How An Injury Helped Me Break A Cycle Of Control
I've been anticipating my upcoming summer trip to Italy forever it seems. I began buying sundresses six months in advance, started an official countdown at the three-month mark, and made my to-do lists blanketing the entire month leading up to my departure. Each day was accounted for. I had sunscreen and hats to buy for the hot Italian sun, walks and hikes to get me ready for strolling around the Tuscan countryside, and extra yoga classes to take before I put my body through twice-a-day classes there. Everything was going smoothly and according to plan.
And then, three weeks before I left, I broke my toe. A “hairline fracture,” the doctor explained to me with her optimistic smile, but broken nonetheless. Broken, just like it had been a flimsy string holding together my carefully laid out plans. Fractured, just enough to throw everything out of alignment. Cracked, just enough to cause everything leading up to the trip to change.
I do not do well with change.
For as long as I can remember, I've lived my life ruled by the appointments entered in my calendar. Schedules and structure make me feel safe and in control. Routines calm me, timelines comfort me, planning soothes me. Crossing an item off my to-do list triggers an almost sheepish feeling of satisfaction that I relish, and now, because of a silly injury, I would have an entire to-do list that was undone. It almost caused me to become undone. It feels ridiculous even to me that this little interruption in the regimen threatened to unhinge me. But so it was.
I went through various stages of grief as my carefully constructed plans slipped away in front of my eyes. I threw a bit of a tantrum, first with anger at myself (how could I do something so stupid?!), second with tears. Then a slightly longer pity party (I was the only attendee; everyone else sent their regrets). Bargaining followed (I will do anything to make this foot better!). Next came the questions, asked to myself out loud, and answered in a voice that sounded irritatingly like one of my friends.
Why me? (Well, why not you? Why should you be exempt from accidents?)
What if this ruins my trip? (It will only ruin your trip if you let it.)
What am I going to do now? (I guess you're either going to sulk and be miserable about it, or you’re going to get over it.)
And with that, the final stage, acceptance.
When even your own voice, the one that sounds like your friend who wants you to stop complaining and gain a little perspective, tells you to get over it? You listen.
You start to let go.
It was like releasing helium-filled balloons into the air.
First to go was yoga and those hikes — impossible with a foot injury; I let go of that string and the balloon floated swiftly away from me. Next released was the carefully constructed schedule — with a bum toe, standing at happy hours or combing the aisles of Target for travel-sized toothpaste were not a priority; that balloon practically jumped out of my hand.
Hardest to part with was the control I felt I had when my calendar was full and my life was planned. Liberating that balloon took, ironically, the most strength; my fingertips were painstakingly pried open one by one, before I could finally let go, exhale and wave goodbye.
My balloons gone, I was left without a plan.
And for the first time, it started to feel okay. I adjusted. I took care of myself. I even looked forward to a day stretched out by lack of obligations. I let myself just… be.
When I returned to yoga to test out my foot, I was amazed. Bewildered even, at how this little injury had impacted me. My mind and my body were more in tune than I can ever remember them being. My movements were slower, more deliberate and more intentional. There were limitations, of course, things I simply could not do with a still healing toe. But for once, my mind heard the cues my body gave, and actually listened to them, resting when necessary and easing up at just the right moments. I felt at once stronger and lighter. For one hour, all I did was pay attention (which, coincidentally, was the theme of the class). It was a truly wonderful moment.
Breaking my toe was physically not much more than an annoyance and some minor pain. Breaking the cycle of trying to control and plan everything in my life was the unexpected and clearly much needed side effect of this little accident.
It’s amazing how even the smallest break can cause the biggest breakthrough.