I've learned a few things about pain this month, and some things about myself through it. Three joints in my neck have been the root and source of my pain and suffering, but those joints are not the only thing causing me problems.
When I walked into my therapist's office a few weeks ago she took one look at me, summed up my condition saying, "You're guarding and protecting," and I replied, "You bet I am!"
I knew I shouldn't be--"guarding and protecting"--but I couldn't help it. What she meant was that my body was rigid, my shoulders were hunched, and my movements were slow and calculated. I was doing everything I could to avoid pain and my entire body was answering the call to defend my neck.
An injury several weeks before was the initial cause of my trouble. I fell, a simple, stumble, twist-of-the-ankle kind of fall that sent me gently forward onto one knee and hand. It wasn't even much of a fall. I was up after the initial sting wore off and on I went. The pain surfaced the following day and the day after that I was in agony.
I went in to see Susie, my PT, after 2 weeks of treatment that reduced the swelling and debilitating pain. Her job would be to get me moving again. The neck pain had minimized, and I was able to go relatively long periods (more than 10 minutes) without needing to lay down. But, my body was still in protection mode--guarding and protecting.
My new focus was relaxing and stretching. I learned that not only were my neck and shoulder muscles tight, but so were my arms, hands, back, and legs. Everything had tensed up in anticipation of an attack on my neck. Because the injury was old the muscles all had plenty of practice doing their protective jobs. It will be weeks before I get them all settled down to normal again.
I'm still amazed that when I feel my neck begin to hurt I can stand by the wall and stretch my wrists or legs to make the pain disappear. Although I'm past the fall-injury my muscles are still tensing, causing pain to continue.
As I learned about how my body was dealing with the pain I became aware of the spiritual/personal significance of this phenomenon. I thought of how I react when I've gone through a very painful emotional experience. I tighten up, draw myself into a cocoon, and emotionally mimic the same protective measures that my limbs have done in defense of my neck, only now the object in need of protection is my heart.
Emotional pain will leave me feeling wounded and sore and I want to blame everything and everyone around me for the pain. As I slowly deal with the core issue I continue to mount an emotional defense for future attacks by putting up walls to my heart.
It works the same way with people. Someone hurts us and we draw up in pain. When we open up again we are a bit more guarded than we had been. We are more suspicious and careful about who we talk to and what we say. Every time we experience a similar "injury" we close up more and more. We block out anyone who might hit that sore spot again. We take it beyond the one who caused the pain and each time we experience a hurt the cirle of our wall grows larger.
What we don't realize is that our protective measures are often the cause of our continued pain. Even after the injury is past we are in pain because our protective instincts keep aggravating the injury, and it never heals properly. Things that should not hurt us, do. Just like a movement from my tense and defensive arm hurts my neck so does someone cause hurt who has really done no harm at all, because I'm guarding from something else. It's kind of like when we "take out" our frustration on the wrong object. A bad day a work causes us to honk at another driver or yell at a family member when they're not the object of the hurt. Our protective measures have gone too far and pain is felt where there is really no injury.
My neck has sustained irreversible joint damage, probably because I failed to deal with it years ago and my body's protective instincts kept it tight and rigid. Because my joints couldn't do what they needed to do they suffered.
Our spirits suffer, too, when we put up defenses and refuse to open ourselves up to love and life as we should. We need to heal, starting with small steps and avoiding injury while the pain is raw, but we need to be working in a direction towards dealing with the pain and doing the things we need to as we're able. It is normal for us to feel hurt and wounded when we're dealing with suffering and personal injury. But it's necessary that we focus on healing what's really hurt and then move past it, too, so that we're not crippled.
I'm a metaphor kind of person, I love examples and analogies and stories, and my neck problem has helped me tremendously in seeing how I've guarded and protected myself emotionally as well as physically. So now, as I do the stretches prescribed by my therapist to help me daily re-release the tension in my muscles (training them to quit guarding and protecting) I pray for spritual stretching and release, giving the care of my heart over to its Therapist, so that my heart, too, will move beyond being guarded and protected.