“Dear Cat Island, My Home – A Story of a Broken Heart & Forgiveness”

“Fernandez Bay Village (Home) – Half the homes are part of a resort and half the homes are private homes”

 

Several years ago I reached a point where I finally made the best peace one could make with breaking my neck and having my life change forever.  I spent so much time constantly pushing forward and not thinking about my accident through sheer determination of will.  This worked for a time, but eventually I had to find a way to dig deep in order to find some resemblance of happiness in my life and search for the best way I knew how to live a full life despite my circumstances.

Through quite a fair bit of soul-searching I arrived to where I am presently living the most fulfilled life I know how with work, finding love, getting married, spending time with friends & family, and traveling when able.

For the last six months Cat Island, Bahamas (my home) has been on my mind.  My family has had a home in the Bahamas for the last 40 or so years and it is a place so magical words simply cannot do it justice.  It is a beautiful out Island in the Eastern Bahamas spanning 60 miles long and 2 miles wide with a population of roughly 2,000 people.

The airport runway to the island is so short that no large commercial airlines are able land on the runway giving it its unique, and rustic charm because only those who know about it know how to get there.

I grew up on this island and made my first trip down when I was only several months’ old back in 1983.  I have lived in so many countries around the world that Cat Island has always been my home base, my center, my world, my escape, and my favorite place in the entire world.

I spent my time on the island with family and friends spearfishing, scuba diving, exploring caves in the middle of the island, taking Robinson Caruso style boat trips with my family to unnamed deserted islands, jumping off rocks into the ocean, picnicking on deserted beaches, kayaking through crystal clear lagoon waters, taking long walks on the beach, building bonfires with family, and countless other surreal adventures.

“Tagging Turtles for Research”

“A typical Sunday for me back in the day :-)”

If you visit this island it’s like you’ve stepped back in time 50 years with one road providing access to the whole island with most folks walking around barefoot, minimal contact with the outside technological world, a handful of stores to purchase groceries and such, and local shacks with fresh caught grouper & craw fish the size of your arm.  If you ever need an escape from life in the modern world you go to an island like Cat Island.

“Our beautiful catamaran where we took many camping trips on deserted islands in the Bahamas”

In 2009 I quit my job in politics and moved down to Cat to start a new career, and new life.  Within a year of being home and finally having the feeling of finding a place that I could live for the rest of my life, and where I truly belonged – I broke my neck.

On August 21, 2010 I met a bunch of my friends down at this Tiki hut bar directly over the water.  It was a celebratory day for me as I had just made a very successful first trade in the financial markets.  I moved down to the island for focus and quiet to learn how to be a day trader.

I was on top of the world that day listening to reggae music, sipping a Bahamian beer, and frolicking about with friends without a care in the world.  I can honestly say this was the happiest time of my entire life at 27 years old.  I couldn’t imagine life could have gone any better at that moment.  I remember thinking exactly that on August 21.

I’ll never forget taking a dive off the Tiki hut bar platform where the water was shallower than I had anticipated and not being able to move floating face down, holding my breath knowing something was terribly wrong, and waiting for help to arrive.  My mother was the one who actually noticed something had gone awry after I took a dive, hit some sand, and burst my vertebrae.  I won’t get into the Herculean effort it took to get me back to the United States 22 hours later to save my life.  You can find the story on my blog.

“3 weeks after the accident in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami”

HEART BREAK

The point of the story is that until this past year I realized that I had come to terms with the accident, but I was still so angry and hurt with myself and Cat Island.  Sure, it was just an accident and could have happened to anyone, but to have had an accident of this magnitude on an island that was my true love up to that point, until I met my fiancé that is, is something I have not dealt with for 8 ½ years.

I pushed the island out of my mind for so many years because it is not exactly an accessible place to get back to in a wheelchair.  I accepted the fact that I would never be able to go home without a Herculean effort to get me there.

I had never been truly in love at that point and I can honestly say Cat Island had always been my true love, and, frankly, she broke my heart into a million pieces where I truly believed the damage was irreparable.  It was such an intense heartbreak that I have not been able to speak with many of those closest to me about it.

I don’t know why, but six months ago the island had been on my mind non-stop and I want more than anything to forgive her and myself, move forward, and hopefully in the next year finally get back to her.  Words are so powerful and they help me process challenging periods in my life by simply putting the words out there in the universe.

I don’t know why it helps, but it helps.  I suppose it’s like artists needing to paint, athletes needing to compete, and for me, a writer needing to write.

