“When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire…” One of my favorite lyrics by Stars’ Your Ex Lover’s Dead. A song so close to my heart because of a dance that I performed my senior year of high school. It was choreographed by one of my best friends, Travis, and performing it was the first time I truly recognized my growth and potential as a dancer. It was the first time I realized I was mature and had a talent and that just mayyybbbeee I could succeed at this. I doubted myself a lot growing up. Always questioning if I was enough. I was so hard on myself and constantly insisted on obtaining the closest version of perfection in everything I did. I’m sure that’s where my work ethic comes from and unfortunately also my innate craving to control and push a result. Dance has always felt like home. Passion has always driven me far over money or fame. I wanted to do everything that involved dance. I loved it all and didn’t know where to start. Or sometimes I would know the way and have trouble stepping off the ledge, into the unknown. Sometimes I have trouble embracing my fear, collecting it and turning the fears into fuel. I still struggle with that. I maybe always will. As long as there’s a struggle I’m happy. It’s the act of succumbing to fear that eventually kills us slowly and spirit first. Throughout the year of performing that piece I felt my artistry growing. Recognizing that was huge for me as I had always been a technician and a perfectionist and would rarely surrender to sharing myself. No matter how hard I would try to let go I was always too afraid of the judgments. I went through so many periods where I just felt like I was stuck both in my training and performance quality and mentally/emotionally. Then occasionally, and usually suddenly, the feeling would go away and something would draw my attention to how much I had improved. It would always astonish me and seem like it came out of nowhere even though I knew it hadn’t. I knew it was because of all the hours, and sweat, and (good) pains, and thirst, and visualizing, and sleepless (usually twitching while marking movements in my bed) nights that had gotten me there. One starry-eyed night in NYC while competing with my studio Denise Wall’s Dance Energy we had been chosen to perform Your Ex Lover’s Dead in the New York City Dance Alliance National Finals Gala competing for the Critics Choice Award. That was also the night I had won the Senior National Title, something that meant a lot to me and still does. That opportunity launched me into almost everything I do today and taught me an unimaginable amount. It was a priceless opportunity that I will never forget and would recommend to any young dancer.
I was overwhelmed and over stimulated by all the excitement that night. I remember having about 2 min to quick-change from my solo costume, which was a white corset and calf length skirt, and into a different corset (with a minimum of 20 bra clasps up the back), 5 pound hand-beaded skirt, and -fingers crossed- a decent looking french twist. AKA a lightning fast and delicate situation with absolutely no time cushion built in. With the help of my soul sister Cami I stripped down so fast I pretty much blacked out and forgot what happened next. But I made it and with some time to spare. I said a prayer to the universe, which I always do before I enter a stage, and as I walked on to perform I felt like I was floating. It was completely ‘out of body’. Just pure happiness. I had rapid thoughts, realizations, gratitude, confidence, and love rush over me in the second the stage lights warmed my skin. I felt like I was going to cry, and laugh, and scream. And although everything was happening in a blissful blur around me while I was dancing I was safe. I felt free and calmer than ever. The stage was my home and I knew my soul belonged there in that moment and for my life. I had learned LOVE > FEAR. That feeling of accomplishment, hope, freedom, or a fire being relit inside of you.… whatever you want to call it…. That’s a break through. They’re available to us when we’re ready for them but we have to persevere through all the bad stuff FIRST: The boredom, the frustration, the feeling of hopelessness or stuck-ness, the cycling thoughts that make you want to post up, camp out and possibly even abort mission…. They’re inevitable and the more obstacles there are the bigger the reward. The rush. The fire. The bigger the breakthrough.
I imagine breakthroughs are called breakthroughs because it feels like you’re banging your skull into a wall for a tortuous amount of time questioning if you look insane to everyone around you, which you probably do, until one day the wall succumbs to the pressure and you break through to see a startling, brand new and breath taking world. One you could never have imagined with only the knowledge you had before.… And you know what? The headache is so worth it.
