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That’s gonna leave a mark

I began the scar posts with a plan: Talk about physical injuries because they’re easy and something for which we all share common reference - everyone’s scraped a knee at least. And, step two was to progress to emotional injuries - we’ve all had those too. Emotional injuries can have a greater degree of difficulty to reveal for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the vulnerability associated with showing parts of the human experience we’ve intentionally kept hidden (sometimes even from ourselves).

What has happened that I didn’t anticipate, is that while I was writing little posts about physical injuries, that I’d learn anything. I thought this was just me warming up and building the courage to reveal something more difficult to expose. I thought talking about scars and bumps was a bullpen where I’d loosen up my pitching arm.

But I did learn something in spite of myself. I learned that physical injuries have an impact that extends beyond the experience of the injury and its healing. They do something or some THINGS to us that can and often do get stuck in the body. Picking one injury at random, shattering the heel, resulted in:

  1. My feelings of weakness as a man who was helpless and vulnerable to attack when wounded.
  2. Reorienting my sense of self to the world from, ‘this is my domain’ to ‘where do I put my crutches?’ 
  3. Fears that I’d never be the same after recovering and the cascade of feelings associated with these fears.
  4. Highlighting my dependence on and our interdependence with others. No one is an island, even the obstinate such as myself.
  5. It opened a crack  of compassion for the injured that’s now a growing fissure. 
  6. My newfound appreciation for the gift of standing and walking. I was initially deeply concerned that I’d lost running forever, but that fear transformed into gratitude.
  7. A realization that everything - everything I know - can turn without warning, into something very different. The fragility of my routine.
  8. I can adapt. So far, whatever’s been thrown at me, more than some, less than others, I can adapt.

I could increase that list but I think those are the major points. I’ve learned that getting hurt - abrupt and sudden life experiences - do things. From the genesis of new stories I tell me about myself to an expanded awareness - an increased consciousness. They aren’t just some gas station that flashes by my window as I drive past at 80 MPH. They’re incorporated. They’re rich and complex. AND - that this is true whether I stop to realize it or not.

And this is true whether it’s a scrape that will leave no scar, like in this picture where I missed a 30” box I was jumping on, or whether it’s someone shouting at me in anger, threatening me as a child, or just a feeling of fear or foreboding about some nugget of uncertainty. 

Things don’t have to leave a mark. They count even when they’re otherwise unseen - even when they’re unseen by me! Therefore it would seem to matter that I practice some level of self-awareness so that I can see. Sitting for some period in silence perhaps looking out the window, writing a gratitude journal, taking a walk,  stretching and becoming aware of my body. Anything that increases awareness. Because it is only here that I can recognize - and only when I recognize can I know and can I heal.

I can’t explain why but I sense that we came here to experience even the painful parts of existence; that these things are not mistakes. And that we arrived with things that we brought along to both heal and help ourselves heal. And that love, happiness, injury, trauma - all of it, is exactly what we need in order to make that happen. To live our purpose.

Brag about it

Whatever you do, don’t boast

Our culture is seriously confused and we’re not just confused like, indecisive confused or the inability to resolve a paradox confused, but we’re confused in massively destructive ways. In ways that make the use of the word, “insane” appropriate. Our culture is insane.

We are in a torrent of messaging regarding sex, its appeal and value and our personal value as humans specifically through our sex. Gorgeous Hollywood actors on television and in movies play out dramas that reinforce false paradigms that we aspire to. These dramas are interrupted only briefly by messaging targeting the brain while it’s in a state that’s vulnerable to suggestion, while more delightfully sexy people portray happiness through the ownership of an object - a house, car, a special mop, unaffordable jewelry, and so on.

Turn off the TV and instead receive the images through where many of us spend more time, the internet. Or magazine covers, billboards, the bus, train, the design of uncomfortable and unaffordable clothing - all designed to highlight the value of sex.

Yet how is a woman received if she embraces her sexuality? Oh you mean that slut over there? Shameful. And insane. Truly, insane. And while we target women, men aren’t off the hook - we are also taught by what Daniel Quinn refers to as Mother Culture what impossible set of standards that we must also aspire to and in so doing, fail at every turn. If I can squeeze in more more quote, it’d be Thom Yorke from Subterranean Homesick Alien,  ”Of all these weird creatures, who lock up their spirits, drill holes in themselves and live for their secrets.”

