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Halfway through May, I fractured my leg. I was in the midst of one of those rah-rah-challenge-yourself! military-themed obstacle course runs when I slipped at an odd angle off a wooden barricade and came down on a knee that would no longer work. Medics came, debated my status, then hauled me off the course in a jostling, too-small golf cart. I cried, then laughed, then cried again, wiping mud all over my face. God, it had been a month.

I had relapsed, more than once. Things at home weren’t good, to put it mildly. I thought I’d reached the basement floor, personal crisis-wise, but let me tell you, a painful injury can really send the elevator to brand-new unexplored subterranean levels.

Pity parties do nothing but intensify the suck, of course, but they’re impossible to avoid altogether, aren’t they? You can try your best, but inevitably you’ll wander in, crumpled name tag in hand: HI, MY NAME IS WHOMP.

Recovery was slow. For a while it took so incredibly long to do the most basic tasks, it’s hard to even remember now as I move with ease throughout my days, taking it all for granted again. Like a nightmare, and I know, could I be any more melodramatic, but that’s the best way I can describe it: a crazy inside-out version of real life where a trip to the bathroom suddenly became a grueling Ironman competition.

It felt like there were probably lessons to be learned. Time to spend being grateful for all I had and the temporary nature of my injury. Humbled by the experience of having no choice but to accept help, or even more challenging, ask for it. Prodded from my tight-lipped default thanks to my hinged robo-brace: people talked to me all the time, either out of curiosity or because they had a knee story of their own. It was living on the opposite side of the planet for a while and I cannot say I came out of it a better person but maybe my perspective opened up a bit. I understood, like marrow-deep, the grounding gift of one day at a time. One breath at a time, if need be.

I wish I could tell you that my story went like this: I spent some time in the weeds, and it made me stronger and ready to take on the world with real long-time sobriety. But I haven’t written that story yet. My story is frustrating, a book you want to throw at the wall. Jesus, get your shit together. I get sick of my story too, believe me, and I know the head-shaking disbelief that comes when the plot circles back on itself yet again.

A while back, a counselor gave me a copy of this poem. I keep it nearby, I read it at least once a week. It gives me hope, even when I feel hopeless.

portia nelson poem

My leg is mostly fine now. Not completely back to normal, but maybe a new normal. Sometimes it flares up, it’s untrustworthy, a wobbling system error and I don’t know why. Other times I feel steady, capable and balanced: I’ve got this. Maybe this is how it is now. Or maybe it just needs more time, one day after another.

Everything’s pretty terrible out there and I keep mining for peace in the sparkling salted crevices of various chip bags which works for a while but then there’s the downside of pants that won’t button as a result of Netflix and Refill (Your Snack Bowl) so here, a goofy gratitude journal of non-food comfort:

Hair twirling. This is a nostalgic, perhaps slightly pathological activity and it’s really only appropriate for the privacy of one’s home because no one likes watching the middle-aged lady dreamily swirl a finger around her scalp while dithering over the honeycrisps in the Safeway produce aisle but I have to say that elementary-school-aged-me was really onto something. The smoothness of running the hair over your index finger, then twirling it around your middle and ring, sorry pinky you never get any love because the dexterity just isn’t there, and you have to sort of pinch the rolled hair as you go so you get that little crunchy hairs-against-themselves sound, YASSSS, and then a gentle tug at the end, it all sends me into a half-lidded reverie and I don’t know why. Just me? Come on, I know it’s not just me.

Water. Watching it, submerging myself in it, rivers oceans nightly bathtubs filled with those scented Dr. Teal’s epsom salts, there’s nothing like water to unblock the mental rat-maze for a blissful hour or two. We did a four-day rafting trip on the Rogue this summer with the boys and my standout memory is the afternoon we’d made camp after a sweaty day on the river and I just staggering out into a slow section, clothes and all, and drifted around on my back for a while. Ospreys overhead, my kids laughing and playing nearby, the lap and burble in my ears, man. Almost enough to make up for the many toilet indignities involved in backpack camping. (Almost.) I can’t always plunge myself into a river, but I can fill the tub as many times as needed. Debate day = hooboy, let’s just keep the hot water tap open and the bubbles on max.

Pen-pal-ing. I highly recommend a snail mail correspondence, even if it’s just a card that says OMG and you get one back that says I NO RITE? There’s just something about seeing actual handwriting in your mailbox that’s so deeply cheering — perhaps there’s something to the acknowledgement that one does, in fact, exist in the world — plus you get all the fun of picking out cute stationary and using the good pens you hoard from your children. It takes me forever to get through a note in longhand because my wimpy palm muscles inevitably cramp up since I’m so unused to the activity, and my penmanship is never as Pinterest-y as I’d like it to be (I wobble between cursive and printing and my clumsy lefty style smears as I go), but whatever, slow-mail is good stuff however it turns out.

Thrifting. Oh, I know the pitfalls of turning to shopping as reward, and I try not to get sucked into the dopamine spin cycle of buy, buy, buy. But. Can we agree that thrift stores, the good ones, are just aces? They don’t cost much, and they offer the one thing all shoppers are truly inspired by: potential. Will there be a gorgeous pair of high-end denim jeans in among the weird leggings and pants with actual fur patches on them? Mayyyyyyyyybe. And maybe not, that’s just the way it goes, but you won’t know until you get in there with your rack-sliding hand — flipflipflip —- and hey-is-that-a-North-Face-vest laser eyes. Hunter, gatherer, mighty thriftstore warrior.

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