Journey to embodiment with the hand

A few years ago, I broke my wrist when I slipped on an unexpected ice patch on a rocky forest floor. I fell down with quite some force. The healing journey with the broken wrist offered interesting perspectives on embodiment and the connections between body and mind.

Enduring the pain was not easy. It felt essential to realize that the most challenging part wasn’t the physical sensation of pain itself. Especially when I had to sit in the forest for half an hour waiting for help, a lot of vulnerability surfaced, a feeling of being alone and helpless. All of that was part of the pain feeling unbearable. It was important to meet my experience on an emotional level as well, to be present with it.

When my hand was put in a cast, it was still painful. I tried to cope with it and gave myself space to try out all kinds of ideas that came to mind. I started to connect with my hand, my arm, telling it that it was mine. That it had done nothing wrong even though it had failed me. That it had even bravely tried to protect me. I also told my legs that they had done nothing wrong either. Somehow, my body came back to me a little more.

When the cast was put on, I was given precise instructions for exercising my fingers and hand. A little pain wouldn’t be bad, but the suggested movements really hurted, and my fingers wouldn’t move much. I tried to give my body and hand movement more from the inside, to allow space for creative movement. From within, it emerged that I stroked the broken hand, touching it gently. And with the fingers of the hurt hand, I stroked myself, my face, my hair. This kind of touch and movement brought in warmth, connection, and softness in a different way, and perhaps the range of motion in my fingers also loosened a bit.

Gradually, I noticed that what happened to my hand externally was also related to my internal processes. There was something very particular about things happening in my bones and marrow. It felt like it opened layers of my experience that I hadn’t been in touch with before. In a certain way, the bone breaking also felt like an internal message: “Enough is enough!” Something snapped. It enabled letting go, growing towards something new. It also felt like falling to the ground strengthened my connection to the earth a little.

Can you trust your own feelings about things?

When exercising my fingers felt difficult, I was advised to increase the dosage of painkillers. It helped. However, a couple of days later, the pain worsened. It felt strange that there was a lot of stiffness and pain in the shoulder, shoulder blade area, even the armpit. Sleeping was difficult, as even with the support of pillows, it was hard to find a position where my hand could be comfortable for more than a few minutes. Gradually, a question began to arise in my mind: is the cast on properly? Could the pain be indicating that my arm is twisted into an odd position?

It’s challenging to find space to listen to your own body and to what works for you, while also needing an expert. It felt great that in the situation where I could only hold my broken hand helplessly in my lap, it was possible to get to the emergency room fairly quickly. They examined and casted it; the fracture could be taken care of. But then it’s not easy to know when to listen to yourself. Was it as they said, that this is the position my hand should be in and that pain is completely normal?

Finally, I called and went to show my hand. I was firm, insisted that it couldn’t be like this, and got a new cast. The casting position was achieved using a slightly different technique. The cast could be applied tighter, as the swelling had partially gone down. Although the tightness increased the pain, it was better now. No more strange feelings of twisting. It felt very important that I listened to my body, trusted its signals, and stood my ground. Another step towards feeling more at home in my body.

Completing the movement can release trauma

A couple of days after getting the new cast, about a week after the fall, falling asleep was still not easy. The stiffness and pain around the shoulder area were particularly bothersome. I had already perceived that the accident was a shock to the body, some kind of trauma. Partly because of this, I had been looking for ways to reconnect with my body, and also for opportunities to talk, share, and process emotions.

I tried massaging, stretching, and staying present in the most painful and stiffest area, somewhere between the shoulder blade and the armpit. Suddenly, half as a feeling and half as a thought, it occurred to me that maybe some movement had been left incomplete. In the emergency, my hand had reached out with considerable energy to stop the fall, extending to stop me from hitting the ground. And then the wrist twisted, gave out. Perhaps the energy of the movement remained unreleased because it didn’t get to complete.

From Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work, I have become familiar with the idea that it can be important for an incomplete movement to find space to continue and thus release the trapped energy. This intuitively felt right to me. I performed, very slowly and mindfully, essentially just one movement. Gradually extending the arm, slightly diagonally, exactly in the direction where the energy stored in the tissues seemed to want to take it, all the way to the arm being completely straight.

The body is such a fascinating thing, as completing a movement can be so important. Not everything changed at once, but a large part of the shoulder area’s stiffness and tension dissipated. The body also felt more empowered overall: a more open and flowing sensation, a feeling that I can trust myself and my ability to manage things. That my body knows how to function. It was as if the arm had found strength in having done something, using its energy, acting to protect the rest of the body. Now it could feel that strength, having completed the movement.

The hand longing for connection

A month after the fall, I had the cast removed and transitioned into a slow rehabilitation phase. When the hand was finally free from the cast, fully accessible again, something emerged that it had been longing for. It was important that I was held by the hand. And it was important that I held myself by the hand. I sensed the contact carefully from both sides: how it felt to touch, how the other hand felt being touched. The hand, previously concealed in the cast and having endured so much, could now simply exist there, safe, in touch, connected.