For those who haven’t the background on my personal situation, a few months ago I was injured at work and fractured my C5 vertebra and suffered a serious concussion. I lost effective sight in my right eye, balance and memory issues and host of other fun side effects. I am just about finished my rehab to go back to work. This was a bit of a culture shock for both me and those who were working with or for the program.
I have nothing but good things to say about the work of the HIATS (Head Injury Assessment and Treatment) program run by Worksafe BC. They really are the best at what they do, but they come from a limited and limiting culture in one respect. They have the best program I have ever seen for getting a handle on the thousand little pieces you need to learn, train, and test, to improve your overall recovery and capability. You have no memory of learning how to think or understand your environment, of how to understand your body position, so having to relearn it is a process that is not instinctive, is not even entirely logical without a lot of background people outside the discipline do not have. The HIATS program is very good at taking a huge impossible task and breaking it into a thousand knowable, achievable bits, and teaching you about how they fit together.
Then they go and suck at the one thing they should have been best at. Goals and motivation. Coming to the program as damaged as we all are, I was riding denial like the last living horse ahead of a grass fire, because the reality was I could see no way to improve a general level of incapacity that left both body and mind inoperative in any functional sense. They took the task from impossible and unknowable, and made it both possible and knowable, in tiny bit sized chunks you could actually commit to believing you could do.
We come to the big education on goal setting, and the make their first real screw up. They teach failure. They teach literally how to set about failing to reach your goals and being OK with it. Gods above, they literally taught us how to win all the battles and then go ahead and try to lose the war anyway.
The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,
The deaf in battle is bold;
The blind man is better | than one that is burned,
No good can come of a corpse.
-Hávamál v71, Bellows translation
The gods do not prepare us to go gently into that good night, they teach us that we must rise to face our challenge without flinching. They teach us that our struggle is not over, our chance to win victories, build worth, earn glory, to contribute to our community and family does not end while we still breathe.
We are taught that wyrd weaves as it will, before it even the gods must bow. There is no judgement implicit in being defeated by a force you could not face, nor in being broken by something stronger than your flesh or mind could withstand. You are judged by your choices, by that which was within your power. Your victories or defeats are measured not by the outcomes you desired, but by how effectively you wielded those skills and abilities you possess, how you chose to best meet your obligations and duties as you understood them. Even the gods don’t simply get to decide to win. Winning or losing a given battle, be it personal or military depends on a whole lot of factors beyond your power to control. Wyrd weaves as it will, but your choices are your own. Take responsibility for what you can change, and do not break yourself pretending you have the power to do what the gods themselves cannot.
The HIATS people when setting goals seemed to take a look at the goals that people set and say simply, you can’t do that, you have to accept failure. They teach this so effectively that when the room full of people is asked if they have achieved their goals for the week, all in the room save me stated they had not. Everyone in the room, and the instructor accepted that failure was the constant truth they needed to accept. The goal they strove to reach was the far distant horizon, was ever beyond reach, and every bit of progress they made towards it was to be measured and deemed a failure. If the end goal is the first thing you will every accept as a win, you will live in failure, and even if you stand in Stockholm to accept a Nobel Prize, you will judge your life to be one of almost perfect failure because by the time you stand to accept your Nobel Prize, you will have learned ever single day of your life until now that you have been nothing but a failure and you would not know victory if it stalked you down an alley and shoved a crown on your head.
This is poison, these are lies, this is civilian foolishness. The army, bless its cold iron heart, understands goals a whole lot better. The army, bless its unforgiving somewhat self destructive soul, understands how to make battle feed battle, how to make struggle fuel struggle, how to make victories spawn victories. Hear some truths, they are not complex, but they are profound.
“Step by step walk the thousand mile road”- Miyamoto Musashi The Book of Five Rings
“You can always take one more step soldier, just give me one more. That’s it, now give me one more”
-every damned NCO who ever trained me as a private, and me when I did the same for my juniors
I come not from a culture of failure, but a culture of pain. Pain is a drug, it’s a measuring stick, it’s a record of achievement. Pain is the hangover of victory, the dregs of the cup of achievement. Pain is a power source, if you mix it with pride. Pain is supplied by life and your struggle, but pride, pride you have to manufacture. Pride is forged in the fires of your struggle out of victories.
The army knows victories, it lives on victories. Examine the history of the wars that shape our world today and you will see the history of Western Armies surviving disastrous defeats and long humiliating retreats before returning and retaking not only the ground originally lost but moving on to final victory.
