midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “recovery”

‘Play the Whole Tape:’ The Struggle of Addiction

Alcoholic_AAMtgThe lanky young man with the tattoos took a break from his intricately-detailed pencil-sketching to look up from his art and turned to face me after I introduced myself to the group.

“Have you ever been addicted to drugs?” he asked.

“No,” I responded.

“Ever been addicted to alcohol?”

“No,” I said again.

“What can you know?” he mumbled with disgust and turned back to focus on his artwork.

It was my first day as a co-leader of a substance abuse therapy group, an internship for my clinical mental health counseling master’s degree as I make a career transition from public relations to counseling. The group leader smoothed the edges by telling the group members they can learn different things from counselors who had addiction problems and those who haven’t. The leaders with whom I have worked had substance abuse histories and can talk the language of the streets and drug culture; I can’t.

When a member glorifies the days of using, as those in substance abuse recovery are wont to do, one leader admonishes: “Play the whole tape,” meaning remember the misery that accompanied the action, the “ripping and running.”

Later in the session, the young man apologized to me and the group for his abrasiveness, saying he had discovered just before the session that a good friend from childhood had died by drug overdose. That type of emotional volatility and chaotic, unpredictable life is common among members.

In my two months co-leading and leading this three-hour-long group session, I have learned from members and have become more comfortable guiding and interacting with them. The members provide a fascinating window on life’s struggles and many life themes: redemption, commitment, determination, acceptance, grace, hope, resilience, courage, meaning, generosity, self-centeredness, self-destruction, temptation and despair.

Group members represent a microcosm of society: male and female; fathers and mothers; black, white and Hispanic; teenagers to seniors; those from childhoods of abuse, neglect and deprivation and others from relatively stable, caring families; workers and jobless; people doggedly seeking change and others going through the motions.

Some have been homeless, shunned by family members. Many have been imprisoned, and some still are dealing with charges that could result in jail time with any transgression. Some have risked their lives to get drugs, running dangerous streets at all hours, banging on doors of drug dealers. They have lost children, jobs, health, relationships, dignity, trust and respect over their addictions. Many have been through rehab before, but reverted to previous habits, some as soon as they exited. Their emotional lives have been engulfed with fear, shame, guilt, resentment, anger and damaged self-worth.

I don’t have any particular unique or profound insight into the scourge of addictive behavior and those who come under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I only have impressions as a person and professional new and fairly oblivious to this world. My biggest takeaway is that these individuals are not addicts, but people with addictions. In our society, we tend to apply labels to people that come with proscribed traits and characteristics, effectively straight-jacketing people into circumscribed boxes.

The experience has reinforced for me that addiction does not define the group members, a lesson I also learned first-hand when a roommate suffered a relapse. In fact, addiction is not at the core of their being at all. They are so much more than “addicts.” I appreciate the regular group members I have gotten to know for their sense of humor, loyalty, caring, openness, friendliness, raw honesty, suffering and commitment.

One woman exemplified the power of passion, hope and resilience – and the difference between those who truly accept and want to beat addiction and others who may be biding time – in an activity I led challenging the members to identify their strengths. Some struggled to come up with more than two; a few others declined to offer even one when called upon to share. But this woman, for whom the phrase “to hell and back” would apply, rattled off about a dozen assets. She appears to want recovery bad; her emotional pain is palpable. She has a medical condition that might keep others away, but she refuses to miss or give up. She’s a good person who got some raw deals in life and made some regrettable choices that sent her into a downward spiral, like many of the members, and she’s developing the courage to own it all. She is recognizing her worth as a human. She expresses faith.

I’m pulling and praying for her and the others to beat their addictions and find serenity and contentment, and hope I can be a positive influence, however small, on their recovery.

 

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Drunken Debacles

Ed’s Chicken & Crabs, referred to by my family as Ed’s Chicken Shack, a landmark in laid-back, party-hard Dewey Beach, DE for nearly 40 years where you could order consummate beach dinners of crabs, chicken, fried clams, hush puppies and corn on the cob from the take-out window and eat on picnic benches outside as the sun set, was reduced to a pile of charred wood and scorched, twisted metal in a fire this summer.

edschickenshackburned

Ed’s Chicken & Crabs, a Dewey Beach institution burned to the ground by a drunken driver.

