“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”
― Gabor Maté
The deep cushiony leather chair is very comfortable. It’s just that I’m not very comfortable sitting in it. Staring out the window beside me, I notice the vibrancy of the forest outside, a world that I no longer feel part of. I’m stuck in this whole other hazy dimension. This thick fog that just never lifts. Unable to run away anymore. In my own personal purgatory. Motionless.
My psychologist breaks the silence of my vacant gaze as she reaches out to hand me a pen and some paper. I have come to see her in a desperate attempt to get some help dealing with the fact that my broken brain no longer allows me to ride and race my bike. And without that, to be honest, I don’t really know how to continue to exist anymore. She asks me to list the past traumas in my life so far. My top 5. Or more. Whatever comes up she says. I don’t really get it. What does such a list have to do with my concussion? But I don’t have the energy to reason or argue with her. All that my bruised and battered cerebrum can do is follow her instructions. I start writing. As I gently lay my pen to rest, my distorted focus lands on the dust particles dancing in the bright early winter sun beaming on the wall behind her. The rest of the universe seems to be business as usual. The sun still shines like it always has. Why can’t it brighten my days like it used to? Even these gyrating specks of dust seem more cheerful than I am in this moment.
How many did you write down? Her words startle me as if I’m lost in a deep trance. I got five. After handing her my list, I look for her reaction as she’s reading it, still trying to figure out how this is supposed to help me accept the reality that I am sinking deeper and deeper into this dark hole as my bikes are gathering dust. She repeats the second one on my list. Sexual abuse. Hearing her say it out loud makes me fidget. This deep cushiony leather chair has suddenly become even more uncomfortable. How can something that happened close to 35 years ago still have so much power over me? Literally only a handful of people know that I am a sexual abuse survivor. My parents. My wife. And a couple of psychologists. This skeleton in my closet. My deepest secret. Always there. This hidden truth. This lie that I keep telling myself over and over.
For as long as I can remember, bikes have meant freedom to me. Freedom to roam. Freedom to explore. Freedom to feel that in the end everything is going to be OK. Heartfelt freedom. This life-giving freedom that has been taken away from me by this head injury. Maybe its purpose is to shine light on this secret that I have been holding onto for so very long? If the saying “the truth will set you free” is indeed true, then maybe working on healing my sexual abuse trauma is a first step in reclaiming this lost freedom? Authentic freedom isn’t about half truths. It’s an all or nothing deal. Maybe my broken brain will only be able to fully heal by putting the parts of my fragmented true self back together? Maybe the only way forward is to put an end to this lie and finally rid myself of all this guilt and shame embedded inside of me? Maybe it’s time to start embodying my truth and stop living this half-life? Every single thing has changed along with this new cloudy brain chemistry that I am now floating in. I figure all I can do is give in and let it change me. I follow my psychologist’s lead. Let’s do this. As much as I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, strangely I feel like I’m finally ready to go there. I’m all in.
For the next two years, every three or four weeks, I sit in this deep cushiony leather chair. Revisiting the past. Shedding these timeworn tears. Kicking. Screaming. Recalling. Feeling. The chair doesn’t change, but somehow it slowly becomes more and more comfortable. This work isn’t just in this chair. I also begin devouring books that inspire my true essence. I meditate. I practice yoga. I start journaling. And ever so slowly I also get back on my bikes again. I’m not sure how, but verbalizing the details of my sexual abuse in a safe setting enables me to let go of the emotions attached to it. Psychotherapy somehow lets the buried and denied parts of me born from this trauma come up to the surface. The bulk of each appointment isn’t about my concussion even though the symptoms continue to linger. It’s about revisiting these traumatic events, allowing myself to feel what I wasn’t equipped to feel when it happened and mourning what was lost. The more I open up, the more healing momentum I create. Unblocked from my past, breaking free from these shackles, so much positive energy now flowing without any resistance. The physical healing of my injured brain fueled by all the emotional work that I am doing. Being healthy isn’t just about getting enough exercise and eating the right foods. It’s also about our bodies being in balance with our psyche and our emotions. This equilibrium is the key.
Fast forward five years later to 2021, my physical brain has mostly healed. I can ride my bike comfortably again without any post-concussion symptoms. But I’m not the same person that I was before my accident. I’m more content. I’m more at peace. I’m more true. And I’ve become very comfortable being alone. So comfortable, that I crave it. Alone on my bike. Alone in nature. I’ve really come to enjoy my own company. One of my basic needs. As September expires into October, I load my bikes and gear into my truck and head north. This XperienceKouchibouguac cabin providing the amenities to enable me to host my own private gravel cycling meditation retreat. The national park trails leading directly into the parking lot of the cabin complex. Three days. Two nights. And three amazing rides as well as a few hikes. Something about the vibrancy and stillness of the forest that reawakens the life breath inside of me. This cool moist air. Purifying. These forest trees. Mesmerizing. No hidden agenda. Simply living fully in the moment. Pedaling through this protected forest, I ponder how far I’ve come since first sitting in that deep cushiony leather chair. How did I get here? The truth is that I was never the lone occupant of that seat. The young greasy-haired naïve teenager in me was also there, sitting right next to me. My inner child. He needed to be there. He needed to finally be heard. He needed to finally be held and hugged so very tight. He needed to be healed in order for me to become whole.
Every single one of my life experiences live inside of me. Every single one of my former selves make me who I am. And they accompany me everywhere I go. At work. At home. And on each and every one of my bike rides. Befriending, supporting and nurturing every single one of them is how I continue to heal and live a full life. Comfortably by myself. Peacefully alone but never lonely. Reassured and comforted by all of my former selves. That’s why this work is so important. My life’s work. My longing to reach my expiry date empty. Nothing to hide. Nothing more to say. Nothing more to do. Nothing to let go of. We are the only ones that can save ourselves. It took me a while to understand this, but once I did, everything changed.