Giving Thanks For A Bumpy Road

Image may contain: people standing, tree, plant, sky, outdoor and natureThere is a reason I don’t ski.  And it is not just because I am not a fan of heights, I hate speed and despise the cold. Why would I ever want to sit on some shaky lift that brings you way up high just so you could freeze your butt off while at the same time sliding out of control at an uncomfortable speed….with those things strapped to your feet? Well, when a ski trip is a Christmas gift from your boyfriend at the time, what choice do you have but go?

It was not pretty. What was supposed to be a wonderful weekend spent skiing with friends, then cooking a nice dinner in a beautiful chalet in the mountains of Vermont did not turn out exactly as planned. This girl decided to criss-cross her skis on the last run down the (baby) hill. Just to be clear, the baby hill at Mount Ascutney in Vermont is like a wall (if you ask me). Anyway, when I found myself face first in the snow, I felt a new joint in my shin, somewhere between my left knee and ankle. Yup, something broke. I didn’t move, and I didn’t look at it because I knew I would faint. I just stared up at the blue sky and waited……I could see my friends come toward me and tear off their equipment so they could help. Thankfully, they both were in medical school and knew what to do. Being as it was on the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, there apparently were no ambulances or stretchers, so I was gently placed on a toboggan, slid down to the waiting station wagon that transported me to the hospital. Long story short, my left leg had 2 breaks (tibia ad fibula) and when I could not walk with the crutches, they realized my right ankle was broken also. So I arrived home with not one, but two casts, one on my entire left leg and the other a walking cast up to my knee.

It just so happened to be in the middle of my dietetic internship (at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville) and now I would have to stay home for a month. I was not happy. One minute I was enjoying a daily jog around the city of Nashville and bee-bopping around the hospital learning how to be a dietitian. I had just finished a dance-a-thon at the college. Now, I was flat on my back….for a month.

It was my younger brother David who said a few words that changed everything. Just as I was feeling like life was over, he said “just think….this is probably the only time in your life that you are legitimately going to get to sleeze!” hmm. I am not one to “sleeze”. I have lots of energy and feel lots of guilt when I don’t do what I think I am supposed to do. This was not easy, yet, I realized he was probably right. There was nothing I could do but wait. I might as well enjoy it.

So I started to watch all the dumb TV shows I never would have time for before. I read magazines and played board games and cards with whoever would sit long enough on the couch with me. The month flew by and before long, one cast was off and the other cut down to a walking cast, and I didn’t even need my crutches. Back to school, work, studying and moving again. The funny thing is, my brother was right. I learned so much from that time, a time that at first appeared to be a major bump in the road for me, one that made me afraid and want to give up. After that, I learned I actually could get through things. Little did I know at the young age of 22 how often I would need to remember this lesson over the next almost 40 years of my life.

Have you ever had a plan, or a dream that did not go as planned? Have you gotten rejected from what you thought was your dream job, or dumped by who you thought was the love of your life?  Did you ever have the rug pulled out from under you just when things were going along just perfectly? In the world of body image and dieting, have you worked hard dieting and exercising and lost all of the weight you wanted, but then gradually found yourself back where you started? Or, have you struggled with an eating disorder, worked hard at recovery, gotten to a better place, only to fall into ED’s clutches again?  With Thanksgiving around the corner, I have been reflecting about all of the things I am grateful for. Like everyone else I imagine, the simple things come to mind. Family, children, friends, shelter, electricity, food, flowers, music, a job, eyesight, hearing, taste, legs to walk, hands to cook and garden, a cozy bed to sleep in, peace in my home, love in my life. As I reflect on all of this obvious stuff, what I realize is that I would not be here if I had not had the bumps in the road. When I look back, all of the times I felt like crawling into a hole actually equipped me with strength. With every fall, I learned something about how to cope. Yes, it would be lovely if we could avoid every painful experience, or so it would seem. But I imagine life would be so much less rich, way too vanilla. How can you appreciate warmth if you have never been cold? How can you appreciate peace if you have not experienced friction? How can you treasure freedom if you have never been imprisoned (by something)? By that I don’t mean the steel bars of jail, but what may feel just as restraining and debilitating. Rules about how to behave, self-expectations about where we should be by now, self-imposed standards about pretty much everything. And I could go on and on about that one.

So with Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, I think a lot about the people I have know throughout my life and how they are coping. I think about former patients and pray they get through all this, and even find themselves enjoying it all. I think about those who are dieting and have fallen (or feel like they have fallen) because they have taken a bite or a serving, or maybe succumbed to a binge because of all the triggers around this time of year. I can almost hear their self-talk and feel the weight of the guilt that descends like a ton of bricks, like a loud yelling voice, a voice that insults and berates….a judgmental voice.

It has dawned on me that when it comes to pretty much everything in life, we need to fall. But it is how we look at our falls that matters, not the fall itself. Even if it is not that we fell, but that something was thrown in front of us that caused us to stumble, it matters how we decide to look at it (yes, decide, because it is our choice). I understand that we are all different as far as how resilient we are. Some of us can just stand up after a fall, dust off our clothes, and move on. But others tend to get dragged down, and just can’t stop thinking about what they could have done, should have done, or even fall into the blaming of everything on their bad luck. Any way you look at it, these are what some consider to be the negative-ish people that always seem to complain about their circumstances. They may not be able to help it, it may just be their nature. But I like to think that if we become aware of what we are doing, and we don’t like it, at least we can decide to experiment with going in a different direction. Notice I said “experiment” and not just “decide to do it”. Maybe because I am not a fan of commitment when it comes to changing behavior. I think it is rarely that easy. I believe we do need to try different approaches to things, and that we don’t always know right away what may work for us. Part of the problem I see is that many people who want to change think there is only one way to do it, and that is just not true. There are a gazillion ways to change, and sometimes we need to try dozens of different things before we ease into what works for us. And therefore, that requires stumbling. And falling. But then you get up. And when you do, I hope you smile and say “that was interesting! well, that didn’t work! I wonder why…………..let me think about this”. Analyze it. What happened? What were the barriers? What are your triggers? How do you get rid of them? And then start experimenting….again.

Sometimes, though, the bumps in the road have nothing to do with us or our choices. Sometimes, really bad and sad things happen that we have no control of, and these sad things really affect us. Losing a loved one is the hardest thing (in my opinion). My mom has been struggling with the loss of my dad over a year ago. A friend of hers (who also lost her husband years ago) said to her “don’t let anyone tell you when you should be over it. It took me 7 years. It takes as long as it takes”. This one statement helped her so much. She let go of her own expectations and self-judgement as to why she was not in a better place. She now accepts where she is and does as much as she can to help herself. She is getting out, and hiking up mountains and getting lost in corn mazes (it was a first for both of us, we both get lost at the mall, a corn maze was not a good idea). She talks to strangers wherever we go. When she grocery shops (which is often…she is not good at keeping a list) she donates to the food banks when they are there. She bakes cookies for us and still cooks on Sunday. But, she no longer seems to be expecting herself to live up to some magical standard when it comes to getting over the loss of a man she spent decades with.

So with this holiday season, I wish everyone would be thankful for the bumps in their lives. I hope we all just accept wherever we are (it is probably where we are supposed to be, after all) because we may have more to learn. We DO have more to learn. We probably will ALWAYS have more to learn. I never want to be that person who knows everything (or who thinks they do). I am not a fan of those kind of people. I prefer the real ones.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and hope you find lots to give thanks for. Family, children, friends, shelter, electricity, food, flowers, music, a job, eyesight, hearing, taste, legs to walk, hands to cook and garden, a cozy bed to sleep in, peace in your home, love in your life.

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