One of the most IMPACTFUL experiences of my life happened roundabout 30 years ago when I was hit by a car on my way to delivering a sermon as representative of the Protestant Students Community of the University of Applied Sciences in Fulda, Germany. We travelled in a yellow pre-airbag VW Polo, built in the late 70ies, with me on the left side in the rear. The police later told us that a big blue limousine had hit us left at a speed of approximately 80 Kilometers per hour. The driver, they said, didn’t even have time to break when my friend drove across his way oblivious of the red stop sign he had overlooked. It’s a miracle that no one died given that we flew through the air like a kicked tin finishing our trip abruptly on the field next to the road upside down. For me, it was just a beginning.

After the maxillofacial surgeon had stitched my cuts and wired my broken jaw, I was told it will last about 8 weeks until I could use my mouth for processing food again. My journey into acceptance as key to change took off. Not only did I have to accept that, with a broken color bone, I had to sleep on the back - and not on the side as preferred - for the next months to come. I also had to accept that, from now on, my favorite meals would be banana shakes and vegetable smoothies - in alternating fashion. And the doctor made it crystal clear: with my lower and upper jaws firmly wired together throwing up would not be a good idea at all. (Unless, after surviving a potentially fatal car accident, I found pleasure in ending my life by choking on my own vomit)
Did I have choices? Not many, but some. I chose to accept that wiring my jaw closed was the right treatment for the injury, I had experienced. Moreover, I chose to accept that experimenting with various pillows and resting angles would allow me to eventually fall sleep even in an for me rather awkward position. And it worked. When my color bone was fine again and, according to the doc, even stronger than before (due to the callus closing the gap of the fracture) and when all the ugly wires had been pulled out from the spaces between my teeth, my journey into radical acceptance was still on the way. If I wanted to regain my capacity to enjoy proper food, the surgeon said, I had to use my teeth again for chewing. Easier said than done! Every attempt to chew - even the softest piece of vegetable - felt as stupid as throwing a hook to my own chin. I still remember that loud voice in my head screaming “Frank, don’t do it, don’t be foolish, you will break your jaw again!”. Pause. Then another, less frantic and more reasonable voice replied: “You have no other choice - unless you wanted to stay with banana shakes and veggie smoothies for the rest of your life, Frank!” Thank God, I was with a friend, who noticed my inner struggle and helped: “Hey, just trust the doctor who said you can and must use your jaw again. If you wanted to recover, you have to accept that it will be painful for some time. It won’t last forever!”
And guess what. They were right. But that still didn’t mean my journey had come to an end. In fact, it continued. I soon found out that the accident not only broke my bones, but my trust in humans as drivers. For many more years my fear a driver, and I mean ANY driver, a taxi driver, a bus drivers, a friend-giving-me-a ride-driver, could cause an accident out of ignorance, was immense!  If I could, I would either drive a car myself or refrain from travelling on the road altogether. As student of psychology, and later, as trainee in cognitive behavioral therapy, I was fully aware of the two choices, I had at that time: Either I would continue avoiding the passenger experience and my trauma would never heal. Or I would accept that the comfort of being a passenger will inevitably be coupled with the necessity to give up some control.

Fortunately, I chose the latter and slowly but surely my anxiety levels dropped. It took many years, and it was a difficult process, I must say. Also, for my friends, who noticed my difficulty to trust them as safe drivers. But by accepting my anxiety, and accepting that others will notice my anxiety, and accepting that the risk of a potentially retraumatizing accident and, last but not least, by accepting that it may take a lot of time before I will notice change, I was able to habituate and eventually have new experiences of better and safer drivers than the mindless friend, I once had. I never made it to deliver a sermon but I was given the chance to learn something fundamental about the pragmatics of life that has to do with the paradox of acceptance as key to change. I would like to finish my post of the week with Erich Fried’s poem ‘What It Is” and encourage you to share your own acceptance-as-key-to-change- wisdom with us by sending me an email with your consent to publish your content here on the university’s website. E-Mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“What It Is” by Erich Fried

It is madness
says reason

It is what it is
says love

It is unhappiness
says caution

It is nothing but pain
says fear

It has no future
says insight

It is what it is
says love

It is ridiculous
says pride

It is foolish
says caution

It is impossible
says experience

It is what it is
says love

     
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