Hope for My Drunk Driver

A journey from anger to grace

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Last weekend I had a headache that wouldn’t abate, and it led my thoughts back to Melissa – a woman I’ve never met whose choices on a summer evening long ago forever changed mine.

Melissa, you see, is the drunk driver who slammed into the car in which I was a passenger 25 years ago.

That night in Albuquerque, N.M. left me with an injury that to this day prevents me from sleeping with pillows. Which brings to me to reason I was thinking of her this past weekend.

I did a simple thing: dozed off on a few fluffy pillows as I propped myself up in bed to watch TV. When I awoke the next morning, my consequence was a throbbing pain above my left temple and behind my left eye.

I don’t get migraines often, but I recognize them when they arrive, and I could tell immediately that this one was connected to the pain radiating down the left side of my neck and to the knot of muscles that had formed just below.

Ah, the pillow. How could I forget?

Ah, Melissa. How could you drink and drive?

The summer that Melissa’s car rammed into the one in which I was a passenger, I was a rising college senior in the middle of a newspaper internship in Albuquerque, simultaneously honing my journalism and independence skills.

I had two awesome roommates, including one who was (and is) a professional singer. When an opportunity arose to serve as one of her backup “artists” in a karaoke performance (the only way I’d be asked to do this, mind you), how could I say no?

A group of us had just pulled into the Air Force base where our dining spot debut would take place. As our driver paused to check in at the security gate, Melissa’s vehicle plowed into the back of us.

Thankfully, I and my fellow passengers survived the crash, which, in Albuquerque at that time was no small feat.

According to prevalent news reports that year (1992), more alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita occurred in New Mexico than in any other state. Thank you, God.

Melissa’s actions knocked the car in which we were riding several hundred feet from its resting position and left it totaled.

I was the most severely injured – receiving a fractured nose from having the driver’s seat break loose on impact and slam into my face and being tossed around like a ragamuffin. I left the hospital with two black eyes and a severely sprained neck that I would protect with a brace off and on for years to come.

I was angry at Melissa, long before I knew her name. All I knew then was what her actions had cost me: My journalism internship ended abruptly. I spent the rest of my summer alternating between pain-filled periods of rest and physical therapy for the cervical sprain. I returned to my senior year of college still in physical therapy, which continued well into the fall, with lingering pain and forced rest cutting short outings with friends and opportunities to celebrate life before full-fledged adulthood.

I was still angry at Melissa a few years later, when a minor fender bender caused the neck sprain to flare at just the wrong time – days before a friend’s wedding. Ensconced in a new neck brace with my name on it, I spent her special day in bed with muscle relaxers instead of enjoying celebratory fun.

The anger lessened to frustration over the years as I participated in exercise classes and repeatedly sat out on sit-up routines that put too much strain on my neck, because my core wasn’t quite strong enough to lift me.

And as I matured and considered some of my own missteps and mistakes along the way, I thought about Melissa with fewer and fewer waves of judgment.

I was 21 when the accident occurred and so was she.

I had been in a car with new friends that evening, heading to a fun outing. When emergency medical personnel pulled her from her vehicle, they reportedly discovered that countless beer cans had been her companions.

With the expansion of heart that accompanied my becoming a first-time mother at age 27, the judgment ceased. Unconditional love for another will do that to you.

And as my work as a journalist gave me opportunity after opportunity to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life and tell their stories of tragedy, challenge, triumph and resilience, I embraced the reality that life doesn’t always happen for us – sometimes it happens to us.

That truth ushered in sympathy. I began to wonder what had become of Melissa.

At the time of our accident, drunk driving laws in New Mexico were fairly lax, and I don’t recall her serving any jail time. While she was forced to cover my and my friends’ medical and related expenses, she likely didn’t suffer other consequences.

I wondered, however, did her conscience bother her? Did she treat that serious accident as a wake-up call?  Did she give herself a second chance?

I began to hope that just as I had changed and grown and sought to embrace my best self over the years, that she, too, had managed some measure of metamorphosis.

Today, as I lay here writing this reflection, with a heating pad on my neck and shoulder and pain meds nearby, I hope and pray so.

Like me, I hope she has gone on to have a full and meaningful life – one in which she shares the story of that night as a lesson learned, as a place from which she transformed.

I hope that the recurring pain I still experience every so often isn’t for naught, and that she is still alive and well somewhere, advising others to never drive while under the influence, because it can lead to real suffering for real people, other than oneself.

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If I had the chance to encounter Melissa again and officially meet her, I’d tell her that while I hate the flare ups and radiating pain I sometimes experience and I hate her long-ago choices, I don’t hate her. Doing so would require too much energy and too much heart space.

Instead, I’m thankful to have been one of the ones who survived when so many victims of drunk drivers didn’t. My hope is that wherever Melissa is and whoever she has become, she feels that same humble gratitude – for my life and for her own.

Don’t Give Up On You

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about what mid-life holds. Is it a point at which you look back and reflect on opportunities missed, hopes dashed, dreams deferred and resign yourself to whatever may come?
Or, do you see yourself at 40-, 50- or 60-something (and beyond) on the verge of new opportunities, just waiting to be seized? Your perspective, and the actions you take as a result, make all the difference.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first novel in the Little House on the Prairie book series when she was 65.
One of my mentors sought and obtained her master’s degree in her early 70s.
I read an article recently about Etta Baker, a mother of nine who appeared on her first album recording as a blues guitarist in her 40s and went on to record a solo album at age 78 and perform with musical greats well into her late 80s.
More examples abound.
So what chapters are you continuing to craft for the story of your life?
It’s not over until you decide to stop reaching, seeking, growing and pursuing. If you dream it and put some strategic thought, muscle and focus behind it, you can do it.
Don’t give up on you.

