43: My Confession

43: My Confession

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

My Confession

A whole stack of memories never equal one little hope.

~Charles M. Schulz

My first confession about my disabilities was to my parents a few years after my car accident at age sixteen. Twenty years later, I’d tell my husband and children that my Jekyll and Hyde behavior had to do with my grief, my amnesia, my history, my deception and my lingering disabilities.

I didn’t talk much about my head injury or my amnesia to anyone. Once I could fake my way through most situations, I was certain that I’d make it back to full recovery. So if my deception was caught in the missing details, I’d wave them off as if they no longer mattered. I’d remember one day . . . only I didn’t.

I became experienced in the practice of sleight of hand and distraction. I wanted to stave off potential pity, close scrutiny and harsh judgment. I wanted people to like me for me. If not, I was happy being the odd girl out, or so I said. So when I came across my old box of journals, written during the worst of the amnesia, migraines, light sensitivity, etc., I made plans to destroy them. Surely my words were a crutch I no longer needed. They were a memento of the worst times of my life and their existence proved just how far I’d fallen. I should have gotten rid of them long ago.

No problem. I plotted to rid myself of the evidence of my hard luck. One rainy afternoon, I snuck upstairs and took care of my problem with a paper shredder.

Only the destruction of my journals backfired. My teen self reared up inside me, raging at her dismissal. No recognition? No fanfare? No celebration of her heroic deeds? Grief and regret spewed over my nice, quiet life. I alternately raged at others’ good fortunes and wept at the unfairness of my failures and miseries.

It seemed I’d forgotten how far I’d come and what blessings surrounded me. I was grateful. Really, I was. Why couldn’t I act like it?

A heart wants what it wants, and mine ached for goals never reached and dreams laid to rest prematurely. I marveled at my peers’ accolades while I stayed at home by default. I didn’t have the experience or education to catch up, so I was stuck. I understood the howling that burst forth from my soul. I’d hidden it for so long; it would not be silenced anymore.

I lived in the “It’s not fair!” stage until I hated the feeling and how ungrateful it made me for all I’d accomplished. I won’t say I don’t ever visit that negative place—I do. When I find myself back there in the achingly slow, hard hours, I try to keep the visits short. Even in my deepest amnesia days, I knew the way forward wasn’t back. Reclaiming isn’t necessary for a good life; rebuilding is.

That’s what my journals showed me. When you have nothing else, you have now. What are you going to do with it?

That’s what my wise, brave teenaged self showed me in those journals. It’s okay if you can’t recall what you did last weekend or do what you did last year. What can you do now to make this day better?

My kids have become excellent storytellers. They recount our lives together for me so I can remember. I can’t always hold onto those precious memories, but they can. It’s good to share the good and bad with those you love.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d kept hiding my true nature from the people I care about most. And no matter what I can’t do or be, I am here. In spite of everything, I am here.

So if I need to ask, “Can you tell me the story of your birthday party?” one more time, they will. That’s what our loved ones do. They help us carry our burdens like they were precious cargo.

I have to remind myself I was hindered, but I overcame. Most importantly, I’m here now, and that’s all that matters because here is where I most want to be. I’ve crafted a wonderful life in spite of setbacks. I have won.

~Donna Stamey Reeve

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