Sometimes I forget that I had back surgery. Most of the time I’m just used to how my body moves (or doesn’t), but every now and then, someone reminds me with an innocent comment: “Abby, you have amazing posture!” or, “I feel like I have to stand up straighter whenever you’re around,” or sometimes, “You’re a yoga teacher? No wonder you have such perfect posture!” I feel almost guilty when I tell them, “Thank you for noticing, but it’s not the yoga – it’s the rods.”
Eleven years ago this month, my body was permanently altered. I went under anesthesia at Beth Israel North, and when I woke up, I had eleven fewer moveable joints, two new stainless steel rods and 22 screws. My scoliosis had progressed aggressively over the previous five years, and surgery was an attempt to fix it for good. Most days, I am incredibly thankful for this permanent solution; sometimes, however, I feel a pang of regret: what if surgery wasn’t the best option? What if a new, less invasive surgery comes to fruition – will I pity myself for my impatience and antiquated rods? To add to this mental conflict, I have also had several yoga teachers express regret on my behalf when I tell them of my rods: “I wish you had come to see me before you decided on surgery!” one said; “Yoga is a natural way to correct scoliosis,” said another. Every time someone says something like this, I want to respond: Are you f*cking kidding me?! Do you think I didn’t try other solutions? Do you think it was an easy decision, gluing nearly half my vertebrae together and reinforcing them with stainless steel? But every time, in an effort to remain cordial, I smile and say, “Yeah, it was a difficult decision, but it’s too late to change my mind now.”
I am still learning how to reconcile my own view of myself with how others view me – or, more accurately, my perception of how others view me. Usually, I am happy with myself and my decisions, and usually, I focus on how I feel, rather than how I might appear. But more often than I would like to admit, I look to others to validate my choices, to tell me what a good job I did, or to reinforce an inkling I have – positive, or negative. Sometimes I am so focused on how I come across that I find it hard to accept a compliment (a compliment, that, just moments earlier, I was hoping to receive). Rather than simply say, “thank you,” I find some excuse to diminish my skills, abilities, or even my posture: “Oh, I’m not really that good”; “It’s not the yoga – it’s the rods.”
The truth is, my rods aren’t solely responsible for my excellent posture, nor are my natural talents responsible for any of the good work that I do. It is all a balance of nature and nurture, innate and cultivated, acceptance and seeking. Whenever I am alone – whether I am cooking, doing yoga, reading, singing, dancing, or sitting – I am deeply in touch with what I want and need; I accept my body fully for what it can do, and what it can’t, and I appreciate my challenges as much as my talents. With no one around to critique or congratulate me, my successes and failures are my own. Once I step into the world, however, I inevitably begin comparing myself to others: am I smarter, faster, less attractive, more adept, less patient, or just plain different? How much of me is fixed, immobile, permanent, and how much of me can still grow and evolve? When I let others’ assessments of me speak louder than my own, self-doubt creeps in. But when I stop seeking outside opinions, slow down, and listen, not only do I feel more capable of making my own decisions, I feel content with the decisions I have already made.
So, rods and screws in my spine, listen up: I know you’re in there, and I appreciate you. You are part of my body, no longer a collection of foreign objects, but an integral part of my skeleton. Some people may tell you (or me) that you don’t belong, but we cannot doubt our connection. We’re in this together. Happy Anniversary.
(Photo credit to Steve Kraft)