It was 7 am at the local hospital and I was a little embarrassed to be there. The intake process for free physiotherapy treatments (thank you Canadian health care!) involves an early morning drop-in for assessment.
The others in the waiting room had difficulty just walking in and sitting down so I felt guilty for my obvious good health, but I was there preventatively. Two years ago my knees had swelled mysteriously while climbing the hillside paths of Cinque Terra in Italy and with another adventure in the works, (a week-long 100km walking tour through the Cotswolds in England), the problem needed to be identified and addressed.
“I am pretty sure it’s a torn meniscus,” I said, hoping my pronunciation didn’t betray my lack of familiarity with a term I’d only learned days before from WebMD. “I used to run a lot and I’m assuming I injured it inadvertently.”
Rory, the handsome young physiotherapist, smiled politely at my amateur diagnosis while sliding my kneecaps in every possible direction. He had me stand and perform simple movements over and over while he watched and made notes. I smiled to myself thinking it felt rather like the roadside sobriety tests I’ve seen on tv.
He remained quiet, so naturally I babbled to fill the void. “My doctor suggested you can fix the issue with physio but if it is torn cartilage I don’t see how anything but surgery can repair it and if I need surgery I have to book it right away if my knee is going to be ready for our trip next summer.”
More polite smiles and notes. Gah.
“Okay, well here is what I think,” Rory said at last. “Your knee is a bit unstable and there is likely a small tear inside but the real problem is your back.”
“MY BACK???” I repeated a tad too loudly. A voice in my head sneered, “What the fuck, Ror-rry?” but I translated it to a much classier, “How so?”
Rory then explained how all my running appeared to have strengthened my front more than my back, which was causing me to walk and climb using my front body to pull me up rather than pushing from behind with the hamstrings and glutes. He assigned a series of exercises to stabilize the knee by way of balancing out my front/back strength and, most importantly, re-learning the proper way to climb inclines and stairs.
“So I have literally been walking wrong?” I chuckled. My walking always seemed just fine since it carried me successfully from Point A to Point B day in and day out. My only concern until now was better posture in public.
“It’s not your fault, ” he assured me. “The body just compensates for the things we do to it.”
Sound familiar? I have been correcting maladaptive coping strategies for years now; might as well add one more to the pile!
So now I mindfully climb stairs with an eye on my knee placement (do not extend knee past toes) and consciously PUSH myself up from behind instead of pulling forward. It makes me smile, this perfect analogy for recovery. Don’t we all need to go back and re-learn the simplest thing we’ve inadvertently been doing wrongly day in and day out for years? We’ve been getting from A to B but injure ourselves little by little along the way.
Just as my swollen knees were but a symptom of an entirely different problem, addiction is a symptom of multi-layered beliefs and habits so ingrained that we are unaware they even exist: the “I am” and “people should” kind of statements we never examine because they feel as normal and true as breathing (which, by the way, I’ve also been doing incorrectly). The cause is far removed from the symptom.
Only time will tell if my knees function better in my new way of walking, but I am hopeful. What I was doing before definitely wasn’t working so something had to give. At one time I would have been skeptical and insisted on surgery, but life after alcohol has proven that small but thorough adjustments yield large shifts in due course.