All this has been a really long ass preface for another insane dichotomy of not being permitted to share your successes. Or if you DO share them, do so artfully. For fuck’s sake, do NOT be proud and say, “Hey look what I made!!! I did this! I thought I couldn’t, I was filled with self doubt but I just kept coming back and I did it! I was told I couldn’t but I did it I did it I fucking did it!”

And I make this point because this is exactly what I’m doing in this post. I’m bragging. Or actually, no - I really am celebrating. I am so blessed and I’ve had things seemingly taken away from me and told I couldn’t because it’s impossible and there are certain realities I need to accept, and I heard that and thought, ‘Maybe they’re right but then again, maybe they’re not’

So here I show off my crooked back and write out my little list of what I got to overcome, all the while, through deep interdependence. Meaning, yeah “I did these things” but I did them because I had an army of love and support at every step I took. Even when I was frightened, felt isolated and alone, I was being supported, sometimes carried, but always in the company of an army.

In NOT-chronological order

  1. They told me that 17% of people who try to stay clean, succeed at doing so. Well, as of writing this post, I haven’t had a drink or shot dope in over 29 years. If you’re built like me, you know that’s a miracle. I still remember not being able to go until noon without a drink and somehow I got this far? What??? Yay me!! And yay everyone I get to love and who can count on me, even when I fail and behave like an ignorant ass. I’m alive to do that: I get to breathe. I no longer put a lot of stock in the 17% number; something else I was told and have learned to be true is that sobriety is for people who want it, and not necessarily those who need it. 
  2. After I shattered my heel and was meeting with the surgeon, I asked him how long until I returned to running and to CrossFit. He answered that this was a big unknown but that the odds were not in my favor and that I should get comfortable with the fact that I’d likely never do those things again. Short story: I get to! I again do dead-lifts, overhead presses and squats and I run. 
  3. After I tore my pec. major muscle off my arm, the surgeon said that regaining the same level of ability, motion and force with respect to the shoulder and its ability to press was unlikely. And yet here I am doing muscle-ups, push-ups, pull-ups….everything. I don’t perform these movements defiantly with a, “You said I couldn’t and you were wrong, so IN.YOUR.FACE!!!” attitude. I do them with reverence and gratitude.
  4. Riddled with so much arthritis in my 20s and then 30s, that the discs in my neck were degenerating and had to be fused, no one saw me as an athlete, least of all me. I was frequently depressed at the notion of not being able to do things that (in my story) everyone else could do like carry groceries or turn to talk to someone in the back of the car without throwing my neck out and having to miss a week’s work while I lay motionless. And yet now here I am - I run, I swim, I do CrossFit, I lift weights, I surf - I move!
  5. I’m pretty sure it was the violence at home that shaped me as a very insecure, withdrawn child. I started failing subjects in the 5th grade and was placed in the special class for problem children in the 6th grade. My parents tried to fix it with private schooling which shows that they, the likely cause of my insecurities were also helpless to their own ignorance. I barely graduated high school and was what we then referred to as a “burnout”. Yet somewhere deep inside, I didn’t feel as stupid as my grades indicated me to be. Once sober, I started at a community college and began taking classes of increasing difficulty. First remedial math. Then introductory algebra. Then intermediate, then college algebra. What? Now I was in trig, calculus, physics, biochemistry, opera, literature - I was teachable. Many people I know have advanced degrees and the MBA has faded in and out as the degree du jour and I think, based on the number of doctors I know, must have been replaced by the Ph. D. And while I think that’s awesome and amazing FOR THEM, I could not be more proud of my Bachelors in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. While no one came out and said I couldn’t do it, all of the indicators that my culture says matter, namely grades, said I was stupid and literally a failure.  

These are only some of the major challenges I’ve been blessed through the support of my every changing army to have been able to experience, face, overcome and then brag about it. And please understand, no one has been more surprised, more delighted and more grateful than me.

I’m big on bragging. I think our culture that tells us we’re small or vain or somehow otherwise wrong for bragging is a jealous and insecure culture. Have you gone a day without a drink? Have you gone 12 hours without cutting yourself because you want to find a way out of Hell? Brag? Get a Sharpee, write that shit on a t-shirt and wear it to the grocery store! Did you take your beautiful 310# frame into a public pool and do some water aerobics because you want to improve your circulation or increase your mobility? You know only a handful of people will understand what you overcame to accomplish this and far more people will knee-jerk to criticize so that’s why you should brag about it!

