Recovering from a Bicycle Accident

Five weeks after turning thirty, during the summer of 2008, I was in a serious bicycle accident. It landed me in my region’s trauma hospital for eleven days, took many months to actively recover from, and required several years of oral surgeries. My injuries included two broken and mangled hands; a lacerated liver; damaged and broken teeth, including a front tooth that was knocked out; and head trauma that put me at risk for having seizures and going into a coma. One side of my face was so badly scraped up that a Co-Counselor fainted when she saw me in the hospital soon after the accident.

I decided from the very beginning to use everything I knew about RC to recover. It was an incredible opportunity to have such a clean, straight shot at fighting for myself, and I decided to throw my whole being at the project. Though it was an immensely challenging time, it was also transformative and filled with triumph after triumph. The triumphs were the direct result of my decision to fight for myself and of the discharge process, my RC Community, and my community of friends and family.

AVOIDING PAINKILLERS, NUMBING AGENTS, AND GENERAL ANESTHESIA

Re-evaluation Counseling has gained important insights into physical injuries, distress, and healing—for instance, that pain is simply pain. That’s all it is. In my culture, an immense amount of fear is attached to pain, but pain is a way our bodies tell us that we need to pay attention to an injury in order to assist it in healing. As Tim has said, “Our bodies can repair a tremendous number of things if distresses don’t get in the way.” (Present Time No. 135, page 13).

When we get physically damaged, the injury is part of present-time reality and it hurts. If we can feel the pain and discharge it, our bodies heal optimally because they’re not being slowed down by the physical and emotional distresses of the injury. (Old injuries require a different approach, because the pain is no longer part of present time; it is recorded.)

Masking and numbing the pain doesn’t make the damage and the distresses associated with the damage go away; they’re still there, needing to be worked on. Numbing the pain just makes it harder to feel the pain and access our discharge about the injury. And the numbing agents also lay in their own distress recordings.

My body was already going through enough trauma; I certainly didn’t want to give it more hurt to handle by taking painkillers. I also didn’t want to rob myself of the chance to feel and get rid of the pain and other accumulated distresses. So except for two milligrams of morphine on the first and second nights I was in the hospital (the only nights someone couldn’t stay with me), I did not take any pain medication at the hospital or during my recovery, including no lighter pain medications like Tylenol or aspirin. I had two root canals without anesthesia. (The roots were dead due to the accident but were still painful.) And four pins that had been surgically implanted in the broken bones in my hands were taken out without any painkillers or anesthesia. These experiences were transformative. I learned a lot not only about the discharge process and healing but also about reclaiming power and reclaiming my true self.

I was able to successfully navigate the medical system and fight hard (in sessions and out) for how I wanted my hand surgery to go. I didn’t want general anesthesia, because of what I’d read in Well-Being about others’ experiences with it. Nor did I want an amnesiac cocktail of sedatives that would make me forget the surgery. At several points I was told that they wouldn’t be able to do the surgery unless I agreed to general anesthesia. With persistence, and a bit of luck (one of the nurses turned out to be a Co-Counselor I knew!), I had the surgery with local anesthesia and no cocktail sedative. Lying on the operating table, fully alert, I felt incredibly happy and pleased and safe. I had fought a big battle—with my distress to be able to feel this way, and with the medical system to have local anesthesia—and won! And unlike other patients in the recovery room, who were groggy and out of it, I was fully alert and beaming with happiness because of what I’d just accomplished.

MORE SUCCESSES

Other triumphs included taking charge and handling my life in ways I previously hadn’t been able to. I had to handle everything from my medical insurance, to figuring out what specialists to see, to deciding what procedures made sense, to doing my occupational therapy, to organizing friends to bring food and help me with bathing, to my own early material that was restimulated. There was no time to wallow in my distress. Giving in to discouragement and despair was not an option if I wanted the full recovery that I was committed to. The accident allowed me to see the reality of who I was: a loving warrior. It showed me that I was fierce, determined, powerful, and unstoppable. I was fighting for myself and for a one-hundred-percent recovery. Period. I got to see that I was capable of doing seemingly impossible things, in concert and community with others.

The accident and my recovery allowed me to become closer with other people. There were many things I could not do—like cook, shop for groceries, or feed myself—without help from friends and family. Because my culture has shifted away from community and connection toward individuality and isolation, asking people for help was a way to get closer to them. Because I had almost died, we were able to notice our significance to each other and how much we mattered to and cared about one another.

