I grew up playing sports and as a Grade A klutz, so naturally I was injured relatively often. Sprains, strains, dislocations, and most of all, fractures. Some injuries were worse than others, but never anything too severe. I suppose I should have known something bigger was coming eventually. A few months ago, I tore my ACL, aka Anterior Cruciate Ligament, known for knee stabilization.
If I’m being honest, it has been a long road full of guilt, frustration, and tears. And it’s had me thinking recently, how different are our physical injuries from the emotional ones?
When your ACL tears to a degree that your leg is unstable, surgery is the more challenging, but typically the best outcome option. There are a few surgical options, but I’ll highlight one. The idea behind this kind surgery is to replace your old ACL with a new one; namely, a strip of your patellar tendon. That piece of tendon is cut out, along with two pieces of bone, one from your shin bone, the other from your knee cap. That structure is then screwed in place where your ACL used to be.
Depending on your level of activity, you’re looking *typically* at least at 12 weeks of recovery including physical therapy, more ice than the Arctic itself holds, and stoic, but probably sometimes shaky, will power. A lot of factors come into play during this time, and honestly to a degree afterward as well.
The pieces of bone need to grow into the surrounding bone, which is partially where the timeframe comes into play. But just as importantly, you have restart the one of the engines that controls your knee: your thigh muscles. Not to mention, constantly working on flexion and extension to keep the knee from stiffening up, and maybe most importantly, establishing trust in yourself, your physical therapist and your doctor. As I said, lots of factors come into play, most of which have a pretty strict time table.
But, that’s the thing about physical healing; it’s relatively straightforward in that way. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying or implying that any of it is “easy” for anyone (you won’t see me jumping up and down or moving side to side without hesitation for a LONG time). It’s a task that no doctor, physical therapist, or patient should take lightly because it’s a lot of work, a lot of planning, and honestly, a lot of frustration.
Plenty of work must be put in by all parties, but when the guidelines and rules for the given injury are followed, healing happens. Lots of effort must be put in, but time is also crucial in our physical reconstruction (patience actually IS a virtue – your parents and teachers have been telling the truth all these years). Time allows our bones to grow back together. Time allows us to strengthen those muscles enough to where we can lift our leg to walk again. And time heals that incision into a scar (which is the preverbal metaphor for this whole journey, but I’ll touch on that later).
Emotional healing, however, isn’t always so straightforward. Our emotional wounds often times don’t close so easily, and they can bleed into the very structure of our daily lives. Have you ever wondered why your very laid back and down to earth friend actually gets very defensive when they’re criticized? Or even shuts down completely over something, that to you, and maybe even most people, isn’t very significant?
Have you ever wondered why you react in one of those, or some other ways to specific stimuli? I know I have. And I know I’ve been put off before by others’ similar behavior because it’s unusual, and I take things personally.
You see, to some extent (I’m not qualified to say how much) we are often a product of our experiences, and lots of times, a product of our childhoods. No one’s life is perfect, no matter how much it may seem that way sometimes. We all have heavy chapters somewhere in our stories. Often times, we flash back to those chapters, maybe without realizing it, in the midst of situations or circumstances that are similar or have similar factors. When fear takes over, it tends to present itself in an ugly way. And unfortunately often times, when the words someone is directing at us are laced with fear, in one way or another, it’s off putting because we don’t see a scared person; we see an angry or annoyed person. And we take it personally.
Our emotional wounds, and eventually, emotional scars aren’t anything we can see. When you see someone limping and they have a huge gash on their leg, it’s obvious they’re hurt, and that’s why their gait is altered. But it’s not always so easy to pick out those emotional wounds.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not anyone’s job to stitch up emotional injuries for anyone else. Truth be told, we have to be the doctors that stitch ourselves up, though that is far more challenging without the presence of others by our sides to be shoulders to lean on and hands to hold. But what I’ve found is when you can recognize the anger in someone’s eyes is only a mask for fear, you can emphathize and understand rather than snapping back with the exact same thing they’ve given you.
It won’t only help them to take a step back, it’ll help you too. The truth is, a lot of the time when you catch blame from someone for something, it’s more about the person throwing the blame than the person catching it. Throwing fire back at fire will only create more fire. But surrounding fire with a blanket, that will put the fire right out.
So that brings me back to my initial question, how different are our physical wounds from our emotional ones? As it turns out, I’ve come to the conclusion that they certainly heal differently, but they aren’t all too different. Now, I’ll preface my following thoughts by saying I would prefer a punch to the face over a punch to the heart any day, and I’ll explain why. I think the intangible things are absolutely the greatest things in life, but sometimes the most challenging to comprehend as well, both the negative ones and the positive.
And that’s because you can’t see those things, and they can’t be rationalized like physical wounds can be. Higher risk, higher reward. But just as it takes rigorous physical therapy for our physical ailments, it can take quite a bit of therapy, support groups, etc. for the emotional ones. Unfortunately, I think there’s a much bigger stigma surrounding that kind of therapy, whereas physical therapy (painful as it may be) is just something you know you do after a significant injury.
And that definitely is one aspect of our emotional pain that is, in my opinion more challenging to conquer. Time comes into play for a lot of emotional wounds as well, and as I discussed earlier, that’s a crucial factor in physical healing. Trust is a big one too for both sets of healing; though maybe more so in our emotional recoveries than physical.
It seems to me that there’s a lot more room for variation in emotional healing than physcial, but I’ve found during my current physical recovery that likening it to the emotional side of healing is helpful. It gives you a path and it gives you some structure to dealing with the intangible things that aren’t so positive. I’ve found that when you can’t move physically, you’re forced to face your own thoughts and there’s no where to run (literally). Life is all about balance, in every way. Physical wounds may heal in time a little more easily than the emotional ones, but we will never take the steps forward that we need to if we don’t put our focus into both sides of healing at some point.
And that brings us back to the scars. The physical ones are a blatant reminder that we may not be invincible, but we do grow back stronger than we were before; our skin is thicker, our bones are stronger. And it’s the same with emotional scars, the only thing is, you can’t see them. But, with them, you absolutely are stitched up stronger than you were before they developed.
Just as a broken bone grows back larger (for a time) following a break, our will and faith can grow back stronger too, so long as we find a way to stitch up those wounds we can’t see.