I can’t say if going back to the island will be the best or worst thing for me, but I won’t know until I try.  I have to try because writing this and even thinking about a home I knew for 27 years brings tears to my eyes.  It’s funny how forgiving oneself is far more challenging at times than forgiving another person.

A Letter to “Cat Island”

I wrote a letter to Cat Island a few months back, which I will share with you now to show that no matter what the most painful experience one may have in their life, forgiveness is always possible no matter how long it takes.

“Dear Cat Island,

You were the love of my life and you shattered my heart.  You brought me more joy and love than any other romantic relationship in my life had brought me at that time.  While the love for my family is the most important thing in my life you were a close second.

You taught me how to swim, find peace, gave me adventure, helped raise me to be the woman I am today, made me tough, taught me adversity, and opened your arms to me when I needed you the most.

How could you let me go like that?  A few seconds – that’s all it took for you to turn your back on me and take it all away.  What did I do wrong?  I was yours and you were mine … That was the deal, we were supposed to have each other’s backs, but you abandoned me.

I am still so angry with you, but dammit, I still love you no matter how long I’ve tried to forget you.  We shared a love so intense throughout my life that I cannot let you go.  I don’t want to let you go, but I just don’t know how we will find a way to live together once again.

Cat Island, I forgive you, but I can never forget what happened.  How will you treat me if we get back together?  Will you help me find peace again if I come back to you?  You make me cry just thinking that I’ve been away from you for 8 ½ years.

I’m going to find my way back to you, somehow, and someday soon.  I need you to know that I am still so sad and may be for the rest of my life, but I’m going to give you another chance.

Cat Island, I’m coming home one day soon.”

 

An intense letter I know.  However, sometimes putting the way we feel out to the universe has a way of healing from the inside out.  With the help of family friends and family I’m very much hoping to get back to Cat Island in 2020.

I really can’t say whether going back home will be the most cathartic and healing experience for me or utterly painful.  I just don’t know.  What I do know for sure is I will wonder for the rest of my life unless I try, which is exactly what I plan to do!  I need help though … So, for those who share the same love for Cat Island and are reading this I’m asking for help to get me home!  Let the healing begin.

A Change in Life Perspective – My Personal Metamorphosis

 

First off, Happy New Year to you! 

 

Coming into the New Year I thought it only fitting to discuss the concept of perspective.  I was asked by a fellow reader if I could touch upon the topic of how my mental perspective has changed over the last eight years since breaking my neck as opposed to just how my physical life has changed with being paralyzed.  I will start off by saying my life perspective has changed drastically and I can’t be entirely sure if this is due to my accident or the fact that I’m also getting older.  I suspect it is probably a little bit of both.

In general a change in perspective in life is quite gradual in my opinion, takes many years, and is usually preceded by many hardships along the way, which affect one’s opinions on many topics.  When I broke my neck my world got turned upside down, which violently shifted my perspective on a lot of things in life very quickly, but more from a physical standpoint.  I was so engulfed in trying to figure out how to live a life with a body 80% paralyzed that I didn’t have the presence of mind to think about how my mental health was going to change.

For the most part my perspective change has been for the positive, but there have definitely been some dark changes that I would be amiss not to dive into as well in light of always being open with my writing, and my life even though I run the risk of exposing myself further 😉

The old saying “we only have one life to live,” no matter how cliché it may be, means more to me now than it did prior to my accident merely due to the fact that I suffered a life altering event.  I see so many folks who live simple (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), but happy lives, and go about their business not realizing how easily life can change on a dime.  While it is easy to say that we will change our lives when something drastic happens – it is a lot easier said than done to take actionable steps each day to change.  However, these small steps are not only key, but they can take very long time to see the effects of as they require determination, and will over a long period of time. Continue reading

LOVE in a “DISABLED” World

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Last week I was on one of my spinal cord injury Facebook groups and I was reading a post where a gentleman was commenting on how he was in love, but he just felt so incredibly lucky that someone could love him with everything that comes along with dealing with spinal cord injury.

The endless comments that followed really resonated with me as folks told him stories about how they had been married for decades whether both the couples were injured themselves or whether they were with an able-bodied person.

This post really struck a chord as it got me thinking about the concept of love and what we as human beings can look past in order find the beauty within another individual.

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine: https://pushliving.com/love-in-a-disabled-world/?fbclid=IwAR1r3Cw3DfWrFQlRaP_GWIJ5JYiw-twhvBNUCWr8WIjCagasvJ8aEl-ZNK4

 

An Engagement to Remember

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… I was staring at a blank page while thinking how to write the perfect article on how I got engaged this past weekend. My mind kept wandering back to when I was first injured in 2010 laying in my ICU bed with tubes coming out of every orifice of my body, a neck brace immobilizing my head, and copious amounts of morphine coursing through my veins.