 

The fire wasn’t caused by a kitchen or grease mishap. Neither was it caused by an arsonist, a careless smoker or an electrical misfiring. Unbelievably, it was caused by a drunken motorist at 2 a.m. who crossed the raised road median on Dewey’s main drag and four lanes of traffic and slammed into a propane line in the eatery, igniting the blaze.

Luckily, the 36-year-old woman’s life was saved by first responders. The owner of Ed’s and its devoted Dewey Beach patrons weren’t as lucky. Ed is 83 years old and said he doesn’t plan to rebuild. A drunken woman put him out of business and left an eyesore of rubble in the middle of the classically honky-tonk beach town.

A beach institution is destroyed and a man’s livelihood and surely a piece of his soul wrecked by a brazen act of drunkenness committed by someone of an age where one would hope maturity and individual responsibility would triumph over atrociously bad judgment and decision-making. But that is not always the case when alcohol is involved, as Baltimoreans witnessed in the death of cyclist Tom Palermo, run over on a sunny afternoon by a drunken, high-ranking clergy member.

Speaking of drunken debacles, I experienced first-hand observation of a rapid descent into the throes of alcoholism during my summer in Bethany Beach, DE. An adverse life event pushed someone I was close to into a multi-week, nonstop bender. I had never seen alcoholism so up-close and devastatingly real before.

The fall was incredibly rapid and far by someone who said he had been sober for three years. In the course of a few days of drinking, I could barely recognize this person from the one I knew previously, sober. It was a stunning and sad transformation, and no one could do anything about it but the drinker.

A recovering alcoholic who knew both of us counseled me about what I could expect from my friend. Don’t believe everything my friend said and expect the friend to do things in secrecy out of shame, the sober recovering alcoholic told me. Expect the plunge to go deeper and deeper until my friend ends up in the hospital or in jail, he said. That nearly did happen – my friend hurt himself physically on several occasions, got kicked out of a bar/restaurant, and had to be picked up from the roadside.

Finally, the recovering alcoholic advised, don’t expect my friend to be able to pull out of drunkenness by sheer force of willpower. That display of personal strength against the pull of alcohol rarely happens, he counseled.

He knew from experience, that of himself and many friends and acquaintances he had met through his own journey to recovery. The first step, he said, is the alcoholic realizing he needs help, wanting help, and being ready to seek help. Detox, professional help and support is necessary for recovery. And that can’t happen until the lies to self and others stop, he said.

I tried to offer my friend help as much as I could. But, as the recovering alcoholic advised, you can’t force an alcoholic to accept help, you can only offer, and often my friend did not take me up on my offer to seek the help he needed.

Sometimes I sought to help, but in the wrong way. Like the time when my friend, who did not have a car, wrecked his bike and messed up the chain. My friend was unsuccessfully trying to fix the chain at 11 p.m. and called for my assistance. Why the obsession to fix the chain so late at night? The bike was his only source of transportation and a necessary component for refueling the binge.

Eventually, both of us went our separate ways. We were each there only for the summer, like so many people who are employed in a beach town. My friend got his act together enough to leave town for his next stop. But like many alcoholics, he was overwhelmed by  logistics and decisions.

I don’t know yet if he was able to pull himself up from his fall through sheer force of will – against the odds, as the recovering alcoholic explained to me – and get back on a good track. I truly hope so, or if not, that he got the help he needs. He will always be my friend for the experiences we shared together, good and bad, and I will always remember him for those same reasons, whether our paths cross again or not. I learned a lot from him – not just about alcoholism, which is important knowledge in the line of work I’m entering, counseling, but many other things of positive value.

I wish my friend safety, health, sobriety and Godspeed – freedom from the devastating effects and ruined relationships caused by alcohol. He will always be my friend – a good, well-meaning and caring person at heart who also happens to have an alcohol problem over which he must be constantly vigilant.

