Saturday, December 31, 2011

It pays to have change

My mind seems full with material to write about. When loved ones and friends share that life is challenging them (as it should), I seem to encourage people to write about it. There is something about writing, and the release it brings, that allows the mind and spirit to ease the perceived stress of the challenge.

While home over the holidays I faced challenges that ordinarily may have been viewed (by me) as "bad." However, this year, this Christmas season, I finally grasped how the challenges were inherently "good." I came to the realization during the Thanksgiving season spent at home that,

those whom we love most challenge us in a similar light.

I appreciate that about those close to me. They do not necessarily intend to challenge me, but they do. Generally speaking, in my family, we easily allow our thoughts and feelings to flow free. If I share something that doesn't sit proper with a family member, chances are good that they will voice their view, their opinion. This usually leads to some sort of debate - however short or long - with the end result being an acknowledgement of differences and no real consensus. I admire that my family has strong opinions about how they think and feel. I think that is a good trait to have.

In a similar manner, what would of been different had we, as loving people interested in understanding and accepting each other at where we are in life, sought to not defend our views, but observe them instead of reacting?

It is not common practice in my family to observe necessarily, we are assertive pursuits and this makes for strong thoughts and feelings, often shared aloud. My wish is to not condemn this because I feel it is an interesting portrait of not only my family, but as Americans at-large. We portray to be such strong and opinionated people, and in that we discard the idea of change; especially internally - the easiest and hardest place to start.


It pays to have change. This was apparent when, on my drive back to North Carolina, I pulled up to a toll both somewhere in West Virginia with the right amount of change. To my puzzlement, a large overload of cars were lined up in the Full Service line. My guess is because they didn't have the exact change, or even bills smaller than a 5 to pay the 40 cent toll. After pulling through the toll booth without wait or issue, I smiled and exclaimed out loud: "It pays to have change....and it changes to have pay." What an interesting and dichotomous thought!

In order to make sense of this seemingly shifting blog post, I'll share this: we generally seek with fervor a change in our external lives - money, job, house, material possessions, etc. We do not, generally speaking, seek internal change or reflection and when the "toll both" comes, we are scrambling to deal with the new challenge - reacting with potentially flawed adages and prior experiences instead of openness and humor for the unseen. Much like my family, if change was met with acceptance and not such predictably reactive comments, would we shift to understand and accept the various viewpoints of other loved ones; even if we didn't agree? Effectively transitioning through the challenge to a space of internal tranquility for the viewpoint that differs from our thoughts, experiences, and opinions.

The portrait of our past has been painted in America, and much like us as humans it is flawed; but, there is always a new canvas in which we can forge our expressions - no matter their flaws or inconsistencies; no matter our age or stage in life!

Put it ahead of you.  We can change. Though, we need be open to it before we can. 

Start with your family, your friends, or even your perceived enemies. If you can accomplish, regardless of the stumbling and greater desire to remain "right" in your own mind, the ability to transcend yourself to accept others, you will have explored an inner change in your life, and that pays! It pays beyond the material world in which we've created.

Seek life and growth, start small, and keep spiraling!
In love and growth,


Saturday, December 10, 2011

It takes a mistake to change... (Part 2)

Writing about this, finally exposing the mental havoc I subjected myself to after my motorcycle accident, is what brings release. In this, I seek to help others talk about their challenges, regardless of the seriousness, and to commit to a path of change and growth in life - not settling for excuses as to 'why not'.

(continued from Part 1)

I had survived the physical altercation with the pavement and my body was going to heal fine. The mental battle, though, would be a long and seemingly infinite process - still in the later stages today - nearly 5 and a half years later. 

I recall bits and pieces of the month or so directly after my accident, where the downs were as low as they had ever been in my young life. I quickly deteriorated into a depressed and gloomy young man. My relationship with a girlfriend at the time, Ashley, had been on and off again at this point previous to the accident, and the terminal news that would break the camel's back arrived in a hand-written letter: we were done; over; finished. Given my current state of emotional delicateness, I was easily and silently crushed. 

I can recall sitting at the kitchen table reading the letter while my mother worked nearby. I had no words to express my hurt. My family loved me, but in this time and space, I was suffering and didn't know how to express my mental darkness and declining light.

