Should I have imagined that I would sustain another trauma that would threaten my independence and test my will to live? The answer is “Yes, life continues to challenge us all” and my most recent ordeal would be a crucial trial for my well-honed resilience. I searched my soul, puzzling “Would this burden be too great for me to bear?”
My trial began this past July while I was happily playing with my grandchildren, enjoying a perfect summer’s day at our newly acquired lake-front retreat. So enamored was I with the moment that I was completely oblivious to the impending danger and life altering event I was about to experience.
The wind changed and my dreamy interlude ended as I accepted an invitation to accompany my son while he retrieved our boat from the lake and secured it on its trailer. Once our task was completed, I unwittingly chose to disembark towards the boat’s bow, completely unaware that it was then significantly elevated. I so poorly misjudged the boat’s increased height that when I flung my leg over its port side and faced my peril – I instantly unhinged and lost my balance. In that moment as I helplessly fell towards the ground I knew I was about to endure grievous bodily harm.
My agony on impact was far greater than all other physical pain I had ever endured, and thereafter when conscious, my every concern was ending it. The damage to my Proximal Humerus was so severe that following a three hour surgery my shoulder was permanently fortified with a titanium locking plate secured in place by a 13-screw system.
I had survived! However, my shoulder and I barely subsisted past those initial fuzzy days spent on morphine. For afterwards all pain medication was ineffective and sleep was impossible due to my agonizing inability to lie, sit or stand. For weeks I only managed sporadic, exhaustion-induced sleep by resting upright on my knees with my head propped up on pillows. I was completely dependent on the kindness of others for my every need – hygiene, dress and meals. The menial tasks of bathing, donning suitable clothing and rallying an appetite consumed all of my daily energy.
To exasperate my trauma I was warned by the Orthopedic surgeon that my shoulder was now susceptible to avascular necrosis (a consequence of disrupted blood supply to the joint) and therefore could crumble during the first eight weeks of healing or at the very best I would not regain my full range of motion. Not surprising, I passed those first months in fear, depression and in relentless pain. My desire to end my predicament was considerable yet fortunately the only escape I could muster was in meditation.
By chance or by design, it was during meditation that I recalled having survived trauma before and that I was a resourceful resilience expert known for my ‘7-Steps-To-Create-Resilience’ model. Yet in the fog of my initial despair I had forgotten the very essence of my life – enduring strength, courage and resilience, not-to-mention that my resilience toolkit provided the very skills to navigate life. I instantly went from feeling helpless to helping myself and in turn others; I was euphoric! I would use my trauma experience to practice and validate my resilience model. I would no longer dwell on my troubles or yield to my injury instead I was focused on the opportunity to learn, recover and improve.
Although I leveraged all of my resilience model’s steps during these past months, the following is my personal account of the steps that were of particular benefit to my circumstance:
- Accept: Even though I was living in my 9 year old grandson’s bedroom I accepted that I was right where I belonged. I acknowledged that I was not the first to experience a nasty fall and I would not be the last! I appreciated that life had presented me with an opportunity to enhance my own resilience and in turn confirm and further develop my resilience model. I quickly let go of all my negative thoughts (e.g. “why did this happen to me? what if my humerus crumbles? I’d rather not be here at all!”) in favor of the conviction that no matter what, my life would remain whole and fulfilling. And with that mindset I embraced my recuperation.
- Nurture: I was good at caring for myself having had lots of practice with past traumas but I had not applied the same level of care to my relationships. Now I had to acknowledge that I was not an island and that in addition to receiving warmth and tenderness from myself I needed a more extensive support circle to heal. Along with compassion for myself I acknowledged and extended heartfelt compassion for others, especially those that I felt had disappointed me in the past. Compassion was key for my holistic healing (for I had been holding on to blame and indifference) conceding at long last that everyone has their own healing journey and will experience different stages of growth over their lifetime. This knowledge and approach to nurturing set me free to once again expose my vulnerability and in turn help strengthen existing and create new relationships. I also adopted the healing modalities of hot Yin yoga and pool therapy to help restore my fractured arm to its former strength and range of motion.
- Practice: More than all other emotions, I felt gratitude. First and foremost, to be alive and in one piece. My accident could have left me with far greater injuries – it was a miracle that I was whole, and that I could walk! I was grateful to my body’s sustenance and that it was responding to all my healing endeavors. I was enormously grateful for my son’s expert emergency medical triage & treatment at the scene and for his constant presence at my side during the worst of my trauma. And I am immeasurably grateful to my entire family’s unwavering love; their generous support minimized my daily stress of living and enabled me to focus entirely on my healing. Through their selfless acts I determined that no matter how difficult, I would heal to remain a source of stability and blessing in my family. To that end I practice gratefulness in every aspect of my life, every moment of every day. It is not enough to feel grateful we must also practice it in our thoughts, words and actions.
- Empower: I needed persistence and courage to confront my painful recuperation and therefore viewing my trauma as temporary was a most encouraging support technique. After all, my fracture had had the best surgical intervention possible and with time and care I determined that my body would heal. It would take significant rehabilitation with painful physical therapy to regain my range of motion, it would take commitment and hard work but eventually I would reclaim my shoulder. I accepted that my shoulder would be different than before but I was determined to show the surgeon that I would not crumble and that I would surpass his range of motion prediction. I focused on the small gains to keep going (e.g. when I could once again wash my face, floss my teeth, hold a cup of tea in my injured arm’s hand) so all tasks no matter how simple or small, tasks that we take for granted, now gave me joy. I seized every gain, particularly every regained degree of shoulder movement, as an opportunity to celebrate. I set reasonable expectations for my weekly progress and I did not judge it as I was on a healing mission and not seeking perfection. I knew if I was unable to perform a certain task one week I would be able to the next. I learned to be the measure of my own life and not compare myself to others and I learned to focus only on my inner passions (returning to yoga, cycling, human resilience, etc.) and how well I was achieving them.
Today I continue my healing journey and learning as I go. With 7 months post trauma and work still remaining I’m finally back at my beloved yoga (cautious with downward dog and planks) and I’m taking swim lessons in hopes of mastering the freestyle swim stroke, a skill I have always envied of the more proficient swimmer.
My greatest takeaways from this resilience study are my deepened gratitude towards my spirit and my innate resilience that allowed me to embrace this adversity as an opportunity to learn and grow. For in the end my trauma was merely another stepping stone towards a more resilient and joyful life and it has helped me become a more confident, compassionate and proficient Resilience Coach.
Over the coming weeks my 7-steps-to-create-resilience model will be enhanced to reflect the additional knowledge I have gleaned. I would love to hear from you on your resilience building experiences and I invite you to comment and/or participate in my initial Invitation to create resilience community …
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf!”