Thanks Dr. Dave

AdamBumWheelWithRebFour years ago April 26, I suffered one of the worst nights of my life. One moment I was playing rec league soccer, running after a 50-50 ball. The next, after a reverberating THUD, I was on my back, dazed, wondering what had just happened. It only took a second to realize I had a shattered leg, and within minutes, paramedics were hoisting me onto a transportable bed and loading me into an ambulance.

On the ride to the hospital, I realized my life had suddenly changed. My immediate fear was that I would never be the same again. I had never been injured that badly before.

The story of my challenging rehab – physical, emotional and spiritual – is detailed here.

With the knowledge gleaned from my counseling classes and experience in counseling clients in my current internship, I would hope I would be able to think more positive and optimistic thoughts in the future when something bad happens to me. I struggled to overcome negative thinking and emotions in the early stages of my recovery. I was told I would have a full recovery, but I couldn’t help having doubts.

I often pass the field where I was injured, on the way to and from my university, including at night, when the field lights are bright, just as I remember from my back while staring into the dark sky on the night I got hurt. It brings back memories that I now embrace as an experience integral to my life. It wasn’t cancer, and I’m grateful for that, but it was a type of adversity I had never faced before.

At this time of year, I also always remember the doctor who performed the surgery to put my leg back together. In an amazing coincidence, it turned out the surgeon lived in my same townhome community, but I did not know him. In a sign that I’m getting older, Dr. Dave was about 15 years my junior. After the surgery, as I was hobbling around the neighborhood on crutches, I would run into Dr. Dave walking his dog. He would always challenge me to do a little more than I thought I was capable of – put more weight on my leg, begin walking sooner. We became friendly.

I will be forever grateful for Dr. Dave. He gave me my life back – at least the physical life that I knew and only fully appreciated after it was taken away.

Dr. Dave eventually moved to California to specialize in spinal surgery. It took more than a year to recover to 90 percent or more. But just more than a year after surgery, I completed a triathlon. A neighbor who was at the event texted Dr. Dave, who replied, “Awesome!”

I did the triathlon again two years later, three years after surgery. That time I got Dr. Dave’s number and texted him myself to let him know how grateful I was for his skill and expertise, and that I was as close to 100 percent as I could be. Dr. Dave was glad to hear it, but to him, it was probably no big deal. That’s just what he does, he fixes broken people. Still, I figure doctors who heal probably don’t always hear the appreciation and gratefulness for their work after the patient disappears.

I will honor Dr. Dave with a prayer of thanks at this time every year, as I am sure he is healing many other people with fears like me, and hopefully also with a call or text. Thank God for people like Dr. Dave.

Facing a Match Point

It has not really been intentional, but death has been a recurring theme on this young blog about midlife. There was cyclist Tom Palermo, tragically mowed down in the prime of life by a drunk bishop. Two vibrant co-workers at my current job have been at work one day, gone the next. Perhaps it’s inevitable that when you reach midlife, feelings of immortality are stripped and death becomes less an abstract concept and more a certainty you have to reckon with. And that can be a good thing, motivation to be your real self, focus on the things that are most important and for which you have the most passion, take more risks, express yourself more fully and love more deeply.

This post, however, is about life, not death, though its specter, I would imagine, is present, a hard thing to dance around. It is about the fight for life and the preciousness of life. It is about braving the worst of times so one day again the best of times will feel even sweeter. It is about having to dive deeper into one’s soul and mine further into one’s spirit than ever previously imagined. It is about adjusting and learning new ways of living, being and relating.

I received an e-mail from my tennis buddies that a friend – really an acquaintance, but I know if I knew him better, he would be a friend – had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Before I say more, I want readers to consider making a donation to Bobby through the GoFundMe website set up to help cover costs for him and his family.

Bobby is a tennis pro at the clubs where I play, and has coached at the high school and college levels. We have crossed paths and talked a number of times. I know something about his job from personal experience.