The closeness I was able to reach for and feel in my Co-Counseling relationships also increased. Fighting full-out for myself repeatedly over many months made it possible to be completely, a hundred percent, on the side of others. I gave some of the most powerful sessions I’d ever given, because of the quality of my attention. I didn’t say much; often I would just look at my client, and he or she would discharge heavily. My attention was like steel. I had learned to be a loving warrior for myself and as a result could be that for others. My Co-Counselors could work heavily on early distress but with attention off of it, remembering that they were good and that things were possible.

I noticed an important shift in how I counseled. The way I was living my life was a huge contradiction to early material that had had me feeling bad and not trusting other people’s minds. Because I’d been so thoroughly and consistently contradicting it, I was able to trust other people’s minds much more. In the past I would worry if someone seemed stuck on an idea I thought was rooted in distress. Out of my own fear I would interrupt and try to “help” them by offering a direction to “steer them back.” During this time I found myself just deeply listening, unworried, and believing in the power of my client’s mind and the discharge process.

The accident coincided with a breakup with someone I considered the love of my life at the time. I cried buckets and moved a ton on my ESM, and disconnection and heartbreak. I also ended a particularly heavy and compulsive addiction. I knew I couldn’t fight for myself and completely recover the way I wanted to without stopping it. It made me feel too bad about myself and confused me too much about reality.

Because of the physical limitations of my broken hands and because of my appearance (a battered face and a missing front tooth), I faced some disability oppression. Being on that side of disability oppression was useful for me (something I realized even while I was experiencing it). It helped me think about an oppression that I, as an able-bodied person, normally didn’t have to. I gained new awareness about the oppression, and compassion for people with disabilities.

About three months after the accident I was able to use both the flexibility I’d gained from all the discharge and my newfound ability to fight for myself in a domain that for most of my life I had felt discouraged about ever figuring out: what to do for a career. I had always hated my jobs but couldn’t figure out how to change my relationship to work. I remember realizing in a session, “If I can do all the things I’ve been doing to recover from my accident, I can definitely figure out what I want to do for money!” As a result, I went to graduate school to pursue some of my passions and interests, and I now have a career that I enjoy, that is re-emergent and forward moving, and that has more than tripled my income.

In a similar vein, I was able to effectively keep perspective on old humiliation and feeling bad about myself and challenge my racism. At a teachers’ and leaders’ workshop, Tim challenged us white people to go after a person of color at the workshop whom we liked from afar but were afraid to show it to. I felt scared, but I didn’t honor my fear and treat it as real, as I had in the past. I made contact with a person I liked in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.

PAST EXPERIENCE DISCHARGING ON INJURIES AND PROCEDURES

Prior to my bicycle accident, I had discharged on other injuries. When I was sixteen, a year before learning Co-Counseling, I was in a serious car accident in which I broke my neck and collarbone. I came into Co-Counseling eager to learn about recovering from injuries, because I had a lot of recorded pain. I studied people’s experiences in Present Time and Well-Being and became inspired by what others had done and figured out. I also experimented with discharging fear before medical procedures, so that I wouldn’t have to use numbing agents. In one sitting I had ten fillings removed and replaced without any anesthetic. I also had two moles removed from my back without any numbing agent. I’d had sessions laughing and sweating while a Co-Counselor pretended to cut the moles off my back with a spoon. Though I felt pain when the doctor cut them out, it didn’t “hurt” the way past injuries had, because of how I’d drained my fear of the pain. At one point a nurse mistakenly injected my back with a numbing agent, and it hurt much worse and for longer than simply getting the mole removed. These experiences prepared me well for handling my bike accident. I already understood how interlocked pain and fear could be.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF RECOVER: LOVE AND COURAGE

After regaining consciousness on the side of the road where I crashed, I knew something bad and life threatening had happened, and my first thought was, “I’m alive.” The second: “I’ve been given a second chance to love.” This last thought resonated deeply within me. I felt incredibly lucky and fortunate to have been given that chance. I realized that my distress had held me back from loving as openly and completely as I wanted to. The gift of a second chance to love guided me throughout my recovery. When I’d have tough decisions to make and my early material would rear its head, I’d decide to go toward love and courage, rather than disconnection and powerlessness.

