What About Love

Whenever I speak to an individual new to disability, that's the one question that never fails to come up. It is of the greatest concern among teens and young adults so engrossed in an era of their lives where their friends are dating and falling in love, setting up the American dream of spouse, house, yard, dog, cars, and kids. Many think that just because they are disabled, they can never have it that way, or that they no longer deserve that kind of dream.

Especially for higher-level quadriplegics like myself, dependent on others for independence, the American dream can seem like just that, a dream. But we can dream and we deserve every right to fill our lives with things we love and love to do. I admit I didn't see it at first that I didn't believe I could ever hold what was then in my mind a normal relationship. My girlfriend Kristen, who had been living with me in California, flew back to join me in Georgia, but it was too hard for us to relate again from a space of unfamiliarity.

I just wanted a hole to hide in, at least for a little while. I pushed away all my friends and contacts because I didn't want anyone to see me or I them. I shut myself off deliberately so that I could go into a cocoon and not come out until I knew something other than pain. I had to deal with learning to try to live as fully and as independently as functionality allowed. This was all new to me and I was not ready for any of it.

As my body began to stabilize and I became somewhat used to paralysis and what I was feeling, I could then open myself up to that kind of relating. Many things for me preceded how I felt about love. Even though I had been dating people since the early stages of my disability, it wasn't until about 2 years post injury that the numbness started to give a little and I would let people in. Still trying to sort through my feelings and understand the feelings of my partners, I felt I was in better space to assess some of those aspects of my life.

I didn't have a lot of answers and knew that it would be a long process for me to recover. I found myself readily persuaded by love in many different relationships. All of us want to share our most intimate thoughts and secret wishes with someone special. We crave internally to love with someone in the various ways of pleasure. We want others to love us and need us in their lives. Disabled or not, love makes life feel worthy of living. And it sure had thrown an interesting twist in mine. With time and practice I began to find a place for love in my life and how to play an active role in it for those I dated.

I have been in many relationships post injury and the one thing I know for sure about love is, that it happens. It is like the sun in its coming and going, the seasons, flowers dying and coming to bloom. Like lightning or the rainbow happening in moments of ripe beauty and miracle. Love happens. I, understand, your worried confusion, but don't sweat the small stuff.

If your recently injured, use this time to mend and pick up the pieces. It will be hard enough to deal with helping yourself than to worry about the feelings of another. When the time is right the right person will appear. Someone for everyone, instead of worrying so much about love, do things for self that bring happiness. Live as well as you can. I learned long ago not to define my happiness with being in love with some significant other. Rather I spend my time in developing skills that I feel define who I am as a person.

Take care of yourself first. Give yourself ample time to reassess who you are and what it is exactly that you want to be. Everything else will happen of its own accord. If your scared that love won't happen again, find a friend to listen, someone to confide with. Many initially injured find time more readily endured when there is someone to share it with and that's understandable. Trust when you are ready, love will happen again.

Just spend your time developing confidence as a person living with disability but not ruled by it. People will sense your strength and be attracted to it. Then it is just a matter of jumping on chance when chance allow. Don't think that love does not happen to people with disabilities or those who use wheelchairs. The universe provides in all strange unfolding when the time is right. I have had many beautiful relationships with people on very intimate levels since my accident and I have learned so much from each.

Love like life will take on different meanings. The future reveals a process of discovery wherein everyone will have to define love unique to their own challenge. People that seem to have it can help those who seem to be looking, but essentially love can only be defined by self alone. I am in that space where I find love in every moment's persuasion. Not a second goes by that I don't see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that touches me with joy. I guess I'm just lucky that way.