When you hide the pain, you suffocate joy.
My boyfriend recently shared with me the following video clip, published by The North Face and titled, “Adventure Not War”. This short video features Stacy Bare, a former United States Army Captain who fought in the Iraq war, eventually came home, and questioned why he lived and why those men died. The pain he endured left emotional scars and a restlessness that was beyond deafening. He felt the desire to go back to Iraq, create joy and re-write his story. He returns to Iraq with a couple of other veterans affected by the war in search of not just the mountains, but themselves. This country which showed them so much pain, they we re-entering to tell a new story. They adventure to the mountains, in search of beauty, and connect with the land in a way they never once experienced. Upon reaching the summit of the highest peak in Iraq, Stacy stated, “It is important to remember the pain”. He had the opportunity to re-write his story, change his heart, all while holding onto the memory of the pain which led him there. That pain ignited his stoke to make a positive impact on not only himself and his crew, but everyone who can hear his message of healing through adventure.
As CHD (Congenital Heart Disease) Warriors, we are constantly in a war between ourselves and the world around us. Some of us remember a life before being sick, others have always just known life with our disease. Personally, I remember what it was like before becoming sick. I was carefree, young, and invincible. I always assumed I would have a long life; there is so much entitlement in that statement, alone. My health was never a concern, and I took so much for granted. When my disease reared its ugly head one early morning in February of 2011, a piece of me died. My heart stopped three times that day, and I walked out of the hospital battered, confused, pained, and heart broken. I stopped being me. Over the course of 4 years, I was a wounded person, who out of survival, pushed away the pain. I didn’t want to feel or accept all of the loss I experienced during that time. I wasn’t ready to mourn the loss of myself. I thought that if I ran from the pain, and cocooned myself, I would be able to work through it all. The problem was, I was postponing the process, because I was not allowing myself to heal. I struggled through my illness, because I was battling it and trying to remove all emotions. I didn’t want to feel the pain and go through the process of reliving each feeling.
Since 2015, my goal has been to embrace the pain, remember the heart-breaking moments, and allow it to mold me into an evolved person from who I was before my Congenital Heart Disease diagnosis. Allowing myself to experience my disease in a new light, and embracing my history allowed for the healing I desperately needed to not only help myself, but others. Experiencing and battling PTSD for 4 years allowed me insight into struggle, desperation, hopelessness, sadness, and pain. It showed me how fragile life is and made me humble. Being a strong-willed individual, I never thought something like this would have the strength to break me. My mistake was believing that it made me weak. The truth is, I never want to forget the pain I went through. I never want to forget the moment when I thought the last hug and kiss I gave my son would surely be the last. The reasoning behind this, is that it makes me love those in my life that much more. Life is delicate, and I will never again assume I have even one more beat left in my heart. I want to live in moments.
Up until this week, I thought I had experienced every bit of pain, rather than running from it. Upon writing my speech for the Go Red For Women Luncheon, I once again relived my story and every emotion that came along with it. When I wrote about the potential last goodbye I had with my son, I completely broke down for about 10 minutes. In one section, regarding my then 2-year-old-son, I wrote, “Will he even remember me”. Having to relive that moment brought the pain back all over again. I could not wait to give my son the biggest hug, and tell him how much I love him. Rather than allowing the pain to break me, I gave it the power to make me love that much harder.
There is so much importance in re-writing our stories and accepting grace. We cannot go back to who we used to be, but we can remember the pain and become better, more loving and compassionate people. There is so much healing in the outdoors through adventure, and the sense of accomplishment in doing something you never thought possible unlocks the potential in your life. I will continue reiterating throughout this process that rock climbing saved my life. It allowed me to focus on something so much greater than myself and experience nature. I fully realize how blessed I am to be healthy today. It came through such a high cost and a lot of dedication, but I’m here. I want to urge everyone reading this to go on a hike, climb a mountain, or just do something outdoors. Find your peace. Rather than focusing on what your life used to be, focus on how you can take those experiences and shape yourself into something more meaningful.
“It is important to remember the pain” – Stacy Bare