The car wreck left Janie in a critical state. She survived. But the road to recovery was a long one. While the external cuts and bruises healed quickly, Janie was confined to a hospital bed for longer than she liked, longer than the doctors originally planned, because her internal injuries caused several complications and took more time to heal. After the internal injuries finally healed, Janie was finally released from the hospital. Her recovery was far from over. Janie’s right leg sustained significant injuries, including a fractured tibia and several damaged ligaments. Her physical therapy was put on hold until her internal injuries were dealt with. Release from the hospital meant that she could finally begin therapy to rebuild the strength in her leg.
Before the accident, Janie had been training for her first half marathon. At first, training was easy. She made consistent progress, running a little farther and a little faster each week. Three months before the accident, she found herself in a frustrating plateau. Progress came to a halt, and she experienced her slowest runs since taking up the activity. After talking with a trainer, Janie realized that she was in danger of overtraining. The trainer suggested that she take a week off from running and focus on some other types of exercises and stretching instead, and then to resume her running at a lower intensity for the two weeks following. Janie did as the trainer advised, and the change in her routine paid off. She was returning home from her best run to date when the distracted driver pummeled her car. While the other driver walked away relatively unscathed, Janie spent the next month in the hospital.
Now, Janie could hardly put weight on her right leg without intense pain. The time spent in bed had weakened the muscles throughout her body. Walking without support was a lofty goal; a half marathon seemed impossible.
Over the next months, she made remarkable progress with her physical therapist. Holding tightly to achieving her goal and reclaiming her pre-accident running pace, Janie worked hard to perform every exercise the exact way and the exact repetition as her PT instructed. Physical therapy decreased, and sprints turned in to short runs. Feeling confident, Janie pushed herself to match her pre-wreck pace. Mistake.
In her next physical therapy appointment, the therapist told Janie that she had re-torn a ligament in her right leg. Full of anger and frustration, Janie slammed her hand against the table and yelled, “This isn’t fair! It isn’t even my fault!”
The therapist’s face changed to a hard look of resolve. “So what.” Surprised, Janie immediately sobered.
“So what if it isn’t your fault. Does that change where you are? No. Is that going to make you better? No. So stop focusing on that and start focusing on the progress you are making now. Because that is completely up to you.”
This story resonates with me because I have frequently considered my scars and told God that they are just not fair. I have (and do) laminate my setbacks and wonder when I’ll be fully healed and fully “me” again, with the energy, focus, drive, and completeness I once felt.
My counselor frequently compared my separation and divorce to a car wreck. The type of wreck that people look at and say, “Wow, they are lucky to have survived that.” I didn’t cause the wreck, but I had injuries that required care and attention if I were going to recover fully.
In reality, healing from emotional or spiritual wounds takes time, just as it takes time to heal from physical ones. I get frustrated with myself sometimes, because I think, “I used to have more energy,” or “I used to be able to handle stress better.” In reality, I need to slowly train to get back to that place. I need to mark my progress from last week, rather than three years ago.
Janie achieved her goal. Not by throwing her hands up and saying, “This isn’t fair,” and not by one intense burst of determination. Over the course of three years, she worked consistently, acknowledged setbacks, and stubbornly held fast to her end goal. And she ran her half-marathon.
You and I recover through the same means – not by focusing on who’s to blame, and not by putting in one week’s worth of effort. But through steady, albeit imperfect, training and a clear view of our goal.