That’s what the past few months have felt like to me. Like periodically banging my head against the wall. Always feeling slightly insane. Knowing one day I can make a dented wall crumble to pieces and fade away in the shadow of a glorious new level of being. Accepting what I’m experiencing with love and understanding without demanding an explanation from it all…. Then there are times when the knowing only feels like hoping.
Life holds a series of plateaus and breakthroughs.
I ended up not being able to start PT for a month after surgery and when I did start it was very minimal. I’m talking almost no movement at all. Just a lot of soft tissue, scar tissue, ROM (Range Of Motion) and muscle activation work. I wasn’t cleared to do any strengthening for 6 weeks post op. Which is much longer than usual but my team is taking everything extremely cautiously with me and it takes a full 6 weeks for your new ligaments to set completely. Although I understand why and am totally on board with being extra cautious I’d be lying if I said I don’t cry every time I’m told something will take longer than I had expected. It’s happened so many times this year that my surgeon now knows to deliver any unexpected news while slowly backing out of the room. He then immediately sends a woman in, which I appreciate but also think is hilarious.
Get rid of the timeline. Set goals and intentions YES!!! But remain unattached to the timing. It adds too much pressure and rarely ever remains the same. Not to mention the fact that I keep feeling like the universe is laughing at our man-made idea of timelines, right before it crushes them and creates it’s own secret one that we just have to live out to find out. Lucky for us the universe is always right.
Since this injury I’ve been able to recognize so many plateaus and breakthroughs. I felt it big time during the 6 weeks before I could really start moving. While my range of motion was coming back with ease and absolutely no force, which I’m super thankful for, it seemed the more my swelling went away and my ROM improved the more my knee was popping, grinding, and clicking. And honestly, ANY movement or sounds that come from my knee after all it’s been through recently scare the sh*t out of me. So, for a long stretch of anxiety filled time I was scared all of the time. Everyday I left PT feeling confident and stronger until I felt a new sensation or a movement I didn’t recognize and it would launch me into thinking that my knee was “too loose” or something had somehow gone wrong. Which was highly unlikely considering I was doing the closest thing to nothing my body has ever experienced since I was curled in the womb. In fact, my PT Nick would tease me saying “You’re not going to roll over in bed, catch your toe on your blanket and tear your ACL”. He always manages to calm me down and crack me up. We would laugh so hard because of how ridiculous all my worries sounded and I always left comforted but at home I would still periodically convince myself of the worst and I’d often become terrified. I even found myself popping into my surgeons office a couple of times just so he could triple check that my ACL was still tight. I secretly love seeing everyone in the office and I think they love me too, so I may have abused my privileges for multiple reasons but the main one was for peace of mind. My knee was always okay and little by little the trust in it started to come back.
Your thoughts are the most powerful force you have.
Building the trust is the hardest part of rebuilding anything really. Your body, your brain, your heart. Trust is key in all. Your body is so quick to adjust to it’s circumstances it compensates instantly and miraculously for whatever weakness you have. It’s an amazing thing, but breaking the new habits created during a long term injury is incredibly challenging. Almost all of it is mental and most of that mental challenge is in learning to trust again. The biggest thing I’ve devoted myself to during this recovery process that I didn't do the last two times is my mental health. I decided I had to make my happiness, drive, positive energy, and willingness to perceive challenges as beautiful and to flow with change a consistent mindset no matter how difficult it got. This I believe heals the physical body more wholly but also cleanses the heart and mind, allowing for understanding and love towards the experience, and warding off jealousy and bitterness.
I’ve found this commitment is a constant effort. There are so many temptations of discouragement surrounding us environmentally and socially constantly there to remind us that this “isn’t in the plan”, making us feel left out and as though we’re falling behind. The moments of discouragement I face are so numerous I’ve lost count. I started searching for things to focus on to keep me from a negative headspace or to help drag me out of the opaque when I feel myself recoiling. I’ve found that there was one simple thing that consistently changed my day, which changed my weeks, which has then changed my ENTIRE experience:
….and I mean EVERYTHING.
