Letting Go of My Able-Bodied Self
by Kelsey Peterson — U2FP contributing writer & filmmaker
Originally published Aug 16, 2021
Last March, I finally made it to Maui after years of feeling called to her. I had planned to move there in the winter of 2012–13, but then I got injured. So it felt like a full-circle moment for me when we landed.
However, I found myself struggling on what quickly became “the island of the able-bodied” through my eyes. Beaches, mountains and waterfalls were all just outside my reach, their joy was just beyond my fingertips, and it was stifling me. I found myself overwhelmed, frustrated and ultimately defeated by an onslaught of obstacles.
About five days in, I finally cried to my best friends in our hotel room, purging the feelings that were holding me down and looming over us all. I felt like a weight, dragging us down and limiting our experience, which is a tough feeling to hold alone. It was such a relief to hear their understanding, their empathy, and their willingness to problem-solve with me.
I wasn’t alone, we were all struggling — I was traveling without a caregiver and my girls were helping me with my cares, which can be a complicated dynamic — so we were each relieved to get it all out in the open and then figure out our next steps/rolls/piggybacks/whatever together.
The next day, we took the Road to Hana, and I could feel a shift happening in me, in us all. On the way, we stopped to piggyback and take in the overlooks and roadside vendors’ goodies. My sheroes pushed me through gravel and grass — you name it — to get to where we wanted to go. And we took it slow and easy and rested when we needed to. It felt like progress to find balance together while making our world more accessible.
At one stop, while the girls went and scoped out the lay of the land, I found myself an accessible lookout. I sat and stared out at the ocean where two giant bluffs sloped down to meet, forming a perfect V, silhouetted by blue.
There I sat, right in the middle of the vortex, asking for help, help to feel connected to Maui and her magic. Help to release and be present. Help to find joy and give joy. And I thanked Maui for letting me be there, for welcoming me. It felt like the first time I’d intentionally connected with a place. I knew I needed to for many reasons.
The night before, I had a dream that I was driving a boat through what I thought was the lake I grew up on, but nothing was familiar except the boat, and the lake quickly turned into shallow, ominous swampy waters. I slowly came upon an area where everything turned dark, alarmingly quiet and lifeless.
And suddenly my boat couldn’t move. I tried giving it more gas and reversing. Nothing. I could feel that I was hooked to the bottom somehow. I wasn’t going to go anywhere, and if I stayed here much longer, the darkness of this place would swallow me whole.
As I turned the boat off and got up, I noticed another boat. In it sat a man, holding a pistol, his face hardened and weathered, his long brown hair wind blown and knotted beneath his leather hat. He had been here too long. I told him I had to get out of there, that we both did, and soon, but I could see in the fear-stricken determination in his eyes, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
I walked to the stern and jumped in the water, treading for a moment as I prepared myself for the mission beneath. Something was holding my boat down, and I was going to free myself, I had no doubt of that. I swam under the boat (not my favorite thing to do) and there it was, a rusty, heavy chain attached directly to my propeller. I grabbed it and lifted it off, feeling the abrasive rust underneath my fingertips.
Before I swam for the surface, I took one last look as it dropped into the abyss like a mysterious sea serpent, until it was out of sight. I quickly climbed back onto the boat, started the engine and glanced at my resistant neighbor. He held his pistol closer, and I knew it was all he could do, so I nodded my head as a sign of courtesy and hit the gas, leaving only my wake behind me.
As I woke up that morning and ran through the dream in my head, I knew what it meant: I was holding onto parts of myself that I loved and so badly wished were there with me on Maui, but they weren’t. And they weren’t coming back anytime soon. It had become abundantly clear that my able-bodied self wasn’t serving me here, and she would take me down if I didn’t unhook myself from her.
So as I sat between those two emerald bluffs, in the bosom of Mama Maui, overlooking the Pacific, I knew that that chain was me. I envisioned myself in the ocean attached to my young able-bodied self from 9 years ago. I grabbed the chain that bound us and I unhooked her from the very core of me and watched as she sank to the bottom of the ocean, disappearing into different shades of blue.
It wasn’t the first time, and I know it won’t be the last. I know that it’s an ever-evolving practice. She creeps up occasionally, and I have to listen to her — nurture her and love her — when I have time and space to do so. Usually, that involves me simply acknowledging her, not hiding from her or trying to push her down, but staring right at her, and then letting her go.
I’m learning time and time again that I can’t just ignore her, because she will inevitably win. I have to feel the grief, the longing, the loss, face it and then put it back where it belongs — in the out-of-focus background, no longer in the spotlight of my life and my experience anymore.
I’ve just come back fromthe Bay Area where I worked with Jim LeBrecht, subject and director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, , to finish our sound mixing and design on Move Me. Which means the film is done.
Like, DONE done. I can’t change it or control it anymore. I have to let it go.
Here we go again…practicing letting go and transitioning gracefully. But this new chapter has me a bit spun, asking -
What comes next?
This is a new relationship with the film. I’m no longer creating it, I’m now releasing it out into the world and finding ways to share it and give it impact beyond the credits.
It feels so strange to slowly “let go” of the film, at least the process of making it. I’ve grown, I’ve been broken, I’ve healed and I’ve learned — most of all how to love myself and my life again; how to live gracefully within the dualities of life.
It’s emotional and strange to move forward, into a new and unknown place. I feel like a student again. I’m peeking down corridors and opening files within myself, studying and researching the messages of my heart, and redrafting my purpose.
I’m also letting go of other things, including my role as social media strategist with U2FP so that I can focus on this next chapter. You’ll still see me here in this space from time to time though.
These decisions aren’t easy. But I’m making room for doing my best for this project that I’ve invested five years of my life into so far.
I’m looking forward to the impact this film can hopefully have. I keep having to check myself though, not to be scared of this place with Move Me, this journey of sharing the film and what I’ve learned from this experience. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster and we’ve just started plummeting. I’m falling, scrambling for my stability and some trust within the fall.
I’m happy to be on this ride though.
PS — U2FP was sad to see me leave this role — though as mentioned above, I’ll continue to write these reflective posts for them semi-regularly. However, they’ve already found a great replacement for me from within our talented SCI Community — Jordan Bolton. You can read about Jordan here, and follow him on social media here. We’re excited to have Jordan’s voice deepen U2FP’s social media presence and add to its influence.
Originally published at https://u2fp.org.