Those who survive understand they hold their first victory there. Each step of ground, each small change we fight for is a victory. When you are smashed to your face, unable even to move, the battle to crawl is your first. To crawl fills you now with power, for the pain of struggling to do that merges with the pride of having done that much and drives you to seek to raise your head. Pain and the joy of raising your head fills you with pride of a second victory and you wait until your shaking limbs have enough that you can drag yourself to sit. At this point you are almost high on the combination of pride and pain, drunk on victory to the point that no amount of damage you have received will be enough to argue that you are staying down. You may not know how you will rise again, but it is a given that you will. The truth of the armies method of instruction, is the truth my own mad one eyed god whispers in our ear, once you accept you are not afraid of the price, you can be killed, but you cannot be stopped.
Choose to live in victory. Pay the cost in pain, in sweat, and in tears, so that you may know the laughter, the joy, the achievement that can be yours.
Take the rhetoric of both sides out of the equation and look at one of those impossible goals that one of my fellows in rehab had dismissed. She wanted to lower her blood pressure ten points. She was told this was not an achievable goal. Horseshit.
That is an end goal. Break it down. What are the components contributing to her current blood pressure? Well there are the symptoms of her concussion, which she is in physio to work on, so that is already a work in progress. There is her current cardio level, well she can set a goal to increase her cardio by 10% duration and intensity a week until she has hit all the targets for her age range. That she can do. There are the dietary considerations, she can look at those elements of her diet that contribute to higher blood pressure and make the changes in her diet to reduce those. That is measurable and achievable. She can include the meditation practice as part of her life outside rehab and take active part in reducing her stress levels by guiding herself to let go those things she does not need to be worrying about from moment to moment. She can work with her doctor to see if there are any other underlying conditions contributing to her current blood pressure that she has not addressed already.
Each piece of the “big picture” is much smaller, much easier to define, has easily measured and defined sub goals that can be undertaken to make real definable progress in the larger quest to drop her blood pressure ten points. In all honesty, by the time she has won victories in the dozen smaller parts, her BP may well be below the target and her overall health increased to the point her entire system is more stress resistant and less threatened by either BP or other medical conditions. More to the point, she will know, not think, know, that she has won a hundred victories to get here, and her next goal may be won with another hundred, or twenty, or two hundred other similar victories. She will have had to let go of individual goals that were beyond her power to achieve but been able to find alternate goals she could reach that would work around the point failure sources to put her end goal back within reach.
Tyr lost his hand, and Odin his eye, Thor stands with a fragment of millstone lodged in his skull yet these highest of our gods have never used their power or magics to remove the scars of their loss from their continence. They do not see scars or wounds as losses, but marks of victories. There is no shame in scars, no shame in the empty socket, or sleeve. No need to hide cane, crutch or wheelchair. That you have paid the price to survive marks you as a victor, for you rose again to take up the struggle. Our gods expect you to be marked by this life, some bear their scars openly, but not all wounds show on the skin. Some wounds are hidden in the mind, or written in the body in ways that show in functional loss, not outward deformity. All these are simply the weavings of wyrd, the hand you are dealt. You are not judged by the hand you are dealt, but how you play the cards you have. What choices you make are how the gods, the ancestors, and you if you are wise, will judge yourself.
Success or failure of your struggle is personally important, because the material world gives cool prizes like better jobs, promotions, name recognition, respect, or just a cool cash flow improvement, but that part depends on a whole lot more than your personal efforts. It is even harder to accept when the person you are fighting for is a loved one and not yourself, but the facts remain, you are responsible only for those things within your power. Learn to define your victories inside the realm of the possible and you will learn to put your energy into more of the winnable fights, and generally know better success.
I had a granny, technically a great grand aunt, who had five strokes before she died. I saw her in the aftermath of the third one. She didn’t recognize me, but she knew I recognized and loved her. She gripped my hand and squeezed it. In her eyes was a twinkle, and the half of her face that worked she smiled a soft smile. You see, she understood. She had lost this before and won back most of it. She was not dead, she was not done, and she would not stop fighting until she had it back again. She greeted me by name and offered me a mint as I smuggled her Harvey’s Bristol Crème sherry into her during the last year of her life, able to pour for both of us with only slightly unstable hands. She understood how to walk the thousand mile road step by step, how to stop and appreciate each step as a victory, and smile as she took the next. She died smiling, having known only joy and victory in a life others would have defined as hard, but she did not.
People look at the way I view my life as a series of struggles and battles as cold and inhuman, but I learned it from granny. She knew each breath, each step, each word was a hard won victory, and she lived a life of almost constant joy because of it. Pain is a coin like any other, if you can spend it to buy victory and joy, why wouldn’t you?