In our daily existence, no matter how concise the external picture may appear, there exists a conglomeration of unseen wounds; remnants of past sorrows and destitute belief systems. They are in all of us, and always will be.
For many of us, we choose to deal with them by avoidance, evasion, or bruising combat.
It is a losing battle, and a haunting one. To confront it requires vulnerability and naked self-examination; processes that are simply too much for many to contemplate.
I used to exist like this; my days seemingly collected, productive and occasionally happy, while interspersed with intense loneliness and inner turmoil. Over the past several years, as I began to examine the research in the field of post-traumatic growth and sought to put in place practices that would cultivate forgotten virtues—fortitude, introspection, temperance—I found that I started to navigate the monstrous presence lurking under the surface with a sense of purpose.
A certain order started to arise out of the chaos of my experience, and my life began to change—incrementally, consistently, dramatically.
This monster was the hidden terror. It is an unforgiving, pernicious force, and is at its most potent when beset by adversity.
In my training in Utah—where I’m currently undergoing the most taxing physical challenges I’ve ever faced, I am confronted with this constantly.
One recent example is particularly poignant: I was performing a brutal complex, in which one completes a certain number of repetitions of an exercise, followed by another and then another, in a repeated circuit. This is an emptying construction, as the commitment needed to complete the task always feels out of reach, as if standing on a crevice of melting ice, despairing of your fate.
This complex involved a series of box jumps combined with several other exhausting exercises. The box jump is an especially difficult exercise for me to complete. Jumping onto increasingly taller boxes over and over again requires a great deal of balance, coordination and determination, only the latter of which I possess in abundance.
My cerebral palsy—which affects my right side—trembles at the thought of doing dozens of reps. Add to this the fact that I live with a partially reconstructed right knee, and the circumstances aren’t exactly ideal.
I do not want to jump. My left leg is willing, but my right beseeches me to cease and desist. I feel as if I have no ability whatsoever.
As if gravity itself is my executioner, lurking in the shadows of the trauma within.
I make numerous attempts. I fail, repeatedly.
The voices bounded inside of me give rise to trembling.
I literally believe that there is no escape.
Though I belatedly realize that I must escape nothing. I cannot escape the fear, for it will never vanquish entirely.
I must face the trembling, stand in it, welcome it.
This does not mean I approve of the pain, or pretend it’s good for me. This position is oft repeated in self-help circles but carries little practical utility or empirical substantiation. It is cliché, a well-meaning but ultimately harmful truism.
No. I do not approve of it. I do not tell myself it’s a blessing. I do not bask in its “opportunity.”
I merely accept it, enter into it, and guide it along with me.
Like a mother caressing her beautiful, petulant child in a time of need, the child does not know any better. Nor does the hidden terror.
After numerous failed attempts, my lead trainer implores me to do only this: commit. Do not hesitate. Focus my entire being on the task at hand.
And explode. Connect the psychological trauma with the physical injury, and propel forward.
I gather my body—all of it—with intention. I felt the wound rise within me, though in my breathe, my stature, a tangible grit is born.
I jump, and land perfectly. The fibers of my frame rejoice. Confidence emerges.
I then do it again. And again. The box height is increased, and I clear it repeatedly.
Between sets, I experience an odd paradox. I am at once overjoyed with a sense of gracious pride, while fighting vivid, potent tears.
The trauma had been threatened, exposing a deep wound. The angels of resilience had spoken, and transformation had been engendered.
This complex, done in tandem with deadlifts or squats or bear crawls continually, with very little rest, was terribly challenging. My body was pleading for relief, but a barrier had been cracked; my heart just a tad more vulnerable, more tenacious.
This was but one example, of one occurrence, in one circumstance. Taken on its own, it may seem trivial. But this terror does not exist in a vacuum. It is with us daily, concealed just beneath the surface.
It is a continuum of futility.
Some would say that an unbelievably amazing life awaits you if you just learn to conquer it; engage in some adjustments and life will become more incredible than you ever could imagine.
I would never say that, for that would rob you of the integrity, trust, and respect I must show for the battles you are experiencing right now. I do not have any idea what they are, or what they are doing to your soul.
Transforming adversity is a lifelong process. I do have a wonderful, fulfilling life now, in stark contrast to a few years ago when I was aimless, confounded, and endlessly ill. But this alteration did not happen quickly, and although I am more confident than I have ever been, I will not fool myself into believing I’ve beaten anything.
That is hubris, and a lie.
I face pain daily. All of my skills, insights, and accomplishments exist in harmony with my regrets, lusts, and fears.
This is the way of life. It is beautiful, and it is fragile.
I am a testament to the power of consistent, focused action. But I am also broken.
I accept this. I honor it. And I try, day by day, to honor the trembling found within each and every one of you as well.
Your battles may be pervasive, but they are not insurmountable. I offer no instant solution, as no such solution exists. Instead I offer that the art of navigating adversity is a practice, a training ground, and an act of profound bravery.
This is so because it forces us to face our minds and hearts, and what often connects the two is memory. Memory is not always so kind to us.
In confronting the hidden terror, we unleash the beast of memory, as Dani Shapiro has so beautifully said.
Thus we are perpetually presented with a fork in the road. Much of the time, we will choose the path of least resistance, supposed safety. But on occasion, we will embrace the beckoning within us, and meet our pain in grace. And a new love, pursuit, or beauty will arise, thereby changing us, and changing those around us.
Remember: you always have a choice. It will often seem most unfavorable. When it does, it just might be pointing you toward your freedom.
The hidden terror is awful and unforgiving. Yet it is also revealing; it unveils our humanity. There is little else so revelatory. So when faced with that fork, don’t ask yourself what’s most expedient. Ask yourself what’s most honorable. And act accordingly.
Then do it again. And again.