Coffee. It’s a morning staple. Part of my daily routine. I don’t even have to think about what I’m doing. My body just instinctively goes to the pantry, retrieves the bag of ground up goodness, scoops it into the filter, and pours the water. Then I wait while the smell of coffee gradually fills my kitchen. Just a whiff of the aromatic brew can perk my senses.
How do I feel when there is no coffee? Depresso.
Just kidding. But that’s a good segue into this post.
Most mornings I am awakened by the soft, pursed lips of my 3-year-old as he gently presses them to my forehead. Actually, I awaken long before he enters my room.
Every day, just after sunrise, I hear my son shuffling about his bedroom as he makes his bed (which is essentially just balling his Minion blanket into a more uniform lump below his pillow, but I praise him for his efforts nonetheless). He gets his water cup and a stuffed animal of choice, and tiptoes up the stairs, careful not to wake me. He puts his cup in the sink, makes a silent trip to the bathroom and then appears quietly in my doorway.
I am awake of course, but I can’t let him know. He gets so excited to rouse me from my sleep that many times I’ll re-position myself so that my messy hair isn’t covering my face and my forehead is close to the edge of bed. I can’t convincingly pretend to be sleeping while also getting kneed in the rib cage and elbowed in the thighs. It’s hard to fake slumber while being trampled.
Generally, as I lie there in anticipation of my morning kiss and coffee, I stare at the window and watch how sunbeams peak through the tree limbs and dance on my walls. I think about the new day with appreciation and gratitude. How I will make the best of it – whether it’s time spent working, with family or friends, home with my son, or even alone. I love spending time alone. Nevertheless I try to approach each day as a blessing, a chance to start over, a chance to make a difference or as an opportunity to learn something new.
Lately, however, my mornings have been a bit darker. Instead of noticing how the sun casts bright spots onto the walls, I’ve been focusing instead on the shadows. I have been accepting my morning kisses with a forced smile and drinking my coffee out of habit, not in the mindful and appreciative way that I prefer. I am simply going through the motions.
I am only 5’2”. My coffee mugs reside on the top shelf of the cabinet nearest the kitchen sink. Without a step stool, I have to climb onto the counter to reach them.
This morning, as I do every morning, I turned with my back to the cabinets and placed my palms on the counter. When I shifted my weight to my arms and lifted myself to reach for a mug, I felt a tingling sensation in my left wrist. This happens from time to time. It doesn’t necessarily hurt, but it doesn’t feel good either.
My injury occurred last spring. I was late for work and my son was streaking through the house. In a desperate attempt to tackle my toddler, I went one direction and he went the other. I lost my footing and fell awkwardly, catching myself with my wrist. I now have a metal plate, three screws and a four-inch Frankenstein scar that serves as a permanent reminder to slow down and take a deep breath when I’m feeling impatient.
I remember the throbbing pain I felt when it happened. How frustrated I was that I allowed a 2-year-old to get the best of me. How guilty I felt for getting upset with him and letting it happen in the first place.
I recall how difficult it was to ask for help. I hate asking for help. I’m incredibly independent and sometimes I forget that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or vulnerability –it’s necessary. I also forget that more often than not, people want to help.
After I fell, I needed a ride to the hospital. I also needed help with my son. I called my dad who arrived within minutes carrying an ice pack, an ACE bandage and a paint stirrer. I’m not sure if he brought the paint stirrer with the intent of stabilizing my arm or for comedic effect, but either way, it made me laugh.
I didn’t even have the courage to look at my wrist. I asked my dad to look first. His indistinguishable grunt and wrinkled face told me what I needed to know. It was broken.
After the x-rays confirmed my suspicions, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to recover from this injury on my own. My wrist required surgery. I had to wear a cast and go to weeks of physical therapy. I experienced many sleepless nights filled with anxiety and discomfort. I learned to shower, prepare meals, fold clothes, type on my computer and even make coffee with one hand.
I wanted to rush the healing process. I wanted the pain to go away. I wanted my life back as I knew it. I wanted to be able to carry all 17 Kroger bags from my trunk to the kitchen in one trip. I wanted to wear clothes with buttons again. I wanted to stop changing diapers with my teeth.
Not once in the three months it took my arm to heal did I question my ability to recover. Sure, there would be a scar and the motion of my wrist might be limited, but I would get better. I was just perturbed. It was an inconvenience.
This morning as I stared at the scar on my wrist I realized that I am once again perturbed, dealing with yet another inconvenience. I am back to using one arm. Well, not literally. Both of my arms are working just fine, but mentally, I’m struggling a little. Some painful elements of my past have returned and the familiar emotional pain and negative feelings that were once a constant in my life have resurfaced.
But just as I healed from my wrist injury last spring, I will also recover from this emotional setback. In fact, with the help of my therapist and the coping and resiliency skills I’ve learned along the way, I am already feeling a little more confident.
None of us is exempt from pain. We get into car accidents. We fall off ladders. We have knee replacements and suffer from arthritis. We break our wrists chasing after naked toddlers.
We know what to do when physical pain comes into our lives. We realize that it takes time to physically heal and we accept that our bodies may bear permanent scars or that our mobility might be restricted.
But how do we deal with emotional pain?
What if we continually experience abuse at the hands of someone we once loved and trusted?
How do we watch hopelessly as a family member wrestles with addiction?
What if we lose our jobs and feel overwhelmed with bills and financial demands?
How do we manage the pain that accompanies the task of sitting with divorce attorneys while dividing our assets and hashing out custody arrangements that will dictate when we get to see our children?
What do we do when we’re diagnosed with a chronic or life threatening disease that wears us down and worries our families?
How do we cope if our parents struggle with dementia and forget who we are?
I have read that emotional healing is not a linear process. I take comfort in that. It’s easy to picture things as you want them to be. It’s much harder to accept things as they are.
Give yourself some time.
Know that your smiles don’t have to be forced. It’s still possible to appreciate your morning coffee. And with some perspective, you can be reminded that the shadows on which you’re focusing only exist because the sun still shines.