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Owning My Body’s Story: A Decade-Long Journey

As a writer, I’m pretty perfectionistic about my words. I want them to come out perfectly, and when they inevitably don’t, I edit them until they’re exactly what I want them to be. I’ve “edited” this post in my head for months now, and something is urging me today to just… write. To just get it out. It’ll be wordy. It’ll be heavy. But, if you’re here reading this, I hope something in my freely flowing, highly imperfect thoughts will reach your heart.

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About 11 years ago, I was diagnosed with scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a condition where your spine bends to the right and left, and you’ve got all these crazy curves, twists and resulting muscle imbalances in your body.

This was my spine in the fall of 2007.

I wore a back brace for a few months– I’m not going to talk about that now, because it’s a whole other can of worms to talk about wearing a bulky plastic shell every day when you’re a freshman in high school. And then my doctors, my parents, and myself decided that a spinal fusion surgery was the best option to treat my crazy-looking spine and prevent it from causing further problems.

So, a little over 10 years ago, 14-year-old Allie underwent an 8-hour surgery. She went in with a crooked spine, and she came out with a straight one, held up by 19 screws and two titanium rods. Honestly, the “healing” process after that didn’t take me that long. I was up and walking within 12 hours of my surgery (not a happy memory, to be honest). I went home four days after the surgery, and within six weeks I felt nearly like my “normal” self.

 

This was maybe two days post-surgery. I’m pretty sure I was only smiling because (a) morphine is powerful and (b) someone had just brought me a mountain of french fries.

But now I had a beautiful, straight spine and no pain. End of the story, right?

Wrong.

For quite a while, I lived like I was invincible. And for quite a while, it worked out just fine. I was in marching band throughout high school, and I did all the same things I’d done with it before the surgery– twisting, awkward bending, the works. I ran in college, and did a couple of 5K and 10K races. I had this crazy period where my roommate and I got up three times a week and went to the gym at 6 AM (miss you, Carlota), where I ran some more, worked with free weights, did a zillion planks/squats/crunches/whatever I wanted.

For all intents and purposes, I treated my body like it was normal. Like I had just as much or as little chance of injury as anyone else. Like it was impossible to break rods, impossible to overdo my exertion, impossible to hurt myself. For a while, it worked.

 

This is what me spine looked like immediately post-surgery. I’m bionic!

And then the pain came back. I remember the first time it happened. I was in an office on 8th Avenue in Nashville, working my first-ever internship in the music business. I was sitting in my chair, and when I stood up to walk to another room, I had this horrible shooting pain down my right leg.

What the heck? My back is fixed! It’s straight!

I’m supposed to live pain-free for the rest of my life! Right? Wrong again.

I’ll spare you the details, but an MRI showed that the unfused vertebrae under my fusion (I only have two that can still move freely below the rods), were under some serious pressure because my muscles weren’t strong enough to keep my body weight from literally almost crushing that bottom part of my spine. I was 19 at the time, and had the same kind of spinal disc issue that you see in someone in their 70s. COOL.

I just muscled through the pain (read: whined about it but did nothing to remedy it) for about a year. I did a little bit of physical therapy, but didn’t have the discipline to keep up the exercises, so the pain never fully went away. I lived mostly pain-free for a while, but I still had some bad days where it hurt to walk. I hate saying that because it sounds dramatic, but that’s just where I was in by body.

Fast forward to two years ago, and I started taking barre classes. My core grew stronger. My body confidence skyrocketed. Best of all, my pain finally leveled off at a lower level than I’d experienced in years.

Last summer, after meeting a smart, driven, compassionate Pilates instructor named Erin Myers, I decided I wanted to train to be a Pilates instructor, too. Erin is ridiculously knowledgeable about scoliosis and body movement. I’m now right in the middle of my instructor training, and I’ve learned more about my own body and spine in the last few months than I ever thought imaginable. I’ve learned how to release my own muscle tension, strengthen my own weak spots, and just take ownership of my body and how it operates.

