Coming Home to Myself

Since I won’t know the answer to the chemo question for another few days, I’ve decided to use this “treatment lull” to get reacquainted with my body. As I’ve said before, thirteen years of yoga has made me hyper-aware of my anatomy. For the most part, this is a good thing. It helps me deal with a spine that has more twists and turns than a season of Lost, and apparently it’s quite useful for finding cancerous lumps. Yet, oozing awareness out of every square inch of one’s real estate has its downsides, especially when it comes to physical pain and trauma. So, last month, for the first time in a long time, I consciously checked out of my body.

I know lots of people distance themselves from their bodies. I know some people live entire lives unacquainted with their physicality. And, yet, I was surprised at how easy it was to say sayonara. In many ways, it felt like preparing the house to leave for a long vacation. But instead of checking the locks on the windows and putting timers on the lights, I busied myself getting in shape. For me, that meant doing LOTS of power yoga because it makes me feel invincible—something I knew I’d need for the trip. Then, the night before my double mastectomy, I took stock of my internal milieu, tidied up one final time, locked the door, and walked away.

Lest you think this is turning into some Sybil-like memoir, don’t worry, I didn’t go far. I just went around the corner; far enough that I could keep an eye on things. And, of course, Mary stood guard. Having a trusted sentinel at the gate made the disembodiment feel doable and safe. And, so, I became an observer of the process.

Like a medical voyeur, I sat back and watched things like the nervous resident jabbing my vein with a needle and Mary telling the drunk-with-power nurse for the zillionth time why the pregnancy-test protocol was a waste of everyone’s time. More importantly, the distance imbued me with a sense of calm in those final nightmarish moments in the operating room–before the anesthesiologist does his thing–when you can’t help but see things you don’t want to see. In the end, all things better observed than endured.

Immediately before and after my surgeries, the distance from my body was a blessing; but, alas, one can’t stay on vacation forever and, last week, I decided it was time to return home. Luckily, re-entry was easy. I simply rolled my yoga mat out and crawled on. Yoga is my fail-safe way to plug directly back into my body. Indeed, the transition occurs so quickly I almost get whiplash. That first day, I painfully arranged my limbs into the only pose I could muster–child’s pose–and I cried. My tears weren’t because my body felt ill-fitting after my long absence but because the body I’d abandoned the month before welcomed me back with open arms, no questions asked.

Since that day, I’ve been kicking the tires and, frankly, I’m shocked at the condition of my chassis. When I walked away, everything was functioning pretty well. My muscles were tone, my back was flexible, things were grooving. Yes, of course, I’m realistic; I didn’t expect my body to feel untouched upon my return, but I didn’t expect it to feel like someone had ransacked the place. While I was on my sojourn the muscles of my back turned to concrete, my arm muscles went AWOL, and my shoulders drifted forward, like settlers circling the wagons to protect their fort.

I am not a wuss. I usually get things up and running on my own. But my body was in shambles. I didn’t know where to start, and I could sense that mutiny was only one false move away.  It was time to call in reinforcements. I started with my Rolfer (for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Rolfing is a form of body work that releases connective tissue). To my relief, she put my shoulders back in their rightful place and reintroduced the front of my body to the back of my body—we agreed I’d obviously tried to back out of my body. A couple of days later a massage therapist began to demolish the concrete in my back. And this afternoon an osteopath gently steered several wayward vertebrae back into alignment. Yes, it takes a village.

And, of course, I’m gingerly returning to yoga. Restorative and Iyengar classes have taken the place of  power yoga, and I’m rekindling my home practice. Yoga channels me straight into the undertow of my subconscious. Normally, I resist–seeing the value in staying grounded–but these days I indulge by allowing myself to sink down into the deep. Breath by breath. Pose by pose. I tentatively explore the perimeters of stiffness and occasionally bump into the barbwire of pain. But I keep inching into territory that is simultaneously foreign and familiar because I’m on a rescue mission. I’m looking for pieces of myself that survived the looting. Specifically, I’m looking for that feeling of invincibility; I know it’s around here somewhere.

8 Responses

  1. Nan & Tom says:

    Thank you, Catherine for sharing your journey. We wish you a sweet “homecoming.” Thinking of you,
    -The Fitzs

  2. Christie says:

    welcome home Catherine.

    i’m glad you’re staying true to yourself and ignoring those stupid breast cancer stylistas. how dare anyone tell you how you should cope with your own personal experience.

    your grace inspires me.

    best wishes,
    Christie

  3. Rosie says:

    Welcome home, Catherine! I loved reading this post. A strong spirit and connection with the subconscious can make miracles. Sending you good energy for the rest of the journey!
    Always Rosie

  4. Jane says:

    looking forward to class next fall when this will hopefully be behind you. Your yoga voice and spirit are wth me as I do my morning practice.

  5. Jeannette Moninger says:

    Powerful writing, Catherine. You certainly have a gift. Many gifts.

    I’m glad you’re on the mend, and I’m celebrating your chemo-less future with you!!! Exclamation points and all!!!

  6. Steph says:

    A late reply to this posting, but its so powerful that I had to respond. Coming home to one’s body. I’ll celebrate that process. Thought of you when I was practicing yoga this week…

  7. Micol says:

    hey lady, what a pleasure to see how much support you have, & how carefully loving you are to yourself in going on out there & getting it. that’s great about the chemo, too. let the healing unfold!

  8. Monica says:

    I just love your writing and how it connects me so deeply to your experiences. Welcome home with all the things that make it so…like warm chocolate chip cookies and lots of hugs (some virtual, but still good). My heart is singing for you: “Yay, no chemo!!!”

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