I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with a chest reconstruction for gender confirmation, also known as top surgery, on Friday, September 22nd. The four-hour procedure began at 11:15am, landing me in post-op around 2:30pm.
In the weeks leading up to surgery, many people asked why I wasn’t more worried about the procedure. It was a surgery, after all. Each time someone asked I explained, “I’ve been waiting for this day since the time they grew in.”
What I didn’t account for was the recovery period post-surgery. I stay pretty active during my day-to-day life, jumping from engagement to engagement, so I wasn’t ready for how immobile I’m supposed to be. The two incisions running from the center of my rib cage to beneath each armpit significantly impact my range of motion.
For the first three days, I didn’t have the energy to do much but sit in bed and attend portions of a meeting during the days following surgery. I never played around much with opiates, either, so the way they dumped a concrete dust filter over a world of muted pastel shades overwhelmed me.
My sponsor came over to my house Sunday morning, two days after surgery, to check in and see how I was doing. As we took my dogs on a brief walk around the complex, I explained that I felt dull. I haven’t sat around not doing anything since I was loaded and to sit still was exacerbating.
She cut me off when I mentioned the word “dull,” though.
“No, not dull,” she replied. “That word possesses a negative connotation and this process is anything but negative.”
I nodded in response, remained silent as I knew she would suggest alternative terms to use.
She pondered for a moment. “Healing. Recovery. Those are terms you can use. Not dull.”
Patience with the process
“Patient” is not a term I would use to describe myself, especially for my own process. During these past five days since surgery, I’ve realized how impatient and stubborn I am with my own process. I’ve known it to some degree but it’s been a very physical manifestation of a mental battle taking place since I got sober last April.
I expect too much of myself immediately out of the gate. Whether it’s with my sobriety, my top surgery recovery, my writing, or any new hobby I pick up. I expect to master something immediately. When I don’t, I give up on it after a few weeks.
Ray Bradbury said something excellent: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”
I jump repeatedly but forget every time that building is a process, not something that happens instantly. It takes weeks and months of consistent and intentional action to build those wings. They won’t sprout from my back without dedicated work. And when I give up a few weeks into the process before those wings have a chance to catch a tailwind, it feels like I’ll never get it. Patience with that process, accepting that I’m on a journey with no exact destination, is an imperative part of it.
I’m still learning how to cultivate that patience. To exist in the present moment with little regard for the moment before or after the current one. Often, I’ll turn around on the path and wonder where the past few months went.
Realization of self-absorption
I didn’t realize it’s been almost four months since I posted here. Limited electronic documentation of the past sixteen weeks exists outside of Instagram and Facebook. Most of it resides within the journals I started to keep again.
I don’t share much of myself with others in person, much less online. I’m open about the process and progress of my transition but very limited in sharing how I’ve felt about the whole thing. I live in fear of what the collective “you” thinks of me and how you see me. I won’t share at a group level and I hardly post on here because I have this obsession with needing to be perceived a certain way.
Through working with my sponsor, I realized how delusional I still am. I didn’t realize this preoccupation with what you think of me is another form of self-absorption. I might not be self-absorbed in the “typical” sense but I’m still constantly consumed with myself. Living based on my perception of your perception of me. Me, me, me.
But, much like my recovery process, this won’t go away overnight. Through intentional practice, altering my thought patterns through diligently working the steps, I can find freedom.
Building my wings
“Change course. The focus on you and where your spiritual life is where the healing and future is,” my friend Andrea told me after adding another tally mark to count the spins on the merry-go-round that are our conversations. “You’re free to stop bashing your head against the wall whenever you choose to.”
Stop focusing on what isn’t and instead focus on what is. Be patient with the process but don’t give up before my wings sprout. Consistent right action breeds self-confidence and self-esteem. Learn as I go and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Patience with my recovery process is a lifelong journey, not a destination. Now I just need to make my feet catch up with my head.