A dislocated knee helped Christian Clifton realize that whatever blame can be placed at the time of a traumatic incident, it is up to him to take the actions needed to heal.
I remember the day in impressive clarity, that day that would put a limp in my step that I still struggle to avoid. The injury was in no way life-shattering but in many ways it was life-changing. A dislocated knee isn’t exactly something you can walk off.
It was the last day of a high school retreat with my church youth group; we had just eaten breakfast and decided to kill off the remaining hours in the gym. None of us wanted to go pack our things and so the games we played were a perfect distraction from the imminent return to the real world from atop the mountain.
Volleyball was the sport of the moment and the games were competitive but friendly. The scores were tied and it came to this last volley, I was front and center. Seeing the ball soar my direction I made the decision to score the winning point. I readied myself and crouched ever so slightly preparing for lift off.
As the ball came overhead and my feet left the ground I noticed my friend John was jumping to block my attempt. Being slightly taller than him I had the advantage. I made firm contact with the ball and it went rocketing towards an empty area on the other side of the net, the game was ours. Gravity overtook my momentum and I began to sink back down.
Neither John nor I were perfect athletes and we had jumped slightly towards each other, getting entangled on the way down. As we landed our crash sent my body rotating to the right, my foot on the other hand had landed on his and was spun to the left. An audible “Crack! Pop!” echoed past me. I instantly realized I couldn’t quite stand on my own.
Crumpling to the ground my hands found my left knee, instead of a vaguely round shape my hand brushed past a sharp edge. My knee had dislocated and my patella was know three inches out of place creating an overhang of stretched skin and misplaced bone. It only took a few more milliseconds for my brain to register the pain, which brought tears to my eyes.
This injury ultimately required surgery to fix a damaged tendon and to remove a piece of my patella that had been broken off. Following this was months of physical therapy before I could walk without an immobilizing knee splint. I had to adapt rapidly to a slower, more deliberate way of life for nearly a year following the incident if I wanted to avoid further damaging my knee.
This injury taught me a lesson that I desperately need to apply to the rest of my life. In the months after I fell I could have easily blamed John, the youth pastor, or any number of other people for my injury. I could have let that brew into anger and allowed it to consume me as I considered the losses I suffered. To this day I still feel the effects of that injury and have to miss out on some experiences out of fear of reinjuring and it would be easy to hold a bitter resentment for them.
However I realized that if there was to be real and lasting healing for my body it would require work and effort on my part and no one else’s. All the finger pointing in the world would never add an ounce of good to my life. This is a principle that must be applied to emotional and mental health as well.
In a previous post, I Never Learned How to Feel, I discussed a lack of emotional depth on my family’s part and how that shaped my development. That article could have been taken as one of blame and condemnation but that was not my intent. I write to show that the burden for what happens next falls upon me, and no one else.
It is incredibly easy to say “You hurt me!” or “It’s your fault I am like this!”, and while there may be some truth to those statements there is more truth in saying “It’s my fault that I am still like this.” While emotional damage may be much harder to heal than a busted knee, with time and effort it can be mended and a person made whole again.
As I have been exploring my own story and my own internal mess I have been reminded by friends, family, my faith, and professional counselors time and time again that it will require work if any success is to be had. This work will be arduous and time consuming, and of which the lion’s share must fall to me. If I want to find healing for myself and my relationships I must be willing to work, not only on my relationships with others but also on myself.
With my knee I had to endure hours of physical therapy to regain the strength to walk on it normally, something that would never have been accomplished if I focused on others being at fault for the injury. The same is true for my emotional health; my actions after the fact are my responsibility. Sure there might be validity in my experience and that damage was dealt to me, however my continuing to exist in a place of emotional damage is my doing.
For years I allowed myself to feel the way I did without ever truly seeking help or guidance. Those that were especially close to me would tell me to move forward, my belief in God urged me to find help, even my inner monologue would turn rogue periodically and call me out. There were days I was close to breaking but instead of finding a shoulder or listening ear I would hide myself even further. Instead of searching for it I hid from healing despite manifold opportunities to share and be helped.
It is my declaration that from now own this pattern of self-destruction must stop; I must stop the stagnation and bring fresh perspective into my world. I must take responsibility for me and never think that another human should be responsible for fixing me. I need to allow others into my world for the sake of my own health but never assume they are liable if I should fall back into old habits.
As a Christian my faith tells me that there is only true healing in Christ, something I hold to the best I can. However even on my days of most fervent belief there is still something within me that has to be willing if anything is ever going to happen. I believe God to be all powerful but I also hold that it requires eagerness on my part for life change to occur. Most theologians and pastors would agree that a change has to be made willingly or the change will not be a lasting one (the same lesson is found in the vast majority of psychology teaching and practice).
In a world that almost encourages passing of blame I want to strike out on my own, charting my own path to healing. This has to start with me and a willingness to be healed because without this all the good intentioned people in the world could never change me. Change has to start from the inside and I must be ready to make it if I am ever to become a whole person.
Read also: I Never Learned How to Feel
photo: intangible / flickr