Monday, March 17, 2014

Gratitude and Forgiveness: Lynchpins in My Healing Journey

When I was first diagnosed with post polio syndrome in December of 2006, I was devastated. I faced a grim future of a progressive neuromuscular disease that would for certain land me in a wheelchair by now.

In February of 2007, I got still and felt this urge to create. I began to write poetry and themes of gratitude, feeling blessed, visualizing health and wholeness poured out of me. The first poem I wrote was Running the Race:

Running the Race
Early summer 1959 my kindergarten year
Everyone around me filled with nervous fear
Despite the Salk vaccine hope polio would disappear
The polio virus crept right up and knocked me in the rear.
Dancing all around the gym feeling free just like a bird
I dropped to the ground just like a stone
and no one said a word.
The pain it was so searing-the diagnosis even worse
"It's polio" the doctor said...he was abrupt and terse.
Called one of the 'lucky ones' I had a 'mild case'
But with the other athletes I could never keep their pace.
Miss Holly physical therapist,
curly hair and a warm, broad smile
It tempered the pain of being apart - to walk I'd take awhile.
I always wore those 'special' shoes
the kids they poked and teased
With no support and much abuse
with childhood I wasn't pleased.
But put nose to the grindstone and learned all that I could
I couldn't kick a ball but my grades were always good.
Years went by and no more thought to polio did I give
I accepted the limp and everything else
and decided my life I would live.
But symptoms of weakness and muscle pain did grow
I kept a stoic face hoping no one else would know.

Life no longer was my own I struggled through each day
Suffered in silence, isolated from friends-
trying to keep depression at bay.
And with the grace of glorious God my world it opened wide
I discovered there was a Post Polio team
and they were on my side.

Using wheelchair to travel, set limits on what I could do,
Resulted in joy to realize I could live life anew.
Celebrated my body- creaks, groans and need for a brace
While in my mind I focused on winning a 10K race.
Sought out paths for healing and my spirit flew free
For the first time in life, I could truly be me.
The chains are gone and possibilities abound
I'm a tree with my roots planted firmly in ground.
I'm now off the sidelines, no need to sit and whine
So much gratitude fills my heart and love and beauty shine.
After all these years I can join the loving human race
I exceed all expectations and now I set the pace.

That's right - so much gratitude filled my heart - as I sat in a leg brace, needing to use a wheelchair for mobility and having been told I needed to quit my full time award winning career as a VA social worker. I began to awaken to the blessings of all that I lived through rather than experience self loathing and anger for what happened to me.

That's not to say that these past 7 years have been easy. I have never worked harder in my life than I did and do in my recovery from the debilitating symptoms of the late effects of paralytic polio and 9 years of unrelenting trauma in my life. There's a daily practice of finding the right balance of rest, exercise, and engaging in activities I am passionate about with people who nourish and support me and leaving everything else by the wayside. I continue to heal, find paths for healing and practice an attitude of gratitude for the grace in my life.

With a heart full of gratitude and discovering how to forgive, I am able to heal.

An excerpt from my memoir:

I had a very ‘weepy’ day feeling a deep sense of grieving. I know at the end of our last session and many times
throughout our work I have said things like oh snap and they tried to f**k with me and couldn’t get me and that’s true. It’s cool to walk with a little swagger and to begin to feel a sense of freedom in my pelvis and to feel a whole body connection; a sense of embodiment. But there’s a shift in the way I feel. I feel so sad for the tragedy of my family. Not so much for my mother and her mother although I know they suffered in their own ways but a deep sense of sorrow for my dad.

Last year he came to me in a dream. I couldn’t let it in at the time. I wrote a poem about it –

Focus on the Healing

Focus on the healing not on the wound
at first blush imperceptible changes
like the first peak at the crocus breaking ground
we can only imagine
what flower will emerge after the darkness of winter…

I had a dream last night
terror filled my body in the darkness
my father the intruder
thunder and lightning filled the room
crashing around me
home made sticky buns on the stove
what a mess

“I never wanted to harm you”

Hyperventilation slows into steady breath
no longer raw and weary from the fight
wounds bound

roots grounded

peace descends
Spirit soars
only the trace of a scar remains
a reminder of the miracle of my life.

I know how crazy all of this must sound – well it sounds crazy to me that he never wanted to hurt me. I’ve gone through so many phases in this journey in my relationship with him. There are have been raging storms of anger and disgust and wanting to sever the tie completely and on and on it goes but I’m at this strange new place now that goes beyond forgiveness and compassion to this place of deep spiritual wisdom knowing it all was as it was meant to be.

As I proofread my memoir, I realized just how powerful gratitude and forgiveness have been and continue to be in my journey.

Dr. Chris Carter speaks to this in a recent CBS article about the Boston Marathon bombings:

“As bad as it was, what are the positives that have come out of this? How can we use this as an opportunity to grow and be stronger?” Carter said of questions needing to be asked.

Dr. Carter saw the strength in many of the survivors first hand. At Spaulding, he met with survivors once a week for almost two months. He watched their sadness and fear become anger and then resilience and gratitude."

I know how fortunate and blessed I am with how I was able to eventually emerge whole from paralytic polio and 9 years of physical, sexual, and emotional trauma which included torture rituals at the hands of my grandmother. And I am so grateful to everyone who nourished me throughout my life and all of the healing earth angels that helped me to find my way home after wandering around in my body and in my life feeling so lost and ashamed for what happened to me. Gratitude and Forgiveness are lynchpins in my healing journey. What are some of yours?

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