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Laying Down My Arm(s): What A Frozen Shoulder Taught Me About Ego, Defensiveness, Worthiness, And Healing

Pain is like a life coach in your body. It’s what made me a life coach because I started paying a lot of attention to what made me hurt and what didn’t. It turned out my body was trying to steer me away from a life that was absolutely wrong for me and into a life that was absolutely wonderful. ~ Martha Beck

“If I could just get skinny, then I’d be worthy.”

“If I can’t be skinny, at least I can be strong. Because if I am strong, then I will be worthy.”

These are thoughts I’ve had pretty much my entire adult life. I wasn’t conscious of them for a long time, but they were there, like an operating system, running me.

You’d think that as I became aware of the first one, the second one would become obvious, but it didn’t.

A few months ago I wrote about my shoulder injury (Doucement, Doucement) and the “badass” attitude that I believe led up to it.

Since then I’ve had an MRI (which showed, among other things, a small anterior labral tear and adhesive capsulitis, aka frozen shoulder, which, if you don’t know, is really painful), additional physical therapy (seriously painful…like you-yelp-out-in-pain-and-cry-actual-tears painful), two cortisone injections (which didn’t “work”), and appointments with two different orthopedic surgeons (in the same practice), both of whom didn’t appear to be keen on surgery.

I’ve also had some major ah-has. I’ve been dealing with shoulder/upper back/neck issues for a long time. I tend to hold that part of my body in a tense, defensive, ready-for-a-fight posture. I have to constantly remind myself to lower and relax my shoulders.

I know I am not alone in this.

I also tend to be an emotionally defensive woman. I’ve seen how this has played out in my life and I’ve written about it plenty, here on my blog and in my book.

But even with awareness, the body doesn’t necessarily forget. It’s no coincidence that around the time my shoulder started to get worse, I found myself steeling for emotional battle (of course, this is a hindsight observation).

So it makes sense that there’s a reason – well beyond my desire to be a badass kettlebell queen – that my shoulder is torn up and frozen.

Combine my defensive, tense attitude and posture with my belief that being physically strong will make me a worthy person, and it’s no surprise.

So what am I doing about it?

I’ve been tapping on variations of, “Even though my shoulder is still angry and defensive, I love and accept myself.”

I’m reminding myself that worth is inherent. You and me? We’re worthy of not only existing but of expressing ourselves exactly the way we already do.

I’m noticing when my shoulders tense up.

I’m making an effort to choose a non-defensive communication style (and I have a lot more to say about this, and my fear of conflict, in a later post).

I’m having surgery today (and physical therapy starts up again tomorrow).

I’m looking forward to healing.

I’m looking forward to getting strong again, for no reason other than it will feel good.

And I’m grateful for all the things my painful, frozen shoulder has taught me: it’s time to soften, surrender, relax, and receive.

Have you ever connected a physical issue to an emotional cause?

Related posts:

When Choosing Anger Is An Act Of Love

Sometimes, For Some Of Us, Pursuing What We Want Gets Tangled Up In Proving Our Worth

 

17 Comments

  • Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    YES YES YES.
    Im still unraveling and not UNWILLING TO SHARE just dont have it pondered through yet but me? my hips? all emotional.

    • Karen
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      It took me a loooong time to unravel this one…

  • Posted January 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure any destination attained without overcoming at least a few road blocks along the way, is ever as the ones which we work, if not fight to get to. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

    • Karen
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Roy!

  • Posted January 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    YES yesyes. I do body/mind transformational healing and I find that almost every physical problem has an emotional aspect, and nearly every emotional problem manifests physically in some way. Working the two together is incredible.

    • Karen
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      It sure is Leela…and I am grateful for the lessons!

  • Posted January 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh Karen I’m reading so many of the same thoughts from inside my own head that you’ve shared here. I do the same thing with my neck, shoulders & upper back, I’ve been in constant reminder mode to keep them back and down.

    My word for 2014 is Worthy. And here I am in exactly stage 2 of what you wrote about (believing if I’m strong i’ll be worthy). Such a perfect (and timely) reminder to me that I don’t need to weigh less or be any stronger than I am right now to be worthy.

    sending love and healing energy your way,
    Mimi

    • Karen
      Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Mimi! <3 to worthy you!

  • Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    The connection between physical and emotional is so strong. I often find myself in ‘turtle mode’…meaning, my shoulders are up around my ears and my back is in pain, from being so rigid. If I can get quiet and identify what caused it I can then treat it with massage therapy. It’s amazing what we do to ourselves, unknowingly, even when we really do know.
    Wishing you a speedy recovery!
    b

    • Karen
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I am the same way…and no matter how many times I’ve had a massage, if I don’t stop hunching, it will never get better!

