Someone’s choking on their coffee right about now… I can feel it. If I know my people at all:
A definitely is if M hasn’t sneaked the bottom of the mug.
W is thinking, “That’s right, little sister!”
L is laughing that I’ve finally gotten around to this topic (since we talked about it 6 months ago at least) while she thinks she hasn’t talked to me for too long… and now she is reaching for her phone.
K is rolling his eyes and thinking, “Oh God!” while I worry that his eyeballs are going to roll out of his ears if he rolls them any farther back.
And R is amusedly making THAT face while willing me to be careful. (Yes, yes, I’ll be careful!)
And as for the rest of you, take a minute to compose yourself. It’s okay. I’m still here, waiting for you to clean up that spill. Need more time? No?! Good.
Alright, truth time and we are talking about sex appeal of owning your illnesses instead of letting them own you. Yep, all the illnesses. Nope, it doesn’t matter how rare or weird or annoying or trying. I’m telling you there is something seriously hot about being you all the way with all your brokenness and struggle.
Before I lived the life of an amputee with a handful or two of weird, wild, rare, and difficult conditions, I was a 20-something single woman having the time of her life. Back then I never had a difficult time getting the attention of anyone from the opposite sex (my target audience, before anyone starts to get their nickers in a twist about all that business). Love me or hate me for that, I kind of don’t care. Facts is facts: I got a lot of attention and I enjoyed it. You see, I had a theory on dating:
A girl’s gonna eat dinner one way or another so she may as well eat with company… especially if he has a nice smile and sense of humor.
Muscles don’t hurt either!
I dated a lot when I was younger. There are 7 date slots on any given weekend and I filled all, some, or none depending on my mood; they weren’t always good ones, believe you me, but I gave anyone a shot who had the *clears throat* backbone to ask.
Before I go further, all y’all need to know I was never, shall we say, a woman of loose moral character, so it was never about THAT for me and if it was for them I invariably *cough cough* left them blue.
*smiles and shrugs*
Anyone who made it to a second date was above average and a third date or beyond meant he was in the top 1% as far as I was concerned.
I knew I possessed a certain something ~ a je ne sais quoi ~ that drew them in… and I drew them in!
Someone once told me it was because my smile and my personality were such that few could resist. I still like his description of that je ne sais quoi far more than any other I’ve ever heard (and believe me I’ve heard a few) so it is what we are going to stick with for the purpose of this discussion. Before we get to the nitty and the gritty of that conversation we need to get into something else:
There is a real issue with trauma, illness, injury, and mental health in our society and as a part of the military community I see it amplified as a microcosm within this military community. If you are not military or connected to the military, I’m still speaking to you, I’m simply speaking of a population that I have seen literally thousands of the chronic ailments you may already be familiar with such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, and arthritis in addition to amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post concussive syndrome, post traumatic stress, limb salvages, cancer, and mysterious undiagnosable chronic and debilitating symptoms. Walk into any active duty unit on any military base worldwide, swing that proverbial dead cat, and you will find dozens of the afflicted who often forego treatment and even forego diagnosis because seeking assistance may cost them their livelihood.
In the last 13 years I’ve met hundreds of military families and thousands of military servicemen and women. Most if not all had experienced some form of trauma related to their time in service. This is the point at which those who have truly experienced combat may shake their heads and think that POGs (those with different MOSs, that’s jobs, you civilians) don’t have a LEG (that’s a little Airborne joke I picked up somewhere or other) to stand on in the discussion of wartime trauma; before you tune me out let me say something: it’s true that they haven’t but they can still have experienced something traumatic.
I heard a song several times written about a cook that is so powerful in showing this trauma that makes me all weepy to even just think about it:
The soldiers would come to chow and he would see them every day, laughing with them and joking, getting to know and care about the guys who walked into his tent… Until he started seeing groups come back looking broken and missing guys. He knew that every one of those guys he was serving that day could be eating their last meal.
When he got up every day he did his damnedest to make sure every meal was the best it could be so that if it was someone’s last, it was the best last meal possible.
Tell me that guy doesn’t have ghosts following him. That isn’t the same as being shot at or blown up but it is enough to break a person down.
I discovered a book a couple days ago that I can’t wait to read even though I know I’m going to need a case of Kleenex when I do:
The author was a mortuary tech in the Air Force whose entire job in theater was taking the dead bodies and preparing them to be sent home under a flag.
It is called And Then I Cried, by Justin Jordan.
Trauma, as I’m sure we all know, can trigger the onset or progression of autoimmune diseases, autonomic dysfunctions, and chronic illnesses. We have all been told that stress kills and it is very true, although its a long, slow, and painful death to be sure. For me, the trauma I experienced when my spouse was critically injured in combat triggered a maelstrom of disease that took my leg and almost my life.
