The other day my counselor and I were talking about my upcoming anniversary date of my accident. We talked about how on this 28th year, it feels lighter than ever. I suppose it could be the years that have passed, making the memory less intense, or the maybe it’s the fact I’m older and the story just doesn’t seem as scary. It could be a mixture of those things, but I also know it has to do with the work I’ve put into my own life, being dedicated to the healing process by staying one step ahead of my mental health, and by never ending my search for God given peace.
As she and I talked about how this year feels different, I showed her a picture of me as a little girl in the hospital, only days after losing my arm. I asked her what she saw; she saw resilience and strength, she said. When she asked me what I saw, I told her I’ve only ever seen blindsided fear and ugliness in that photo. In years that have passed, I have looked at this photo countless times, for different reasons. In the most recent years, I have looked at it to see the face of my friend Jim, to remember what a blessing he is to me and my family, not only for saving my life, but choosing to be a part of my life, even 28 years later.
But last week, my counselor challenged me to really look at it. To really look at that little girl and think about what it is she might need to hear today. What words could I share with that girl, who had been blindsided by trauma just days earlier, that would help her feel the “lightness” I feel on this day. In that moment, when that photo was taken, what did 10 year old Samantha need to hear? Here are my words to her:
First, you are seen. In that moment, where fear and pain and the unknown has taken over, you are seen. In that moment, it’s okay to feel the feels. I want you to know, it’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to be afraid of what you don’t understand. And it’s okay to feel ugly. This is your experience; your trauma. No one else gets to tell you how you should or shouldn't feel. You feel out of control and that’s okay too. It’s normal. Everything you are feeling is normal. I do know it’s hard to feel what you’re feeling, but trust me, it is normal.
There will be challenges. Challenges with your pain management, challenges with physically being capable, and challenges with your self-image. They will rear their ugly head when you least expect them, for the rest of your life.
There will also be grief. As we have learned, grief will come in many shapes, places and sizes. Anger will be huge, so will sadness. Those will come and go for years and years. Denial will pass by without you even acknowledging it at the time, but others will see it in you. When acceptance hits for real, sadness and anger will come again. No doubt, you will want to skip all of these, just to get to the end, but unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Lastly, there will be so much damn fear of the unknown, you will work yourself into anxiety. You will fear not being accepted. You will fear not being capable. You will fear being judged, stared at, made fun of, and being different. You will fear junior high. You will fear prom. You will fear college. You will fear excelling at a career. You will fear not being pretty enough. You will fear not being loved. You will fear motherhood. Yes, you will fear all these things because you are missing an arm. But like I said earlier, feel the feels, Samantha. This is your ride and no one can tell you that these things “don’t matter” or these things “aren’t worth the worry”. They are very real to you, as they should be.
After you get done feeling, I have another letter for you to read. And it’s the most important one.
I know that first letter was scary. But the good news is, we have made it to the other side! Twenty-eight years later and I’m still here, able to write you this letter. Even with all the challenges and grief I talked about, you will be shocked at how much inner strength God has blessed you with, from the beginning.
But the very best part of being on this side now, and the most exciting part of this letter are all the spoilers I get to let you in on:
You will be accepted everywhere you go! Not once in 28 years have you been rejected or turned away because you had one arm!
You will be capable of 95% of the things you try. For real. The only thing you can’t do is put your hair in a pony.
You will never get made fun of by your peers. All through elementary, junior high and high school, no one will make fun of you to your face. Promise.
You will go to the damn prom. Twice. With a DATE!
You will move away for college, find your lifelong friends, live alone successfully, AND the guys at all the frat parties will think you’re a badass. (maaaybe because you lied about getting bit by a shark but still, BADASS GIRL ON CAMPUS)
You will find multiple things to excel in, like teaching swimming lessons, or being a makeup artist or a photographer!! (look at you doing all those 2 handed things with 1 arm!!)
You will fall in love and make a gorgeous bride! Twice!
You WILL see yourself as pretty again. And not just because people say you’re pretty, you will actually believe it. I promise.
You will become a mother and have the most proud little boy you’ve ever seen. He will see you for nothing other than his awesome mommy. There won’t be anything motherhood asks of you, that you can’t physically do.
Samantha, you will continue to do wonderful things, not in spite of having 1 arm or being different, but because you were blessed with a beautiful life to live with a unique story to tell.
You can let go of that fear. It doesn’t have to overwhelm or blind side you anymore. I’m here with you. We made it past all the scary stuff. It’s smooth sailing from here on out, girl. Let’s go.