Since it seemed that my fractured clavicle limited everything I did, I came to rely on my mother or father to help me shower and dress. Never before had I experienced such debilitation and reliance on others as a result of a broken bone. I could not exercise in any way that was meaningful to me besides walking - which in the early days - given my soreness, swelling, and road rash - was nearly impossible without pain and discomfort. I let this loss of physical expression consume me. I retreated even further into my light-less and selfish shell. I can recall going for drives in the little blue 1990 Honda hatchback 4-speed I drove. Relying solely on my left hand to reach across my body to shift and steer as I listened to music that soothed and stroked my dark mood. It was in the music, however, that sympathy and release transpired despite the hole I found myself in.  This was my outlet: driving on back county roads near home stumbling through a depressive disorder that had intentions of ending me. 

It was in this space that I became companions with misery. I surely was acting differently around my family but perhaps they did not notice. I do recall my sister Erica calling me one day while I was out driving alone. I was having a flared and very depressive afternoon in gloomy, western Pennsylvania. Thoughts of suicide were within my head and psyche, though not a method or plan to follow through with. It was 1 of a handful of times that I can recall being on the verge of wanting it to all be over, though Erica's call, in this instance is something that helped shine light in the seemingly vast darkness.

The conversation was nothing short of my sister being concerned about me. Perhaps, though, she could read from the distance of her home in Illinois that I was not myself. This care from afar gave me a nugget of advantage over my dark, depressed self. I now had something worth living for. (Granted I realize now how narrow and limited my scope was, but at the age of 21 I could not see my need to reconsider the unknown of life; to expand outside my selfish self). After that phone call, it was decided: 

I could not kill myself, no matter the psychological pain; I loved my family too much to put them through that.
This point onward is where I started to shift; but, perhaps I was not quite shifting, but recreating a new life and/or personality into which I could live-on through. In this I sought to push through the spots of darkness that still frequently visited me - without prior warning. I would wake up on any given day, and something unknown could trip me off into having a depressive, bi-polar day; even if my morning or afternoon had been happy and cheery initially. At this point I probably should have sought counseling, or even attempted to tell my family that I was struggling. I did not; I could not.  

In choosing to fight the mental battle alone, I set in motion a commitment to change unbeknownst to me at that time, to overcome the mental angst that had engulfed and shaded my life away from light and fullness in life. 

I easily recall the mental battles where I was balancing the greater will to live with the lesser will to perish. I can recall txting my friend Ryan Halliwell with tears forming in my eyes, telling him I was struggling, and that I thought about killing myself. It had come to a head multiple times, but I still did not seek help or counseling because I had the desire to live; the desire to push on and not end the struggle.


This is where I reconsider the past through the present lens. I struggled, and still do occasionally; though, now I understand where I have come from and why life will present moments of difficulty. I do not wish to revisit the dark spots, and in many ways I couldn't if I tried. I have never been so low as I was that month or so back in 2006. 

I think about my mother who fought through not one, but 2 major surgeries to remove tumors: one back and spinal tumor, one brain tumor. If she could fight through and not lose the will for life, then certainly I could too. I am my mother's son, and I possess the will for life to its fullest expression!

I still am making sense of my life from 5 and half years ago, though I am in no rush. Much has been revealed to me in spaces where I am patient to receive. I do not wish that I had sought counseling, though I do wish I would have been more caring and responsible and less selfish with the relationships I found myself in...and out of. I feel much of my searching for the next thing (whether that was relationships, or self-development) is a result of my accident and the psychological shift that followed. The intermix of being young and in need of development with a traumatic event has brought me to this time and space - full of mistakes - with scars to show and share. Lessons have been learned and oft I must revisit why I needed to learn. The hard way was not the smart way. I admit now that it was the path I choose by default when I decided to take risks in life. 

I hope, in all the passiveness that that word encompasses, that you find the relation between my life and struggles with the point(s) in your life that have challenged you. We will continually be tested to see if we are worthy of staying on this Earthly plane. Seek to grow outside yourself as I do now. While we have many issues within ourselves, we also have a lot of commonality to share about those struggles that can and will help us to address the larger, worldly issues. 

We, and our struggles, are but a small fracticle among the larger challenging pieces circulating the conscious minds of humans. Seek the battle within to become who you intend to be, so that you may share your light with the world! We all need more people like this.  

Love in life and thankfulness in mistakes to guide us,

"Spiral out, keep going!"

