The scariest moments of my life weren’t in the hospital, when my limbs were being removed one by one. The powerful medications that numbed the physical pain also dulled my emotional centers and executive functioning. I didn’t have the attention span to worry about my future. My experience of the world was half hallucination and confusion. I felt like a newborn baby immersed in this foggy state of mind, coupled by my complete dependence on others.
No, the scariest moments were much later, after I had been weaned off the opioids. After I’d come home from the hospital. There I was, no hands, no feet, lying in bed. I felt so alone. Sure, I had friends ¬– great friends in fact. But they were working, living their lives, just like my parents. So from 9-5 at least, I was alone.
Sometimes I would wonder how I could possibly go on with the rest of my life. How would I work? How would I have fun? How could I ever love myself again? If I thought about it enough, my future seemed impossible. The images of pain, sadness, and isolation would buzz in my mind, each one fuel for the fire of fear burning within me.
I would numb my mind with Netflix to pass the hours, but after a few episodes it would mock me. “Are you still watching?” My mind would again fill with the future possibilities: Me, lying in bed in my parents’ basement, for the rest of my miserable existence.
I cried. I screamed. I writhed around in the pain. I blamed myself. I blamed God. And while this emotional expression was cathartic and necessary, it didn’t change my situation. Only action could do that.
Eventually, I grew bored with this day-to-day experience. I hungered for more. For meaning. For pleasure. For connection. So one morning I decided to change things up. I wouldn’t start my day with Netflix. Instead, I would write. Not my fears, but my dreams. They still existed, like frightened animals in the nooks and crannies of my mind, hiding from the raging forest fire of fear.
When I called to them, they came, cautiously at first and then with fervor. They spoke of finding purpose and helping others in pain. They reminded me that I was loveable. They filled me with the energy of hope and the belief that everything was unfolding just as it should. Even though I was in tremendous pain, I could use this experience to be a more complete human and to relate to the suffering of others. But only if I was willing to look fear in the eye.
So instead of cowering away, letting the fire rage uncontrollably, I looked directly at it. It didn’t look so big when it wasn’t being fed with all the thoughts and images I had been fueling it with. Within the flames I now saw a very frightened little girl. The soft, tender part of me, she just wants to live and love and be. She had been trapped in the flames, but my hopes and dreams were making her stronger.
At the beginning of each day (really at the beginning of each moment) we must make a choice. Will I have fear or hope? Fearlessness doesn’t mean being devoid of fear; it is an inescapable pat of the human experience. Rather, holding hope requires the bravery to look at fear directly and to choose to forge ahead anyway, knowing that there will be pain and that in the end, it will be worth it.
So make your choice right now. Will you cower from fear, curl up in a ball, and give up completely? Or will you fight with courage and dignity in the face of it? Only you decide your future -– in each moment, every day. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I choose the warrior’s cry, and I invite you to join me. Let’s do this.