During the first two weeks, while I was in the hospital, my RC Community gave me an hour of one-way time every day. Due to his early hurts, my regular Co-Counselor, “Greg,” did not come, or call or text me. I love Greg, am committed to him, and take our relationship as regular Co-Counselors seriously. I felt deeply hurt. Some of my hardest, earliest material got restimulated. I felt that I was trash, worthless, bad, unlovable, and that I deserved to have the people closest to me treat me badly.

In the past I would have decided then and there to cut Greg out of my life forever (the way I had cut my father out of my heart when I was young), but I realized that was not compatible with my decision to go toward love and courage. So I called Greg (something I did not want to do) and asked him when he could come to the hospital. He said he didn’t know because he was going swimming with his new girlfriend. I was stunned and upset, but instead of giving up and cutting him out of my life, I told him, “Showing up at times like this is when it really matters. How can I possibly trust you to go back early with me in my sessions if you can’t show up now?” I said that I was saying this because I loved him—that I felt like cutting him out of my life but was refusing to because our relationship meant so much to me. Because of how much my early material had its grip on me, that reaching toward him has been one of the biggest acts of love in my relationship with him to this day. A week later Greg counseled me on this upset in the RC class I’d been teaching in which he’d been my assistant. It was not an easy thing for him to do and showed his love and courage. I was confused enough that I couldn’t work on my upset as an early hurt and mostly worked on it from the standpoint of how wronged I felt by him. He stayed with me during my session, and with me, committed to our relationship, afterward. Our relationship is one of the most significant in my life. It used to feel tentative and like I couldn’t quite count on it, but I no longer question that we are permanently in each other’s lives. He is one of my most cherished, trusted, and fierce allies.

HOW I SPENT MY DAYS

My days were full during the first three months of recovering from the accident. I remember being the most in charge and productive I’d ever been. Having two sessions a day took about five hours. Often another two to three hours were taken up with calling my medical insurance company and sorting out billing information with my various doctors. I had occupational therapy appointments twice a week and often other appointments with dentists and oral surgeons. I also spent time organizing friends to bring me food (I had nineteen people rotate bringing me food so that no one would be overwhelmed) and organizing the many sessions I was having each week. The rest of the time I did attention-out activities with friends and family members. I was with people most of the time, which contradicted my early isolation and kept my attention out.

COUNSELING SESSIONS

Having sessions was key to my recovery, and I prioritized them. I had two a day for the first three months and one a day for the following three and a half months. They were mostly sixty and almost never less than fifty minutes each way.

My Area Reference Person organized the one-way counseling for the two weeks I was first in the hospital. After that I organized my own sessions and began doing two-way sessions. At first I felt overwhelmed by and desperate about the prospect of doing this—I had to figure out so many things related to doctors and insurance, and my body was still actively recovering—but my Area Reference Person told me that our Community didn’t have unlimited resource and that it made sense for me to begin doing it. With more discharge I realized that I was feeling overwhelmed and desperate due to my early distress.

I usually spent one session a day doing occupational therapy exercises for my hands. It was difficult to put attention on the therapy by myself, because feeling the pain was scary. It also brought up feelings of hopelessness. With attention I was able to push a little farther than I would have by myself, celebrate my success, and exuberantly appreciate my body. I discharged a lot of fear through laughing and sweating.

I spent the other session discharging on painful emotion and preparing for upcoming surgeries or procedures. Discharging fear was paramount, but I also discharged on everything from frustration with my insurance company, to feelings about navigating the medical system, to making big decisions about how I wanted the procedures to go. And I discharged on physical pain and the heartbreak over my recent breakup.

I learned that I could use the attention of each of my counselors fully and well no matter what silly feelings I’d had about them in the past. To have that many sessions, I had to counsel with people whom my restimulations would have kept me away from. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for a counselor I wasn’t restimulated by. Each session, no matter whom it was with, I treated as a gift and enjoyed and treasured each person I was with. I used every session to fight for myself as fully as I could. There was no more waiting for the “perfect counselor.” It was empowering to take on my re-emergence in this way and to realize that connecting with and using the attention of a counselor had everything to do with me; it was not about whatever chronic distress happened to show on his or her face.

A question I came up against was when to make the transition from working on the pain as a new hurt to working on it as an old, recorded hurt. Unlike with a new physical hurt, when an injury or illness is old and has become a recording, it is best not to counsel on the pain or other physical manifestations of it because they can get restimulated. It’s most useful to discharge the emotional feelings about the injury and whatever was happening at the time it occurred. As the months went on, I experimented with treating the injury as old, but it never became clear when to start the transition.