  • Posted January 7, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Oh! As many times as I have made the physical/emotional connection, this honestly never occurred to me. It makes perfect sense! I’m going to have to think on it.

    • Karen
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      I know what you mean Elisha…this is one of those concepts that took me a long time to actually “get” beyond the intellectual.

  • Dawn
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Always love what you have to say Karen. I’m going through a similar situation with my shoulder. It’s been something I’ve dealt with for over 7 yrs now so nothing new for me just new symptoms. I’m working on sorting them out and hoping no surgery is in my future. I wish you a speedy recovery and loved what you had to say about being worthy. This all is such a process, so nice having you clarify things sometimes, definitely opens my mind more on some things :) I’ve missed you, hope we get to see each other again soon. *hugs*

    • Karen
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Dawn!! I miss you too…I am VERY behind in my blog reading. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend seeing a physical therapist for your shoulder.

  • Posted January 13, 2014 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    I’m not actually sure… but I do hold a lot of tension in my shoulders too and have a habit of keeping them raised rather dropped down and back. When I did a lot of pilates I was more conscious of it and tried to make adjustments but I don’t notice it as much now!

  • Juanita Orford
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    Hello Karen,
    I offer you and anyone else my sincerest sympathy, frozen shoulder is a real pain in the arm! It’s the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced and that’s only the half of it. Not being able to dress, (gone bra-less quite a few times :)) washing your hair, putting on your car seat-belt, putting things away in cupboards, crushing garlic with back of knife, or that nice morning stretch, the list goes on….but the worst is the SLEEP DEPRIVATION! I just couldn’t think straight and I was pretty grumpy, very grumpy!
    I had an ultra sound that showed no tears in the rotor cuff muscles and was told by the Doctor it was Adhesive Capsulitis an inflammation of the shoulder. Though I thought that inflammation caused heat, my arm was quite cool.. anyway off to Physio for 2 session a week and weekly acupuncture. After 10 weeks and no difference or relief!!! Went back to the doctor “yes it’s a mysterious condition that seems to effect women over 40 that goes as quickly as it comes, usually 9 months” Oh hell another 5 months to go!
    I decided to find a way to help myself, I found a few interesting articles regarding refereed pain trigger point and Myofascial therapy, so off to a massage trigger point therapist. It helped relieve some pain and I gained back some range of motion temporary, but the actual treatment was painful AND COSTLY and laying on massage table for any length of time uncomfortable…but I could see some benefit… back to the research…..
    I found these 2 rather large red text book books by Travell & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: Trigger Point manual: I was thinking well they will probably take me 5 months to read, so then I found a foreword by Simons MD, for a book written by Clair Davies THE FROZEN SHOULDER WORKBOOK…. I started treating myself and within weeks I had massive improvement and could sleep :)I recommend that anyone with frozen shoulder read this book. It’s not an easy fix and takes some dedication but the reward is great.

    Now physically on the mend but the KEY I found is the changing of your own attitudes and being TRUE to yourself really facing head on the excuses we make for ourselves. (mine was that I was happy doing my job as office manager for a wine merchant (yes nice perks & good pay)but I wasn’t really, I had always dreamed of being a Massage Therapist and helping people feel the best they can!
    I too am grateful for the new path my frozen shoulder has taken me, the universe has a funny way of working and making us pay attention! I am now a Massage Therapist living my dream.
    I hope your surgery was a success Karen and you too are on the mend.
    Light and love to all.
    Juanita
    PS anyone in Sydney Australia that needs some sympathy and understanding I would freely and at no cost :) gladly give you some advice, tips and tricks.

    PSS one of those is a good old tennis ball, stand with your back at 45 degree angle to the wall with the tennis ball in between, around the shoulder blade area give yourself a little massage, you may feel the exquisite tender spots these are probably trigger points that can refer pain to your shoulder. Don’t go to hard or too long, aim for a 5-7 strokes of pressure otherwise it can irritate them more. I do hope you get some relief.

    • Karen
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for taking the time to share all of this! I am making great strides via physical therapy, not to mention foam rolling, stretching, etc. etc. at home. I’ve been told the pain will be the last thing to resolve…and yes, for whatever reason, lying down makes it hurt and so sleep is tough. And those tender spots in the shoulder blades? I’ve had those for YEARS!

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