After a layoff from a public relations job in 2002, I got certified as a tennis instructor from the U.S. Professional Tennis Registry. I had been a competitive junior and college tennis player, and had always been interested in teaching – especially competitive juniors – but never had the time. Now I did. I taught for a while for the same recreational organization where Bobby teaches, spent a summer teaching at a summer camp, and coached a girls high school team. I made an arrangement with a local swim and tennis club to teach members and non-members on its two seldom-used courts, and began building up a clientele. I taught for a nonprofit organization that ran after-school programs, and eventually became its organizer and director of a high school training program. I loved it, but as I eventually re-entered the corporate world, my tennis teaching started to dwindle. At one point, I talked to Bobby about assisting him with his juniors program, but it never came to pass.

I only describe my own experience with tennis teaching because I know that as a successful tennis teacher and coach, Bobby possesses many attributes that are going to help him in his fight to recover. Any successful tennis coach must have energy, passion, enthusiasm, patience, positivity and spirit. That’s what rubs off on students and keeps adults and kids coming back and hooked on working to improve their games. I can tell Bobby possesses these traits by his community’s outpouring of love and support. He has had an impact, likely far broader than he ever thought.

As an individual sport, tennis teaches many life lessons: managing emotions; staying positive; focusing on the moment; having a game plan, and adjusting when it’s not working; dealing with adversity; valuing the process as much or more than the results; and fighting hard and never giving up. These, too, can be applied to Bobby’s challenge.

Bobby is somewhere in his 40s, younger than I am and too young for this. For me, as with the Tom Palermo story, this hits home as another case of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Life is unfair. And for Bobby, this sucks. But I notice he is already learning new things. When I e-mailed him about writing about his journey, he responded that he had learned from the outpouring of community support to “put my pride and privacy to the side and allow people that want to help to do so.” We all have our walls and our desire to be invulnerable. In acknowledging vulnerability, I believe Bobby is letting some walls down. And in so doing, he will be letting in the caring and love that will strengthen him to beat his illness. I’m praying for him and his family, and hope with all my heart I see him out on the court with his students, hitting balls and barking encouragement, come spring and summer.

To donate for Bobby, see: http://www.gofundme.com/ka1jw4

A Different Type of Lunch Meeting

I attended my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. But I’m not an alcoholic. Really, I’m not. I can take it or leave it. I can stop anytime. What’s the problem? I know, I know, this is what all alcoholics say. But really, I’m not. Thank God.

I attended an AA meeting for my Loyola University counseling program class on Substance Abuse and Addictive Behaviors. Though I’m not an alcoholic, I’ve experienced family alcoholism, living between the ages of 14 to 18 with my father’s live-in mate who had a drinking problem. I’ve never sought counseling or support to explore how living with an alcoholic affected my life and family relationships. The AA meeting motivated me to consider doing that.

At the AA meeting, I was stunned as I walked in the door and blown away by an incredibly humbling, uplifting, honest, heartfelt, connective and redemptive experience, all within an hour’s time while the outside world was downing a sandwich for lunch. The participants carry a heavy burden, but also hold a treasure that few experience in a lifetime – a true connection to a community that has the depth, authenticity and spirituality that few relationships possess, and that I would contend is rare even in churches and other religious gatherings.

I found an AA meeting at a church within walking distance of my workplace, so attended a “Just Before Noon” session during my lunch hour. The previous day in class, I had asked my professor how we could know if meetings listed on websites really took place as frequently as advertised, because I couldn’t believe meetings would really be taking place several weekdays per week in the middle of the day at the same place. The professor responded that online listings could be hit-or-miss. But after class, a student who had been to meetings assured me that if a meeting was listed, people would be there, and to just look for a group of people smoking outside to know it was happening.

I tried to enter the church through the front doors. Locked. A lady approached and asked what I was looking for. I responded, “a meeting,” and went to try the side door. Locked also. I was thinking my suspicions were confirmed – these meetings are probably sporadically attended, erratic and unreliable. Then the lady pointed me to an adjacent building, a house converted into a church annex.  That’s when I was stunned. The room was teeming with people, filling coffee cups, chatting and embracing like old friends. I was expecting five or six attendees max, if I was lucky, and already had been making tentative plans to find another seemingly bigger meeting – perhaps something at night — in case this one didn’t provide the fodder I would need to write a five-page reflection and theory interpretation paper.

