Female boxer getting ready to fight. Love the detail of her finger nails whilst getting wrapped up to punch! Lookout!
Photo by dylan nolte / Unsplash

You can be broken but not beaten. You can choose. The point is to choose, then act.

Comebacks are not at all easy. After a major surgery, the difficult part is to conquer the inner demons. It's all in the mind. Only an individual can overcome his fears.

Rohit Sharma

The big lifting muscles in my butt screamed. I was on lap four of six, up a fairly steep sand dune in Florence, Oregon. On the other side of the dune was an even steeper hill, which I would run down to touch the foam of the Pacific.

There I would turn around and hike right back up to catch the morning sun in my eyes, then run down to the parking lot.

Rinse, repeat.

God this hurts. Hurts so good, as they say. The sand is kind to my healing left hip. And hard as hell to hike up, which is kind to my heart, lungs and my sense of achievement.

From coastal side towards the parking lot. It's steep!

I'm in my fourth week of spending the early part of my Hump Days- my midweek trip to the Oregon Coast- hiking the sand dunes. It's part of rehab. Long road back to where I was in 2017.

The rest is constant PT for six body parts, stationary bike, gym work, running laps in the pool, hiking stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. And more stairs.

The true rehab is between the ears. It always starts, and ends, in our minds, then gets translated to heart, which translates to self-love in action.

Exercise is self-love. PT is self-love. Eating well is self-love. These are among the ultimate acts of self-love, self-respect and self-regard of which a comeback is made.

If you've ever had major surgery, a big illness, or other physical setback, you can relate. The old saying that setbacks are a setup for comebacks is an enduring truth, and an invitation to remake ourselves in all ways at any age.

As with any long life, we're all offered comeback opportunities. Perhaps it's a lost job or a lost marriage or a lost fortune.

When it's the body, that threatens to end us. If we want to keep playing, barring the kind of disease or injury which permanently ends our physical agency, it's going to take work. Even if we are permanently disabled, the choice is to keep our minds in play.

The late great Stephen Hawking is a perfect example of a great mind in a shell of a body, but still full of life, gifts and service. Such things aren't available to all, for there are terrible diseases which take the mind, as well.

This article is about those of us with the option to mount a comeback.

The body, as best as we can make it work, is the vehicle which allows us to be in this life. Its many distractions can keep us from deep spiritual work, which, frankly, are the real reason we're here.

I've had my fair share of distractions lately, speaking of same.

Since 2018, I've undergone twelve major surgeries on various body parts in five years. Gone was the badass body I'd spent decades building, underneath some twenty-five extra pounds. Like a grizzly, my endurance went into hibernation. Leg strength, those powerful pistons which had taken me up so many steps and mountains....weakened from disuse.

I did put in some effort to stay in shape during that time. In much clearer 20-20 hindsight, I see now that by June this year I was ultimately overwhelmed with the pain load as well as the intense demands of post-op PT. The emotional impact of all the challenges I was juggling also weighed me down, which showed up in my body.

And in my attitude.

I'll take credit for working hard to stay positive, to find the lessons in all that, but my bottom line was that my body had bottomed out in ways I hadn't seen in decades. I was looking at my mother's body in the mirror, even though the external also hid the secrets to the comeback.

Kindly, I am not all that and a bag of chips. I am, however, determined.

After foot surgery, I would butt scoot myself down the stairs to get wood for my fireplace, hanging thirty pounds of wood around my scrawny neck and reverse myself back up those same stairs, sweating and cursing, to deliver the wood.

Schlepping the wood, November 2022

I found ways to make being on a scooter fun (wheelies) and make fun of the conditions in which I found myself.

It got really hard after five surgeries.

Nalini MacNab writes about surviving a stroke. As someone who was proficient in martial arts, I suspect that the loss of physical agency is stunning when we are accustomed to ease of movement, strength and grace.

Such comebacks can take years.

While I will never cop to grace, I can relate to ease of movement. I lost that.

Nalini's story was one of many which allowed me to continue to have humor and hope even as some surgeries developed complications. Just one of the many gifts of communities of truth-tellers.

Today, some parts hurt in ways I may have to live with for the rest of my life. Eight months after my right hand surgery, I still have to wear a brace. Both of my feet are still numb and will remain so until around November 2025, when the nerves are finally grown back. I hope.

I've lost dexterity and balance. I can't walk on stones. Some of that may come back. Some of it may not.

Still. What gifts. What humbling gifts.

I learned a great deal about how we respond to chronic pain, a changing body, loss of the self-image we can so carefully craft. We leak. To that:

I was so frustrated at one point that I wrote a scathing review of a perfectly good running bra for being "the worst fitting bra anyone ever manufactured."

