It's hard not to struggle with the feeling, lately, that my body's betrayed me.
Like most women I know - a fact heartbreaking in and of itself - it's taken me a long time to learn how to accept what I see when I look in the mirror. And if we're being brutally honest, I've never quite gotten there, never exactly been able to be happy with what I see without letting in the running critique of criticism I feed myself.
But around this winter, I'd finally gotten to a place where I'd made peace with my body. Sure, there were days that I looked in the mirror and cringed. But I was putting in 40+ mile weeks on the road, I was planking and crunching my way through pilates classes - I was finally starting to lessen how self-critical I was. I was proud of what we could accomplish together, my body and me.
Then my hip shattered, and I felt betrayed. Which is sort of a silly way to feel, I acknowledge, but there it is. My body had completely given out, I was trapped to a bed, and I felt like it had quit on me.
I thought this part of the injury - the mental part - would get easier as I got stronger, but it hasn't. Part of that is the physical reality of the situation : I haven't been able to train as I would have liked for the past four months, and I can see and feel my body changing because of it. My friends (who are all saints) assure me that I don't look different, but I know. I feel it. I feel it in my clothes, I feel it in the muscle definition I can watch disappearing little by little, before I'm strong enough to get the chance to rebuild it. And that tiny feeling is enough to let that inner monologue come creeping back : not good enough. Not strong enough. And pissed, so pissed, that my body quit on me.
Even small victories are tinged with a bitter edge. Yesterday, I held a plank on my toes for the first time since injury. It was for 30 seconds, and it felt like I'd run another marathon. But last night, all I could think about was how pre-injury, I could hold a plank for almost two minutes.
It doesn't help that every time I reach a new threshold of strength in physical therapy, a new challenge or edge is added. While, logically, I know this is important and necessary and a good sign, there's something uniquely frustrating in thinking you've conquered your limitations only to be presented with a new challenge (like side-stepping down a hallway with a resistance band wrapped tightly around your calves) that forces you to fall forward into your trainer's arms because dammit, you're not that strong yet and you need to be carried back to the start line. And also, my jean shorts don't fit quite as loosely as they did before I tore my hip to pieces and dammit, that makes it really hard to keep a smile on my face sometimes.
It's a constant reminder that my body isn't good enough for my own standards.
But that's when I need to get real with myself. At what point in my life have I ever reached my own impossibly high standards? Sure, it sucks that I can't wake up at 5 a.m. and watch the sun rise over the Washington Monument as I run past it. Sure, it sucks that I can't flip into a side plank with the ease I could in April. But would I really be happy with myself if I could?
My friends listened to me bemoan my frustrations with my body this weekend, including the deepest one : if my body quit on me and left me feeling broken, like it has, what if that never came back? What if all anyone ever saw when they looked at me was broken?
They listened to this and then one said, gently, that it was time to give my body a break. The body that's run a marathon. The body that tried its damnedest to get me to a second finish line, despite a traumatic injury. The body that is regrowing a major part of itself.
The body that can stand on the roof of Union Market and catch a glimpse of the whole city. The body that can float down a river - swimming without any pain! - and laugh with my friends so hard, and for so long, that my entire Saturday feels like a blur of side-splitting, ear-to-ear grinning love.
It's time to give my body a break, she told me lovingly. And for the first time, I feel like I actually understood what that meant. Maybe a part of the recovery that I haven't considered is that I also need to learn to love what I've been through, and the physical changes that's wrought. And maybe it means that a particular challenge of this recovery - and one that's long overdue - is to begin to treat myself more kindly.
It will, likely forever be an ongoing process. It will forever be mastering a return to squats, only to be told that from now on, I have to do all my rehabilitation squats while balancing on a Bosu ball. (That fucker.)
Anytime, lately, I've been harsh with myself - wondering out loud if I'll ever be anything but a girl with a broken body - another one of my best gals will look me in the eye and firmly say: "Hey! That's my friend. Don't you talk about my friend like that."
It makes me laugh every time, but it also sinks in every time. It's probably something we all need to say to ourselves more - hey! That's my hip. It's done some cool shit. Don't you talk about my hip like that.
So yes, I'm getting stronger. 30 second toe plank, hell yes. But I'm also realizing that I have a lot of work to do. There's nowhere to go but up.