Not Waiting For Life: How I Learned To Love My Detour

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I've spent a lot of time "waiting" in my life. As a kid I grew antsy with impatience, waiting until I was "older" to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised, to learn how to drive. I was counting the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last. Two weeks after I turned 18, I was pulled into another realm where "waiting" took on an entirely new meaning.

When an unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, my life changed forever. Now, it was my devoted family who waited patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma. When I awoke, I waited many more months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. 

Unable to talk, or sit up, I vaguely remember a doctor explaining that my stomach had literally exploded. So much pressure had built up inside of me that in the operating room, my stomach actually burst to the ceiling.  Both my lungs collapsed, I needed 122 units of blood, and I was even read my last rites.  Now, I had no stomach, I couldn’t eat or drink, and he did not know when or if I would ever be able to again.  What do you say to that?

I became extremely well-versed in patience -- little did I know that I've have to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU, six years before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again and 27 surgeries before doctors could create a makeshift digestive system for me.

Then I heard the word “victim” dangle in my thoughts.  And just as I was rediscovering the world waking up as though for the first time, I rethought that word – victim.  Even though I was now subject to the doctors’ agenda, a medical marionette subject to 27 surgeries, terms I had never before heard and no idea of when I’d ever sleep in my own bed again, what makes a “victim?”  Certainly I had control over my own mindset, my passions, my thoughts and my dreams!  That was my turning point.  Lying in the hospital bed, missing the past, confused in the present, and clueless of the new road my future would take, I stopped asking myself “why me?” and now asked myself for the first time, “why not?”

As a born go-getter, I've never been great with "patience." So I became extremely frustrated as doctors explained to me how "it would be a long road to recovery, but I'll get there." But healing physically and recovering my "self" emotionally, feeling my aliveness as well as being alive... I learned that this is a daily process, a life-long one. Life will not always be perfect, and there's no reason to wait until things are.

I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital, everything would be "back to normal." I'd have my old body back -- devoid of any medical scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I'd be eating and drinking again. I'd be able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class just the week before my coma. These surgeries would just be a "blip" in my life, and now it could proceed as it was meant to.

But I learned something far better. I learned my life as I knew it had shattered, but I could reassemble the pieces differently, but still beautifully -- like a mosaic. These "imperfect" shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art even greater, using the grout of experience and newfound wisdom.

I waited for the day I could finally eat again, which came after a 19-hour surgery requiring three shifts of nurses and doctors.    I’d be happy, normal, and finally feel like me again – eating waffles for breakfast.  Eating food made me feel again, but it also made me remember, even the things I didn’t want to remember, things that I thought a coma had permanently repressed.…like the hurt and confusion I had felt burning in my gut, but was too afraid to tell anyone about. Suddenly I was flooded with alarming memories of having been sexually abused by my voice teacher, for the months preceding my coma. This huge role model in my life shattered my trust in an instant, plaguing me with anxiety that grew worse and worse until that stomach ache changed my world forever.  

Although these raw, forgotten emotions were overwhelming. For the first time, I realized how numb I had been just to survive my medical traumas.  Now came the most difficult task of all: deciding to “feel” again, no matter how painful the long-forgotten emotions were to experience. I decided that I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all. I felt myself start to materialize. It was then that I realized I had been waiting for what I had had within me all along – feeling.

Over a decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my anticipated life plans on hold, if not changing them completely. But this detour turned into the richest time in my life. To this day, I am still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be "perfect," or at least for life to go back to "how it was," I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital. I would have never written a one-woman musical about my life that I've performed for five years. If I hadn't had the audacity to set up an online dating profile for myself while still in my hospital gown, recovering from a disastrous surgery, I would never have married the first love of my life.  And when I was suddenly hit with a divorce less than a year later, I learned that there is never a reason to wait to fully love yourself.  
 
Not “waiting” for life to happen can mean simply showing up and staying open to where the path may lead.  Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m on the road.  If I’m willing to feel, I’ll always have my heart to guide me.  I learned that you don't need a stomach to survive, but, but you need a heart.  

They say that all good things come to those who wait. But what for? Every day is an opportunity to learn, to grow and better myself. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken, simply because they have made me who I am. It has been a mess, having life as I knew it shattered to pieces. But bit by bit it's reassembling -- different, imperfect, but beautiful all the same.


Written By Amy Oestreicher

Author Bio: Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.  As the creator of  "Gutless & Grateful," her BroadwayWorld-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. She's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.    Learn more: amyoes.com