I checked my website email account today and discovered a few new messages. One of the emails was from someone who had watched the episode of Soul Survivors that I did, on Youtube. He asked me if I often re-live (in my thoughts) the day of my accident and how I deal with regret. I thought they were great questions and want to share my response in the form of a blog, since I'm sure there are many other people out there that can relate.
Regret and forgiveness are two things I struggle with every day. I think the worst part about my accident (other than the consequences) is the fact that I did this to myself. I've experienced a lot of horrible things since that day. One of the worst things that happened right after my injury, was the fact that some of my closest friends and family made my situation worst for me, by arguing, accusing, blaming, judging and guilting me and one another. Everyone deals with grief and trauma differently and a lot of things that people in my life at the time, did and said, really shocked me. It is very true that people show their true colors, when you are at your lowest point. Some people soar and go above and beyond your wildest dreams and show you support and love you never expected. Other people shut down, close you out and disappoint you. The surprise comes in when people you've trusted your entire life let you down. They say love is unconditional, but I've learned that unfortunately, that is not always the case.
It has been incredibly hard for me to deal with all the loss and drastic changes that I've experienced. Many of the people that claim to love me, say it is sometimes equally painful (or so they think) for them, to see me suffer. The key difference is, I have no escape. I can't put my paralysis by the wayside when it gets too tough. I don't get to go back to my normal life or choose to remove myself from the situation. My family and friends have the choice to run from the situation, or at the very least, distance themselves, distract themselves or focus on other things. Some people might feel they're not strong enough to handle being in my life. For them, it is easier to dull the pain by turning a blind eye and remove themselves from the situation. At times, it upsets me, because I consider it selfish and cowardly. No matter how sad I am, how hard I try or desperate I might feel, I'm stuck. I either deal with it, or go mad. It's challenging to find strength, when people on the outside are not supportive. You can't help but think, "What's with them? They still have everything, just the same as before. They get to leave here and go on with there life." On the other hand, I suppose it's not fair of me to expect other people to put themselves through discomfort or drama, on my behalf. My family situation is tangled and broken, and added to the difficulty of my situation. My parents divorced when I was a baby and I've bounced back & forth between two families my entire life. The animosity and tension amongst my two families bubbled over after my injury and added a ton of extra stress and pain to my already horrible situation. Despite all the tears, anger and hurtful words, I've been able to forgive everyone, except myself. I guess this stems from the fact that I love my family and friends, but hate myself. It is easy to forgive someone you love, despite how much they hurt you; at least it is for me.
I've never had terriffic self esteem. I've always been hard on myself and much more critical of my own flaws, than the flaws of others. I think the perfectionist in me helped me to achieve a ton of positive things in my life, but it has certainly added anxiety and stress as well. It's very hard for me to be totally satisfied with what I do. I'm not competitive by nature, with other people, but I'm constantly striving to fit the vision inside my head (of myself, goals and aspirations). I've always pushed myself to strive for really high goals and try hard to achieve them. However, I managed to unravel all my hard and shatter my dreams in the matter of seconds. I destroyed everything I worked for with one very stupid mistake. The fact that my mistake seems so obviously idiotic, makes it all the harder to deal with and admit to the fact. Although a lot of people have told me I've made them proud (in how I've dealt with my paralysis), I'm a disappointment to myself.
I don't have any answers for myself, as to why I did what I did. Perhaps, if I had had some sort of plan in mind (like trying to do a shallow dive) and botched it, at least I'd be able to look at it as just being a mistake. However, I have no logical answer and I don't remember any specific intentions. I just dove in, blindly, without thinking. The frustrating part of it all, is that I never dove (as an adult). Swimming was one of the very few physical activities I enjoyed and looked forward to each year. I'd been swimming almost as long as I'd been walking. My family had above ground pools throughout my entire childhood and I was familiar with pool from my accident. I also had regular access (community pool and family) to in-ground pools growing up and as an adult. The last time I can remember ever diving head first into a pool, would've been before the age of eleven. I attended a pool party around that age, which turned me off from diving. Nothing particularly drastic happened at that party, I just recall it being the first time I felt afraid or thought I might hurt myself swimming. I vividly remember climbing the ladder to the high dive board, walking to the edge of the board, preparing to dive and chickening out last minute, to the annoyance of everyone behind me. I can't remember if I was forced to jump in, or if I climbed back down the ladder, but I never attempted a dive again, until the night of my accident.
I normally liked to jump into pools feet first or cannon ball style. The thought of getting accustomed to the water temperature inch, by inch, does not appeal to me. I much rather just take the plunge and be done with it all at once. I know I was feeling lazy the night of the accident and climbing up onto the side of the pool seemed the fastest way into the water. It would be no surprise to me if I would've chosen to jump into the pool, feet first and had broken my leg, stubbed my toes, or banged up my feet. That would make sense. That would sound like me. Diving in, head first, into sixty inches of water makes no sense and doesn't mesh with my character.
