Fighters live to fight. Every single day, they are working out, stepping into the ring, practicing their best moves against the unexpected, and constantly on guard. “Fighter” is not just a title. It’s a way of life.
I was just four years old when I knew I was in my first fight. Someone told my dad I did something. He took their word over mine and delivered the first spanking I remember. He made me lay down on the bed and struck me repeatedly with his belt. He told me to stop screaming and I shoved my fist into my mouth and bit down to hold back the screams. I sobbed well into the night. I remember thinking in that moment that I would never win. At the age of four. Sadly, it’s one of my first memories of my father.
I adopted that philosophy for several years. “I will never win!” Sometimes, he would come in from work, slam his lunch box on the counter and order me to my room. I did not know what I had done, but I knew what was coming. Maybe someone made him angry at work, maybe some road rage on the way home. Didn’t matter. I became the whipping child, out of 6 siblings at the time. For a couple of years, these intense bouts continued until I became aware that what he was enjoying was breaking me and making me cry. When I cried, I sobbed for a long time afterwards. I determined at 6 years of age, he could not have my tears anymore. It caused more rage in him and the spankings took on a new ferocity, but I clamped my jaws so tight I thought my teeth would crack, chewed the inside of my cheek, whatever I could do to distract myself from the immediacy of the attack.
He then turned to more cruel measures and took perverse pleasure in punishing me in the most horrific and frightening scenarios. It took it’s toll, but I was in the fight of my life and most of the time it felt like I was fighting for my life. When I was twelve years old, I required hip surgery. Part of the recovery process was to be in a body cast for 6 months. I remember Dr. Kingsbury looking at my mother and saying, “I am not going to put Karla in a body cast. I think she has a fighting spirit in her that will help her heal. I also believe if I put her in a body cast, it will break her.” Thank God, Dr. Kingsbury saw me! My father apologized to me a few years ago before he passed and we made peace. I realize now what I went through as a child helped me stand in the face of all the health issues that were to come.
I have fought every day of my life since I was four and possibly before that. I fought through abuse, I fought through rape, I fought through being crushed by our church family which shut down our ministry for twenty-five years, I fought through cancer three times, I fought through both knee joints, both hip joints and one shoulder being replaced in 3 years, I fight through fibromyalgia, I fight through mixed connective tissue disorder, I fight through COPD, and now I fight Alzeimer’s.
Now, I must retire and hang up the gloves. The fight is over. The final bout has been called. My doctor told me yesterday, that I am losing instead of winning. I cannot stand the thought of losing. It goes against everything I stand for in my heart and mind and body. Yet, his reasoning made sense. He echoed something my daughter told me on Saturday and it had been reverberating in my head without acceptance.
I am losing large blocks of time. Sometimes, just for a couple hours. Sometimes, several hours from one day into several hours from the next day. He told me this is caused by trying to force my brain to do tasks it simply can no longer access. Stressing the brain beyond it’s capabilities. Things like figuring with numbers, working with recipes, anything that takes mental acuity and planning. I try to accomplish a task over and over and over without success. It is frustrating because I know that I know how to do this one thing, yet cannot. Due to the overload, my brain flees the area. He said I need to step out of the ring and turn it over to those who love and support me, the younger versions, who can step into the ring and go toe-to-toe on my behalf.
So, now it becomes a question of how does a fighter retire? You know the old adage, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’? Yeah. I’m there. I heard them, I took copious notes after the doctor visit yesterday, but I do not know how to step out of the ring. The fight that has saved me for years is now causing me to decline faster. The fight that used to do me so much good is now harming me. When my mind is forced to fight, it goes into flight mode. This causes my cognitive skills to go into steep decline causing more cell damage at a faster rate. I have to give priority to my loves and my memories. I have to stop in my tracks and figure out how to live out of the ring.
A Fighter always knows it’s time to retire when they begin to lose more bouts then they win. Their managers ask them to retire and then their fans join the chant. They want their prize fighter to retire with dignity before being forced out in shame. They love their fighter. They have spent years, money, and time cheering them on to victory time and time again. The Fighter’s self worth, their sense of purpose, comes from every aspect of the fight. The excitement of stepping into the ring, the pride of winning round after round, the rope-a-dope that went viral, the applause, the self-satisfaction. It is so fulfilling it becomes addictive. The “Fighter” eats, breathes, and lives to fight.
I cannot and quite possibly don’t even know how to go about giving up the fight. Lord, I need YOUR strength. I need YOUR wisdom! I have thrived because of the fight. I do not wish to just survive, to just exist. Show me how to thrive without fighting every moment, every step, every day! Please!!!