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Surgery: An Exercise in Surrender

If I’m attached to the idea of a perfect row of trees, I may not see what needs to be repaired.

I Have a Story About Being Healthy

I grew up with doctors as parents, and somehow, I’m not sure how, I came to think that being sick was for other people, not for me. Being sick was for the patients of my parents. I needed to stay above that. 

Maybe it was a way of staying on my parents’ side. Maybe it was a way to not need my parents. I don’t know. But one way or the other, I got the story in my head that I shouldn’t be sick, ever. 

When I was young, I would never say if I was feeling sick, or had a cold. I would wait until I was actually throwing up before I would admit defeat and not go to school, and let my parents know. In fact, I got mononucleosis when I was 17 and made sure I was well again in less than a week (many people are out of school for months with this). 

And as an adult, I would power through colds and throat infections as if they did not exist. And I became very interested in prevention, and taking care of my health, in order to prevent being sick at all costs. You can see a perfectionist’s mind at work here.

So When I Saw Something Wrong, I Ignored It

I saw a funny growth in the back of my throat—I think I noticed it way back in my late teens. But the last thing I would have wanted to do would have been to say something to my mom, who would then make a big deal about it and run me around getting it all checked out. I didn’t want a big deal made of me. 

I see now that this is really a mom issue for me. I need to write a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on her in that situation.

So instead of dealing the health issue, I put it off. And I tried to take extra good care of myself in other ways. Alternative medicine became more and more important to me. 

I see now, I was trying to say, “I don’t need you, Mom. I can take care of myself.” I also didn’t want her to worry about it, or make a big deal about it running all around to fix the problem. 

And Life Goes on

I watched the growth in the back of my throat grow over the years. My partner commented about it. My swallowing became difficult. I started noticing tension in my head and neck. I even had a doctor tell me that I should get it removed, probably six years ago. But I did nothing. 

It took three more alternative practitioners, as well as some strong encouragement from my partner for me to submit myself to deeper scrutiny. 

It felt like a surrender last November when I walked into to the emergency room (carrying a white flag it seemed to me) and had them look at it. They called a specialist right away and I was seen in just a day or two. I remember the emergency room nurse saying, “You shouldn’t have waited so long.” If only she knew that I had been waiting 30 years

He could tell in no time that it was a benign sinus polyp. He asked, “Why did you put up with it so long?” I didn’t have a good answer. I had just been believing my thoughts, and I’m only now starting to become aware of the thinking that was directing me all these years.

The road to surgery was a path of yet more surrender as I allowed my doctor to order a CT scan (I have avoided x-rays like the plague most of my life, but I submitted myself to an intense amount of x-rays in this scan, even a contrast dye in my blood.) 

These were not small surrenders for me. And still larger was the surrender to anesthesia (I don’t like drugs) and the surgery itself, and antibiotics afterward. But step-by-step, I surrendered. 

My doctor saw from the CT scan that I also had a deviated septum from a broken nose when I was 12, when a basketball hit me in the nose (no I did not tell my mom and dad at the time). He asked me if I would like to have it repaired at the same time as my sinus surgery. It’s funny how much I had surrendered by then, I didn’t hesitate to say yes (very unlike me). 

After Surgery Was More Surrender

I thought I would be back on my feet again in a day or so. Not so. I didn’t clear my schedule (I was still pretending to be superhuman). But I soon saw that I was really out of it after surgery, and it took a full week to feel some energy again. 

My surrender this time was in canceling appointments, and letting work slide. Now three weeks after surgery, I still slowly become stronger, yet I am not back to normal. But I can breathe through my nose for the first time in my adult life! My head and neck tension is much less. I can sleep again. It is so good. 

In the end, I was a traitor to my stand against my mom (and modern medicine which she represented). I joined the party. I took the drugs. She would be happy. But more importantly, I feel happy that I was able to surrender. In my defeat, I also find victory.

Now The Work Begins

As I come out of this experience, just writing this article makes me realize that there are some really good Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheets on my mom for me to write. I look forward to learning more, and surrendering more as I dive more deeply into it—doing The Work on this old topic in my life.

Would you like to make The Work more of a practice in your life? Join us for my in-depth, online course, The Work 101

Have a great week,

“We don’t resist our diseases; we resist our thoughts about them. Without our story, we can’t have a problem. We can only have a solution.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.