For a long time I beat myself up over the fact that I had been drinking that night. Those guilty (guilty of what, I'm not sure) feelings were only exacerbated by the blame and shame that was drilled into me, over and over again, during the first weeks after my accident. At my weakest point, my mistake was thrown back at me, time and time again and the story became exagerated and distorted. I was experiencing fevers 106 degrees and above, hallucinated and heavily drugged. I was living off of machines and was close to death. Despite all that was happening, I had to endure (some) my loved ones telling me how foolish I was and picking at every little flaw I had. I can remember feeling like dirt, here I was, beating myself up more than anyone, fighting to live, and yet certain people felt it necessary to make me feel worst. Aspects of my life were blown out of proportion and lies were made. I was weak, with cloudy thoughts and the desperation of not knowing what my life was going to be like. My loved ones were fighting and all I could do at that point was cry and try to make it seem like it would ok. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, I could heal myself and make up for my dumb mistake. Looking back, it all makes me very angry. I'm angry at myself, for not being stronger to stand my ground and be more in control of the situation, but at the time, my life had just dissolved in front of me and all I could think about was making it all right again.
Naturally, I think I'll always wonder how much the alcohol contributed to my decisions that night. I'll always wonder if those drinks influenced me to dive. I certainly wasn't falling down drunk, nor had I really felt drunk at the time. However from the minute I can remember waking up in the ER, that became the focus point of it all. The alcohol became the scapegoat as to why I dove and the guilt just piled on and on. It's only recently that I've forgiven myself a tiny bit over the fact that I had drank. At the time, I was twenty-four years old. I had bought my own drinks and had no intention of driving home that night. I only had had a few, and was obviously coordinated enough to scale the side of the pool and balance myself on top of the rim. It apparently had seemed shocking to some (obvious by their reactions), that a twenty four year old teacher might like to relax with friends and drink on the weekends. At the time, I let that guilt and shame eat away at me. Fortunately for my sanity, I've since realized that I was not an anomaly. Even now (pushing thirty), tons of my hardworking, educated, professional friends enjoy drinks on the weekends, have parties with friends and enjoy going out. I'm not exactly sure why I was made to feel like an ax murderer, for having a few drinks, but I was. I was balancing a lot of things that year and did stretch myself too thin at times, but that's hardly a crime. I take comfort in the fact that I know I had my life on track (it's easy to judge, when you only see one piece of the puzzle) and had accomplished a lot of things in my life that I'm still proud of. I no longer feel wrong for drinking, however much or little. I could sit here all day and list specific regrets for that day (changing our plans, going to the party, planning to swim, drinking, diving), but it's only because it's in hindsight and because of the overall consequence of the chain of events. I regret drinking because I'll always have that doubt over what role it played that night. I haven't had a sip of liquor since and made a promise to myself to never drink again; not because it's wrong or evil, but because I don't want to ever feel like I'm not 100% in control of my thoughts and decision making.
Drinking is just one of many regretful decisions I made that day. However, I only regret them because of what happened. Any other time, I wouldn't have regretted planning to swim; I'd swum at night before. I wouldn't normally regret the fact that we (me and my ex-boyfriend) had decided to go to the party last minute, instead of just staying home. I'd been swimming a million times before, had drank alcohol and had been to plenty of parties before that night, and had had a fun time and life continued on as usual. I'm sure millions of Americans will enjoy barbecues, drinking and swimming this summer without a problem. In fact, millions of people will do extremely risky things, like ride motorcycles, extreme sports, cliff diving, jump on trampolines, or just silly stunts for fun, and they will get hurt and walk away. Then there's the few thousand people that will get hurt and never walk again. For what ever reason, I was one of those thousand people, in the summer of 2005.
Since my injury, I see the world from an entirely different perspective. I see things on tv or when I go out, that make me cringe, because I know how close that person was to ending up like me. I watch shows like "World's Dumbest...Videos" and I'm just flabbergasted by the things I see people do on purpose and with a specific intent (One example, is a man sets a ladder up against his neighbor's tree, attempts to jump over his fence and land on his pool cover, but gets his foot caught on a rung on the way down and falls on the cement. Another example, is a boy that decided to ride his bicycle off the roof of his house, into a pile of snow down below.) and not only survive, but get up and walk away. At times, it makes me frustrated and angry when I see people do something similar to me or worst, and nothing happens. In fact, in the typical irony to my life, I watched (and recorded) a commercial the other day for Branchburg Pools, in which the salesman dives head first into a similar above ground pool and pops right back up to continue his sales pitch. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see the other people paralyzed; I just can't help but think, "Why I am so different? Why didn't I pop back up? Why couldn't I walk away?" I certainly can't answer those questions, nor can anyone else.
Having no answers as to why I chose to do what I did, or reason as to why I have to pay such a high price, is extremely difficult to deal with. Given the fact that I was the one that ultimately dove (regardless of any outside contributing factors) into the pool, makes it near impossible to forgive myself. Especially given the fact, that I was an experienced swimmer and have no clear explanation as to what I was trying to do. Did I think I could shallow dive the length of the pool? Did I miscalculate the depth, because I couldn't see the bottom clearly? I'll never know for sure, but I will always regret the choice. The next question is, how do you forgive someone that ruined your life (stole your freedom, took your independence, robbed you of relationships, ended your career and in essence, killed a part of you.)? More importantly, what if you are that person? It's been five years, and I've yet to come up with any solutions. I just continue to try to do the best I can.
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