Sixty people or more filled a room with an inner horseshoe table and outer seated audience, the 12 steps unfurled banner-style at the front. There was a lot of gray hair and wrinkles – many attendees were older and wizened. Some had spent as many years as a hard drinker as a teetotaler; one dapper man, dressed finer than all the others in a burgundy sport jacket and tie, told the group he was just two years short of spending the same amount of years as a teetotaler than as a drinker: 34.

But by no means was it strictly an over-the-hill crowd; there was a sizable contingent in their 20s, 30s and 40s. About 40 percent were women, same wide age range.

Another elder statesman celebrating his 44th year of sobriety, wearing a furry hunting hat over a mane of white hair, was introduced to cheers, came to the front of the room, and told an impromptu, 20-minute, somewhat rambling, disjointed and humorous version of his life story, including being sent away to school as a third-grader by his alcoholic mother, a top-secret job involving an Air Force base and eventually, accompanying his mother to an AA meeting, something he thought he didn’t need until he knew he needed it and couldn’t live without. He also talked about the shirt he wore, a “flannel shirt, buttoned all the way up,” which carried symbolism he learned from an AA mentor or AA tradition, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I’m guessing the flannel is for humility and hard work, rather than something like silk, and buttoned up signals no room for slacking or loosening up.

After Flannel’s powerful story, the floor was opened for anyone who felt moved to speak about their struggles, sobriety, temptations, fears, insights and triumphs. Introductions always took the form of “Hi, I’m Fred, and I’m an alcoholic” – whether sobriety had been for one month or 30 years – with the audience responding heartily, “Hi Fred!”

In 30 minutes, I heard so many stories of despair, faith, hope, grace and spirituality that I felt completely immersed, thoughts of work assignments, weekend plans and anything else falling away. There were confessions of near-suicides, slides into homelessness and self-absorbed stupors. Several confessed that they “didn’t know how to live” before becoming sober. They talked about acceptance of the self and giving up “striving for perfection” in their spiritual walk, realizing it was impossible, and surrendering to God, whatever He meant to each individual, as long as it wasn’t a bottle. They cautioned against attending AA merely “to comply on paper” – orders from the legal system – because even if compliance was checked off, they would fall. The woman sitting next to me added her own commentary to herself whenever a revelation hit a chord.

One man told about getting drunk on vodka before attending a court-mandated Mothers Against Drunk Driving meeting at a courthouse, where, to his surprise, police were present, and detected his drunkenness. He could not be charged, but a judge paraded him in front of an audience of defendants as a shameful example.

A woman professed her love for everyone she had met in the group – well, 90 percent, she clarified – and how terrified she was that she would be leaving them shortly to move to Texas, but had already found an AA group there upon a good recommendation. A large, powerful-looking man confessed his abject weakness, describing how he went to his pastor at this very church to say he was “out of control” and needed help, and how he was guided next-door.

This man gave out the “chips” at the end of the meeting, signifying various anniversaries of time for sobriety. Each person who hit a milestone earned rousing applause upon collecting their chip. The shortest length was three weeks.

I left the meeting into the winter sunshine and walked through the adjoining neighborhood, back to my regular life. It struck me how oblivious I was that this spiritual revival of sorts was happening every Friday here and hundreds of other places around the country, and how I probably encountered participants in my everyday life, like my fellow Loyola student who gave me advice in class.

As for my own experience with alcoholism, I did not know my “Surrogate Step-Mother” was an alcoholic until I had already left for college, and she called me one day to tell me about her acknowledgement and new journey and to apologize. She was a high-functioning, covert alcoholic, not a raging drunk. I knew she liked to have a glass of wine in the evening, but that’s all I knew. She could be irritable, moody, tempermental and rigid. She was an ambitious, driven, presumably hard-working professional. Who knows where and when she drank, and how clever she must have become at hiding it. To this day, I still don’t know what my father knew or suspected, or when. We’ve really never talked about it. Not long after Surrogate told me about her alcoholism, she and my father broke up. I have never seen her since.