 

(^^Here’s me working with Erin recently on a video she made about Pilates for spinal fusion people)

I look back now and realize that ten years ago– when I first had my surgery– I didn’t really heal. I just muscled through and shoved aside anything that felt hard (Yes, 19-year-old Allie still had that same mentality when the pain came back… history repeated itself). I focused on the straight spine, but I didn’t stop to deal with the emotions I was experiencing. As you read earlier, I obviously didn’t really change how I treated my body, either.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me to own my story when all of that first happened.

Really, I’ve only realized how much I need to own my story in the last several months. I spent the last ten years just trying to defy my story and prove (to the world? to myself? who knows) that I could do anything a “normal” person could. That’s why I did all that running in college. That’s why I became a barre instructor. That’s why I attempted to train for a half marathon last year (LOL, it was a no-go on so many levels for me).

These days, though, I’m “healing.” I’m owning who I am, what I look like, how I feel, and where I’ve been. I’m working through it all, little by little. Instead of just doing whatever I feel like with my body and blowing right past its limits, I’m finally getting to know my “new normal” on a deeper level. Some days that’s hard. Some days it’s freeing. All days it’s exhausting.

 

Another view of my fused spine. That hardware makes it just a little difficult to be a “flexy Lexy” anymore 😉

There are days when I wake up and feel angry about my spine, my scoliosis, and the limits my fused spine put on my body’s movement capabilities. There are days when I wake up and my body is screaming at me, my muscles are tight, and I feel like I’m living in an 80-year-old body (y’all know I’m old at heart, but this body is still 24, so that ain’t okay).

But, there are also days when I wake up and thank God that my surgery didn’t have any major complications– I’m not paralyzed, and my organs aren’t in danger of being crushed or damaged by a deformed spine and off-kilter ribcage. I thank Him for my straight spine, even though it prevents me from doing a lot of those cool, Instagram-worthy yoga poses and Pilates moves. I thank Him for my ability to move my body, and for the knowledge I’ve gained about myself through being a movement-practitioner-in-training.

My body still isn’t perfect, and it still causes me pain– physical and emotional.

My back doesn’t look like a normal person’s. It’s got a pretty obvious scar, and it still looks lopsided in places where the muscles are still out of balance– the same way they were long before surgery. My right shoulder blade still sticks out further than the left– again, the same as it was before my surgery.

My still-imperfect body, on the exact 10-year anniversary of my surgery: December 27, 2017.

 

Sometimes I tell myself my body is ugly. I tell my body I hate it. I ask God why it’s all messed up. Why it has to have a giant scar. I stay in my pajamas until 2 PM on a bright and sunny Tuesday, and get stuck in a mental and emotional slump because I wish my body was different. I wish my story was different.

But in the big picture, I’m done trying to defy my story. I’m done trying to prove that I’m something I’m not. I’m ready to feel at home in my own body, and feel like a character who’s still fully living her own life story– not trying to shove it away and rewrite a new one I like better.

When I was trying to decide whether or not I should train to teach Pilates, I asked the Lord to share His heart with me. A few hours later, I found myself humming that song, “Hands & Feet” by Audio Adrenaline (you know you want to listen to it— you’re welcome for the late 90s CCM throwback). It’s a pretty old song, and one I hadn’t heard in ages. But the words go like this: “I want to be your hands. I want to be your feet. And I’ll go where you send me.”

Simple, so simple. But all of a sudden, I realized that Pilates is meant as a way for me to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To literally use my hands, my feet, and my entire body as Jesus would have– to teach others how to find healing in their own bodies, no matter how messed up they might seem. To lead others to own the story He’s given them, just like I’m actively doing myself.

I ran across this verse a week or two ago. It’s in Psalm 119, a chapter you’ve probably heard about, especially if you grew up in church.

“Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” –Psalm 119:73

It was one of those times when something “jumped off the page” at me. I had just woken up with an aching back– one of those 80-year-old body days– and I literally prayed to God and asked him to give me some kind of peace. And this was it. All I have to do is acknowledge that he made my body exactly how he wanted it to be— curved spine and all. He knew I would live with this body. He knew it would give me a story to share with others. He knew what he was doing.

