00 a.m., some of us decided to go out and steal signs.  I wanted a Dead End sign, I'm not sure why, but we found one, we got it off of its pole, and I took it home.
  When I reached home, I parked my car near my apartment, and carried the sign across the lawn towards the building.  I was with my friend Ruth, who was too drunk to get home, so she was going to stay with me.  As I walked, the sign slipped out of my hands ( it was surprisingly heavy.)  It was a diamond shape, I was holding it by its upper corner, and its full weight landed on my foot through the bottom corner.  I was wearing those suede-topped clogs that were so popular then, and they offered no protection at all.
  I picked up the sign and limped into my apartment,  My foot hurt, more than anything I'd ever experienced, and the big toe's nail was rapidly turning black.  Now, I'm someone who once, when I was a kid at camp, stuck my foot under the end of a canoe that had just slipped out of my hands, because I'd been told to never let the canoe stand in the sand.  That had hurt, and the camp councillor told me it would have been okay to let the canoe fall in the sand.  Back then, as in so much of my life, it's been difficult to put my own needs ahead of others'.  But this hurt more, and Ruth and I evenutally decided I should go to the hospital.
  I have only ever driven a standard transmission car.  Ruth was still too drunk to drive (I've never been drunk.)  So I drove, using my hurt left foot on the clutch.  When we arrived, the ER wasn't very busy, so we were shown into a cubicle right away.  Ruth promptly climbed on the bed and went to sleep.  I sat in the chair and smiled at her.
  I was so glad she was there with me.  She made me laugh turning what could have been a bad experience, into a good one.  I could have been angry at myself for my carelessness and stupidity, I could have seen what happened as punishment for stealing.  Instead it was an experience that made me feel I was alive.  I was an individual, a person who made mistakes, just as we all did.  The pain would go away, I would heal, and I would remember this time with laughter, because of my friend.  It turned out two toes were broken.  The nurse told me the pain would ease if she could remove the pressure of the blood behind my toenail.
  This was surprisingly low-tech.  She unbent a paperclip, held it in a bunsen burner flame, and put the tip against my nail.  This hurt a lot, more than the bones did, and at one point I couldn't help it, I jerked my foot away.  Embarrassed to show such weakness, I muttered, "Oh, I am such a coward." 
  The nurse stopped what she was doing at that point, lifted her head from where she concentrating on my foot, and looked straight at me.  "No, you are not," she said.  And something about how she said it, so directly, as if saying it was the most important thing she could ever do, changed something for me.
  She returned to what she was doing, and I don't remember her name, but I will always remember her with gratitude.  My upbringing up to that point, and my marriage that was to come, tried to shape me into someone who was weak, who was always at fault.  What that nurse told me that night was the first type of therapy I encountered that showed me I am not those things.  I am strong, and that's why my marriage became so difficult.  I couldn't be the weak pliable person I appeared to be when Carl met me.  That's what he wanted, and I couldn't do it.  I've been working against gravity for a long time.
  Breaking bones hurts, but it results in stronger bones and newly built muscle.  I laugh now when I think of breaking my toes.  I wish I still had that sign, with its warning that was so appropriate.  I gave it away when I left Kingston, to someone who really wanted it.  I hope it has brought laughter to him.
  And so I'm dealing with pain still, but know that it's there for a reason.  I'm moving into new positions.  Someday soon, my foot will point straight ahead, instead of to the side.  I'll move ahead, and up, resisting gravity, so I can find compassion for the person I was, and learn just how strong my bones truly are.  We are all fragile, and we are all stronger than we know.