When I was fresh out of surgery I would do it without even thinking. I would genuinely be so happy to take one less pain killer that day than the day before, or to roll over at night without being woken up by sharp sensations springing up my leg. I celebrated the first time my knee could bend enough to sit on the toilette and again when it was strong enough to actually squat over the toilette. Ohhhh, the simple things we take for granted... There was this time I was at Griffith Park observatory with my sister, Cara, who was visiting from Virginia. I was just so excited to be showing her around that I started walking up the stairs on accident and realized I was actually strong enough to walk up a stair and that it didn’t hurt or feel like I would collapse for the first time in 6 months…. DROP THE MIC CELEBRATION! I literally treat myself with a mani/pedi, my favorite treat, maybe a steak dinner and bottle of wine, or sometimes I just cheer myself on out loud… I treat myself to whatever I can access that will make me the happiest in that moment. And then BAM! It’s a double whammy. 1) I’m happy because I did something new or experienced a new “milestone” no matter how big or small it is and 2) I also get a treat?!
When you celebrate everything you get to really see how many tiny breakthroughs there are in a time where you feel like there’s nothing.. All those little breakthroughs are what build us up to the BIG breakthroughs. They’re always happening we just sometimes don’t see them or credit ourselves for them. I say “WHY NOT?!” Now that I look for reasons to celebrate I find myself celebrating ALL THE TIME! It’s brought so much positivity into my process even (ESPECIALLY) in the moments of plateauing.
Pretty much all of March and part of April felt like another plateau for me. While I was progressively doing more in PT I wasn’t feeling the strength I had wanted to feel for where I was in my “timeline” and I didn’t trust my new ligaments AT ALL yet. But I kept celebrating all the little things even when I was in moments of doubt. Just recently I was doing a lot of reflecting and realized just how far I had come. I was doing full lunges in all directions along with releve, passé, slow battements, using rotation, biking for an hour everyday, was close to having full ROM back, and even got to start doing a basic ballet barre and light yoga. I had no idea I had come so far because it was happening so slowly. The plateau effect was still there but something about it was so different. I was happy. I was content. And because of that I was powerful and felt totally in control in a situation totally out of my control.
It’s taken me a couple of decades to fully understand why they say "you can’t try to control what’s happening only how you perceive it and react to it". I’d like to take it one step further and mention that nothing is “happening to us”. When we think that way we give the experience all of our power. “I can’t believe this is happening to me” is claiming it as ours and brings with it a lot of weight and sometimes even shame as if we “deserve” it.
It’s not happening to you…. it’s just happening. It’s the experience you happen to be in and you get to decide how IT will EFFECT you and how YOU will AFFECT it! And THAT is SO empowering!!!
Celebrating has made me come to understand how gratitude truly works. I thought I understood it before and I consider myself a grateful person. But I didn’t necessarily live my everyday life being grateful for all things big and small and with the same vigor no matter what the size. I acknowledged my blessings frequently but couldn't always connect with the feeling in the every day stuff. You know the feeling. I LOVE the feeling. For me it’s bubbly, almost butterfly-like, and ocean deep in the pit of my stomach. It plants itself in my sacral chakra and grows up into my chest and out through my limbs in a tingling fashion. I KNOW that’s what the vibration of gratitude feels like and yet I found it so difficult to tap in to that sensation on a daily basis. My thoughts of gratitude sometimes felt shallow and sterile. It’s not enough to think gratefully you have to feel gratefully. “Celebrating” things made me feel a real happiness even if it was only for a second. When I turned my intention to looking for things to celebrate in order to feel that breath of joy I found joy every where and in everything. Those small moments add up like pennies. Then when practiced they nestle deeper and deeper and grow in authenticity. I had started to create a habit of celebrating that was turning into the richest gratitude for the most under appreciated things in my life.
Celebration is gratitude as kinetic energy.
