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Sarah Callaham

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Simply me.

Posted on June 17, 2017 at 12:20 AM


I can just. be. me. For the first time, I could hear myself say these words. I've said it many times. Other people have told me many times as well. But never did I actually hear them. Hear those words.

It took 20 years of battling chronic tension and pain, the guidance through visualizations of letting go and clearing out old energies, and the hands of a skilled massage therapist in myofascial release, but my body finally was able to give my mind the permission to just. be. me. Through the release and attention that was brought to my consistently knotted neck and shoulder muscles, I felt a sense of relief-and not the usual nice feeling of the physical pain of the muscle finally unwinding itself. No, this one was different. The sensation was more of an energetic rush of relief. The feeling that my head wasn't stuck, chained down, to my shoulders anymore. That my head felt lighter. That I heard my head say, "you can be you." It was like I finally had the permission from my body to simply be myself.

And then that was when it hit me. Since I was a little girl, I have associated my strength and self-worth with the physical strength of my body. But for the past 20 years, I have struggled with shoulder, neck and head pain that has held me back from the dreams, goals, and accomplishments I believed I was supposed to accomplish. I dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer, but by the age of 11, I was dealing with shoulder pain, and by age 14 I couldn't even lift cereal boxes off the shelf without severe pain shooting through my arms. I eventually gave up swimming at age 17 and tried to focus on other things, one namely my performance on our high school ski team. At the beginning of the season right before I turned 18, I suffered a severe concussion at the end of ski practice, which again threw a wrench in my expectations of myself. Leading me to drop out of calculous my senior year of high school, and my GPA to drastically fall from the above 4.0 to a mid-range 3.5. Again, I saw my failure, in never having dropped below a 4.0 my entire high school career. The combined efforts of the damage I had done to my shoulders while swimming, and the head and neck injury from skiing, would prove to cast a shadow on all my physical efforts from there on out. Having to deal with chronic tension headaches, migraines, and shoulder pain, I found myself unable to participate in daily life as I had before. I wasn't performing in sports the way I expected my body should be able to. Getting to a point where I would see progress, only to be sidelined by the inevitable shoulder or neck flare up. I couldn’t sit or travel for long periods of time without taking painkillers, in order to nip the tension headache in the bud, before it could become a full migraine. I couldn't paddle the way others trained in my training programs, because of the impending neck and shoulder pain that would result in weeks of pain, if I pushed it just a little too far. I couldn't do a handstand or headstand without serious overuse of my neck. Playing any sport where I was required to throw a ball was also most definitely out of the question-so there goes softball and water polo. My life had and has always revolved around playing sports, or being active. People were always telling me how strong I was, or at least looked like I was, and so I prided myself on my body's strength- even if that meant not listening to it and pushing it through pain.

While lying on the massage table, in that moment of the release in my shoulder, I realized I had always seen my body's weaknesses and failures as who I was as a person. It was because I had always equated my value and self-worth to my physical strength that anything where my body failed, I as a person was a failure. That no matter how hard I tried, there would always be the inevitable downfall waiting in the wings-just to remind me that I'm not good enough.

It was in that moment, for the first time my mind and spirit were finally free from my body. And I understood on a deeper level, that my pain doesn't define me. I am not my pain. I am more than that. I felt the shell that I had carried around myself for 20 years, start to fall away, and I had a sense of that carefree little girl I had once been started to show her face. Creative. Untethered to expectations or assumptions. Wild at heart. Unafraid of anything. I felt perfectly at ease. With myself. Like I was meeting an old friend I hadn't seen in a very long time. And while although the knot in my shoulder continually tried to grab and pull back into its former ball. It didn't matter. It didn't matter, because it was simply pain. It wasn't going to have any regulation on my life. I was bigger than that. I didn't have any expectations of who I was supposed to be, or what my body was supposed to accomplish. I could simply just be me.

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