My dislocated toes: A thorough update

Cross legs, the left on top of the right. The toenails are painted purple. The legs are on a clay-colored sheet and blue fleece blanket. On the right foot (which is on the left-hand side of the image), the second and third toes are crooked.

If you’re interested in the facts journey

I have surgery scheduled for this coming Thursday, December 8 to repair my two dislocated toes. It feels like stepping on Lego bricks to walk on hard surfaces. I can’t use those two toes for balance or anchor points. I’ve chosen to work with a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon who has been so attentive and compassionate about what is anatomically and functionally wrong, what hurts, what my goals are for mobility afterward, and what my fears are. I’ll be sedated for about two hours and have a local nerve block. The surgery will require bones and cartilage to be cut and rejoined with screws and pins. I’ll get a heel boot to wear and have 6-8 weeks of no weight-bearing on that foot.

If you’re interested in the feelings and psychological journey

Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of my time dissociated from the sensations of my toes and my feelings around this surgery. This past Sunday, the pent up physical and emotional dissociation overwhelmed me and poured out in tears. Praise to my new HALTS tool (“Am I hurt, angry, lonely, tired, or sick?”), these were the core feelings: 

  • I’m terrified of how much recovery will hurt and of how grotesque the surgical site will look initially.
  • I’m nervous about being alone for an extended period.
  • I’m worried that I’ll have an urgent need that won’t get met.

Well-meaning, kind people have tried to soothe and rationalize those feelings: ‘you’ll feel so much better after’, ‘they’re going to do a great job’, ‘this is something you need to have fixed’. Their statements are true and my rational mind believes what they’re saying. 

But those true, kind statements don’t penetrate down to the embodied, unnamed fears from multiple past experiences when I felt those same kinds of physical and emotional terror after major accidents. My experience of this coming Thursday’s surgery feels like a collapse into a singularity of all the previous similar (bad) experiences; an amplification and magnification of the physical and emotional pain of those experiences; and then a laser, pinpoint projection of that gruesome, harrowing energy onto my experience of this upcoming surgery. You know that image of the Death Star firing up about to blow up Alderaan? Like that.

The Death Star focusing multiple laser beams to a point. A gray ball on the right with 8 green beams around a ring focused to a single wider beam that points to the left.

It all comes from an internal logic and belief system that my feelings and needs are unpleasant and uncomfortable for others and that I don’t deserve care. If my internal belief system is that I don’t deserve care, then I have to not _need_ care. My coping strategy is to handle it. Handle it all. Dissociate from the feelings and sensations, overwork, and people-please. 

If you’re interested in the interpersonal journey

I know people can’t know the scope of my psychological iceberg beneath the surface unless I tell them. I know I have to do the work to identify what I need now as part of resolving old wounds. My fear-based behaviors with dominant others are tenacious. But small, repeated encounters in mutually trusting relationships are building my belief system that: humans are interdependent; I do deserve care; and I have people happy to provide in complex, reciprocal ways. I have begun to notice the simultaneously minute and profound ways my closest people show attuned care toward me. They consistently, reliably, and predictably show up as emotionally and physically safe for me. It turns out, when I provide a little direction and structure asking for their particular brand of help, my closest people are happy to provide. This is functional human behavior in communities of care.

I am doing something new related to my cPTSD recovery: I’m asking for specific help and making space for people who can and want to help – opening up myself to multiple means for meeting needs. I made a Google doc signup sheet with a calendar in it. At the top I listed broad categories of needs with specific examples of the ways I would love to have company, comfort, food, and entertainment while I’m recovering. I copied it here, in case you’re interested. I’m inviting friends to help me tend to my fears about pain, loneliness, and urgent need as best I can. I get to have new experiences of care from and with my friends. I get to expand my self-knowledge about what feels good to me. I get to learn more about the people in my community and what they like to do. 

  • Food – at least initially, low fiber, low dairy. Think brothy soups. I like Chinese, sushi, and Thai. Pizza. I have no food restrictions or allergies. I have a HelloFresh subscription already.
  • Delights: flowers, fruit, sweet treats (Two Sticks, Crumble, Baked, Square Donuts).
  • Movies/TV – Light, easy, low-demand fare: Star Trek, Derry Girls, British Baking, Blown Away.
  • Crafts and puzzles– You bring yours, I’ve got some to work on (painting, color pencil)
  • Phone call/text company
  • Work remotely chez Kearns and watch me nap
  • Adventure with my son – natural history museum, art museum, children’s museum, video games, board games, hiking, tubing, (if it snows)
  • Wild card – surprise me (sort of…write it in the comments)”

If you’re interested in the spiritual journey

This surgery is as much a spiritual experience in the shadow world as a physical and interpersonal experience. I have never had “typical” feet. Honestly, I find them hideous and freaky. I have always felt ashamed of them and I have always tried to hide them from view. I wear socks all the time. I only wear open-toed shoes at the beach. The pain, time, and effort of the past six months is teaching me how to give my feet loving, unconditional care. With this surgery on my right foot, I will be experiencing a new relationship with my feet as well as a completely new connection between my body and the ground. 

Feet are the connection between the root chakra – energy, stability, safety – and the earth. Rooted. Grounded. Grounding. A firm foundation. Able to draw up energy from the earth. Placing my bare feet in the grass, in the sand, in the water has always been calming for me. With my second and third toes dislocated, they don’t ever touch the ground. The cartilage has either snapped or stiffened so they are always slightly curled. My balance is off and I can’t roll off the top of my foot for hiking or running. I am less grounded and stable spiritually right now.

Metaphysically, the left side of the body is the feminine, receiving, inward-facing side, with deep emotional knowledge rooted in ancestral wisdom and intuition. The right side of the body is the masculine, giving, outward-facing side, with forward motion and action in the present world. On the right foot, the second toe is associated with air – voice, expression, wishes, and desires. The third toe is associated with fire – boundaries, anger. With the experiences I’ve had in the last four years, it is not coincidental to me that it’s my right second and third toes that need repair.

These metaphysical belief systems help me be mindful of my body, the experience I’m having physically and emotionally, the stories I tell myself for my survival, the dreams I don’t want to let go of, the mutual relationships in which we support each other’s growth, the direction I want to move in, and the people I am in an attuned community with.

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