Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
The Campfire for the Heart project is a collection of true, international stories of human resilience. Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have a resilience story to share, or know someone who does, please contact Natalie Stockdale through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“If you get knocked down a thousand times, get up a thousand and one times.”
My life was at a crescendo. I had been married for two months to Deborah who I had lived with for eight years. We were very much in love. We had built up a business to the point she would give up work and we could start a family. I was a senior staff nurse and we had a health food company that was thriving. We were both very much into health and fitness and we were as perfect a couple as I could have ever imagined.
On the morning of the August 1, 2005 I came home and got into bed with Deborah after a night shift. Later that day, we drove to the post office, then to the beach to have lunch. I have no memory of what happened next.
A police officer driving to an emergency call, hit Deborah’s side of the car and killed her instantly. I was left unconscious for about a week and had no memory till about two weeks later. I awoke to be told what had happened and forgot. I had to be told again and again until I remembered.
The police were in the hospital, trying to talk to me. The story was all over the papers and I found myself and in the middle of a huge mess and completely unable to cope.
My body was broken. I had a brain injury which left me with memory problems, affecting my ‘executive functions’, such as logical thinking. My speech centres were also damaged, but over time recovered. My right clavicle was broken and all the ribs on the right side of my chest. My right radius and ulna were broken and had metal plates put in place to fix them.
I went to Deborah’s funeral from hospital by ambulance with an MRSA septicaemia. It took every bit of my will and strength just to stay upright. After three months, I was discharged from hospital to the home of a close friend, physically, mentally and emotionally destroyed.
So, I started making a plan, to find something to look forward to. Looking back was not pleasant. I needed a future.
I decided to go to Cuba and study Spanish. My language centre was still healing and it felt like a good way to stimulate it. I studied at the University of Havana, while my mother and stepfather kept an eye on the business as they had been doing anyway.
As I was leaving from the airport, my case was overweight. As my mother helped to unload my case, she found some of Deborah’s clothing. I am only just remembering this now as I write this. It must have been obvious to her and the others seeing me off, how messed up I was then.
There were lots of strange experiences and adventures in Cuba where I laughed and cried. I continued to spend time getting away, running away. Of course, as much as I tried to escape from the pain, it followed me everywhere.
I am not religious and found no relief from prayer and I had lost the ability to meditate. So, I did a three- word search “luxury Ashram India” and went to India to find myself.
I dived into meditation, day and night, working very hard at relaxing and letting go. After two weeks, I felt a bit better and returned home.
Of course, the journey had only just begun. I was not at the end. I was not even at the beginning of the end. I had barely even started.
I would often think about and talk to Deborah. I recall a pivotal moment for me in letting go. I found myself getting angry at her.
“How could you leave me? How dare you do this to me. It's easy for you. I am still here!” I allowed myself to have a fight with her. I cried and collapsed.
This is part of my strength, of my new strength. I allow myself to collapse sometimes. As I got the ability to allow myself to collapse, I got the ability to hold myself together.
I will always collapse from time to time, even typing this now makes me well up. I will always get back up and continue. It is not collapsing that makes you weak, it's not getting back up again.
Well, I’ve since met a new woman and we are married with a four-year-old daughter. I can't even begin to tell you how afraid I was of getting married again.
I am a businessman and give about 10% of my time towards helping other victims of trauma. My wife is a politician. I am physically well, though with residual physical problems from the crash, including my executive memory, though nobody knows.
My main advice to anybody in a crisis is just keep getting back up again. If you get knocked down a thousand times, get up a thousand and one times.
Let yourself collapse with people around you. If you have someone to talk to, you can collapse with the best, and then get back up again. The more often you make that journey of getting back up again, the easier it gets.
I had a minor melt whilst writing this down for the first time, dipping into old emotions I have not recalled for a long time. And then I get back up.
David Sachan Gardiner
Jersey, Channel Islands