Lessons from a stupidly broken wrist.
A few years ago, I broke my wrist in three places skiing at Copper Mountain with my family over spring break. Although I’d been skiing black diamond runs all morning, I was on a green run when it happened. We were on our way down for lunch, and I decided to follow one of my kids through the trees. I hit a bump, unexpectedly sped up and launched off a second bump, panicked, lost control and totally wiped out. In the process of trying to stop myself with my poles (what the hell was I thinking), my left wrist got tangled in my ski pole strap as my body continued to tumble forward. Not a graceful exit from the trees. Breaking my dominant wrist hurt. A lot.
But, what hurt most was the fear this fluke accident left behind. I was suddenly scared. Really scared. I started seeing all the things that could potentially go wrong, all the time. To my kids, to the people I loved, to me. After all, I rationalized, if I, a really experienced skier, could bust my wrist on a GREEN run- well anything could go wrong at any moment. I decided never to ski again. The risk wasn’t worth it, I told myself.
I hated being BROKEN. I was not in control. I couldn’t brush my hair, or write my name, or make a sandwich, or put on my bra without help. I couldn’t teach or dance, and although I smiled and tried to make the best of it, I was pissed. I didn’t WANT to be broken. And yet, I was broken anyway.
I started seeing potential danger lurking in many places I would never have thought to be worried about before I broke my wrist.
I found myself looking for ways to minimize risk wherever I could, always trying to be a step ahead of what “might” happen. I put a lot of energy into trying to control the variables.
I did all I could to protect my loved ones from pain, from being hurt, from feeling broken. I honestly think I believed on some deep level that if I tried hard enough, if I cared and loved enough, and if I was diligent enough, I could protect them from anything bad.
Over time, I started to realize the futility of this endeavor.
This idea that if we try hard enough, we can make everything okay is a big, fat lie. Everything IS okay. The truth is, sometimes, we will get hurt. We will be broken. We will feel pain. This is just as much a part of who we are as all the happy, joyful parts.
At some point in my life, I decided that pain was to be avoided at all costs, and vowed I would never, ever let myself be broken. Breaking my wrist put my deepest fear right in my face, as if to say, you think you can avoid being broken, helpless, and in pain? Guess again. It’s not up to you.
For the longest time, I tried to deny all pain, all brokenness, all sadness from certain times in my life from ever resurfacing because quite frankly, I prefer to feel happy. No shit, right? Happy is awesome. But living honestly requires acknowledging EVERYTHING we feel. Not just the positive, cheery emotions, but also the ones that rip your heart out.
Yes. Pain sucks. And yet, if we learn how to feel it without judgment, to accept it as part of life and to understand that we can and will move forward in spite of it, fear is not triggered.
There is no such thing as “feeling no pain” or “refusing to be broken.” When I vowed those things as a teenager, I probably meant that painful experiences would not define me or defeat me. This is still true today. At the same time, being broken, being scared, being unsure and still having the courage to walk forward is where we grow strong. I know this for a fact.
I don’t want anyone I love to be hurt. But more than that, if they are hurt, I want them to know they are strong enough to walk through anything, and not shy away because they are scared of what “might” happen.
I needed to break my wrist in a ridiculous way to realize how little control we actually have, and to learn to be okay with that fact. I still feel scared sometimes, but I’m working on it.
I got back on skis this week for the first time in five years. In fact, I skied Copper Mountain with no fear whatsoever. I had a blast. I skied advanced runs, intermediate runs, and yes, even the green run where I busted my wrist. But no, I didn’t go through the trees. I am not a total idiot.