Monday, August 20, 2012

Consuming the Rage

When I was in the hospital, when the time had passed and it finally occurred to me just what I had lost, That was when the rage theatened to consume me.

Gone, it was all gone. Everything that had made up what I considered the best part of me, everything that was my reason for living, was just gone. I remained, seemingly only to bear witness to the fact that I was gone.

Betrayed! I was betrayed by life and fate. I was berthed and burdened by fate. I became my rage and I became my betrayal. The hatred blackened my heart until I could feel it no more. And then I reached a point where I had absolutely no capacity for any more hatred.

My hatred had burned white hot as it concentrated within me. My whole universe of anger focused to a point so intense that it exploded out from my very core. It washed over me and it flooded my hospital room. It knocked everything off the tables and buried them against the wall. Then it burned the paint off the wall and exploded out the window. I was left laying still and empty and weak in my bed.

As suddenly as it exploded, it was gone. Empty, bereft, and alone, I lay there, and I surrendered. I could not take it anymore. I had no more capacity for hatred. It was like my great lungs of hatred were emptied and I drew in a deep sweet breath of grace.

If forgave myself, then I could forgive fate, and then I could forgive everyone. What else could I do?

In surrender, I had found Epic Grace.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brain Injury and Marriage

            Relationships and marriage can be difficult for anybody, which means with brain injury they can be exceptionally tough. I was engaged to be married at the time of my accident in January of 1989. After I came out of my coma we had to decide whether or not to continue with our June wedding as planned and risk forfeiting our deposits, or to put it off for another year.

            Against the advice of many, we decided to go for it. All my wife had to do was work full time, pay the bills, and plan a wedding for two hundred, as well as take care of me. I had to learn how to walk so I could make it down the aisle. In the end I did my part and my wife did hers.

            That was the easy part. Most relationships don’t make it past a brain injury. Brain injury can fundamentally alter who you are. A common lament in many troubled marriages is that one’s spouse is no longer the person one fell in love with. Brain injury pretty much assures that fact. After over 20 years of marriage I can give you some hints as to what you can expect.

                        If you marry a brain injured person you may feel like you have to do everything. You have to support the household because your spouse may not be able to earn a significant income. Fatigue is a major component of brain injury so you may have to do a lot of the work around the house and yard. Your spouse may no longer be able to do mechanical repairs or cook, and if they try do some of the things they could do before, it can have disastrous results. There are no clear boundaries, which means, you are perpetually walking on a mine field.

            At first, and for the foreseeable future, you are going to feel like you gained a child, not a spouse. No adult wants to be treated like a child, and no adult wants to admit they need to be treated like a child. Nevertheless, with brain injury that is a fact of life. A brain injury survivor needs to admit they need help and their spouse needs to admit that an adult is not going to enjoy being taken care of like a child. The lines of tension are set very taut and very ambiguous.

            On the off hand chance your marriage lasts long enough, there is yet another hurdle. Supposing a brain injury survivor gains the ability to function more or less like a competent adult, a process which can take years, the marriage must once again adjust to shifting roles. This doesn’t happen all at once either. Just like that troubled part of life we call adolescence, returning to the role of co-equal partner is an awkward process of fits and starts. All the boundaries can change and there is no set or certain rhythm along the way. One hopes that after everything else, the marriage can make this adjustment.

            At this point in my essay you are probably asking “is it worth it?” I will tell you in all honesty, probably not. I say this because I don’t want to fill anyone’s head with all sorts of unrealistic hopes. I don’t believe that soul mates are found, I believe they are made after years of effort. I believe one of the reasons so many marriages fail today is that we listen to all these love songs that place unrealistic expectations on a relationship in which things like fellowship and respect and good communication are just supposed to happen. The love song that I do believe in is one by RUSH called “Ghost of a Chance” and it starts out like this:

“I don’t believe in destiny or the guiding hand of fate

I don’t believe in forever or in love as a mystical state

I don’t believe in the stars or the planets or angels watching from above

But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance that we can find some one to love

And make it last”

I have a wonderful marriage; my wife and I are very much in love, but it hasn’t been easy and I certainly don’t want to say, “Hey, we did it, you can too!” For us it has been worth it, but it has meant a lot of pain and regret as well as happiness. It is possible; it’s just not easy; which can be said of marriage in general, only with brain injury it is more so.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The First Time I Walked

Imagine my fiance, 25 and very beautiful, quick, curious, and playful. She was engaged to her soulmate and they were to be married in June. Her life was pregnant with possibility.

Then her soulmate was in a tragic accident. At first it didn't seem likely he'd live, then it was assumed if he ever came out of his coma he'd likely be in a very low functioning state, needing constant care, living in a nursing home for the rest of his life. His own family was telling her they'd understand if she left and got on with her life, in fact they were telling her to move on with her life. But she said, "no, that won't be necessary, Mike will get better."

As I lay there in my hospital bed, I couldn't believe that my child hood sweetheart was actually with me and planning to mary me. I felt more than a debt, I felt gratitude and thankfulness of the deepest most intimate kind. If I loved her I would be a partner to her, not a burden. The best way I could show her this was to walk down the aisle with her in June. It was February and I was still unable to walk without assistance or supports.

I decided that if I loved her, then I could walk. I made my walking a metaphor for my love. With each step being a metaphor for telling her, "I love you." I couldn't tell her with words, my speech was so poor at that point.

The day came, they took me down to the rehab room and wheeled me in front of the parallel bars. I stared at them trying to overcome my fear of failure. My therapist told me, "Give it a try, its okay if you can't." She began to say we could try again tomorrow, but I cut her off."

"No it is not!" I mumbled, feeling quite pathetic. I reached for the bars and I tried gallantly to pull myself up. I didn't know it would seem so impossible, but I thought of my fiance, I felt my love, I winced and I strained and with shakey uncertain legs I stood. Everyone in the therapy room cheered. I paused, gathered my strength and set my intentions. I shifted my wait to my left leg, the one that felt heavy with water. I tried raising my right leg to bring it forward. I panicked and set it quickly back down. Sweat was on my forehead and my teeth were clenched tightly. I set my intentions. I tried again, I felt like a skyscraper leaning in the wind, I thought of a sailing ship foundering in a gale, I closed my eyes on the inhale and opened them as I exhaled and took a step.

"I love you." The inner monologue resonated from my heart. I had done it! I had taken my first step.

Now I was in a jam. I had one foot forward and felt very off balance. Now everybody was watching, no cheers, just stunned silence. I rocked back and forth from foot to foot, trying to find a stable platform. There was no avail. Fear gripped me, I clenched my teeth as my breath coarsed sharp and short between them. I leaned forward and dragged my left foot ahead.

"I...Love....You! I had done it, I had walked! I wanted to raise both my hands over my head but no sooner had I tried then I started to fall and I brought my hands down and grabbed the rails tightly. White knuckle grip. I leaned on one hand with my hip and bowed my head while I raised the other arm in the air. Victory! And I breathed.