Acceptance and Attachment

Acceptance and Attachment

August marks the New Year in our home. Not only does it correspond with the beginning of the new school year and the preparation of returning to the classroom with a new group of students, it is the month of our wedding anniversary (this year marks our fifth). And, perhaps most significantly, August marks exactly two years since my husband, TC, was left with a severe left-sided brain injury following a brutal assault.

For the past two years, August 18 has existed in my head as the day our new life started — the day denoting the shift from the previous path we were on to our current path. But, truthfully, I’ve always resented the power connected to this day. August 18 isn’t the day TC and I intentionally sat down and decided to change the course of our existence. It’s just a random day, the day three young men decided to rob and attack someone. We didn’t choose this milestone, this restart date, yet it’s attached to such meaning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about attachment over the past seven days. It was just a week ago that I arrived to the small island of Santorini, one of Aegean Islands off the coast of Greece. I’m here for three weeks, earning my yoga instructor certification with an incredible group of 23 women from all over the planet. There was something intuitive about the timing of this training, so perfectly aligned with the end of the school year and following a period of great stress. After two years of caregiving and the loss of my father, I needed a serious restart of my own. Instead of letting August 18 serve as the divide between the past and the future, I would choose my new beginning. And I chose to begin in Santorini.

In yoga, there is much discussion about our attachment to things, not just material items, but rather our attachment to ideas and beliefs. Before TC was injured, I was very much attached to the idea of having a second child, of moving outside of the city, and being a stay-at-home mom. When life unfolded in such a dramatically different way, it took a long time to unattach myself to that vision and to begin envisioning a new future. As time went on, this process became easier and I even began to feel excited about possibilities and opportunities that I never would have pursued before. But within me, there has still been a very deep presence, an attachment to something I haven’t been quite ready to let go of. It’s my attachment to the old TC — the one I married, the one I met at 22-years-old, the TC that played guitar and loved soccer and would read the entire newspaper in one sitting.

Just as grief is a natural response to death, attachment, too, seems to be an expected reaction in a situation such as brain injury. In fact, this attachment to my husband as he used to be has served our family quite well in some ways. Immediately following TC’s injury, I went right to work trying to restore him to his old self, reminding him of his habits, his likes and dislikes, his former perspectives on life and the world. This mission gave me purpose and I’d like to think it contributed, at least a small way, to the extraordinary recovery he has made.

However, it’s also been detrimental. My refusal to let go of my mind’s image of the former TC has been stifling in our relationship. During tough moments, he has turned to me and said, “You just want me to be exactly like I was before. Everyone just wants the old TC.” He’s right. I have wanted that. Even though I have reflected endlessly, stretched myself mentally, and claimed “acceptance of the situation” on several occasions, I did want the old TC back. And part of me probably still does. But it’s time to let go. I see now that I can’t fully embrace this new, inspiring version of my husband until I am ready to make peace with the parts of him that are gone.

As caregivers we try so hard to assist in our loved one’s recoveries. It’s hard to acknowledge sometimes that our best intentions can be overridden by our inner grief. Holding on to and preserving this image of my former husband hasn’t allowed TC to fully and confidently step into his new identity. But if I can learn to look back with joy and appreciation and not with longing, I feel certain that what we will create from this point forward will be magical in its own right. Survivors of brain injury deserve our support for an infinite number of reasons, but one way we can more meaningfully show our care is by accepting people fully in their present identities, just the way they are. TC continues to have goals for his therapy, just as I clearly have my own personal goals. Through yoga, and the reflective process it requires, I am learning to recognize the power of attachment and the liberation that comes only through abandoning the attachments that no longer serve us. Grief is a multilayered, complicated process, but there is such beauty in the exhalation of letting go.

Comments (15)

