My Second Birthday

Holiday treats don’t stop for me on January 1st.  No, I have one more day to celebrate, one more indulgence. For the past ten years on January 3rd, I go to the store and buy a rich chocolate cake and a pint of vanilla ice cream. After dinner I share this decadence with my family. When we say our “happys” before dinner, I can honestly announce, “I’m happy to be alive.”

Prior to ten years ago, January 3rd was a day in which I allowed myself to become depressed, morose and reclusive.  I wrapped myself in my victimhood, holding that cloak tightly around me, like it was my right. I spent the day thinking about everything I had lost.  I lost my self-identity, I lost myriad opportunities, I lost confidence.  If I thought about what I had gained it was mostly the negative: a big, clunky plastic leg, stares from strangers, a healthy dose of self-doubt as an attractive woman. I was very private about this and even a little ashamed, but I couldn’t help it. January 3rd is the anniversary of the accident in which I lost my leg.

About eleven years ago I started seeing a therapist.  Yep, it’s a classic story in which the victim gets to discover how she brings that role on herself.  When the anniversary of my accident came rolling around, my therapist asked me, in an excited tone, what I was doing to celebrate.  What? I thought  Is she crazy?

As is so often true in my life, when someone allows me to view life through their own lenses, a new world opens up.  This is when I decided that the way I could celebrate January 3rd was with chocolate cake.  After I bought my first one, I felt guilty, like I was betraying the young girl I lost that day on the freeway.  My despondency on January 3rd was my way of honoring the death of who I was as a two-legged person, much the way I honor my father on the anniversary of his death.  I felt like in celebrating my anniversary I was celebrating the death of that young two-legged girl that I used to be.

Chocolate cake works its own magic.  That first year, even though I had conditioned myself to feel sad, a smile came on my face as I slowly ate my first mouthful of cake and ice cream.  Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I can allow myself to be happy that I’m alive instead of sad that I lost my leg.  Maybe the simple pleasure of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream is enough right now.  Instead of feeling sad and despondent, I did allowed myself to be happy.  It felt forced at first and I wasn’t sure I even believed it, but as I finished my cake I was happier.

Over the years, I’ve learned to honor this day in a new way.  Instead of thinking about what I’ve lost, I think about what I have gained:  lessons too numerous to count, experiences that have made me feel alive, and best of all, no, bigger than best,  I have been blessed with a loving husband and two amazing kids.  Now that deserves a celebration.

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2 Responses to My Second Birthday

  1. Brooke says:

    What a great post, Colleen. It never even occurred to me until I read this that of course there’s an anniversary date! Thanks for sharing your BIG reframing.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I tried for several split seconds to figure out why it would be your second birthday. Further reading provided my answer. Thanks for sharing this. It is a great story – especially in the context of some of your other posts. What a great reminder to focus not on what we’ve lost, but on what we’ve gained.

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