DISCHARGING FEAR AND SAYING NO TO DISCOURAGEMENT

RC literature and my previous experience working on physical injuries (particularly the relationship between fear and pain) gave me a solid foundation for how I navigated the medical system and used my sessions. I knew that discharging fear was key. Most of my sessions were on fear in some way or another. What I learned was that almost all (maybe all) of my fear was old. Of course it didn’t feel like that at the time, and yes, there were many things to handle in the present, but it was old fear that kept me from being able to think about the present.

In the hospital my Area Reference Person gave me a simple yet important direction: “Shake.” I’d been doing a lot of crying but hardly any shaking. I told him that I didn’t feel like shaking and that it felt forced or fake to do it. He said, “Try it anyway.” From then on I decided to shake and prioritize discharging fear. Unlike other forms of discharge, like crying or light laughter, discharging heavy fear is hard for me to keep bringing myself back to and to stay with for fifty- to sixty-minute sessions. But I determinedly kept doing it over and over again, session after session. I think it’s important to make the decision to keep working on fear.

I also had to decide not to give in to discouragement. About three weeks after the accident, my doctor unwrapped my hands from the gauze they were in. I looked at them and immediately felt disheartened. They looked like alien hands to me: swollen on top, with tiny fingers. I remember thinking, “I’ve been discharging so much and working so hard, and they still hurt!” Then I realized how ridiculous that feeling was. My hands had been doing an incredible job of healing from the severe trauma they’d experienced. Of course they still hurt. So what? At that moment I realized that I could go in two directions in thinking about my body: one was antagonistic—“me against my body”—and the other was that I could be on the same side as my body, fiercely loving it no matter what. I chose the latter and came up with the phrase, “Good hands! Good healing!” which I would say aloud and then follow by kissing each hand.

MEDICAL PROCEDURES AND DISCHARGING FEAR

Most of my discharging about medical procedures was on how scared I was of them before they happened. Once they were over, I wasn’t bothered by them and my attention was pulled toward working on the next one I was terrified of. I spent relatively little time going back and discharging on the actual procedures. While I didn’t figure out doing this, I recommend it.

I got a lot of mileage out of YouTube videos. In preparation for an upcoming root canal that I planned to have without any numbing agents, I found a video of a dentist drilling. I didn’t actually watch the video. The sound was what terrified me, so I listened to it over and over again in sessions, sweating and shaking the whole time. The first time I tried this, I was absolutely drenched with sweat. I didn’t remember ever having sweated so much in my life, even after running or doing other strenuous exercise.

I had the option to get either a bridge or a dental implant to fix the hole in my mouth where my tooth had been. The bridge wouldn’t require additional surgery but would put strain on my other teeth that had been fractured. Numerous dentists and oral surgeons didn’t recommend a bridge for someone as young as I was. The dental implant would require two invasive surgeries: first a bone-grafting surgery, because the bone above the missing tooth had disintegrated, and then a surgery to implant a titanium rod into the new bone to serve as a “root” for the new tooth. One prestigious surgeon said he would only do the bone-grafting surgery if he used bone from another part of my mouth. He also wanted to give me a sedative that would make me “forget” the surgery. Because my mouth had so recently suffered trauma from the accident, I was not keen on inflicting it with more. I also was against anything that would make it harder for me to remember the procedure. I decided to discharge so that I could get more access to my thinking and make the best long-term decision for my body.

To access my fear, I watched videos of oral bone-grafting surgeries. They absolutely terrified me. I would watch just a tiny bit of a video and then pause it and laugh hard, shake, and sweat. I wouldn’t watch them outside of sessions. I knew I didn’t have the attention and wouldn’t be able to discharge without a counselor there.

I ended up getting the dental implant but chose another prominent surgeon who was willing to use cadaver and cow bone for the bone graft and didn’t require a sedative of any kind.

I also had to discharge a ton of fear about getting the four three-and-a-half-centimeter steel pins, which looked like nails, removed from my hands. (They’d been implanted to help mend my broken bones.) I decided I wanted to try an experiment and get them extracted without any local anesthesia. This seemed like an interesting (if scary!) challenge, and I knew I couldn’t do it without discharge.

