We often speak of recovery when unexpected events throw our lives off-course. But what does it really mean to recover? And what if the point is not to recover?
Three years after my brain injury, reflections on my recovery.
Three years ago today my life changed when I got out of bed in the middle of the night to turn off the heat. I fainted, falling to the hardwood floor. My head hit the floor (or something, perhaps the dresser) hard enough that I was bleeding from the back of the head. I sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) — also known as a concussion.
And so began the event that changed my relationship with rest, with technology, social media, and perhaps most important, with myself.
The fall did more than crack my head. It exposed wounds that I had buried, or that I never knew existed. It uncovered desires and fears that I hadn’t previously acknowledged.
Everything rose to the surface.
In the months of Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) that followed, I had to learn how to rest. I learned how to hold space for myself. Over the months of that cold, dark winter, I learned how to look at my shadows and embrace the discomfort. I learned how to stay. I exploring without suffering.
My Road to Recovery
People often ask me if I am fully recovered. I’m not sure I can answer that. One thing I’ve learned is that with all the research done on the brain, doctors and scientists still don’t know exactly how it works. The long-term effects of brain trauma — even a mild form of trauma like a concussion — are shrouded in mystery. There’s no way to know the force of the impact to my head and the long-term effects.
On the outside, yes: the laceration to my head healed fairly quickly. I am in great shape. I can do my favorite activities. I don’t think about my brain injury most days. I no longer feel like objects are flying at me when I walk down the street.
As far as the inside: that’s harder to tell. I have days when too much screen time causes moments of blindness. The TBI amplified some of my more pesky ADHD symptoms.
Overall, I’ve learned to control those negative effects through my devotion to my rituals, setting tighter boundaries and protecting the space I need to do my best work.
But does that mean I recovered?
What does it mean to recover?
This is the thought that came to me:
Re-cover. To cover again.
The TBI opened wounds that were deep within me. I am not sure that I want to re-cover those wounds, to bury them back in the deep recesses of my soul. I always believed that this accident happened for me, as a catalyst to my awakening and healing.
You Can’t Return to What You Had
Many parts of our lives have been knocked open over the past year, culturally. The election. Politics. The #MeToo movement. Shootings. Terrorist attacks. Natural disasters.
When something big happens to shake us out of our lives, we often use the language of “recovery.” We try to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible. But the idea that we can return to “normal” is an illusion.
These events — whether personal, natural, or cultural — expose hidden wounds. They bring to the surface the things we tried to suppress, the emotions we would rather not speak about, the beliefs that have ruled us from within.
Recovery—in the sense of re-covering what was previously hidden—is not possible.
There is no going back. You can’t reclaim what you once had.
Even if what you had before is technically available to you, you’re not the same person that you were before.
Time and circumstance never repeat in the same way.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
Even if it were possible to go back to what you had before, would it really be wise?
“Recovery” misses the point.
The point of the experience was to shake up your lives, not to create a temporary diversion before you return to your life as it was.
Instead of Recovery, Focus on Healing
It’s taken me three years to understand that recovery is not the destination. It’s not even the path.
The only possible path is healing.
We must be willing to expose our wounds and look at them. This is the only way to heal them.
Only through healing can we move forward.
Have you had your life turned upside down by a traumatic or unexpected event? How have you faced the wounds that it uncovered? Recovery? Healing? Ignoring? If you’re hesitant to share in the comments, you can always contact me to share privately. It helps to have a witness.