List of things I’ve celebrated (….and these are just the stand out moments):
Every single card, email, text, Instagram, Snap, Tweet, thought that anyone has sent my way.
Every meal someone made or had delivered to me. Forever celebrating you.
Every second a friend has sent me prayer or positive energy.
Every moment a friend has spent with me, keeping me company, or nursing me back to health.
The first time I slept through the night after surgery.
Every time I took one less pain killer.
The first day I didn’t need a painkiller at all.
The first time I rolled over in bed without it waking me up.
The first time I slept on my stomach.
The first night I got a full night’s sleep.
When they took my gauze off and replaced it. That thing was naaasstyyyyy.
When I got my stitches out.
Every time I got good reports on an x-ray.
Every time I had a check-up even if I didn’t necessarily love the news.
Every time I got to see my surgeon. A good doctor nurses your spirit not just your body.
The first time I could bend my knee enough to sit on the toilet.
The first time I could put any weight on my leg.
Every single time I put a little bit more weight on it.
The first time I took a shower sitting on a stool, not a bucket bird bath.
The first day I started to wean myself off crutches.
The first day I was able to walk.
The first day I was able to drive.
The first time I was put on the CPM machine and every time I was able to bend my leg a few degrees more.
The first time I was allowed to use the pedlar.
The first time I was able to ride the stationary bike.
The first time I did a squat.
The first time I could stand long enough to do my dishes.
The first time I could stand long enough to cook.
Or do my own laundry.
Or run my own errands.
The first time I could go “out” to dinner with my friends.
The first time I was able to walk without that heavy, huge, uncomfortable brace.
The first time I realized I could wear anything I wanted because I didn’t have to make sure it fit under/on top of that heavy, huge, uncomfortable brace.
The first time I stretched.
Did a lunge.
Went on releve.
Stood in 1st position.
Did a passé.
Hit down dog.
The first time I did a small jump.
The first time I did a pivot turn without my knee feeling like it would break in half.
The first time I did a slow battement.
The first time I did some gentle yoga.
Every time something feels just a little bit easier.
Pretty much anytime my therapist upgrades my exercise or adds something new. BIG CELEBRATION!
The first time I could put my own sneaker on.
The first time I could stand on one leg to put my pants on.
When I put my pull out couch away in my living room and started sleeping in my bed room again. :)
The first time I could stand up and take a shower.
The first time I could stand on one leg long enough to shave in the shower.
The first time I could get through the day without HAVING to lay down and rest. STAMINA!!!
The first time I was allowed to swim.
The first time I was able to travel/ fly.
The first time I walked up the stairs.
The first time I stood up out of bed in the morning and didn’t worry about my knee.
When I took out my own trash.
The moment I was able to go on a hike.
Every month that I’m able to pay my bills without having to stress about work.
Everyone that has taught me how to support myself and taught me how to prepare for hard times.
Every time I get to be in a dance environment even though I can’t dance. I have seen my value in different work related ways through this as well and it makes me feel loved and safe in my future.
I celebrated the week my ACL is said to have vascularized itself (about 3 months post op) and therefore officially anatomically became "mine".
…Which also happened to be the week of my 28th birthday. So me and my new ligaments are birthday twins. LOTS OF CELEBRATION THERE!!
The moment I realized I didn’t feel “INJURED” anymore was the biggest breakthrough I’ve had so far. I don’t remember when it clicked, but it was very recent. It was the kind of moment that came so fast and out of know where and one day I just noticed that I felt strong. Not as strong as I need to be- I have a long way to go- but stronger than I had felt in the past 8 months. I knew this day would come, but back then I would have never expected to have been so full of a peaceful understanding along the way. I can only say that this is not how I handled it the first two times and I give all the credit to the act of celebration and the power gratitude…
I would love to hear back from all of you with any comments or questions you may have. Curious about something? Want more details? Need someone to share your story with? Feel free to comment below! Or if you'd like to share in private email me at Jaimiegoodwin21@gmail.com.
Looking forward to connecting and sending you all love!