by Colleen Kelly Alexander
After a terrible accident, Colleen Kelly Alexander was in excruciating pain and convinced she would never walk again. To recover from her accident, she faced dozens of surgeries and weeks in a hospital, followed by time spent in a rehabilitation center. Now she's strong enough to compete in triathlons—more than 40 of them. She describes the life lessons she learned during her recovery.
In the early stages of her recovery, Alexander started to give herself goals for each day. With her nurse's help, she understood that she needed to give herself credit for accomplishing the small things, like rolling over in bed, because they were great achievements. This attitude carried her through her recovery, including the day she started to walk again. "I was ready. I took just a few steps, but that was my goal that day."
Colleen never liked asking for help, but she realized that pain can isolate you so asking for help was important. During these vulnerable times, her rock was her husband Sean. He was a constant help and took on tasks like changing her bandages. People had sent gifts of all sorts to encourage her and help her believe she could get out there and do what she loved again. Colleen understood she "couldn't do it alone."
Colleen was full of anger about the accident and she couldn't pray. She was upset that God had let her suffer like this. A chaplain read her Scripture and told her that she has the right to blame God. "Look in the Bible. Look at the range of emotions expressed in the Psalms. We can say anything to God. He can take it." God wants to hear about all of our trials and tribulations. Afterwards, she looked to God and became more honest in her prayers.She realized God is with us at all times, even the worse of times.
The chaplain suggested Colleen to visit other patients searching for help. She visited a musician who had been paralyzed in a car accident. She listened to his music and realized that meant so much to him. "Giving to others releases endorphins in us. Endorphins are major pain mediators. And one of God's greatest gifts to us."
One afternoon a complete stranger called out to Colleen, "What I want you to know is that your life still has a purpose. You were saved for a reason." The paramedics, the ER doctors, her phsyical therapists, speech therapists and the people who donated blood all had kept her alive. She could never pay them back, but she was grateful to be alive even with pain. Her pain was a constant reminder that she was still alive.
She learned that pain escalates when accompanied by fear. And anyone who has survived trauma know that fear can return at any moment. Colleen dreaded getting back to driving, but she started to get on the road in secluded areas. One day, she saw a freight truck parked just ahead of her. It was with the same company that the truck that hit her was from. Colleen was fuming as the driver stepped out, but when she told him what happened, he offered to let her do what she needed to do. She spent time looking at and touching the truck. By doing this, she faced what she feared the most.
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