The Ugly Truth
Everyone loves a good triumph story where the plucky underdog character defeats the bully, triumphs over adversity, or survives some life or death situation. I like to frame my brain injury recovery like that – because, in essence, it IS a success story. But that’s not the whole truth. While I’ve shown the hard stuff, I haven’t really opened up about the ugly truth.
I was having a lovely video chat with my daughter the other morning – laughing and smiling – when we got sidetracked trying to remember something from about three years ago. Suddenly, she got quiet and her face grew serious. I didn’t know what happened- where did things go sideways? She mumbled a quick explanation and got off the phone.
Tears streamed down my face and I struggled to catch a breath. She had inadvertently remembered something I’d said to her that cut her deeply. Something I’d said when my brain was still reeling from my accident. I had said it and there was no taking it back. It didn’t matter if it happened in recovery- that may be a reason- some might even say an excuse- but those words don’t get forgotten just because the sayer wasn’t well. A cut from a dull knife is still a cut.
It’s one of the reasons Alzheimer’s hurts so badly- the people caring for the person they love are very often insulted or forgotten by them, and even though you can blame it on the condition, it doesn’t hurt any less.
That was the case here.
I have a lot of missing pieces in my memory from after the accident. Not only could I not follow conversations, remember the words I wanted to use, or even what I was trying to say, I often forgot a whole lot of things. It was very frustrating. Because my brain was injured I also didn’t have the same kind of control I’d always had over my emotions. So often I was hot tempered, angry, frustrated, scared, depressed, and lost much of the time. And my kids saw it all.
Unfortunately, my middle child bore the brunt of it. She was the only only one who could figure out what I meant, what I was trying to say. She could see when I was lost and would help me through and she was the one who spoke to me most often during that time. She was my greatest helper. But that meant that she also was the one I lashed out at the most – because she was there.
The kids tell me now and then some insane, crazy thing I said and we laugh or I’m horrified or both. My daughters actually kept a running tab of the completely out of pocket things I said in their phone notes – and a lot of them included some serious cussing. I’d become a sailor in my speech- and it was not at all what they were used to – but those were the words that were easiest to find. It was at the same time hilarious and disturbing to them. So they kept note.
But that list was for laughs.
They didn’t keep a list of times when I said hurtful things. Or when I forgot their important events or needs. There was no list of all the times I exploded in rage because I had lost control and didn’t know how to get it back.
What We Don’t Say
It’s those memories that sometimes pop up in happy conversations that cast a long shadow. At these times I have to dig and try to remember. Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. But whether or not I remember, I always feel the same. I know that I would never say “that” now and would never have said it before the accident – most often I’m shocked and horrified that I said it at all.
Recovery And Aftermath
I know that I can’t take it back or take away the pain. But, I can own it and apologize for the damage I did. And after I do, I remind them to tell me each and every time they remember something I said, or did, or didn’t do that I should have during that time, so that I can apologize and let them know that it wasn’t them- it was me.
The ugly truth is that while I may have had to struggle tremendously to prevail, I didn’t bear the burdens alone – those who struggled with me were sometimes hurt along the way. To them I owe a great debt of thanks – for sticking through it with me, for forgiving me when I lashed out, for telling me the hard things when I didn’t want to hear them, for not giving up.