It takes a mistake to change... (Part 1)

I've neglected for so long to actually write about the motorcycle accident that caused a change in my life. It was April 13, 2006 and friends and I were being young males on a spring day in western Pennsylvania. After leaving a park out in the country to head into town, one of my friends began roof-surfing on top of another friend's car as I was riding behind on my motorcycle, a 2003 Suzuki GSXR-750.

I don't recall the exact feeling, but a loss of intelligent control occurred and I found myself twisting the throttle of the motorcycle, cranking out as much sheer speed as I could, to pass my car-surfing friends on a back-road straightaway. As I topped 2nd gear (good for a little more than 100+ mph on that bike) I mistakenly realized that the curve ahead was quickly approaching. I had gained too much speed and not enough experience with handling acute stress and effective decision-making skills. I found myself target-fixating on the side of the road, the spot where I dreaded meeting my demise. Given that I could not look through the turn (which in hind-sight was not terribly sharp, less than a 60 degree angle and possible to ride through with that bike), I played exactly into the side of the road, first running the bike off the road and then suddenly back on in what I assume, from memory, was a last-effort jerk reaction to save myself.

What happened next was something terribly violent. I can only recall being off the road, back on and then the snow globe world I was living in was violently shaken to a color of blackness. My friends in the car behind me, with smiles no longer on their previously-joyous faces, watched in horror as what they describe to be one of the most terrible scenes in their lives to that point. In their recollection days after the accident, and still to this day, they recall seeing me tumble down the road like a rag doll as my bike slide and flipped beside me.
I was fortunate enough to be unconscious and have no memory associated with the 60-70 yards of sliding, skidding, and rag-dolling down the pavement.

My bike, on the other hand, came to rest violently against a telephone pole with enough force upon impact  to crack and bend the front wheel and frame. According to my friends, I kept on skidding past that pole, within a few feet or so, and projected off a 10-12 foot embankment down into a railroad bed.

I awoke an uncertain amount of minutes later to my friend Fred yelling my name.

"Alan, Jesus,....ALAN!"

They had certainly thought I was dead and seeing me awake as a groggy, confused, and concussed individual was the best thing they had seen in the last 5 minutes. I can recall being worried about my bike after I realized I had trashed it. Then came the blur of pain. My body and brain were in shock at this point. I do recall checking for my chapstick, which had gone missing from my jeans pocket, and for my cell phone to call my girlfriend at the time, Ashley, to tell her I loved her.

The impact of my landing off the embankment was the most damage physically that I received that day (though the psychological damage would later reel its ugly head in the weeks after). I do barely recall waking up very discombobulated; my body twisted in ways that I'm sure it had never been. My right side was the downside in this discombobulation, and therefore the first point of impact. This easily snapped my right clavicle bone (collar bone). I can recall a man stopping on the road above to see if my friends needed help; it was my good friend Joe Kretchman - a personal mentor and great family friend.

I wonder what it was like for him to see me there like that? I wonder if he was meant to be there on that day?

Because of my concussed brain and disoriented thinking process, I do not recall how long it took for the ambulance, State Police, or Medi-vac helicopter to arrive. My memory only preserved bits and pieces. I can recall in or near the ambulance, the medics trying to stick me with an IV and missing a few times before they hit what they sought in my right arm. I can recall them cutting my jeans from the bottom up to expose my bleeding, road-rashed and leaking fluid right knee (the jeans I have saved to this day, along with the helmet that most likely helped save my life).

I recall a glimpse of the short ride in the ambulance to a spot where the helicopter could land and load me in its belly. I have a memory of crying in the back of the helicopter, with the roof of the thrashing machine within a foot of my face. With my neck locked into a stabilization collar I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of trees and buildings as we neared Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. I needed brain scans because of impact brain trauma; the medics worried about swelling and bleeding in my brain that couldn't be assessed at the hospital in my hometown.

I was later released that night with no signs of brain damage or cranial bleeding to some of my awaiting family members. I had road rash on my back, elbows, shoulders, and especially knees - some of the scars and discoloration remaining today, and a memory that I never forget. I can recall the pain associated when the nurses cleaned the road rash wounds, and the point finally when a hospital staff member helped me out of the wheelchair and into the car with my dad. Much of the recovery process that evening I do not recall; perhaps due to the pain medication.


What I do recall to this day is the mistake that I made, and how it changed my life. While no visible brain damage was diagnosed, something about that traumatic event changed the direction my life was to head.

...Continued here: Part 2...