Reflections on my four-year anniversary of spine surgery

At age 55, I found out that I’d suffered for maybe 45 to 50 years from a childhood injury, and I didn’t know anything about it. It still seems unbelievable to me that I was physically ill for decades before I received a diagnosis.

As explained to me by two surgeons, the cause of my spondylolisthesis between L5 and S1 was a sudden injury sometime between ages 5 and 10. Here’s a further explanation:

“In children, spondylolisthesis usually occurs between the fifth bone in the lower back (lumbar vertebra) and the first bone in the sacrum (pelvis) area. It is often due to a birth defect in that area of the spine or sudden injury (acute trauma).

Other causes of spondylolisthesis include bone diseases, traumatic fractures, and stress fractures (commonly seen in gymnasts). Certain sport activities, such as gymnastics, weight lifting, and football, put a great deal of stress on the bones in the lower back. They also require that the athlete constantly overstretch (hyperextend) the spine.”

I played a lot of baseball when I was a kid growing up in Miami. I didn’t suffer from a birth defect or bone disease, play football before I was a teenager, do gymnastics, or lift weights.

I don’t remember a specific “sudden injury (acute trauma)” per the above explanation. Maybe I incurred the acute trauma that started my spondylolisthesis sliding into bases playing baseball. Maybe I incurred it playing in the other rough-and-tumble activities that I did as a boy.

Please stop at the first hint of any pain that you feel while reading the rest of this post. I don’t want to cause you pain.

I re-experienced while in Primal Therapy a day when I was seven or eight years old. A most exhilarating day, one that filled me with light and joy.

What brought on my elevated mood? It was the day I finally ran faster than my father did, and he couldn’t catch me to give me a beating as I ran out of the house.

My father never beat me on the sidewalk, the street, or the front yard anyway. That would make the abuse public.

My father’s job was assistant principal/dean of boys at West Miami Junior High School. He whipped boys with a thick belt or paddled them daily as part of his job requirements.

My father kept a wooden paddle with holes in it at home. For me.

I don’t remember that my three siblings ever received a paddling or belting, although they were spanked. I’ve remembered while in Primal Therapy that my younger sister and brother were spanked for crying.

I re-experienced the dread of waiting (in an exact place with visual details), waiting for my father to come home to administer a spanking or belting or paddling to me for some “transgression” my mother observed. She had dozens of rules of conduct for her children.

I re-experienced my early childhood feelings that my father’s punishments depended more on my mother’s mood than on what I did.

I re-experienced my early childhood feelings that I didn’t deserve the beatings. I didn’t deserve any beatings, not one!

My father continued, though, until I was around age 11 or so. I’m sure that the beatings were a factor in how I felt at age 12:

Suicidal. Needing to escape from my life.

When I was a child, I needed my parents’ love.

I re-experienced many times while in Primal Therapy the overwhelming hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, and betrayal when the people I needed to love me were cruel to me instead.

My parents knew what they did was wrong. Neither one of them ever told me that, though.

My father never apologized for beating me so much before he died 19 years ago. Even before he retired, 17 years before he died, the Miami-Dade County public school system stopped him and the rest of their employees from spanking, whipping, beating, and paddling children.

What could he even tell me to take away those experiences?

  • That he beat me as a child because he himself was beaten as a child?
  • That he couldn’t help it?
  • That how he and my mother frequently went out of their way to help me along in life after my childhood somehow made up for the beatings?

I’m certain that my father was beaten as a child. I bring this up not as a defense for what he did, but as part of my history, too.

It wasn’t enough for my father’s mother to beat me while she was babysitting my siblings and me at our parents’ house. I re-experienced crying as a five-year old when I was required to go cut off palm fronds from the tree in front of our house for her to use as a switch, and bring them to her.

It was a mark of my grandmother’s cruelty that she threatened to beat me with a broom handle when I tried to not participate in my own torment. I re-experienced exact places of my legs where she switched me with the palm fronds, giving me even more when I cried during the punishment.

These wounds left scars that haven’t gone away.

Run your hand down your spine until you reach the top of your sacrum. That’s the area on which I had surgery four years ago, where I now have a titanium cage, replacement disc, and two rods to keep the area stable.

I received a lot of beatings pretty close to that area. Maybe my boyhood activities didn’t cause the “sudden injury (acute trauma).”

I write frankly about my parents because that’s my history: the realities of who they were.

And the realities of who I needed them to be.

I express it because getting well has to address reality.

From Dr. Arthur Janov’s book, Primal Healing, page 133:

“Another cognitive technique is to help the patient understand and forgive his parents. ‘After all, your parents did the best they could. They had a pretty tough childhood too.’ ‘Oh yes, I understand. They did have it tough and I do forgive’ comes forth from the left side. Still, of course, the right side is crying out its needs and its pain, and will go on with its silent scream for the rest of our lives.

There is no way around need.

‘Forgiveness’ is an idea that has no place in therapy.

We are not here to pardon parents; we are here to address the needs of patients, and what the lack of fulfillment did to them.

I regret to say that much of current therapy and particularly cognitive therapy is about a moral position; well hidden, couched in psychological jargon, but, at bottom, moralizing. The therapist becomes the arbiter of correct behavior.

After all, the therapist is trying to change the patient’s behavior toward some preconceived goal. That goal has a sequestered moral position.”

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