My body wouldn’t break…so I couldn’t heal
“I’m fine,” I say. I’m regaining consciousness. I feel the heat rising from the blacktop and the sun beating down. My head feels full of sloshing liquid.
A panic starts to rise in my chest, a shuddering heartbeat and a trembling in my limbs, but I shut it out. I imagine a door slamming shut in my heart, closing out the fear. Instead I am placid, unreasonably calm for someone who was just struck by a Tahoe on a beautiful June day.
“I’m fine,” I repeat it to the tearful woman who struck me, to the circling bystanders, to myself. I’m bleeding and feel unsteady. I’m sitting on a curb now. They’re asking about ambulances, but I say I’m going to walk home. I’m sure I can hold it together.
There are x-rays and questions in the emergency room. I’m only there because the woman who struck me insisted I go, insisted she take me herself. I spent the ride trying to reassure her that everything would be fine.
Nothing’s broken. I’m treated and released and told to take it easy. It sounds like no big deal, and I repeat it to myself: I’m fine. After all, aside from some scrapes, the injuries don’t look too bad. I don’t have to slow down or admit I’m in pain. I can keep the pace in my high-pressure job at a major corporation; I can keep putting in long hours at night as a volunteer youth pastor. I can keep saying yes. I can be flexible, roll with the punches.
Despite the lack of obvious brokenness in my body, I don’t seem to get better. My muscles lock into hard spasms. Sometimes I sit and can’t get back up, as though I’m paralyzed. Symptoms from a severe head injury worsen and the pain turns chronic.
I spend the next year in and out of all kinds of clinics: orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, neurologists. Progress is slow. Nobody understands why.
Finally, one tosses out an offhand comment that follows me for years: “You know, it would have been better if your bones had broken. Broken bones heal in a few weeks.” Eventually they’ve found a name for it: hypermobility syndrome, an abnormal looseness of joints, an over-flexibility.
You just stretched too far. You absorbed too much shock. It begins to settle in my heart, that my body doesn’t stop or break when it should. It takes on more than it was meant to bear, distorting and stretching to fit.
Had I broken upon impact, the healing would have been simpler and more complete. Bones can be set and mended in a few weeks, sometimes stronger than before. But stretched-out ligaments, tendons, and nerves take years to heal or regenerate. Sometimes, as in my case, they are never the same. Short of a miracle, I’ll carry that chronic pain to the grave.
Flexing too far to hold myself together resulted in permanent damage. And sure, if I’d broken bones and skin that day, it would have looked worse. I could not have stood up and walked away. But in the end, I would have healed. It would have led to greater wholeness than keeping the hurt hidden beneath my skin ever could.
Eventually the pieces fall together. For years, I’ve done the same thing emotionally. I’ve stretched so far, too far, to keep the hurt in. I refused to break, to look broken. But the constant searing inside was worse than allowing myself to ache openly, to ask for and receive help. It was a secret handicap, touching every area of my life. It is not a sign of strength or maturity or carefully developed flexibility, but a syndrome. A dysfunction.
I feel it in my relationship with the man I love. I think if I can encompass all his wants and desires and thoughts, I will be enough. If I can stretch far enough then everything will be OK. He will love me, and I will be good enough.
But that is not what he wants, and he reminds me often. He sends me a quote over text one day as I work: “Show me all your broken pieces, so I know the places to love first.” He’s always reminding me that he loves me. He doesn’t want me to stretch too far for his sake. He wants me as I am.
Ann Voskamp writes about living with an “unspoken broken” and allowing the pain to be a gift poured out. As I read slowly, I drink those words like water and remember precious moments I’ve been able to stop stretching and flexing to let my broken heart become the balm for another’s.
I remember bandaging fresh self-inflicted wounds on gorgeous young women. When they could only see shame and self-hate, I’d say, “I’m not disappointed,” and show my own long-healed scars.
I remember telling my story in a room full of girls, inviting them into painful spaces, the way hope swelled in their hearts. I remember them handing me notes and hugging me, saying, “Maybe my life can change, too.”
The worst part of that compulsion to keep it all together? It keeps me from deeply connecting with the heartache of others. Funny how making space for the shattered parts allows me to give – and live – more fully. The pieces of hurt have helped me work with young women sex trafficked in the US and overseas, those with eating disorders and abuse and other stories of untold pain.
And I wonder, friend, what are the pieces you’re stretching hard to keep together? And what if letting those very pieces out let you become healing to others? My prayer is you’ll join me, that together we can learn to pour from our broken places to live and give more fully.
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Hi, I'm Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I'm a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I've got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That's the story I've lived, and the one I want for you. Let's be friends!