I distinctly remember several people huddled around me, thinking I was mostly unconscious, commenting on how devastated they felt that I would no longer be able to live a full life and likely not get married or find love. I know it was not meant to be hurtful as they were just intensely concerned for how my life would turn out, but I recall thinking at that exact moment the romantic part of my life was finished …

… The point of complete comfort, love, intimacy, and trust came for me when he saw everything I physically had to deal with on a daily basis. I always joke, but up until I met my fiancé I would never go out in public or let a man see me without mascara and eyeliner on … Seriously! One day I decided to not wear any makeup and he told me how utterly beautiful I looked, and that he actually preferred me without makeup. It was at that moment I knew I had a keeper; okay maybe there are a few other things that made me know he was a keeper, but that was definitely a big one for me …

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine: https://pushliving.com/an-engagement-to-remember/

 

 

 

Life’s Sacrifices & Choices with Spinal Cord Injury

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When we are growing up we are faced with all kinds of choices a consequences and as children that we are blissfully unaware of.  Do we want a cookie or a doughnut?  If we finish our vegetables then we get dessert; if we go to bed early than mommy will read us a bedtime story, etc.  At a young age we don’t really associate making a choice with sacrificing one thing for another either.  It’s only as we develop into young adults that many of us come to the realization that everything in life is a choice, sacrifice, or compromise.

Choices and compromises become exceedingly more complicated as we grow into adults.  If we want a family, then we have to save to have a baby; we can’t go on that family vacation because we are trying to save money to buy a house; if we keep eating donuts every day then we run the risk of becoming obese; the list goes on.

I was thinking about sacrifices and choices the other day as it relates to spinal cord injury, and more specifically, the compromises I have had to make and continue to make as a C6 quadriplegic.  As I was pondering some of these choices lately I was surprised at how many things I have had and will have to give up in my life.  I was having a challenging day, so of course this was a glass half empty point of view, but after waking up the next morning feeling more like myself I made a list of the things that I have gained, and given up over the last 8 years since my accident in 2010.

Living with spinal cord injury presents such a unique set of challenges that many folks, unless you are the one injured or know someone who is, may not think of on a daily basis.  I often play this game with myself because while I know that I am faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges at times, there is always someone who is dealing with A LOT more than I am.  This is not to say that we should go around comparing ourselves to other people, but I do find pausing on certain days to take stock of what you have in your life is a quality many of us lack.  This age-old saying may seem outdated and redundant, but I personally find that it rings true when the proverbial “ship hits the fan” in people’s lives … “You don’t know what you have, until you’ve lost it.”

Here are a few of my choices over the years: Continue reading

Let’s Talk about Sex Baby

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I mean really, who doesn’t love sex? I suppose it is one of those taboo topics that you don’t talk about at the dinner table like politics or money, but it is such a natural act – I’m not quite sure why we are so weary to talk about the subject publicly.

Before my accident I thoroughly enjoyed sex, exploring my sexuality, and engaging in as much sex as I could 🙂 Admittedly, I probably had sex too young, but as the saying goes “curiosity killed the cat,” “curiosity killed my virginity.” I was a young teenager and I simply had to know what all the fuss was about. I even let a guy convince me that I could not go to high school a virgin because I would be the odd man out. How gullible we are as young teenagers!

For several years I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about as I don’t think I was doing it quite right … Not that many teenagers, in my opinion, know how to enjoy sex anyway. I finally met a guy when I was living in the Bahamas one summer who was several years older than I was and he really taught me about the enjoyment of sex. I mean we literally had sex classes on a daily basis with respect to experimenting with what felt good to me, what felt good to him, trying different positions, oral sex, etc. It was also new and exciting to me, and by the time our lessons had completed at the end of the summer I felt like I had earned a degree in sexual pleasure … Probably not something most parents want to learn about their children as teenagers 😉

“Partying in my young 20’s with my sister”

Over the next 10 years before my accident I had multiple partners and I was not ashamed of it either. Naturally, I think I was called several “not so nice names” by women around me, but I simply didn’t care. I was a completely free spirit and enjoyed sex just as much as I did hiking in the wilderness. I wanted to keep a diary for the future of all of my “Sexcapades” because in my mind I thought one day I would always write a book about sex. At that time Chelsea Lately was one of my role models and she had a brilliant book called “One Night Stands.” While I did have some more thoughtful and influential mentors, she was definitely my sex mentor. I decided to keep a little black book with all of the men I had slept with over the years. Honestly, sometimes I couldn’t remember their names, but I remembered where I met them, what they were wearing, what they looked like, what we did, etc. I will spare you the hot and juicy details, but after my accident I completely forgot about this book.

