LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY “LIFE BREAK” IN MIAMI

For the past two years I’ve taken several weeks a year to head down to Miami from my home in Raleigh, North Carolina for a “Life Break.”  I used to live in Miami for about 12 years and am fortunate enough to have a place to stay when I go down there.  I was feeling overwhelmed and lost in life, so spending several weeks in the sunshine was a very welcome break indeed.  I just returned from Miami several days ago with something more valuable than a few weeks of fun in the sun so to speak.

I went down to Miami with the intention of spending time with my fiancé swimming, getting together with some of my great friends, frolicking about on different adventures, reading, and just relaxing.  However, what I returned to Raleigh with was something much more powerful than just recharging my batteries.

I’ve been trying to figure out for some time why I have not quite felt at home in Raleigh since I moved here three years ago.  I have met some wonderful people who I get to see on the weekends with my fiancé, but I am lacking something extremely essential in my life.  Community.  I usually go about my day waking up, exercising, working, and dealing with whatever caregiver headaches pop up my way as I just can’t seem to keep a steady one. The best part of my day is when my honey comes home to me at the end of the day.  On the weekends we usually pop around town a bit to meet up with some friends if they are around, but my happy place is truly in the water or near the water.

I’ve always underestimated the concept of community until recently.  My whole life I’ve kind of been a loner you could say popping around the world, moving from home to home, and while I have good friends around the world I’ve never really stayed put anywhere long enough to build a real sense of community except for in Miami.  I’m not sure if it is being paralyzed or the fact that I am in my mid-30s, but I want to build a life in an environment that makes me happy with people around me who have known me for a very long time.  I’m not going to have children, so Aaron and I need to find where we fit in this world to build a strong community of people around us.  I don’t think Raleigh fits the bill in the long run for me particularly because as I get older the nerve pain I suffer from gets very severe during the cold winter months.  So, I am pondering the idea of moving back down to Miami in the next few years.

In Miami I have people I have known since before the accident and after who are always offer to help me, be there for me, go on adventures with me, etc.  Also, I have a great friend down to Miami, Sabrina, who runs the Sabrina Cohen Foundation.  When I was first injured eight years ago she came into my ICU room and basically taught me that there is life after spinal cord injury, and helped me along the way.  She has created this phenomenal adaptive beach program and is working on building an adaptive recreation center for handicapped folks for swimming, yoga, health and nutrition, etc.  This is such an incredible undertaking and there is nothing like it in the country that would allow handicapped folks to have access to the beach year-round as well as other services provided to live a more accessible life.  I am so passionate about this because the happiest place in the world for me is being in the water.  Working on a project like this would give me some real purpose on the ground and get me out of the house more to 🙂 when I’m in the water I feel free, I don’t have the weight of the wheelchair, my pain levels dissipate, and my mental state changes to one of being completely free.  It’s kind of hard to describe, but other than being surrounded by my loved ones it is the second most wonderful feeling I have in the world.

When I was down in Miami I felt like I had a sense of purpose, which I lack here in Raleigh.  I think Raleigh is a gorgeous place because my sister lives here and I would come back to visit all the time, but if you have the ability – I think it is important to listen to your heart.  Being paralyzed many of us are always constantly fighting adversity from a physical and mental standpoint, and if there is anything that can bring just a little bit more happiness to our lives I say go for it!

ADVENTURES

Now, onto the lighter side of life for a moment.  Aaron and I spent three wonderful weeks in Miami really living it up as we knew when we returned to Raleigh we would be coming home to temperatures around 40 or 50° as opposed to Miami sunny 80° weather in October.

We spent 1/3 of our time swimming in the pool, sunbathing on floating mats, cracking open coconuts to drink the fresh coconut water, taking an overnight trip to go check out Key Largo, visiting alligators, catching up with good friends, taking sunset boat rides on the Miami River, etc.  I could go into all the details, but I think pictures are worth a thousand words!

Key Largo

Aaron and I drove an hour and ½ down to Key Largo to explore what the northern Florida Keys had to offer.  We sipped piña colada’s, fed the fish, explored hidden dive bars, and had some very silly adventures.  On the way back we even stopped at this exotic fresh fruit and vegetable stand started by a guy named Robert in the 1970’s and then took a spontaneous adventure to go check out an alligator farm.  I must admit in all my 12 years of living in Miami I had never taken the time to go see the alligators despite how touristy it might have been 😉 Next year I think we might head down to Key West for a few days and explore the keys as I used to do in my 20’s.

Friends

We went out to countless meals with some incredible friends I met before and after the accident… These people are what make this city so special for me!

Shake-a-Leg

Shake-a-Leg is a nonprofit organization here in Miami that makes boats, sailboats, kayaking, and so many other water sports available to handicapped folks.  I used to live across the street from it in 2010 before I moved to China in 2013 after my injury, and I must say I am in love with everything they offer.  It allows me to get on the water in so many different ways.

We were fortunate enough to have a great captain, Craig, who took Aaron, my friend Johnny, and my mom out to go see Stiltsville, which are a small collection of houses built in shallow water off the coast of Miami in the 1920’s.  90% of these houses were wiped out in the 1926 hurricane, but a few still stand!  There are absolutely breathtaking and privately owned.  We went fishing, cruising, and had a picnic on a boat prepared by my fantastic mother.  To feel the wind in my hair and bouncing around the ocean is a truly indescribable feeling.

We spent another night with Capt. Craig and one of my great friends, Deborah Davis, who runs Push Living Magazine, for a sunset cruise down the Miami River.  We pulled right up to the restaurant on the water and the staff were phenomenal as they brought dinner to us right on the boat!  This may have been one of my favorite nights in Miami other than swimming!  We ate incredible seafood, drank wine, smoked cigars, and let life’s worries melt away for a few hours.

Wynwood Art district

When I was living in Miami there was a new hip and upcoming area called Wynwood.  I would call it kind of grungy, but very chic and artsy.  Apparently this area is blowing up, but they have a space where many artists have the ability to put their art on these giant walls, create these giant statues, and it is free to the public.  I wouldn’t say it is particularly my scene, but definitely an interesting day for sure 🙂

Mini-Adventures

I spent much of my misspent youth prancing around in South Beach, Miami, Coconut Grove, etc.  I took Aaron or to several of my favorite spots for lunch, dinner, exploration, etc.  The food… Oh the food, there really is nothing like it!  There may be an overabundance of octopus pictures because I’m totally and utterly obsessed with this food 🙂

SWIMMING

Of course this was one of my favorite aspects of the trip.  I think we spent 9 of our 21 days swimming in the pool, cracking open coconuts, drinking wine, reading to one another, and lounging about like lizards.  I just can never seem to soak up enough sun and get tan enough 😉

Thank you to friends and family, and Miami for making our vacation so memorable!