“The day you realize you have a choice is the day you take your power back.”

“The day you realize you have a choice is the day you take your power back.”

I’m thrilled to once again resume my interviews of people who have triumphed over adversity;  people who, from the depths of their pain and most difficult challenges, teach us about living well, or as I like to say – living well despite…

Karen Salmansohn, author, designer and founder of notsalmon.com refers to me as a “curator of stories of transcendence.”  I like this term so I’m calling myself that.

I learn, get inspired, and am in awe of people who have been able to rise above and rebuild their lives out of some pretty horrific circumstances.  And so, I want to turn-key these stories so you too can benefit by gaining hope, inspiration, some how-to’s, and hopefully start to believe that it Is doable and you can too.

Meet Amberly Lago who was living her life as wife, mom, fitness instructor/athlete and professional dancer when an accident changed the course of her entire life.  She has written about it in her book:  True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy Into Triumph 

HC:  Briefly tell us about your major challenge.

AL:  34 surgeries, 107 days in the hospital (the first time), and over 1000 hours of physical therapy but nothing compares to living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome every single day.  After my motorcycle accident I was diagnosed with CRPS which is nicknamed “The Suicide Disease” because there is no known cure and it leaves you with constant, chronic pain.  It is a disease of the sympathetic nervous system caused by trauma.  It is baffling, challenging, has taken me to my rock bottom and proven to be one of my biggest teachers in life.

HC:  What personal qualities/strengths have helped you carry on?

AL:  I think growing up with tough love in Texas with sayings like “get ‘er done” and “cowgirl up” taught me from a young age to have some grit.  I had a painful childhood, but as weird as it may be to say this, I believe the pain and isolation I felt back then were an ironic blessing of sorts.  When you know from an early age that you’re on your own and can rely only and entirely on yourself, it’s as liberating as it is sad.  But if you can take the sadness and self-pity out of it, then what you’re left with is a sense of freedom—and when trauma strikes, you don’t waste any time looking for someone to bail you out.

Being an athlete and dancer my entire life has saved me.  Exercise has been my medicine.  The feel-good endorphins have been my drug of choice.  Even when I have been stuck in a hospital bed, I exercised my upper body in between surgeries.  But it isn’t just trying to stay strong physically.  It is staying strong mentally and spiritually, too.  When you wake up every day and decide that you are going to carry on—that’s truly building your resilience.

My main source of strength is through God.  I couldn’t do this journey without knowing that there is something bigger than me carrying me through.

HC:  What did you hold onto when you wanted to give up?  What was keeping you going through your loss and pain?

AL:  My family, especially my two daughters, have been my source of inspiration and my reason to keep trying and keep moving forward.  I held on to their smiles, calling out my name, and needing me to love them through it.

HC:  Was there any specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place psychologically or mentally, or did it evolve over time?

AL:  I remember the night I was laying in my hospital bed.  I was looking down at my leg, still not knowing whether the doctors would be able to save it or not, and sinking into the darkness.  It was as if I could feel myself giving up and giving into the pain.  I was scared and I was desperate.  That is when I knew I had a Choice.  I could give up and go down that dark path or I could choose to see what was light in my life.  I decided to focus on the things that I was grateful for in my life—my family, my friends, the nurses, the doctors, food, MY LEG, even though it gave me pain, I still had it.  Sometimes on a day when the pain is a real ten I might be noticing how grateful I am that yesterday’s pain was ‘only’ an eight.

If that sounds insane or impossible, consider what the alternative is.  So now I’d better be grateful for being able to stand, even in pain, walk up and down the stairs, and get from here to anywhere all on my own.

Gratitude is alchemy.

HC:  What are your daily coping skills and strategies that keep you afloat?

AL:  Living with chronic pain is no joke.  So I gave it a lot of thought and I go through a whole process.  Every day is different with pain and somedays I just don’t know how bad it is going to get; and oftentimes what worked for me before doesn’t necessarily work the same.

P— I prepare

A—I accept

C—I cowgirl up

E—I embrace

R—I rest

I came up with PACER as a check point when my pain wants to take over or I am just not doing well managing it.  I am giving an inspirational presentation at a chronic pain clinic in San Jose in a couple of weeks where I will be teaching the PACER way of dealing with pain and all the emotions that go along with it.

HC:  What meaning has come out of your suffering?

AL:  I talk about my pain to others so they are not alone on this journey.  To give hope or inspiration to someone going through a tough time gives my pain purpose.  I want to inspire others to never give up and choose to claim their resilience instead.  We are strong on our own, but together we are unstoppable.  We can let go of the shame that we may carry for not feeling our best or not being able to do as much as we would like, and instead use our trials to help another to smoother sailing.

HC:  What was your “why” that kept you going through your most difficult times?

AL:  Why not??

And I want to set an example of strength, dignity, and grace for my daughters.  I want them to use their voice, stand tall, be a thriver, not just a survivor.  I want to teach them the true meaning of accepting themselves for who they are and loving themselves even when things don’t go as planned.

HC:  We clearly don’t choose what unfortunate circumstances befall us.   We can, however, choose our response to what happens to us.  How has choice played a part in your ability to overcome your most difficult circumstance/adversity?

AL:  The day you realize you have a choice is the day you take your power back.

HC:  Post traumatic growth is a relatively new concept that you certainly exemplify.  How does your growth show itself in terms of how you live your life today?

AL:  I am still growing and learning and evolving.  They more I know the more I realize I have so much to learn.  I know there is growth in me when I can use my mindset to turn my day around.

I can be vulnerable yet fierce.

Independent yet connected.

Scarred yet cherished.

I choose to embrace my scars as the battles I have won instead of trying to hide them because they embarrass me.

I surround myself with people who believe in me and my dreams.  Having a community of people is key.  I am learning to show myself some love, which means listening to my body.  I used to think resting meant I was quitting.  Now I know resting means recovering and that is what we are meant to do to continue healing.

HC:  Anything further you’d like to add to give hope to others going through a very dark time in their lives?

AL:  What I have learned is life is a series of choices we make regardless of our circumstances.  We can either make the choice to give up and let our life be determined by our circumstances or fight to create something positive out of our circumstances.  My choice is to get up and do the best I can each day.  My choice is to notice the gifts life offers, which are particularly plentiful when you look for them.  My choice is to be happy.  I believe we have the power to see good in every situation and learn from it.



2 thoughts on ““The day you realize you have a choice is the day you take your power back.”

  1. Jennifer Drennan says:

    Girl I feel you. I too went through trauma for 4 months in the hospital. One month intensive care and 3 months in hospital bed flat on my back. I came extremely close to death several times and saw the light, fell to my knees and was told I could not go yet. I sat on the road to heaven and watched others as they walked by and looked at me inquiringly as if to ask why I wasn’t going with them. I decided I would fight my way out and wasn’t allowed to go home until I agreed to several units of blood. I survived. Others have not. I’m grateful for each day. This weekend I will be teaching prisoners about the Dash Poem and how they should be grateful for each day they are given through God’s grace. Good Luck to you and all that you do by spreading the word. i am doing the same except to prisoners. LOL

  2. Harriet says:

    Hello Jennifer, Here’s to miracles and gratitude for being alive and well. I love the Dash Poem. Sounds like you’re doing important and great work with prisoners who need rehabilitation and uplift.

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