23 Nov Left Leg
I don’t know if I have always held my tension in my left leg, but I know I have for at least 25 years. When I was in my early 20’s and my back would “go out”, it was always on the left side. I got rid of that for about 5 or 10 years after I read “Healing Back Pain” by Dr John Sarno. My father and brother had been saved by is teaching that many pain syndromes were caused by the repression of emotions. So, when I read the book, not only did it make sense to me, I also had proof that it worked, so it wasn’t a big leap for me to re-orient my thinking.
However, when I was around 33 years old and I had a one year old daughter, I started to get crippling pain in my leg. I re-read the book, but it didn’t seem to help. I was under an unbelievable amount of “adult” pressure at the time. I was distributing a self produced documentary, while working on two other films, and struggling to fix up two houses, while also caring for a one year old. Frankly, I was overwhelmed with responsibilities and ended up stuck on the floor of a house I was fixing up. I was in so much pain it took 3 vicodin pills to get me to relax enough to be carried to the back seat of a car. A few days later an MRI (which was horrendously painful to endure) revealed terrible things. I knew that I should be going to see Dr Sarno, but I felt too poor and too embarrassed by my failure to deal with my emotional struggles, to go see him. However, my brother and father insisted and my wife helped me hobble into his office.
Dr Sarno glanced at my MRI and tossed it back. “There’s nothing wrong with,” he said. I knew he was right. I didn’t know what to do though. Slowly, I got better by slowing down and letting go of some responsibilities. I also shifted the way that I dealt with other ones. Honestly though, I did not do nearly as much inward work as I should have. My left leg still held a lot of tension and while I wasn’t crippled anymore, I was hobbled. My left leg was definitely weaker and my right leg began to take on much more weight. Eventually, after several years of struggling I went with a friend from Spain to get acupuncture because he wanted to find a place while visiting. I had tried it before, when the pain had first begun, and it hadn’t helped. This time it was somewhat miraculous. I went back for a second visit and, while I wasn’t immediately balanced in the strength of my legs, my pain was pretty much gone. That last for about four years.
In 2011 I ran myself into the ground yet again. We completed the film that we’d started in 2004, when my pain had first begun. As we tried to get it out into the world we faced rejection after rejection. I kept pushing forward despite the resistance. I got the film booked in a theater in NY and then went and did a q and a at every single screening despite the fact the pain in my leg was getting so bad that I could barely walk from my car to the theater. I knew that I needed to slow down but I didn’t know how. So my body did it for me. A few days after we finished our run at the theater I was trying to type a note when my leg seized up with such force that I was thrown to my office floor (my office was in my house). I spent the next two weeks next to my desk. When you are in that much pain you learn things about yourself.
When I hit the floor I screamed “grab the fucking camera.” In 2004, after I saw Dr Sarno, he agreed to let us make a film about him. We couldn’t figure out how to do it, so it had kind of fallen apart. At that moment I realized that I’d have to be in it. This time I was committed to getting better. I have gotten a lot better. That was a decade ago, though it seems more like five years; ie it’s unfathomable to me that it’s been that long. In that time, I have done the work. I continually work to get a deeper understanding of the frames that define my understanding of myself and my life. I’ve developed a mediation practice (which is a bit spotty) and a yoga practice (which is much more solid). I’ve also been deeply committed to addressing problems that crop up rather than avoiding them.
We completed our film about 4 years after I hit the floor. By that point, I was fully functional. When people asked me if I was healed I responded that I have the disease called “being human”, and that it’s terminal. The truth is, I am so much better than I was in the past, and there is a pretty big imbalance between my legs. My left ankle is probably 30% thinner than my right ankle. At the same time, I have a little more flexibility in that leg. My right hip is much stronger but also oddly less capable than my left leg in some ways. These imbalances show up in profound ways when I’m trying to do yoga. The strength of my right leg serves me well in Tree pose, but I find it hard to find strength in that leg when I am trying to do warrior with my left leg in front. I find that it’s hard to get it to hold firm. These details are less important than the fact that I’m almost always conscious of the differences between my legs when I am doing Yoga.
This morning, as I was meditating on gratitude and acceptance at the beginning of practice I was struck with an awareness that my left leg might just be stuck in a state of rage about having to deal with adult responsibilities. In around 2000 I tried to work on a book with my father who was a psychologist. I was an accidental religious studies major in college; by that I mean that when it was time to declare a major I had finished that one. I was interested in philosophy and ideas, but I was not interested in academia. After college I started a band and struggled to find my way as an artist. My father expressed a lot of disappointment that I wasn’t following a more standard path that offered security. He did it in snarky ways and it pissed me off.
With my religious studies background I keyed in on the idea that in our culture we had let go of the kind of rituals that smoothed the transitions from parent-child relationships to ones that involved a shared sense of adulthood. So, a few years after we had tussled our way into a more respectful balance I suggested that we work on a book together, outlining ways in which parents and adult children might make these transitions. We had some discussions and traded some writing, but the project was not meant to be. Still, the process helped us to move a little further in our own journey.
This morning, as I sat there thinking about my angry leg I could see that some of the stuckness had to do with a part of me that still resents so many of the difficulties of adulthood; the responsibilities that are often profound and overwhelming. While my father and I had found some peace, confronting parenthood was a whole new level of adulting that I was not fully prepared for. In retrospect I wish that my father and I had been more capable of completing the project we had started. There was a lot we could have worked through that might have made me more prepared.
The revelation that I had this morning was a bit of an a-ha moment, but it’s not a quick fix. It wasn’t really all that much of a new thought. However, I did view it with much more clarity. Sometimes naming things helps us to bring them into the light. I’m not sure that this awareness will help my leg to build more muscle mass, but it may help me to peel back layers of frustration. It may help me to let go of some weight I have been holding. It may allow me to start exercising some emotional muscles I have been building for years. It’s kind of so obvious that it’s a little embarrassing to say out loud. My left leg has been having a tantrum for 22 years. How do you end a tantrum? You comfort it. That’s the work I now have to do.