If I can get through a coma, organ failure, and six years unable to eat or drink, I can get through this detour, too.
When my life took a “detour” at 18 years old, I coined myself a “detourist.” My detour was a decade full of surgeries and medical crises when a coma my senior year of high school changed my world forever.
That was my detour. But everyone has a “detour” in life – something that doesn’t go as we plan. Detours are frustrating, unsettling, and sometimes frightening, but when we choose to embrace that detour, staying curious and open to where the path may lead, we become detourists. Sometimes, we can’t appreciate the beauty of our detours until we’ve made multiple twists, turns and deviations in our set-out path. We need to give that detour enough time to form a story of its own, until our detours become our journeys.
Now, especially, I try to tell myself that that part of being a detourist means just showing up and staying open to where the path may lead, no matter how scary that deviated path may be.
I’ve written, spoken, painted and sung a lot of detours. It’s how I was able to make sense of the shocking twists my path has taken. By creating, I felt like I had a voice, and a sense of control over my life when life decided to have other plans. Nobody expects a detour to happen in life. It’s what happens when we think we have things planned and all figured out, and then we’re thrown a curveball.
So, having survived death, sexual abuse, and disastrous surgeries, and having emerged triumphantly, I’d like to think, I would call myself “used to” curveballs. The most rewarding feeling in the world is to be able to use my unpredictable journey to help others navigate their own detours.
But, when I’m at a crossroads myself, I am always reminded how difficult it is to move forward when life doesn’t go as you expect and what you thought was certain suddenly veers in a different direction. Sometimes, you don’t love your detour right away. Sometimes you just have to trust your detour, follow it, and know in your heart that eventually, you will love what happened to you.
I started the campaign, #LoveMyDetour to help us all love the unexpected glitches in our lives. “Loving My Detour” is all about flourishing not in spite of, but because of obstacles.
I always try to be very transparent about things in my life because I’ve seen in my own experience, that keeping things hidden never does any good. For years, I kept to myself, living in isolation, only speaking to my doctors and parents for years. It was difficult to function in the outside world without a stomach. Not being able to eat or drink was a pretty big isolating factor. So I’ve experienced what it feels like to keep things in — painful emotions or even those joyous moments of gratitude. Sooner or later, what I couldn’t share became a secret. And secrets, no matter what they are, can become burdensome to carry. Sometimes, all we need to do is reach out to feel heard, and suddenly, we’re able to move on. In bringing a struggle to light, you’re helping yourself, and even better, you never know who else you may help.
So that thought outweighed my trepidation in sharing a major new detour in my journey.
I’ve written about having glitches, imperfections, and finally finding a wedding dress to fit my ostomy bags after 27 surgeries. When I finally found the dress, I thought my wedding woes were over.
At my wedding.
It came as a complete shock to me, after only 11 months of marriage, to find out I’m getting a divorce.
To say it was sudden would be an understatement. I had just married the love of my life. I had asked my husband if he was happy, and he had reassured me he was, daily. We were deciding where to go out to dinner to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, which was to be on June 27th.
Our last night together was spent hand in hand, eating frozen yogurt, confiding in each other, and planning the days ahead. One last kiss — and then the next week, I was hit was a succinct text message demanding a divorce, with no alternative. He had ordered a marshall to come to my parent’s house to deliver my “papers,” and that was it. He shut his phone off, and the rest of the night was spent pacing around my parents’ kitchen table, crying so deeply I couldn’t breathe, calling back a phone number that had been permanently shut off. This was clearly done, unbeknownst to me.
I thought to myself, This is OK, Amy, all couples have difficult moments. But when I finally got another voice on the phone, I pleaded for counseling or for some kind of do-over. I was met a voice I could hardly recognize, stating, “The world doesn’t work that way.”
I was shocked. I had just gotten married. I was in love. Life was set and I had found the man I was going to grow old with. Marriage was for better or for worse, right? I was left in tears, scratching my head and wondering why I didn’t get any sign or warning. Had I been so oblivious all along? As I read over his lawyer’s papers, all I wanted to ask myself was, “When did my husband stop loving me?”
It’s strange when you make big plans and don’t even have a chance to act on them. I hadn’t even changed my name yet. We hadn’t even moved in together. It once felt like we had all the time in the world, and now my marriage was over before it even truly began.
The last phone call I received was this man I thought I was still in love with, asking to pick up his grill, which he had left at my parents’ house. And then I never saw him again.
I felt like an idiot. Should I have been more careful all along? Should I have paid better attention to the uneasiness I had felt in my gut when he asked to be “exclusive” on the second date, or when proposed to me four months after meeting me? Should I have taken it as a sign when he seemed so hurried to get married, when he knew I had never even had a boyfriend in my life?
Then I tried to find empathy by thinking about my own situation. As I contemplated this “hit and run” marriage, I thought about times that I tried to run away, and just leave a situation, like the time I ran away on the shoulder of the highway because I didn’t want to deal with the medical consequences of a disastrous surgery. I was running away because I couldn’t face the difficult emotions. As I struggled to find empathy, I realized that my husband had done the same thing. He ran away when something had made him uncomfortable. But what was it? Was it me?
I began to think about all of the other signs that I had tried to shrug off in our relationship. The alarming feeling in my gut when he’d get upset, pull over and tell me to get out of the car after an argument, or the letter I had to write to court after he was pulled over for speeding. What was he trying to run away from? Could it really have been me? Or was it something else I couldn’t have known after knowing someone for three years?
I’ll never know the answers, but I don’t think you ever can know why, when, or how life chooses to detour. It’s a strange feeling to feel loved, safe and cared for at one time, and then, one simple text message later, you become estranged from the world of security you thought you knew.
I’ll never forget how, at 18 years old, I was so relieved to be accepted to my “dream college,” then suddenly wake up in a hospital bed and grapple with the idea that this would no longer be a reality. That was a difficult loss to come to terms with in my life. But “divorce” was a loss that I didn’t know my heart could feel. In the blink of an eye, I’ve had my first real relationship, my first marriage, my first break-up, my first divorce all at once. Someone I had just laughed with, confided with, cared for, cooked for, painted for, and pledged the rest of my life to, turned off his phone, hired a lawyer, and had instantly become a memory, harder to remember every day.
When life changes unexpectedly, we’re forced to question everything we thought we knew about ourselves. I’ve learned through my 27 surgical detours that trying to “go back the way you came” won’t get you anywhere. You have to move on, even if it hurts. When we can’t go in the direction we anticipated, we’ve got to switch gears and adapt. We have to resource inner strengths that we never knew we were capable of accessing.
I’m deeply saddened by this loss, learning this all of a sudden, and trying to remember in my heart that there is nothing I can do but move on, trust this unexpected, jarring detour, and know that with one foot in front of the other, I’m still on the road.
I tell myself, if I can get through a coma, organ failure, and six years unable to eat or drink, then this, too, like everything else, will pass. We are all stronger than we know.
I still feel that through sharing our own detours, even if they’re not so great in the moment, makes us all stronger. So that’s why I share. Moving forward, trusting our detours, one day at a time.
I don’t have the power to change others, but I can take charge of my own path. I’m even starting to date again. But of course, I think the one person that needs the most love right now is me.
I think that no matter what “detour” we have in our lives, we are all capable of pursuing our trails with a bit of support. Even if the support we have may change over time. I try to remember that I have good friends, family, and a truly good body that has been tried, tested and triumphant through years of medical interventions and setbacks.
Every detour leads somewhere. Divorce is a detour. And I know that one day, I will love my detour. But for now, I trust my detour.1