Surrender and Heal. I believe in You.
Today I am enjoying a rare snowy day in Charlotte, NC. As I was peering out the window at the heavy snowfall, I was reminded of a similar weather event four years ago after I had a major hip surgery. I still have the photos of the neighborhood block party with kids, dogs and sleds congregating —a Rockwell- esque memory, looking out the window as I healed.
For nearly 8 weeks, I was not allowed to put any weight-bearing load on my right leg, which kept me mostly bed ridden aside from being lifted to my wheelchair, and then eventually my crutches once I started physical therapy.
When I started therapy, it was evident that it would be an arduous road, but I was not expecting major setbacks. Due to the muscle atrophy, I was going to have to strengthen and train my muscles to remember to walk again. As with most things, I expected a linear uphill progression to get me back to walking. However, this was not the case (Is it ever?).
About 6 weeks into my therapy, I was having so much pain and weakness, I was back on my crutches unable to put any weight on my leg again. At home, I was still using my raised toilet seat and shower chair. I would also wake up in the middle of the night and pray for help to get to the bathroom without falling in the dark. Frustration and discouragement does not begin to describe how I felt.
I went to see my surgeon. He was very concerned and said, “Yes, by this point you should be much further along. I’m going to switch physical therapists and put you with my best guy.”
I will never forget the day I showed up to see Jeff. He was in his mid-thirties with dated glasses, khakis and white Reeboks. He was not warm or much of a talker. I wondered if he was raised in a military family.
He looked at me and said curtly, “If you want to walk again, this is going to hurt. It’s not going to be fun. You are going to have to work hard. But if you are willing to do the work, I can help you.”
It had been about 6 months since I had any mobility before the surgery: I was determined to walk again. So of course, the answer was yes—even if I found his demeanor slightly intimidating.
Within a couple of weeks, I started to see noticeable changes. I was able to walk short distances without the aid of my crutches and started to feel encouraged by sending short videos of myself walking to my parents.
It was tough—I sweated. I cried. I grimaced. I practiced stretching my legs further each day. I rubbed on my scar tissue. I scooted around doing laps on an exercise ball trying to beat my time each round.
All of it simple, none of it easy.
By June, I was able to walk without any mobility issues. I left high-fiving Jeff, my surgeon joking, “I never wanna see you again!” as best case scenario.
Here’s the kicker though.
Before Jeff entered the picture, I was going to physical therapy, but I was not working with someone who was effective at healing. I needed someone who was a hip expert and understood healing. I also needed someone to tell me the truth which was healing is not easy and the onus was on me to see if or how much I would heal.
Ouch. This is not fair! After so much pain and suffering, I still couldn’t throw in the towel and except someone else to do the work for me.
Can you imagine if I had told Jeff that day? “No, I don’t want to work hard. I don’t want to do this even if it hurts. I would rather stay injured and unable to walk for the rest of my life.”
I also suspect Jeff would have just said, “That’s unfortunate, but it’s your choice.” And he would have kept moving along helping other patients that wanted to get well.
I would have gone home miserable, complaining, with no one to blame but myself, imagining that one day I would wake up in my stupor and make the decision to finally get well and do the work.
It sounds ridiculous, but we make decisions to give up all the time when the answer and solution is simple, even if it’s not easy. A tough situation at work, a career that isn’t working, a relationship issue that needs to be addressed. The list is endless.
So that’s the choice we all have:
1) To stay stuck in our situation which in my experience will usually deteriorate.
2) Decide to heal even if it hurts like a motherfucker. (And it will. Because healing hurts. I had plenty of grimaces and tears and doubts during my hip rehabilitation.).
It really is that simple though. Suffering or healing.
I had to decide that day if I was going to continue to wallow and complain that I had a shitty experience with an unskilled therapist and wasn’t recovering at the speed of normal patients, or heal.
I had enough suffering and knew the clear choice for me.
Therapists are wonderful. Coaches are wonderful. Friends are wonderful. But, these people cannot heal us. They are only there to guide and encourage us along the way.
This seems to be the frustratingly beautiful paradox of this human struggle. That no matter what happens to us outside of our control, we are responsible for our healing journey, even though the excruciating setbacks and disappointments.
Within a year after my surgery, I was able to walk and resume normal life again. A year might feel like a long time in our insanely instantaneous culture, but it was worth it.
You know why?
Because I could walk again.
And that’s what you are seeking. Being able to walk again. Keep going, even if it’s hard.
I know that this road to healing feels bumpy, excruciating, horrifying, awful, dismal—I so get that. Recently, I had a friend reach out who is going through an incredibly difficult season which I feel partially inspired this post. I gave him my best only advice which is,
“Surrender and heal. I believe in you.”