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