We need to turn the culture back on its ass and say, “I did this and if it makes you uncomfortable that I’m proud, then I can live with your discomfort. You’ll be okay”

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, least of all, the only person that matters: you. You can do this. Do it and fucking brag about it!image

Barely visible on the outside

This is awesome! That tiny scar in the lower right hand corner of this image is from 1991, when surgeons performed a cervical fusion between, 3 vertebrae. They removed the discs, cut a vertical trench into the vertebrae and laid in a segment of my ilium into that trench, fusing the segments.

A few years later, they developed plates they’d screw in to affect the fusion. About 10 years after that, artificial discs emerged into the medical device space. Wonderful for sufferers.

And suffering it most certainly was. The pain was so frequently intense that I’d spend at least one week each month immobilized on the floor, the couch, in bed - somewhere I could lay motionless because moving felt like my head was being twisted off. It was an intense (and for me) indescribable feeling - a combination of pressure and pain. I finally became willing to consider surgery when, standing at the toilet once at 3am, I suddenly found myself regaining consciousness to the sound of my wife calling 911. Seems I’d passed out from the pain, face slapped the sink on the way down and wound up face down on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood. I remember hearing her voice from across a void, “Michael? Michael??? Oh my god!! I need an ambulance at…..” And me thinking, “What happened? Is someone hurt?”

Fast forward past many visits to physicians and specialists to my learning that I had degenerative disc disease. My discs were degenerating. Um…why? Why were my discs degenerating? Why are countless thousands of people suffering from this part of their body disintegrating? Genetics? No. There’s no gene identified as having encoded some inferior disc. Overuse trauma from physical labor? Again: big fat nope. Medical science does not have a definitive answer, however, once I read a book by Deane Juhan called, Job’s Body, I understood.

Job’s Body is nothing more than an integration of all the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and autonomics I’d studied in college. Instead of these being discrete and otherwise seemingly separate topics, they were in a single text with a single subject: the human body. The text makes no claims, but rather compiles what is already identified through empirical research elsewhere.

I heard in massage school that “people hold fear in their neck and shoulders”. That sounded nice but it also sounded like bullshit. Then I did massage on a lot of people and discovered that it’s not just me; a fuck ton of people hold their shoulders in a kind of shrug. Don’t take my word for it - take a deep breath, sense your neck and shoulders and ask yourself, ‘Is there room to relax and slightly drop your shoulders into a more neutral position?’ If you’re like 95% of people I’ve encountered, you found that there is room to relax.

Imagine if you will, what it might be like to hold your fist clenched for hours. It’d be stiff once you opened it, wouldn’t it? Now imagine holding it clenched for days - weeks - months - years. It’s unimaginable, yet this is what we do with the shoulders. This is what I did with my shoulders. 

For years, I was bracing for impact. I unconsciously held myself in a cat-like state of readiness. Afraid. Oh shit - that touchy feely stuff they said in massage school about holding fear in the neck and shoulders was right. Those hippies were right? But that’s not science and I need data. And that’s where Juhan came in.

When lines of force are maintained in the body, like teams playing tug of war with muscle tissue, the body responds. Just like the body responds to weight lifting in many ways (including the pretty ways it burns fat and increases muscle mass), it also responds to force through maintained contraction. The facets where the muscle attaches to the bone become bigger as they adapt to accommodate the increased tension. The tug of war teams beef up and reaching out and growing what we call “bone spurs”. Connective tissue such as tendon get stiffer and less supple. A cascade of adaptive reactions lovingly take place as if to say, “Oh! We thought this area was supposed to move, swivel and turn, but okay - that’s wrong. We get it - this is supposed to be an strong and nonmoving area -more like the base of a skyscraper, so we’ll get on board and harden up!” But these delicate bones weren’t evolved to be like lumbar vertebrae and eventually they fall apart trying to be something they’re not.

That is the end-product of “holding fear” in the body. Or more accurately, this is one of MANY end-products, but it’s a very common one. There’s no mystery to Degenerative Disc Disease. Its origin is us and our beliefs.

"I’m more afraid of living than I am scared to die" - Ben Harper

For me, surgery was later followed by a return to pain. My way out was and still is 2 part: (a) movement; and, (b) love.

Why dress it up, just to talk about how it was?

I thought that instead of showing the nice line of a collagen scar, I’d show the bloody aftermath instead. It tells a better story of trauma, don’t you think? Bloody is bloody. It’s healthy to look at bloody from time to time. Not for sensational value - just to express and maybe touch something more visceral from me to you.

