Last time I wrote, “one of the main philosophies I introduce in Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities is a person has two choices of how she responds to their disability – you can love it or hate (fear) it. Now loving it can take quite a while, if not a whole lifetime. Most of the book is devoted to this process. I will talk about the “hate” part next time as that’s not cut and dry either.” I did not get to a place of fully accepting my cerebral palsy (CP) without spending a great deal of the time hating it. I hated how CP gave me a significant gait when I walk and made me look clumsy. I hated hearing the sound of my voice with its “CP accent” when I heard it on answering machines (in the days long before voicemail). I hated how I drooled at the most in-opportune time (is there ever a good time to drool?). I could go on, but I think you get the point.
One of my messages of Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities is that coming to love your disability, or whatever condition/circumstance you struggle with, is a process. A kid with CP isn’t going to be able to say at age eight, ten, or even twelve, “I love what CP has taught me and the character I have developed from it.” Unless they are exceptionally mature, kids are not developmentally able to have that insight. Plus, if these kids have not been allowed to feel the pain and struggle of being different, even when they are adults and have the developmental capability, they may have too much anger and bitterness to gain the insight. The same is true of adults who acquires a disability. They need time – years, maybe decades – to adjust to the change in their body and ability. No one can suddenly say, “Oh, I have a disability? That’s cool.”
I learned long ago in my training as a counselor we have to feel the opposite of an emotion to truly knows what the emotion feels like. Upon learning this, I realized why I tend to be a happy person who laughs easily – I also allow myself to cry when I feel sorrow. I am not one to suppress much emotion. Learning that being able to cry led me to feeling more joy, I applied the same notion to my own adjustment to having CP. Maybe if I allowed myself to feel the hatred toward CP and the difficulty it has invoked on my heart and soul at times, maybe, just maybe, the hatred would not have such a hold on me?
Through much work, days of saying, “I don’t want to feel this again,” and countless supportive witnesses to my process, the hate lessened and lessened until one day, without much pomp and circumstance, I realized I was quite comfortable in my body and CP had become a beautiful part of who I am. I truly don’t think I would have gotten to this place of exquisite inner beauty without experiencing the messiness of hating something about myself that I could not change. In so many cases, feeling the hate is how we learn to love what we got because in the end, love is always more potent than hate.