You Can’t Rush Toenails — or Healing

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You read it here first: Your trauma heals as fast as your toenails grow. We all want to know how long it takes to move on from a bad experience, and that’s the answer. At least, that’s my theory.

If you’ve had a heartbreak or something traumatic happen — which is everyone, by the way, every single person in this existence — you’ve probably wondered when the pain would end. I certainly have. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a sticker or something that proclaims definitively that you’ve healed whatever wounds you are carrying around?

Your toenail could be that proof. Years ago, a full bottle of wine slipped out of my shopping bag and fell on my big toe. My toe stopped the bottle from shattering all over my kitchen, for which I had gratitude, but it hurt like hell. I was alone in my house, and it didn’t do any good to scream. Instead, I got a frozen orange out of my freezer and put it on the toe. It was soon black and blue.

It took months to grow out. I had gotten a cover-up pedicure as it was reaching critical mass, and the nail tech promised me it would not break off in a creepy way that snags on socks. She was wrong. But eventually, the toe was back to normal. There’s a natural, clear timeline with nails growing out. You can’t rush it.

You can’t rush your healing, either.

I’ve just started The Body Keeps Score, but I know all about storing trauma in the body. As dedicated readers know, I completed the 10-day silent Vipassana course last August, seven months ago. Since then, I’ve undergone a significant process of internal

Positive reinforcement for growth is hard to come by, especially for Generation X. I'd like you to know that you are doing a great job healing yourself!

energy releases.

These releases feel uncomfortable: mostly shots of pain down the side of my leg and bubbles of gas internally moving, somehow, spontaneously. I went to acupuncture appointments, lots of yoga classes, and dance classes. I’ve done more meditation, squats, massage, and lots of adjusting my spine. I can crack my back better than most.

Lately, I’ve noticed my hip is feeling a little better. I’m still moving it a lot. But now the muscle of my left hip, which always felt like the root of the worst of the pain, has stopped searing. Instead, it’s been fluttering painlessly. I can feel it sometimes when I put my open palm curiously on the spot. It feels like a softening.

“You should just decide it’s a healing sensation,” my friend Danny said to me, echoing the same advice on manifesting positive outcomes with thoughts that I’ve said to him a thousand times. I needed the reminder.

But then, I could just look at my toenails. I don’t think there’s really any science to support this theory, but I suspect a correlation.

Healthline, the omnipotent online medical resource, reports that toenails grow more slowly than fingernails. Human toenails grow an average of 1.62 millimeters a month, a length I understand because I live in Europe. Americans will need to do some math.

Let me help: At the average rate, it takes a little over six months for a toenail to grow a centimeter, or a little more than a third of an inch.

The theory got interesting for me because, around the same time as I completed the Vipassana course, I also had a short relationship with a man who treated me to a pedicure before attempting to steal my passport and play all kinds of crazy-making head games. I wrote about it in the preface of One-Way Ticket. He was looney tunes, but, like, in a clinical way.

I knew I had some psychological scars when I arrived in Spain on October 1, but I focused on finishing the book that I had been working on for the last two years. I was in the final editing stage when I fielded calls from the London Metropolitan Police Department to ask me about the man.

Because I love you, I'm not including a picture of gross toes.

But I had other scars, too. My toenails developed leukonychia. This is a condition when white spots appear on the nail bed due, often, to aggressive nail filing at that pedicure about six months ago. So, in essence, my toenails were traumatized at the same time as my psychodrama with a crazy dude in London.

By the way, have you been in a psychodrama? My friend reached out to me recently with one: Some guy came to her yoga class and was a total creep-a-zoid, staring at her and basically freaking her out for no discernable reason.

Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! We all know that Psycho shower scene, and it's, um, totally traumatic!

“He didn’t actually do anything,” she explained. “It was his energy. Is this even making sense?”

Psychodramas are designed to make you doubt your own sanity. I wish there could be a 1-800 lawyer popping into this blog and telling you that you may be entitled to compensation if you know what I’m talking about. If only suffering really worked like that.

As Buddha teaches with the Four Noble Truths, suffering is inevitable, but the good news is that we can choose to end our suffering. That sounds good! I would like to end my suffering. Wouldn’t you? I mean, duh.

But, um, hey Buddha? How long will it take? Can we let go of our trauma in just a snap? Is war over because we want it? The answer is clearly yes. I love hearing spiritual teachings about the possibility of entering bliss eternal, whatever that looks like in your head, instantly. I love the idea of hopping in the afterlife express lane out of this life of suffering.

Unfortunately, most people have to do the work to condition themselves enough to be on their feet when they cross the finish line, so they can know where to run when the express lane prevents itself. If you’re like me, we really ought to start stretching more. Maybe it’s instant, but I think it’s a good idea to prepare just in case it’s not.

And so, for the last months, I went to therapy, worked creatively, exercised until I was sweaty, and ate healthy, whole foods. I’m also weaning myself off an unhealthy dependence on dark chocolate. I’ve been meditating regularly and practicing yoga, and I’m just two weeks away from celebrating my third year of being sober from alcohol.

I also have been watching the white spots on my toenails grow out. I’ve been keeping them short, as it feels good to see the healthy nail bed grow back. It’s getting there. It’s not all gone yet. But it will be. Change is constant — and we have the power to heal our bodies, hearts, minds, and, yes, toenails.