When I broke my neck the concept of sex completely flew out the window for me. I considered myself “A sexual” at that time and figured sex was behind me, which did not make me very sad because I certainly had my fair share of fun for 27 years before my accident in 2010. However, years later amongst all of my things I found multiple pieces of paper stapled together with all of my sexual exploits in a box. I must admit I was laughing my ass off because I had forgotten about many of these gentlemen. I decided to take the time and type several pages of stapled paper into a digital black book of sorts. I still have it to this day and I think that is what probably prompted me to finally start dating five years after my accident. A funny inspiration, but my personal story none-the-less.

Post-Accident Sex Continue reading

New Zealand Wilderness Survival Trip (Part 2)

The Viking Adventure

As I wrote about in my previous blog our instructors did not let us know what adventure we would be partaking in until several hours before we headed out on an adventure. One of our first endeavors was taking a several day trip in these large wooden old-fashioned sailboats called Cutters.

Think of those old primitive wooden boats with giant oars that the Vikings used to row with. Well, somehow Outward Bound had constructed some of these boats with a very primitive sail. We packed up a minimal amount of gear and food into some dry bags, and were told to swim with our gear fully loaded to get out to the boat. I didn’t think this was a particularly brilliant idea because we were going to be soaking wet and freezing to start our adventure. I suppose this not only tested our physical endurance, but mental as well. We hoisted our shivering bodies into this old boat and listened to our instructors as they taught us how to navigate the waters in front of us. Fortunately I knew how to sail, so I was eager help my teammates learn how to how to a sail, understand wind direction, and navigate the oceans.

What we did not count on was no wind at all. We were not moving anywhere – we were simply drifting out to sea.  Continue reading

New Zealand Wilderness Survival Trip (Part 1)

After receiving a slew of emails regarding my last blog on my wilderness survival trip in Australia I was asked to write another blog on one of my many wild wilderness adventures. So, today I will diving into my Outward Bound wilderness survival trip in New Zealand in 2000. My recollection of this trip came back to me when one of my old teachers from high school sent me a 5 page email I sent him and the family after my voyage giving a detailed account of all of my adventures. It was wild to read something I had written 18 years ago. Quite frankly I was appalled at my grammar, lack of spelling, misuse of commas, and poor grasp of the English language. 🙂

Regardless, after reading the email it took me back to this trip like I was there yesterday. There was only one surviving photograph from my trip 18 years ago (see below) … The rest of the photos I found pretty similar photos from other folks who participated in this New Zealand Outward Bound Trip over the years.

“The 17-year-old “Ali” with a look of utter joy upon completion of the trip”

Growing up in Europe and then transferring to school in the United States I ended up graduating early from high school. I decided to take some time off before heading to Occidental College in Pasadena, Los Angeles. I decided to embark on a life-changing experience to Beijing, China. However, when I graduated I had several months to spare before heading over to Asia and I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with my summer. I had been on previous adventure trips in my early teens, but none of them really offered me a test of my endurance and will.

I rigorously started researching different outdoor survival programs and came across Outward Bound. Outward Bound was originally founded to help troubled teenagers using trips into the wilderness to teach them responsibility, leadership, accountability, etc. Initially I had hesitations as I did not consider myself conventionally troubled, but I really liked the idea of a challenge. I went on their website, but you must remember in 2000 websites were still quite primitive, so I did not have that much information to go on, but I signed up for a trip as far away as I could possibly go. New Zealand was the winner!

When I graduated high school I went back home to the Bahamas for several weeks to start training because I read that there was a physical fitness test one had to pass upon arriving in New Zealand. Every morning the Bahamas I would wake up at the crack of dawn, run several miles in 90° heat, stripped down to my bathing suit into the crystal-clear Bahamian waters and swim for hours, do an ungodly amount of sit ups, push-ups, and whatever else I could think of. I was 17 years old and the time had come to fly 27 hours to the other side of the world. I wasn’t quite sure what gear I had to pack, so I packed light, and I was told what I needed would be provided for me when I reached my destination. Continue reading

AUSTRALIAN WILDERNESS SURVIVAL ADVENTURE

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I’m often asked what keeps me going during those dark times, seemingly insurmountable challenges I constantly face with spinal cord injury, and how I remain determined to try and live a life that does not consume me with anger for everything I have been through. I must admit there are times when I do feel like giving up, but there’s something inside me that keeps telling me to push forward just a little bit more each day. I’m sure everyone who has dealt with tragedy in their life have their own coping techniques, but I attribute much of what I’ve accomplished to who I was before the accident.

