This special post was authored by Amy Oestreicher by request of Path Made Clear
I grew up believing that my entire life would be dedicated to the performing arts. Now, I'm also a trauma survivor – or what I now call my “beautiful detour."
At 18 years old, a blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock. I was in a coma for six months, and after a total gastrectomy, I was unable to eat or drink water. It took eight months before I could be discharged from the ICU. Then, after three years and 27 surgeries, my intestines were miraculously reconnected to my body. To persevere through those years took great strength – strength I didn’t know I was capable of until I was tested.
First off, I've never been very patient. I was frustrated when the doctors explained that "It would be a long road to recovery." I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital everything would return to normal. I'd have my old body back -- devoid of scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I imagined I'd be eating and drinking again, able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class the week before my coma. All the surgeries would just be a "blip" in my life, and I would pick things back up from where it left off.
The reality was that the life I knew had been shattered. Healing physically and recovering emotionally were two very different things. I continued to bout with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from the trauma and surgeries. It was then and there I decided to reassemble the broken pieces of myself into something more beautiful. Could the shards of a life I longed to reclaim be reimagined to create a mosaic with even greater significance?
Discovering My Purpose
Reinforced by my newfound courage, resilience, and wisdom, I sought higher ground. Through trauma, I learned that the human spirit feeds off of hope, and hope is a fuel we cultivate within ourselves. Ultimately, I chose to allow the adversity to transform me personally in positive ways. Everything became possible once I let go of the life I planned and embraced my “detour” as an opportunity for beauty and discovery.
In fact, my detour led to the richest time in my life, personally and professionally. I discovered painting in the hospital and later flourished as a mixed media artist with solo art shows, merchandise and creativity workshops. I wrote a one-woman musical about my trauma called, 'Gutless & Grateful,' which I performed for three years in theaters across the country and still perform today. I even gave a TEDx Talk telling my story to the world.
I wasn't able to fully appreciate the beauty of my pain until I shared it with others. In June of 2016, I proudly took the TEDx stage for my talk, 'Follow Your Detour, Find Your Flower.' For the first time, I was helping other people discover the “flowers” along the path of their own trials and opening a dialogue about ways to transform adversity into personal power and empathy.
Hope for Tomorrow
A decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. Today, I am still healing, both physically and emotionally. Each morning that I wake up, I make a new attempt to remember who I am today, remaining open to the person I am becoming. If I had chosen to hold tight to my idea of a normal life, I would have missed out on so many great things. Most of all, I would not have been in a position to help others find beauty in their detours.
About Amy Oestreicher
Amy Oestreicher is an Audie award-nominated playwright, performer, PTSD specialist and multidisciplinary creator. A social justice activist, disability advocate and teaching artist, she dedicates her work to celebrating untold stories, and the detours in life that can spark connection and transform communities. She has given three TEDx Talks on transforming trauma through creativity, and has performed her musical, Gutless & Grateful at over 200 venues as a mental health and sexual assault prevention program. She has recently published her memoir, My Beautiful Detour: An Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful. Learn more about Amy at www.amyoes.com.