Spinal Memories

When I don’t actively think about sitting up straight, my spine hunches over the rest of my body. When I stand up, my poor posture costs me a good two inches of my actual height. Most people don’t believe that I’m five feet and eight inches until I make myself straighten out, but it doesn’t take long for me to slink back down into my shell. The only thing reminding me to straighten out is the pain that crawls from the base of my spine to my shoulder blades and neck. The time I spend adjusting and readjusting and stretching is accompanied by a series of pops and cracks, releasing the air from between my bones into the rest of my body.

My posture has always been a sore subject, both physically and mentally. I spent recesses in grade school trying to fold into myself like an accordion. My body gifted me with a growth spurt I was convinced I didn’t want. Shy and lanky adolescent me tried hard to fade into the background of the rest of my class. I was afraid to stand tall and to stand out. I had no idea this would stay with me long after everyone else had their growth spurts and I became an average height for a girl my age.

I carried my bad habits into high school. I was told I couldn’t be taller than my date to the dance, that it would make them feel insecure. But my mom already bought me my first pair of high heels to wear. I slinked further down, vertebra by vertebra.

I found security in my poor posture even if I wasn’t fully conscious of it. I don’t remember exactly what the other girls used to say to me at recess, but I know I get uneasy thinking about those days. The vertebrae in my spine remember what I can’t. My spine tells the stories I can’t quite put onto paper yet.

Now in my twenties, I work to retrain the bones in my spine. Even though I know the spine and spinal cord can hold hundreds of kilograms of weight, I also know it’s not necessary to carry the weight and pressure of these feelings anymore. I practice my stretches and go to a ballet class —places that encourage me to lengthen through my spine, places where I never feel too tall or too much. When I work to put my spine in the natural curve it was meant to be in, I don’t feel like the lanky awkward girl I once was. Learning to love my body was the best thing I’ve ever done for my spine.

“The spine is the first bone to grow in the womb,
giving you the backbone to enter the world.”

I still feel the pain from recess and the pain from the dance when I stay slouched for too long. Looking back, I know that there couldn’t be anything anyone said to me that is worth pinched nerves and sore muscles that haunt me throughout the day. Correcting years of poor posture isn’t as easy as standing up straight. The spinal cord that weaves through the vertebrae has a memory as good as the brain itself. The spine is the first bone to grow in the womb, giving you the backbone to enter the world.

It remembers pain. It remembers posture. It remembers every position I’ve put my body in from the time I was in my mother’s womb to last night when I curled around my boyfriend like a question mark. It remembers the mean words. If I can’t make my spine forget, I hope I can give it better days.

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