That has left me with unresolved questions about alcoholism. This was a woman I lived with for four years during my formative adolescence, and knew several years prior. Did her alcoholism make her want to escape from everything and everyone she knew during her alcoholic life? Why did she disappear? Shame and regret? A desperate need to start anew? Did this explain the reason for all the turmoil in our cobbled-together family system, the kids vs. the “parents” bunker mentality we adopted? How did it affect my father?

It took a class assignment 30 years later to make me even think about exploring these dynamics, but now I think I will.Alcoholic_AAMtg

Down and Out

Recovering from surgery for broken tibia, fibula

Recovering from surgery for broken tibia, fibula

Lying on my back, looking up at the stars and stadium lights and the sweaty faces circling me, the terrifying thought flashed through my mind: “I’ll never be the same again.”

Seconds before, a crossing pass came rolling slowly from the sideline toward our goalie box. As a defender, I instinctively broke for the ball. I also broke my self-preservation rule – avoid reckless collisions – but I couldn’t predict it soon enough. As I got to the ball, so did a strapping young opponent, coming full-speed. He swung his leg like a nine-iron, attempting to score. Players arriving for the next game said they heard the “thwwaaackk” a field away. I went down. I thought it might be bad, but didn’t know. Just a bad bruise? I was afraid to look.

Play stopped. Players gathered around me. “Probably a broken shin guard,” I heard. Someone helped take off my shin guard. It was fine. I peered haltingly at my lower right leg and knew I wasn’t. We had a surgeon on the team. All she could offer was, “I’m sorry, Adam.”

Another teammate gripped my hand. Others began asking me questions. “What’s your wife’s number?” “Which car is yours?” “Where’s your bag?” Within minutes, I was being wheeled by paramedics to an ambulance. “What’s your birthday?” they asked, the first of many times I would hear that question that night, to evaluate my alertness, I guess. That and, “What’s your pain level, 1 to 10?”

I stayed conscious and alert through the trip to the ER, surprising myself that I didn’t go into shock or even feel overwhelmed by pain. I had a broken tibia and fibula, two main bones of the leg – a “tib-fib” in orthopedic jargon. The next day I had surgery, a rod and screws inserted, and embarked on the greatest test of adversity in my life.

I had made it to 49 without ever being seriously injured or having surgery. In an instant, to go from sprinting to (pardon the political incorrectness) crippled, is an absolute shock. Prognosis: full recovery, 6 to 9 months. I would learn in the coming months that the injury and surgery didn’t just affect an isolated part of my leg, but distressed my toes, foot, ankle, Achilles, calf muscle, knee – the whole kinetic chain.

I had played in a high-caliber co-ed recreational soccer league for seven years, starting at age 42 – 30 years after last playing. I stuck with it long enough to become a decent defender, and eventually team captain when no one else wanted the job.

More than 120 games, with nothing more than the occasional pulled muscle or bruised rib. It became a point of pride to be perhaps the oldest player in the league, competing against former high school and college players in their 20s and 30s, but it was getting harder.

Maybe ego got in the way, or nostalgia, trying to recapture a vestige of youth. Maybe I should have quit. I almost did several times, but decided “just one more season.” Now, barely able to bend my knee or get off the couch without great pain, I punished myself mercilessly for that decision.

I was angry at the player who hurt me. Problem was, I had no idea who he was. I was told he stood behind me as I lied on the turf that night, looking concerned. But I never heard from him. With no external target, I turned my anger and blame inward.

I blamed myself for decisions I made from two seconds before the accident to months beforehand that could have changed the devastating outcome:

“I shouldn’t have gone for that 50-50 ball.”

“Why did I go back in the game as a sub in the second half?”

“If I had only registered for a Thursday night graduate school course instead of Wednesday, I would have missed the season.”

In the first month after my injury, I continually ruminated about these scenarios, often in the wee hours of the morning between restless bouts of sleep and groggy interludes of cable TV movies and cheesy mystery novels – but of course it changed nothing.