New Week Perspective

Welcome to Monday. Today, appreciate the things you “get” to do and the people you “get” to serve.

Getting to do versus “having” to do is all about how you view your opportunities and blessings.

Why not start the week glass half-full, and handle with care?

photo credit: Jenny Downing
Photo Credit: Jenny Downing

9 Ways to Find Fulfillment

By Stacy Hawkins Adams
You get to choose who you’ll be and how you’ll move through this world. Why not do so in a way that you’ll treasure with gratitude and great memories? Here are 9 tips to fuel your process:

1) Don’t let your motivation to do well or do the right thing be driven by what others do or don’t do; be excellent and operate with integrity regardless of how it’s received.

2) What others think of you truly is their business; respect yourself while respecting their choice to choose.

3) Lead with love, because this is still what we all need most.

4) Remember that what you see isn’t always what it is. A fleeting perception or assumption about someone or a particular circumstance could be completely wrong. Base your opinions instead on that person’s actions and attitude over the course of time; because who they truly are will spill out over time. Accept that truth when it’s revealed, and be okay either way.

5) Choose joy. Life is too short to let grudges, gossip, guilt, greed or the like derail you. Joy is the secret sauce that keeps you going and gives you hope.

6) Speak your vision for your life and live it. Instead of wishing it were better or different or easier, embrace what it is and get busy creating a better, different, easier life for you and your loved ones.

7)  Have fun and go for gold; but don’t “get yours” and leave others to fend for themselves. When you open your heart enough to care about and make sacrifices for the benefit of all humanity, you’ll enrich your own world more than you could imagine.

8) Decide to get uncomfortable enough to try something new. You never know what opportunities, blessings and growth are just waiting for you to show up.

9) Take time to be kind or to simply be available. You are the gift someone needs today.

Why What You See Matters

Today, it’s all about perspective.
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Will you see everything you’re experiencing as a glass half-full or glass half-empty encounter?
Will you be saddened that beautiful roses have some undesirable thorns, or grateful that thorns can’t keep roses from blooming?
Choose the attitude that gives your heart hope and helps you persist. Remember your “why” and be dogged in claiming it. For while your circumstances may not shift, your mind and spirit can – all for the better. Choose to enjoy the journey.

Her Story: Choosing a Life Worth Living

By Guest Blogger Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White

They looked at me like their cat had just talked to them. The kidney surgeon and his nurse had just delivered what they thought would be devastating news – that my case did not merit a life saving transplant – and I had responded with words of hope.

What they did not know is that I had prepared for that outcome and was already strategizing how my future would proceed without a new kidney. This looked less like a barrier to me and more like an opportunity. In many ways, I was relieved. The transplant process has its own challenges that are seldom mentioned in the literature. My healing would proceed without this ordeal.

However my perspective was clearly not the reaction they anticipated.

Having suffered for years with failing, and finally failed kidneys, prepared me for the potential outcome that a transplant might be my only hope for survival. During those challenging years, additional health complications became a factor. In the fall of 2015, my heart and kidneys gave up at the same time, and my survival was extremely iffy for about a month, when I struggled for life in a local hospital intensive care unit.

While coming out of the haze of medications and dealing with other affects of organ failure, the medical staff told me to prepare for the worst. They said my life, if I made it, would never be the same again. They assured me my old life was dead, and that I might have diminished abilities for the remainder of my life.

As difficult as it was to hear, maybe them telling me how awful my life could be actually made me more determined to recover and create a life worth living. Six major surgeries and a year of daily dialysis later, it is.

I had stuff to do, and I was not going to let these new disabilities derail me for long. For two years, I’d been working on my first book and it was at a crucial stage in the publication process. My pets and my husband needed me.

In fairness to all of those medical experts, I had a secret weapon: My ability to believe in myself. This has always proven successful. My life has had serious setbacks, but since early childhood I have been able to count on the soothing comfort of imagining the positive potential outcome of every situation. What saved my life, and has sustained me to this day, is being able to see the positive side of things.

It is not always easy to have faith when faced with doom; but my determination to heal has enabled me to persevere and succeed. Whether I have six years, six months or six minutes of life left, it is my job to live every day to its fullest and jettison whatever is not inspiring joy. You can do the same.

Alyson LinA.Taylor-Whitedsey Taylor-White is a University of Richmond certified adjunct instructor with a background in journalism and museum education. She has researched and written about Richmond and Virginia history and politics for more than 20 years, and is passionate about sharing these stories with others. She creates and gives public and private tours of Virginia historic sites. Her first book, Shockoe Hill Cemetery  – a Richmond Landmark History, will be published this year.

 

5+ Ways to See Your Dreams Realized

Welcome to Wednesday. Whatever positive things you long to experience or achieve today…
* See them as real in your mind’s eye: Visualize your new reality – in full color, with specific details.
* Speak those desires into existence: Words and prayers hold power.
* Move deliberately: Resist all doubt.
* Trust the process: Success cannot be birthed without struggle.
* Give thanks in advance: Put your faith into action.
And then…be ready for the blessings that materialize.

creativecommonsuse