I decided that I needed at least six hours of solid discharge on fear to be able to pull it off. I used my sessions to tell my counselors what was going to happen to me: “They’re going to cut into my skin and then pull the pins out from my bone!” Some medical people had told me that getting something pulled out of bone can be extraordinarily painful, so I was much more afraid of the pins being pulled out than I was of my hands being cut open. I also talked directly to my hands. I told them exactly what was going to happen and that they were safe. I said, “Once the knife goes into your skin and cuts it, a signal will be sent to our brain registering that as pain, but it’s only pain, and you’re going to be okay!”

When it was time to get the pins removed, I felt scared but also ready, confident, and powerful. I knew I could do it, and I had a Co-Counselor with me. (I’d given her time before we left for the hospital and agreed to accompany her to an upcoming surgery to get her wisdom teeth removed.)

The surgeons were surprised and a bit unnerved when I told them I didn’t want to have any numbing agent. There was an undertone of “mental health” oppression in the way they reacted. Though they didn’t explicitly say, “That’s crazy! You’re crazy!” their tone and reaction communicated it. The head surgeon, who had a team of resident surgeons with him, said, “Well, we’ll be back with our instruments of torture then!” That was a thoughtless thing to say, and it also restimulated some of my early hurts. But instead of shrinking into a fearful, worried posture, I did the opposite. Once they had left and closed the door, I turned to my counselor, gave her a “can you believe that” look, and made a “come here” gesture toward the door, saying, “Bring it on! Bring it on!” laughing and shaking the whole time.

When one of the surgeons came back and started the procedure, I was calm and relaxed. I gave him good attention, asked how he was doing, and appreciated and thanked him for what he was doing. When he made the actual incision, I did feel what would technically be considered pain, but it didn’t “hurt” the way most things hurt. It was fine. I had already talked to my hands about what to expect, and we did great. At one point he apologized and said he would need to cut farther down to have enough room to grip the pins. I relaxedly said, “Sure, no problem. Please do whatever you need to do—I’m fine,” and then appreciated him again for what a good job he was doing. After some trial and error in trying to get a firm grip on the first pin, he pulled it out. The thing I had been most afraid of didn’t hurt at all!

When I tell people I got pins removed from my bones without anesthesia, they look at me as if it was a horrible experience. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was fun! It was also one of the most empowering, triumphant experiences of my life.

CLOSING

During the first month or two of my recovery, I experienced something that had never happened to me before: I got a break from my chronic patterns and a window into the real me. For a brief moment—I don’t know if it was thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes, or ten—I felt like everything was completely okay. I was by myself when it happened, but I remember liking everyone, even people I don’t normally like. It felt truly amazing to be alive, there in that moment, as myself. It was a glorious, happy moment.

As months and years passed and different patches of early distress crowded and confused me, I could always remember that moment. That moment, and everything I had accomplished during my recovery, including how thoroughly and persistently I had fought for myself, served as a wonderful reference point. I could think back on it and remember who I really am—my true self. The direction of Harvey’s comes to mind: “From now on, the real Emily Cunningham.”

Three years following my accident, I turned a big, life-changing corner in my re-emergence: I became unprecedentedly happy and productive. Before, my chronic patterns had me feeling that my life was a tortuous, impossible struggle. It’s been over two years since the shift happened, and while my early distress still trips me up, I am now a happy person—more connected and in charge of my life than I’ve ever been.

Emily Cunningham
Seattle, Washington, USA


1  Tim Jackins
2 “Lay in” means create.
3 Well-Being is the RC journal for exchange of information and ideas about health.
4 “Turned out to be” means ended up being.
5 “Out of it” means not present.
6 “Material” means distress.
7 “Material” means distress.
8 “Buckets” means large amounts.
9 “Moved a ton” means made a great deal of progress.
10 “ESM” stands for early sexual memories. In sessions clients can be asked, “What is your earliest memory connected to sex in any way at all? First thought?” and encouraged to discharge whatever feelings the thought has brought up. People’s thoughts are not necessarily about sex; they are often related to early disconnection and the origins of chronic patterns. Counseling in this way is often referred to as “ESM work.”
11 Tim Jackins
12 “Go after” means reach out to.
13 “Showing up” means engaging, being there.
14 “Go back early with me” means be with me when I work on early hurts.
15 “Take on” means take responsibility for and undertake.
16 “Came up with” means thought of.
17 “Pull it off” means successfully accomplish it.
18 “Given her time” means given her a session.
19 “Bring it on” means go ahead and do it to me.
20 Harvey Jackins’
21 “Trips me up” means gets in my way.

 


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00