What have we learned, Charlie Brown?
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts going around Facebook and Instagram where people compare their current self with one a decade prior and it got me thinking. 2006 and 2016 were both monumental years for me in terms of lessons and personal growth. Before I go further, let’s do a quick recap on each year.
In 2006, I was in my senior year of high school. I was originally going to graduate early to get away from my home situation, but fell in love with track so I took my senior year at a local college in order to continue competing. Early 2006, I qualified for Nike Nationals in Pole Vaulting. I didn’t end up going, but just knowing I qualified was a massive deal. In May 2006, I finished my first year of college and readied myself for the last six weeks of my track season. I had seeds for states in both pole vaulting and long jump, and was close for the 400 and 100 hurdles. On May 18, 2006, I competed in the league championships, taking home gold in pole vault and long jump. The team came in second, breaking our league winning streak just shy of one decade. On May 19, 2006 everything changed when I was struck at 60mph in my driver side door by a Toyota Tacoma. I fractured my wrist, both sides of my pelvis and my hip, shattered my femur, lacerated my head, liver, and kidneys, and did massive neurological damage. I had four blood transfusions and a surgery to place metal rods in my femur and hip was done on May 20th to try and see if I would pull through and make it.
Not that I remember any of this. I remember turning left out of my friends road, across the street from the house I grew up in at one point, the same house where a long-dead Furby came alive in the dead of the night while I was huddled under the covers reading The Chamber of Secrets. I saw the spot in the yard the Furby would have landed when I flung it out the window, terrified of it’s strange noises. I went up the hill where a few years prior my sister and I had to carry our little brother down. He had torn his scrotum on a bike at a neighbors and instead of driving him down to our house or calling our mother, we were told we had to come get him. I remember a brief moment in the emergency room when I was so incredibly thirsty and wasn't allowed water. A wet rag was used to dampen my lips and I remember a wild rage coming over me as I grabbed someone’s hand and hungrily sucked on the rag. I remember seeing my coach’s face right before I went into surgery but not how I got there or what was happening. I remember that a couple weeks after I got out of the hospital, I received a phone call from a teacher wondering why I wasn’t going to prom. I was hopped up on darvacet and the thought of going to a prom the same night I was supposed to have been competing at states was the last thing I wanted to do.
I relearned how to walk in less than three months. That August I was slated to start my freshman year at Denison University and I was bound and determined to make it through. I went from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches before finally making it to a cane. That fall, I fell in love with photography, book making, and silk screening and decided I was going to change my major from athletic training to art. That October, my father would take a fall and set his Parkinson’s with Lewy Bodies Dementia into motion. That was the first time we had spoken in three years and I felt like an asshole for the years I shut him out.
In many ways, 2016 was a bit of a mirror. It started out living in Minnesota with two of my best friends, watching their love life deteriorate as they found the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Late February, I started across the country with all of my stuff headed for Washington to start a new life. Then came the flood. From the flood came an outpouring of support and love I never knew was possible. I had gone out west to find a community for myself, never dreaming that I had built one online over the course of the last five years.
I made it to Washington, tried to pick up the pieces, only to flee in the dead of the night like a thief. Things that I had thought were settled apparently weren’t due to lack of communication between the couple and I ran into another narcissist. I had never outright run from something before; anytime an obstacle came into my path, I would meet it head on and triumph in some way or another. This time was different. It shattered me to the point of a full-on mental breakdown where snot bubbles and salt stained cheeks became my norm. So I ran. I ran like I did in track, as fast in a direction as I humanly could. I became suicidal and had to hid my medications from myself to make it through.
Somewhere in Wyoming, after the thousandth time of listening to “Wait for It” and alternating between hyperventilating and wildly laughing, I became really, really calm. I knew my situation wasn’t going to be fixed by crying it away or screaming it away, I couldn’t hike another 500 miles or try to kill myself to fix it. At that point in time, I had pretty much lost everything I could imagine and suddenly this bright clarity came to me. I realized I had hit my real, true rock bottom and just like that, I was free. I realized if I had nothing left to give, not even a fuck in the world, then I had everything to gain. I could pick a direction and just go. My life was entirely up to me at this point and nothing else in the world mattered. I had no hang-ups, no place to live, and nothing but this wild desire to finally live.
Jump forward a couple months and here I am. I’ve dealt with losing everything and gaining it all back in more ways than I thought possible. I lost a shit ton of teeth and found myself with a slew of medical problems that are still not being figured out, but it’s ok. I think it was just the universe’s way of telling me I was done modeling. I walked the walls in Dubrovnik and followed Cersei’s Walk of Shame. I saw water so blue that it was blinding. I spent my birthday in South Africa and puked out of someone’s car after drinking for the first time in god knows how long. I lost some people I was close with, one with the Washington affair and another when I couldn’t hold a pity party any longer. I realized some people don’t want to get better, they prefer the attention of being a martyr, and sometimes it’s better to let go of a toxic friendship than keep holding yourself hostage to it. I opened up about my struggles and found a thousand other people just as desperately in need of love as I was.
At points, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to survive 2016. Then I started thinking of this year as my personal phoenix. I had to burn everything down to the ground in order to rise above it. I started projects I feel confident and happy with; as I grow, they grow with me, filling me with so much energy and joy that I think my heart could burst. I think back to the person I was at the beginning of the year and feel like she was a childhood friend I lost touch with over the years. I realized I don’t hold any ill-will towards those I’ve had conflict with this year. I learned my lessons and truthfully that’s all I can really do. For the first time in a long time I am excited. My health is still shit and who knows if that will ever get figured out, but I’m off pain medication for the first time in a decade and know that maybe my health is currently shit because I needed to stop and gather myself.
I learned that if you send love out into the world, it will come back to you a million-fold. I’m not the crumpled, wet mess I was. I’m stronger, kinder, and more motivated than ever before. And I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.