How I Lost And Found My Way

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on December 26, 2022 # Lifestyle

Allen RuckerSometimes wisdom, or maybe just a well-turned phrase, can come from the strangest of places. The ongoing trials and convictions of all those January 6 patriots or insurrectionists, depending on your point of view, are one of those places. The attorney for William Reid, a participant who was convicted and sentenced to six and a half years of a hard time, wrote a sentencing memo in support of Mr. Reid. Mr. Reid’s revolutionary antics, the lawyer explained, “belies a roiling inner turmoil about his place in the world and a deep sense of inadequacy.” Dr. Phil would no doubt nod in sympathy. The judge wasn’t buying it.

This immediately struck me as something some professional shrink might have said to me in my 20s and 30s. Not that I’m a paragon of “adequacy” today, but after almost eight decades on this earth, and a lifetime of successes and failures, I kind of have an idea of my place in the world, whether I like it or not. Right before I became paralyzed in 1996, I couldn’t say that. At that point, everything in my life was falling apart. My writing career in Hollywood was reduced to writing specious filler like “The World’s Worst Drivers, Part Two,” and my financial place in the world was teetering on bankruptcy. I was seriously lost, trudging out to my home office every day and staring at a blank yellow pad, pondering who I might call to beg for a job. Or what lawyer I could call to restructure the home loan that was laughably beyond my means. My mother-in-law would stand by the door as I returned from a pitch meeting, hoping to see me with a smile and a thumb’s up when what she usually got was a “they’re thinking about it…” It was a painful time.

Becoming instantly paralyzed didn’t “save” my life; it actually brought me lower. It was inadequacy writ large. I pretended to outsiders that I could handle this with no real confidence that I actually could. I knew I had to keep working on something, but I also knew that doing low-rent writing work was a demoralizing dead end.

But the paralysis, coming when it did, served a very useful purpose. It allowed me, really forced me, to start over. It took a while to realize this, a long two years of treading water and feeling sorry for myself. But unconsciously, I think, I was preparing to take some chances and not look back. When something came along to lift me out of my loser mindset – an offer to write a tongue-in-cheek faux history of the faux Sopranos crime family – I didn’t hesitate. If David Chase had confidence in me, well, so did I. Soon, everything changed, radically.

I tell this story because it is a story that I have heard repeatedly since I came to know the world of the disabled. It has a theoretical name – Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome – but that sounds more highfalutin than the actual experience. You know a lot of people, feeling inadequate and have no direction at home, who turn to drinking or drugs or maybe storm the Capitol to evade the truth. The spark that straightens you out could be utterly random – being asked to write a book was certainly that. And except for a lucky few, that feeling of inadequacy never really goes away. This is not a Disney movie. You can conquer the world and still feel that way. Some of the most successful people I’ve ever met feel that way. Like paralysis, it’s just a wound you work around.

As the title of a new best-selling book announces, life Is hard. But not impossibly so.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.