Every service member I’ve met like every chronic illness patient I’ve has some story of physical or emotional trauma to share. At the military medical center where I am now receiving medical care while working on my own recovery, I’m surrounded by service members with a myriad of trauma they’re dealing with individually. When we meet one another, everyone swaps stories about how we got this or that injury, laughing at one another’s dark humor in describing our brokenness: I’m the baby pegasus unicorn ballerina patient, there’s a couple human lawn darts (HALO accidents… skydiving’s bigger, cooler, more muscular and barrel-chested brother), suicide bombers, IEDs (those guys had a blast in theater), one got hit by a SCUD missile, a few sport injuries who always downplay their trauma because it wasn’t as traumatic as those who were injured in theater (while deployed… man, my military speak is on point today ~ there’s another one ~ or should I say en pointe since I’m the unicorn ballerina?!), and the list goes on and on. Every chronic illness patient I’ve ever met online or in person connects with others the same way: swapping our illness and treatment stories, doctor FUBAR stories (effed up beyond all recognition), what has failed, what has worked, where we feel we are being let down, where we find our strength, what might our lives look like in 10 years with these conditions.
When we are with one another, we boldly own every bit of the illnesses, injuries, trauma, and disease that we deal with everyday.
We connect with one another ~ human being to human being ~ inspiring each other and inspired by one another without judgment.
We say to each other:
I see you. I hear you, I regard you. I value you.
Yet when we are no longer surrounded by those whom we are like, we put up our protective shells, don our armor, and hide all our vulnerabilities.
Why? Why do we hide?
Every single one of us has struggled at some point with the questions of whether we are still *enough* without what we are missing or with whatever scars and trauma we carry on or within ourselves. I don’t know one of these military men I have PT with everyday who hasn’t questioned his *manhood* because of these injuries. I sure as hell have questioned myself with all my medical issues and now my flamingo life (because I stand on one leg, like a flamingo… ya get me?). With trauma, illness, and injury, whether they are physical or emotional, there comes vulnerability.
My vulnerability (part of it anyway) is visible: I have one leg and I exist in a sweet little red wheelchair right now. Other people have different vulnerabilities:
- IDEO braces
- Crutches or canes
- Prosthetic legs or arms
- Shrapnel wounds
- Brain injuries
- Post traumatic stress
- Autoimmune conditions
- Emotional or physical trauma from abuse
- Brokenness from broken relationships
- Memories of what has been seen or experienced
I could go on ad nauseam but I think I’ve made my point.
Everyone ~ military or civilian ~ has some form of vulnerability from what we have experienced in our lives.
I used to be like most people I encounter when it came to my vulnerability: I kept it as well hidden as possible and denied any vulnerability to anyone but perhaps my closest compatriots or loved ones and even with them it was rare to acknowledge. It didn’t matter if my vulnerability shined through from behind whatever wall I put up, I denied it. And then one day last year I was challenged to be vulnerable. Not one to shy away from any challenge ever I stopped pretending that I wasn’t carrying trauma and vulnerabilities with me. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t change overnight, in fact it took months before I really applied myself to this idea of vulnerability, but I tried. Eventually instead of trying to minimize everything happening in my body I got really fucking brave and started telling my story.
I didn’t become a whiner.
I became forward. It did not go unnoticed.
People found it refreshing, and amazingly so did I.
Suddenly I was no longer defining myself by the things inside me or happening to me, by relationships or roles, but instead I was defining myself by my confidence and strength. When people commented on it, I held those words in awe as I realized that they were how other’s defined me.
Before I let my truth be seen, when I was an amputee out and about, I was invisible to about half of those I saw and the subject of *poor you pitty face* from just about everyone else. It sucked. I hated leaving my house at all and I didn’t want to be anywhere alone. And it was clear to me that no one looked at me with that look of attraction or desire. We have established that I’m familiar with that look so not getting it was a blow to my ego. It isn’t that I was looking for something, but it’s always nice to know *you’ve still got it,* you know?
Then I started the blog. I started answering people honestly and telling my story. Every time I told another piece of my story, being vulnerable to friends and strangers alike, I felt a little less like the trauma owned me and more like I owned it. I felt stronger. With the strength that came from redefining myself came the most incredible miracle:
Instead of seeing only the tragedy of my experiences, I started seeing the humor, humanity, and collateral beauty.
Another miracle happened as well:
I realized I was being noticed by the target audience once more.
There was something about me that was appealing again. Something. For a while I theorized that the protective and providing nature of the kind of men I tended to always be drawn to was drawn to the vulnerability of a woman in a wheelchair as if it was my weakness that was drawing attention, which seemed logical to my therapist, social worker, and psychologist friends, and at times I still think that it plays a role with some of them. That theory seemed to hold water until I realized that they weren’t always cognizant of the fact that I was in a wheelchair. How could the vulnerability of the chick in the chair be part of the attraction if there isn’t a realization that she is in the chair and missing a foot in the first place?
I took a good long time to process and observe, like the people watcher and student of humanity that I am, while also doing a fair amount of self reflection. What I realized is that it didn’t matter what I was wearing, where I was, or what I was doing, I was getting noticed regardless of whether I looked like a complete bum, ballerina, or bombshell.
The commonality was not my appearance but my inner strength, my peace with the vulnerabilities in and on my body, my ownership of my experiences, my humor, and the peace I was living in with what has happened and with whatever may happen in the future. Those were what was so sexy that I found myself the center of attention once more.
My je ne sais quoi is my acceptance and willingness to no longer try to hide my vulnerability from the world.
I chose to accept the challenge to let my brokenness become my beauty.
Every one of us has brokenness and vulnerability.
We can choose to hide them or we can choose to acknowledge them. We can choose seek help if we need to or we can choose to pretend or be prideful enough to claim we are tough enough that we don’t need help even though we all know that we all need help sometimes.