You know what's coming.

That bra revealed that I had, in fact, six boobs, four of them quite unnecessary unless I'm starring in a Guillermo del Toro film. Proof positive that I was really and truly out of shape.

This writer didn't want to look at that truth, and that was the beauty of the lesson.

An old brass key dropped in the woods.
Photo by Michael Dziedzic / Unsplash

Comeback secrets

Those secrets are in all of us. We just need to unearth them. I'd buried mine under twenty-plus pounds, a badly-battered body, the stress of way too much pain and a big move away from all that I had known for fifty years.

I've had to come back from bankruptcy, illness, devastating injuries. Deaths of friends, loss of friendships, a business that tanked. All kinds of grotesqueries. Those were all basic training for what comes next in life to us all: we will suffer losses.

While I'm not a practicing Stoic, this quote really appeals:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”-Marcus Aurelius

For people constantly battling chronic pain, the pain becomes the Way.

For people battling disability, disability becomes the Way.

Racism, ageism, ableism, all of them: those become the Way.

After this past year I have a wholly different understanding of those who live with chronic pain. How exhausting it is. How complications cost sleep, and sleeplessness turns you into the Bitch From Hell.

My hand is WAY up on the sleep thing.

How bloated, ass-backward bureaucracies like the VA not only fail to provide adequate care, they prevent attempts at wellness, and complicate processes to the point where you get even sicker from the stress of trying to deal with them.

Those become the way, too. Or, they own you with stress, anger and frustration. I've had plenty of those days when I was so exhausted, then I couldn't sleep because the condition for which I needed care was dismissed or ignored.

When I broke my hip last July, I just couldn't for a little while. Couldn't ANYTHING. WTF, right? What's next, right?

Don't ask.

Yet. Here's what I love about getting older.

When we hit our sixties and beyond, we've been through our fair share of losses. Health, friends, jobs, the body we had at twenty or whenever. We lose so that we can gain whatever is next, usually at the end of a comeback trail.

We lose what we have so that we can become what's next. We have no clue what God/the Goddess has in store. We aren't wise enough. I'm sure not wise enough. Like lots of folks I can cling to an old identity because I don't quite trust the next one. Yet.

Here are two views of my comeback journey:

The 127 stairs I hike several times a week

While the above isn't Red Rocks in Denver, it's blessedly close to my house and there are banisters to keep Ms. Clumsy Camel from doing another header. The steady hike up and down surrounded by green as well as very friendly neighbors are a gift.

This past week I hiked those stairs the day after I increased my sand dune hike by another lap.  So I increased the stair laps by two, so that I am now hiking just under a thousand stairs (that doesn't include the down laps).

It was the first time since I began that I didn't need to stop at some point and take a breather break. It had taken three weeks of steady effort.

That's the same amount of time that it takes for my gym workouts to get past the point of soreness and return to strength training, and start adding weights to the challenge.

Anyone who has ever had to do this can relate: the moment you can notice something significant, such as not needing to stop, is HUGE.

It's freaking HUGE. It's no longer a battle just to get to the base of the stairs, the pool, the gym.

It's a stunning moment when you're reminded that we live in a magnificent machine that prefers health. The body starts asking for more. Now it itches when you don't work it. That's the hump moment.

Boots hanging
Photo by Maxim Hopman / Unsplash

What fuels us to that point are attitude. Choice. Patience with our process. Humor, when we can locate the funny bone. Determination.

Those have come and gone in me these past eighteen months, as they do in such times. Being aware of when they've taken a vacay, and we are in need of them, is part of spiritual Deep Work.  

Plenty of days when I really just wanted to hang up my hikers and quit. Full stop. I'll bet all of you can relate.

While I'm fully aware that this journey is not just about the body, physical agency, the care of our body to be its best at any age is part of self-care.

Not all of us have that option. What confounds me completely is how many of us have the foundation for health, then we squander it. I've done it myself. But we get to come back.

But if it doesn't, the other part of the journey is to discover who and what I get to be in the next iteration of the journey.

If we are standing upright or mobile, if we have the use of our body, we can still work it. When we work it, we work the brain and heart (and everything else, natch). When we work the brain and heart, we come back.

It might take a long time. Ask anyone who's had a stroke. Disease. Ask any of my fellow veterans about comebacks.

We can come back transformed, because we are willing to do what it takes to come back.

Marin Headlands Enchanted Forest.
Photo by Jamie Ginsberg / Unsplash

With thanks to my Patreon and extended community for your unflagging support, kind words and all those uplifting private messages.

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