When I was a senior in high school, I broke my left knee playing flamingo football–boys against the girls. After six weeks on crutches, my leg wrapped in plaster from thigh-top to toe-tips, the day came for cast removal. I vividly recall my first glimpse of the leg. I say, “the leg” because it really didn’t resemble MY leg. The leg was shriveled, dirty, and hairy! But even worse than how it looked, was how poorly it functioned. The knee didn’t bend, and it couldn’t hold any weight whatsoever. It was a useless, pitiful little thing, just hanging there with no cast to protect it.
After weeks of physical therapy and excruciatingly painful exercises, I was able to take my first tentative steps without crutches. It was over a year before I could attempt running and even longer before I could operate the clutch pedal of our extended bed International Harvester pick-up truck.
Now, over 40 years later, there are still times my knee “acts up.” It’s not particularly fond of steep, downhill descents on rocky trails. For the most part, though, I go through life, walking three or four miles a day without giving it much thought. I climb stairs, ride bicycles, and easily deploy a clutch pedal. Once healed, it’s hard to remember the process of recovery: limitations, pain, frustration, and wanting to give up.
I think the same is true for healing emotional wounds. For a little while, it’s okay to wrap ourselves in protective armor while the worst of the injury heals. But the longer we wait, the more we atrophy and the harder it is to return to normal. And it’s no more realistic to expect instant emotional recovery than it is to remove a cast one day and plan to run a marathon the next.
Sometimes the recovery period feels worse than the initial injury, and certainly some wounds are worse than others. The more traumatic the injury, the longer the recovery period.
Ultimately, I believe in the wisdom of the body and heart when it comes to healing. If we take our bruised egos out of the picture, surrender to the reality of the situation, release whatever needs to be forgiven, and listen to the small, still voice within, we will heal. Healing–both physical and emotional–calls for patience, kindness, self-compassion, and self-love. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love. And maybe a trusted friend or two to lean on while you’re learning to walk again.