You must remember I had 27 years of my life before I broke my neck and only 7 ½ years of being paralyzed. My parents raised me to always be curious, challenge the unknown, explore life beyond your comfort zone, and above all be kind to others. I was an extremely mischievous teenager, to say the least, but somehow I always managed to get myself out of uniquely perplexing situations before things went south. I like to think that I was “Responsibly Irresponsible.” I would plan out an adventure, write down all of the things that could possibly go wrong, how I would fix them, and then hope for the best.

To understand a little bit more about my nature I’d like to tell you a tale of one of my many adventures that would always bring me back to a path of serenity and focus when things were not going my way in life. I’ve always traveled around the world, much of it on my own, and I would find myself getting bogged down in life’s drama, people, the stresses of self-expectations I would constantly put on myself with respect to what I was hoping to accomplish by what age, etc. With this in mind, I started embarking on wilderness survival adventures around the world as a young teenager. As the years progressed I would find different wilderness adventure companies that challenged me physically, mentally, and really tested my strength of will in the wilderness for months on end.

At 23 years old I had just graduated from the University of Miami, could not find a job because, frankly, I was much too cocky for my own good, I started to get into drugs, and I just could not see a way out of life. Eventually, I made a decision to sign up for a very intense several month wilderness survival course in Western Australia, specifically the Kimberly Mountains.

On this trip I would be accompanied by 10 to 12 fellow hikers and one instructor. On these trips you learn to navigate the rough terrains of the Australian outback in degrees sweltering over 100° per day, carrying a 60-80lb pack on your back, hiking from water source to water source, sometimes killing your own food, navigating topographical maps with only a compass and no GPS, building leadership skills, and running into whatever dangers might be headed your way that day. I had already been on several wilderness adventures, but this was going to be by far the most challenging for me mentally and physically.

I purchased all of my necessary gear, did my research, and flew over 25 hours to reach my destination in Boone, Australia, which was located on the West Coast of the continent. I didn’t know what I was in for at that time, but I was eager to get my head on straight so I could find some clarity in life at 23 years old. I might’ve been having a midlife crisis of 23… Who knows 🙂 I arrived at a hostile the night before I was set to meet my team, and wrote in my journal about how I was feeling at that moment. I was feeling like a failure, low, curious as to how I was going to get my life going, I just broken up with a very serious boyfriend, and I had no idea where life was about to lead me.

 

Our Group on Day 1 before the Adventures Begin

I woke up bright and early at the crack of dawn the next morning, and met my team at the designated location at 6 AM in the morning. We went through a several hour orientation, were ordered to get rid of most of the things we had prepared to bring, and instructed to only pack what we were comfortable to carry for over eight hours a day. The packs normally ranged between 60 to 80lbs. There were, of course, a few items I stuck in my pack because I simply could not do without them. I was wearing contact lenses at the time, so I clearly needed to bring my contact solution, a little mirror, and antibacterial solution for my fingers. I refused to wear glasses … I don’t know why. I also snuck in a couple extra pairs of clean socks and underwear, and biodegradable baby wipes. We were supposed to dig holes in the wilderness when we had to use the bathroom and wipe our bums with leaves. I had done this on one of my prior wilderness survival trips, and let me tell you the amount of poison ivy I got in places where the sun does not shine was no joke! So, I stuck these little babies in when no one was looking 🙂 Continue reading

My Intimate Experience with a Paralyzed Guy BEFORE My Accident

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When I was strolling along the Art Deco streets of South Beach with my boyfriend this past month while on vacation in Miami I stumbled across one of my old stomping grounds … A beat up Irish pub called the Playwright where I would love to dance and get into trouble. I couldn’t resist popping in for memory sake when a flashback hit me of an experience I had with a gorgeous man in a wheelchair.

Beautiful South Beach

I must have been 24 years or so when I was out late one night and I spotted this beautiful man sitting at a table with his friends. I’ve always been the type of person to go up to random people and start talking to them. I walked over to the table, took a seat, and decided to strike up a conversation with the group. They happened to be from Australia and I have always been a sucker for Australian accents.

I was attracted to this one guy in particular and we started flirting. Continue reading