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This is bedrock truth...this approach will indeed set you free to then embrace all that life has to offer your family...Blessings always.x M
It takes the survivor a long time to know and accept their new self too. Brain injury is a new path. Great article. Thank you.
Just realized that your husband's and my husband's injury date are only 1 day apart. He had his accident on 19th Aug 2012. Unfortunately his injury is more severe. He can't sit nor stand up yet. For me it's hard to detach myself from the husband i know n married for 10 years. Some days is good (when he is in n can engage in a conversation) some days are just bad (when he is not himself at all n keep repeating the same request continuously), ....i can't stop crying sometimes....even now as i am writing this comment.
Our date is also August 18 so my heart skipped a beat as I began to read. There is so much insight and truth in what you wrote. The last line is particularly encouraging. Thank you.
Very well written, Abby! You are a fine example for friends and family of people who have suffered brain injury.
Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I suffered a TBI in June of 2013 and still miss the old me. This is a difficult journey for all. My brother has taken care of me through it all and I love him for it. I will keep you and your husband in my prayers and thoughts.
Thank you for sharing and for your honesty, well written. I as well suffered a left side TBI two months ago. I am frustrated that I keep hearing...."You have to learn to accept this as the new normal." You article offers an honest perception from the caregivers view and gives me a deeper appreciation for my husband, aka "Ultimate Care Giver!" God Bless you and your family.
Found your posting on Facebook and greatly appreciate all you and your family have gone through and will continue to go through. Our daughter is 22 and when she was 3 yrs. old was diagnosed with leukemia and the treatments left her with an acquired brain injury. I'm her primary caregiver too, and reading what your feelings/experiences have been has certainly opened my eyes and realize my inner struggles are always there, still. I remember telling a specialist when she was 5, that I have to "accept that the child I had is no longer there"; that was the truth, but I still don't feel I've "accepted" what I told him that day.Good luck to you and your husband, and my wishes for you to continue to find new peace and strength each and every day! Thank you
Interactive Metronome is great for TBI.
Most beautiful and completely true. Thank you for reminding all of us. While I've never suffered the horrific life lessons you and TC have, believe me my life turned out nothing like my naive hopes and dreams imagined it would. It's up to all of us to make the best out of what's definitely not a dress rehearsal.
Sometimes I look at my husband and think "where are you?" "where did you go?" I can relate to wanting this passionate-about-everything man back. Yes, letting go of the attachment to who he was has been a challenging process but I am grateful for where we are today and for who he is today.
So True, Thank you! this applies to parents with adult children as well. My son suffered the same trauma as your husband and now 2 years later, he has a girlfriend who is amazing, they have been together 1 year, I asked him "why are you so open with her when I was the one by your side for 18 months"? and he replied, because she met me after my injury, you are the constant reminder of who I was and sometimes you react to the difference even when you don't mean to. She loves me just the way I am and that is so much easier to open up to, I am still trying to love me, just the way I am.
My date is May 20, 2012. Hit by a distracted driver. I still long for the person I was... My husband has stood by me cared for me, but is in denial that anything is different. Frustrating on both fronts. I feel for anyone who has to go through this.
I suffered a severe TBI one morning on my way to work. I was exiting the house placed my left hand on the wooden rail and raised my right leg, that is all I remember. I am aware that I hit each and every brick which were about 5 and concrete, I didn't knock over the wooden rail which is old or land in the grass which seems near impossible. My husband heard 3 of the worst sounds he called thumps which he heard plainly ran down the inside steps and found my body in a very weird position and unconscious. He shook my face trying to wake me, at no avail, but while he was on the phone with 911 the only other thing after raising and placing my limbs at the top of the steps was me saying DO NOT CALL 911! Coming from a medical background I just knew that was not a place I wanted to go. The EMT's asked for him to run in and grab my insurance card but as they placed me on the stretcher blood was running out of both ears, and I was screaming in pain. What happened was due to the way I fell, I broke c--1,c-2, and t-through 5,6, and 7, in my neck along with my right collarbone in 2 spots, the other was all brain I cracked my skull on the right side about an inch wide "river" which they left alone to give my brain room to swell from my right temple to my jaw, which in turn made my left temporal area by the speech and logic begin to hemorrhage, along with the occipital area on the left. these were approx 3-4 in diameter and are now dead parts that occupy my left hemisphere, so I don't have alot of left brain alive. The rest of the story is I had wonderful docs who were not knife happy, and after 10 months I still receive speech therapy because my pathways can't remember short memory or what I was doing a min. ago. My caregiver (husband) still sees the old me as I feel what's wrong with me each day. My children are 19 a daughter(away to college) and my son is unable to face me because during my hospital stay I did or said something inappropriate, such as really not what I thought was inappropriate but asked him by the time I were to come home he would help me if I needed a ride to an appt. or just to go see a movie to reconnect. Well apparently seeing me so near death at least for the first 3 days he says it was too much and won't even go see a counselor. so with every change I face daily, acceptance, I really have to rely on others to help me, I'm lonely during the day, very sensitive such as crying about everything and there is another thing people expect me to be the "old me" and yes I look, most of the time can speak like the old me but no memories accept the one that took place from age 27 and as young as a small child. I am now 42 and everyday I'm scared that this is my life until the end, and I am SCARED!!

I started practicing yoga about ten years after suffering a severe TBI when was hit by a semi-truck, and three years after that I got my teacher certification.

I started with the sole intention of improving my balance, after about two years I realized that I hadn't lost my temper for a long time. Now I believe the biggest benefit out of the many, is the mental discipline.