It’s Your Fault
My Journey Through Back Pain, A Teenager and Self-Discovery
By Wendy Coblentz
Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press, 2013
By Ruth Diamond
This short memoir traces Wendy Coblentz’s journey towards finding the Alexander Technique and establishing a friendlier relationship with physical, emotional, and interpersonal pain. Born and raised with a passion for movement, Wendy filled her life with hiking, dancing, and many other forms of physical exercise. Still, since early adulthood, she struggled with recurring bouts of depression and intermittent bouts of back pain. She became addicted to constant exercise, which created an emotional release and gave her a sense of control.
Unfortunately, she kept getting injured. Meanwhile her teenage son was going through a crisis of his own. As Wendy’s inability to control his increasingly rebellious behavior and the pain of her own injuries became more and more unbearable, she turned to a breathtaking array of traditional and alternative modalities in an attempt to keep moving.
The book’s breezy style reflects her use of humor to cope with pain. Each short chapter describes an aborted attempt to find relief with physical therapy, myofascial release, yoga therapy, and emotional freedom technique and body synergism, among others. The comedy in her descriptions deflects the disappointment of each new encounter.
She tries medications, which make her nauseous or dizzy; exercises, which injure her more; as well as self-healing techniques and meditation. She even tries the Alexander Technique, which she rejects when she does not get the quick fix results she is looking for. The one constant in her life during this period is her psychiatrist, who supports her through the many frustrations on her journey toward healing over a ten-year period.
Gradually she becomes aware of her tendency to try too hard. When a set of exercises does not help, she increases her effort and exacerbates the injury. The conversations with each of her practitioners take on a familiar pattern of criticism and failure.
Finally, in desperation, she returns to her Alexander Technique teacher, John Baron. “I weighed the pros and cons of the Alexander Technique. Benefits included remaining fully clothed, in addition to keeping my eyes open. The teacher encouraged communication instead of forced tranquility. No statues of demi-gods sat in the room next to sticks of burning incense. The only real negative was the un-known. I had nothing to lose.”
This time Wendy stuck with the Technique, gradually allowing awareness, inhibition, and direction to develop into new skills for coping with pain and rebellious teenagers. Six years later, although she is not always pain-free, much of the time she is without the chronic pain that plagued her for so many years. For this she is grateful. She is grateful, too, for the gift that the Alexander Technique has given her of a method for learning how to take better care of herself.
Wendy’s story may serve as an inspiration for other chronic pain suffers who are lost in the maze of traditional and alternative healing modalities. The trick may be to give up just being a patient in order to learn the appropriate skills for taking better care of oneself.
Ruth Diamond graduated from ACAT in 2003 and maintains a practice in New York City. She is a clinical nurse specialist with an MA in psychiatric/mental health nursing. She has worked as a psychotherapist and has a continuing interest in mind-body unity.