I mean, if I could write for shit, I wouldn’t need any images; only nice words artfully arranged so as to pleasantly reveal my underlying points in narrative. But without that skill, I rely somewhat on images because I think there’s equal or more value in SEEING a child get beaten for talking during Dad’s “Quiet Time” then me telling you there was violence in my home. Does that make sense? Probably not. Fuck! I thought this was going to be easier.

Okay what am I trying to say? Maybe if I make a list, I can at least get it out, even if awkwardly:

  1. Blunt force trauma to the body and/or to the psyche is a real real thing that has a face. 
  2. We (humans) have a remarkable capacity to endure, learn, adapt, and go on. And go on better than before if we choose. I’d take credit for that one but Darwin and others beat me to it. Whatchoo got? I can fucking adapt to it!
  3. As some friends of mine promised me was true, I reached a point where I no longer feared the past, and also did not want to close the door on it. It helps me to sit silently in the back of a meeting and hear someone talk that’s got 30 days sobriety. Fuck! 30 days? I don’t even remember that hell, you warrior! You think it’s me with my 29 years because society has graded and measured you since you came out so you’ve been taught to measure - even beneath thinking, there is the constant measuring. So you’re thinking, “Wow! He’s got more than me! 29 years?? Hey that’s an A+” Funny how life is so UN-like our stories. Because here in the real world, it’s just the opposite. It’s YOU, warrior, It’s YOU with a sword in each hand slicing through a sea of your perceived enemies - it’s YOU who is teaching me. I smile on the outside when I see you but inside I bow deeply with reverence that you came here for me.
  4. It’s okay to be afraid; even horrified sometimes. This is the blessing of this dynamic we’ve chosen, this duality thing. We experience ineffable esoteric delights and because of that, there’s also the bloody nose, the impossibility of life in its exquisiteness that can feel like that first plunge on the roller-coaster except, whoops - there’s no safety bar across your lap and you open your mouth to scream but nothing comes out. Terror is there as part of our human experience. You’re not doing it wrong to be afraid. To think you can’t do it. To look back and cry. Cry. Do it! And then go on and know that nothing happens except for you, precious. We truly are here for you and all that makes up the story of you, even your fear and self doubt.

Please let me never fear to be honest. To show you who I really am behind my stories of me.

Lastly, I love you and those aren’t just words. You receive love and help from more directions and sources than you are aware. Underneath the trauma, there is love and unimaginable intelligence and synchronicity.

 

In the three short days I’ve been sharing scars and tagging them with #scar, I’ve read hundreds of posts from girls and young women who suffer so intensely as to injure themselves.

I won’t trivialize their stories by pretending I understand but that said, being 29 years free of heroin, IV cocaine and alcohol, I can say with some level of certainty that I can relate to a pain so great, that the only response one can abide is a self destructive response.

To stand at the edge of the abyss and dive head first for the jagged rocks. This I can relate to. That may not be their trip. That may just be me projecting my trip on them. Wouldn’t be the first time (or last).

All I can ever see in you, afterall, are those bits of me I project outward. My stories projected on your scene like Warhol and the Velvets. The art of life and life as an art project.

I love these women. These children. I feel a deep sense of connectedness to their suffering.

Today, I decided to show the scar on the front of my right hip. This is from the time surgeons took bone from the front arch of my pelvic bone, also known as my anterior iliac crest. It was this or cadaver bone and who wants cadaver bone? I don’t even like the word, “cadaver”. Not very mature, I know. No one’s ever accused me of being mature, so, no love lost, there. Anyway, because of this chisel job, I have a chunk missing from that arch that is the front of the hip. I like it. It’s like a jagged puzzle piece that says I fit with someone.

That bone chunk wound up in my cervical spine which was being repaired at the time. THAT scar, that neck scar, is one of my favorites and has a life pivoting story associated with it but that’s for another day.

Plain and simple: every scar has a story and each story deserves its telling.

