What My Effed-Up Spine Taught Me About Trauma

Sometimes, our bodies hold stories that keep us trapped in pain

Mary Poindexter McLaughlin
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readAug 16, 2019


Photo: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou via Getty Images

My neck hurts.

“Do you want to see what the problem is?” asks Dr. Rob. He’s staring at an X-ray he just took of my neck.

“Of course,” I answer. I can’t wait to see physical proof of whatever is holding my neck rigidly in place. After months of physical therapy and on-and-off years of looking like a newbie boot camp recruit, I’m more than ready to see what the hell is going on in there.

I stand next to him in front of the large computer monitor, our faces lit with ghostly blue light. It takes a moment for me to fully understand: Oh, that’s my skull, my vertebrae. Those are my teeth, not a picture of some dead person’s insides. Somehow this doesn’t seem possible. How can I be fully alive and look like a skeleton at the same time?

I must look confused because Dr. Rob asks, “Have you ever seen your spine before?”

“Yes,” I lie, without realizing that I’m lying. It’s something I do sometimes, to be agreeable. It takes me a few seconds to reach back into a half-century of memories and come up empty.

“Okay,” he continues, “then you’ve seen your kyphotic curve?” Now I’m stuck. A previous chiropractor ordered X-rays…