With a walker, just like the near-death seniors at the assisted living facility up our street, I struggled to make it to the end of our 50-yard row of townhouses, and needed my wife to bring a chair so I could rest for the trip back home. Going upstairs on my butt was a chore, so the living room became my bedroom. I didn’t take a real shower for weeks.

I missed three weeks of work, which was just as well because I couldn’t focus, and didn’t drive or wear a shoe for two months. Cooped up and growing depressed, the days became interminable, and I dreaded trying to sleep at night. I had in-home physical therapy – boring and sometimes painful leg exercises, with a lady who scolded me that I would have trouble growing old with my downbeat attitude. But I did the exercises religiously, structured my day around them, multiple sets per day, even strapping a dumbbell or a big flashlight to my heavy, protective knee-high boot to strengthen my leg. But it atrophied anyway.

I was miserable and wallowing in self-pity. If I kept it up, I wouldn’t have blamed my wife if she had walked out, “in sickness” be damned.

I had been athletic all my life — a collegiate tennis player who still played competitively – and now I was struggling to do a lap around our kitchen and living room on crutches without falling. I had the distinct feeling that the world was going on without me.

I started outpatient physical therapy with great trepidation. I imagined the therapists as heartless drill sergeants, pushing me to do masochistic exercises to see how much pain I could endure before collapsing in humiliation. Wrong. I soon embraced my sessions as part of my recovery.

In my early days of rehab, my favorite part of the day was just before bed, after a hot shower, when I lied on the bed and strapped an ultrasound bone-healing unit to my leg for 20 minutes and watched the NBA playoffs, forgetting about everything. I found myself empathizing deeply with players who suffered leg injuries – Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Baron Davis of the New York Knicks – now really knowing what an arduous road they faced.

I turned the corner and began rejoining life when I learned to use crutches more confidently. I would break up a work-from-home day with a laborious 1/5-mile walk to the neighborhood park about the speed of a kindergartner on 90-degree June days, sweating through my shirt and exhausting my arms, collapsing on the bench for a Gatorade break before the return trip. At night, I would take one of my kids with me until sunset.

I got stronger. I began going distances, about a mile along a path to the Lakefront in town for summer festivals and concerts, and just to sit on a bench with my son.

In late June, two months in, I mustered the courage to go to the neighborhood pool for laps. For the rest of the summer, I swam like my life depended on it, rarely missing a day, often closing down the pool after work. As the pools closed for the summer and healing progressed, I transitioned to cycling and gradually added tennis to the regimen in late fall, slowly increasing my lateral movement.

My new physical therapist told me recovery would be like a rollercoaster, and it has been. I went from two crutches, to one crutch, to no crutches, then back to one crutch as pain in my knee and swelling in my ankle made my gait uneven, then again to two crutches for a while, before finally weaning my way off. Pain and discomfort has flared and subsided regularly. But like the surgeon said, in my eighth month, I started feeling closer to normal, like this too shall pass.

Throughout my ordeal, I progressed from denial to acceptance to ownership. Ironically, the graduate course I was taking at the time of the injury was Theological Anthropology – an exploration of the influence and meaning of God and spirituality in our lives and the world. I came to view my injury as having deeper meaning – the response to adversity, nobility in suffering, a preparation for things to come. I didn’t even want to trade it away anymore, because then it wouldn’t even be my life, my unique experience, but someone else’s.

It was tremendously humbling. Who are you if you can’t do what you’ve always done? It gave me the perspective of living with a disability. I parked in “handicapped” spaces. Near-strangers asked what happened and offered their sympathy, welcomed or not. With my crutches and boot, I felt like a conversation piece.

It ate away at me that the player who injured me had never contacted me. I guess I just wanted to think it mattered…I mattered. Just after Thanksgiving, seven months after the injury, I e-mailed the player’s captain to say I was recovering and that I forgave his teammate. He responded that his teammate felt really bad about it, and it was his idea to send me the Get Well card with a $50 Amazon gift card way back when.

I still never heard directly from that player, and never will. But I never thought about it again. I guess that’s part of learning how to heal – physically, mentally, and spiritually.

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