What’s hidden inside
As I was culling through various possibilities in my mind for which scar to show today, this popped up in the photo collection. These two plates and ten screws are in my heel. My calcaneus, to be exact; it was shattered into many pieces in 2011 in a skateboarding accident.
The physics of the injury is actually very interesting. It isn’t the impact of the heel hitting the ground that results in the injury. Oh no, the calcaneus has evolved to endure impact forces. Rather, in a force impact, such as a fall from a ladder or an auto accident (or a skateboarding downhill) when the heel strikes the ground, the bones above it keep going (thanks, momentum!) and they shatter the heel like a battering ram. Wow!
What’s a calcaneus? It’s this red bone here
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Calcaneus_animation01.gif
You never know - you NEVER EVER KNOW - when you see someone’s outside, what they’re carrying on the inside. What they’re enduring or have endured. Everyone - everyone without a single exception - has an intricate and beautiful story made rich by many experiences, not the least of which are injuries, both physical and otherwise.
Zoom Info
Camera
iPhone 4
ISO
80
Aperture
f/2.8
Exposure
1/127th
Focal Length
3mm

What’s hidden inside

As I was culling through various possibilities in my mind for which scar to show today, this popped up in the photo collection. These two plates and ten screws are in my heel. My calcaneus, to be exact; it was shattered into many pieces in 2011 in a skateboarding accident.

The physics of the injury is actually very interesting. It isn’t the impact of the heel hitting the ground that results in the injury. Oh no, the calcaneus has evolved to endure impact forces. Rather, in a force impact, such as a fall from a ladder or an auto accident (or a skateboarding downhill) when the heel strikes the ground, the bones above it keep going (thanks, momentum!) and they shatter the heel like a battering ram. Wow!

What’s a calcaneus? It’s this red bone here

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Calcaneus_animation01.gif

You never know - you NEVER EVER KNOW - when you see someone’s outside, what they’re carrying on the inside. What they’re enduring or have endured. Everyone - everyone without a single exception - has an intricate and beautiful story made rich by many experiences, not the least of which are injuries, both physical and otherwise.

Shoulder tear
I figure I’ll begin by showing my physical scars. I have more than a few and it’s easy to snap a picture, slap some words together and post.
This one is from a recent surgery I had after an accident performing a gymnastics move ripped my Pectoralis major muscle from my arm. Technically speaking, the tendon ruptured and the sternal head of that muscle, the P. Major, withdrew into my chest. It happened on a bar about 10’ off the ground and when I heard it tear (which, by the way sounded kinda like shifting without proper use of the clutch) I dropped to the ground, clutching my shoulder (speaking of the clutch) and hollering like a muthafucka but mostly because I heard it tear. It’s scary to hear part of your body tear apart. Otherwise, it really didn’t hurt so much.
I considered not having it repaired but in the end, decided I wanted to regain as much functionality and aesthetic as possible so I went for it.
The procedure to repair it is both miraculous as well as elegant in its simplicity. In fact, here’s an animation of the repair process. Neat, huh?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=469CqN1-2nQ
I’ve seen a lot of people on Tumblr showing their scars with pride. People having completed or in gender transition, persons having faced life-threatening disease, birthmarks, vitiligo, and such and I acknowledge aloud that this post of mine is just me dipping my toe in the water of the pool of ‘putting it out there’. With that apologetic caveat, I’ll endeavor to move forward without comparisons.
And yeah, I was sitting on a toilet when I took this
Zoom Info
Camera
iPhone 5
ISO
250
Aperture
f/2.4
Exposure
1/30th
Focal Length
2mm

Shoulder tear

I figure I’ll begin by showing my physical scars. I have more than a few and it’s easy to snap a picture, slap some words together and post.

This one is from a recent surgery I had after an accident performing a gymnastics move ripped my Pectoralis major muscle from my arm. Technically speaking, the tendon ruptured and the sternal head of that muscle, the P. Major, withdrew into my chest. It happened on a bar about 10’ off the ground and when I heard it tear (which, by the way sounded kinda like shifting without proper use of the clutch) I dropped to the ground, clutching my shoulder (speaking of the clutch) and hollering like a muthafucka but mostly because I heard it tear. It’s scary to hear part of your body tear apart. Otherwise, it really didn’t hurt so much.

I considered not having it repaired but in the end, decided I wanted to regain as much functionality and aesthetic as possible so I went for it.

The procedure to repair it is both miraculous as well as elegant in its simplicity. In fact, here’s an animation of the repair process. Neat, huh?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=469CqN1-2nQ

I’ve seen a lot of people on Tumblr showing their scars with pride. People having completed or in gender transition, persons having faced life-threatening disease, birthmarks, vitiligo, and such and I acknowledge aloud that this post of mine is just me dipping my toe in the water of the pool of ‘putting it out there’. With that apologetic caveat, I’ll endeavor to move forward without comparisons.

And yeah, I was sitting on a toilet when I took this

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