Admitting Triumph

Since I got sober, I’ve tried a few different things. I tried the Veterinary Technician program at a local community college and it didn’t work. I tried going back to work at the Humane Society and it didn’t work. Notice I’m using the words “it didn’t work” rather “I failed.” Andy Andrews said that failure is a myth and fear is an imposter. I didn’t fail at those things, I just tried new ways to earn a living and build a life and they didn’t work. I’ve been saying since I got sober that my biggest fear, the one I tried to drown in booze and drugs, was that I was petrified of learning that I came out of that operating room a stuttering idiot simpleton that my parents’ wasted all that money educating and who wasn’t capable of anything anymore. With the help of Miller Genuine Draft, Barton’s vodka and marijuana, I had convinced myself that there was no point in even trying.

In sobriety, I was determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t that stuttering idiot simpleton and that I was capable of so much more. And trying to convince my parents that all that money they invested in me over the years was somehow worth it. I was going to prove that no matter what. So, one after the other, the dominoes fell. This week, two things happened that brought this way station of my life path into extreme focus. Earlier this week, I went to the Nebraska Brain Injury Conference and two speakers grabbed my attention. The first was a woman who suffered a stroke, the collateral brain damage and left neglect, a type of paralysis of the whole left side of her body. She also wrote a book about the experience (that should sound familiar, at least to regular readers of this blog.) In that book she chronicles her trials and tribulations since her stroke almost two decades ago and the utmost importance humor has had in her journey (if you’re not noticing the similarities, where the hell have you been?). The second speaker was the Director of Psychology and Neuropsychology Services at the same brain and spinal cord rehabilitation facility I had speech, occupational and physical therapy in the time right after my throwdown with bacterial meningitis 10 years ago. During his talk, I got whiplash from nodding my head and was almost moved to tears 4 times in the first 20 minutes as he recounted what people typically experience, think and feel in the time immediately after a traumatic brain injury. The other thing that happened was I was turned down for a job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at that same facility. In the conversation I head with the woman I had an informal interview with, she recounted 4 separate instances between the time I first contacted her about the job three weeks ago and that day in which she felt I exhibited questionable problem-solving skills and a partial disregard for proper etiquette. Essentially, what I felt was showing initiative and eagerness to prove myself, she perceived as a pervasive lack of good judgement on my part in handling the situation. And apart from one point which I silently contested, she pretty much nailed it. She didn’t think I would be a good fit for a job that entailed trying to coach other people with injuries as bad as and, often, worse than my own, back to some semblance of a life. Realistically, I estimate that my injury was perhaps a 3 or a 4 compared to the massive setbacks that a great many of the patients there experienced and continue to deal with every single day.

I’ve spent the last three days coming to the conclusion that she was right. I’ve also come to the conclusion that my pride has been the primary culprit in my difficulty acknowledging that the cognitive disabilities I suffer and that, far more often than not in the last few years I’ve used as fodder for BD (brain damage) jokes, are very real and very limiting. I didn’t want to admit that to myself. Ever. When I first got sober, I thought I had made tremendous progress by forgiving myself for getting sick. And I had. What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be an ongoing process, that I was going to have to keep forgiving myself for getting sick over and over again depending on which life hurdle I was dealing with that day. Now and then, my family will preface things they say to me with “I know you’re brain isn’t what it used to be but …” then tell me I should remember something they’ve told me twice already. Or maybe they just wish I would remember those things because they get tired of saying them. I certainly do this to myself and it’s that deadly sin of pride each and every time that bears down on my psyche like some looming behemoth leviathan that fundamentally won’t allow me to admit defeat, even when that defeat is clear and present.

I had an appointment for an assessment by the state vocational rehab office in preparation for an HVAC class in June scheduled for next week. And the VR agent wrote me an email stating that I’m going to be experiencing many of the same problem-solving issues that would have defeated me as a CNA at the rehab hospital. She is absolutely right. So Friday, I contacted my boss about a position that meets a couple of my requirements for a new job within my company. More importantly, the position meets criteria for the kind of job I can handle with my disabilities. I have finally forgiven myself, again, for getting sick. And I have owned up to those disabilities, had a sit down with myself and negotiated, again, again, the terms of my future.

This time, I’m admitting triumph. Triumph over my pride in acknowledgement of my limitations. I still have the stutter in “stuttering idiot simpleton,” but I am not an idiot simpleton. What I am is a guy that had his deck shuffled and about 7 cards removed from the deck. Now I’m playing Solitaire with that deck. I’m going to find a way to win.

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