And now it’s my responsibility to follow his command to “be his hands and feet.”

So with that, you’ll find me fighting a battle most days. A battle to live in my own body and love it, even when it’s imperfect.

Oh, and you’ll find me doing this (see below), because I’m finally celebrating my body’s unique abilities.

I’m finally owning my story.

 

P is for Perfectionist: Are you “perfecting yourself to death”?

I’ve heard it said that “realizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.” I used to think that idea was limited to addiction and alcoholism, but as it turns out, “realizing you have a problem” is actually pretty close to saying, “Humble yourself and examine your heart.”

My story of dealing with perfectionism is a long-running one, and I don’t think it has an end in the near future. Truthfully, it may not end until my life has been lived, and I enter the Kingdom of God. Yay, lifelong sanctification…?

But, even though the end of my journey may not be on this earth, I can point out a distinct starting point. The part where I had to “realize I had a problem.” It looked like this:

Perfecting Ourselves Cover

About a year and a half ago, I started a second round of counseling with a Christian therapist. After about three weeks, she pulled out this book.

“Now, I’m not sure if this will describe you, but maybe take a look at the description on Amazon and see if it sounds relevant. If so, maybe that’s a good starting point for unpacking some of the struggles you’re telling me about.”

I did read the description, and I thought it was a pretty good match. So I stuck it on my iPad and started reading. The beginning was a lot of technical research (which was interesting, but not really helping me).

A few chapters later, though, the phrases “academically gifted children,” “controlling,” “exhausted and exhausting,” “craving approval,” and a bajillion others came up.

Uh oh.

I had to put it down. Opening the book felt a bit like opening the door to a haunted house and praying that something doesn’t come flying out at your face. Except, things did come flying out at my face and I couldn’t take it. Once I hit the “types of perfectionism” chapter, it was exactly like seeing myself through a microscope, and I was scared to look at myself that closely.

At that point, I was not at all ready to “realize” my problem. But, surprise– it wasn’t going away. A couple months later, I finished school, and I finally made myself read through the rest of the book. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was step one on the road to healing from the stronghold that Satan had on my mind and on my heart.

This book was the exact thing I needed to “realize I had a problem,” and I’m writing this very post because I think it could help others, too. To name a few symptoms that it really nailed for my own heart:

Performance anxiety, fear of failure, depression, indecisiveness, procrastination, all-or-nothing thinking, overactive conscience…

I could go on forever. Essentially, I’m convinced that this book was written about me.

I don’t pretend to be an expert by any means, but I’m finally starting to recognize my own negative thought patterns and false beliefs about myself. In the weirdest way possible, it’s freeing to be understood. It’s simultaneously terrifying and refreshing to read something like this book and think, “WAIT. You mean other people have thought that, too? You mean, I’m NOT the weirdest human on the planet?!”

For fear of sounding like one of those lawsuit infomercials (“if you or a loved one have suffered an injury from X drug, call the number on your screen”), I hesitate to say this. But, if you’re struggling with perfectionism, or with a lack of self-grace, don’t sweep it under the rug. That voice that keeps pushing you is Satan. And there are resources out there to help you. And there are people (Like me! Let’s talk!) who can lift you up and encourage you and help you identify your own darkness and lead you to light.

I’ve been floored by the responses I’ve gotten since I posted my initial “when things don’t go according to plan” story, and that’s why I feel the need to keep declaring that there’s HOPE.

So, if you find yourself in a dark place similar to mine of self-hatred and shame, don’t settle for living like that. “Perfecting yourself to death” will (quite literally, sometimes) lead you to death and destruction.

There’s hope, and His name is Jesus. I feel like I’m a living example of how His hope can change a life and a heart, and I’d love to share all of that with you if perfectionism is in your life, too.

You’re not alone, and you’re also not called to live a life dictated by Satan’s voice. Reach out, and Living Hope is there to pull you out of the darkness.

**A side note– If you want to read the book I’ve talked about, you can find it by clicking here. Also, I’m completely serious about talking to you about perfectionism if you think it’s something in your heart. Satan can’t thrive when we find healing community, so let’s chat!**

 

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