03 Nov My Story: Easy Lives Make Boring People.
Love her or hate her, Rhonda Rousey said it best. I read her quote, “Easy lives make boring people,” when I was at my worst. And all I could think was, “F#$% this. I’m fighting.”
On August 10th, 2013 I was sitting at a red light in the back of a taxi in Boston with my then-boyfriend. We had been out for dinner and drinks and were responsible enough not to drive. I don’t remember all of the details; mainly because I wasn’t expecting the deafening crash, the lurch, the sharp pain in my spine and neck. And though I was no stranger to pain or the fear that crept up the back of my neck, the “knowing” that something terrible and irrevocable just happened, I wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Rewind a few years.
Like I said, pain and I are no strangers. I’ve had very mild scoliosis for my entire life, and though I’m lucky you would only notice it if I told you about it and your looking really, really hard, anyone with scoliosis knows that it hurts. I grew up as a competitive dancer and apparently all of those back bends and splits aren’t conducive to a slightly crooked lower spine (oops.) I can remember walking around the mall with my friends at 17, my back aching. I never told a soul that it hurt.
When I was in my twenties, I owned a nutrition consulting business and decided that I had to be in perfect shape to be taken seriously. My Type A personality coupled with my high tolerance for pain was a recipe for disaster. One day, I was squatting in the gym and my sacroiliac joint (the join that connects your pelvis to your spine) went out. For most people with this type of injury, they naturally bounce back within a couple of weeks. For me, it took hours of physical therapy every day and more money than I can count (or maybe more money than I wanted to count so I stopped counting.) I worked hard, harder than I thought possible, and a couple years later I was finally healed. I felt like me again.
Fast forward to that night in August of 2013. Apparently, a very intoxicated driver in a white van ran his red light, totaled our taxi and just took off. No checking to see if we were alive. No turn around to assess the damage he had done. I remember getting out of the taxi full of adrenaline, telling myself I was okay. And feeling relieved that my then-boyfriend and the taxi driver were fine. But I wasn’t okay and it turns out I wouldn’t be for a long time.
It’s funny. I remember thinking that it just wasn’t possible to go through horrific pain again. I had already “paid my dues” and learned what truly mattered in life. Trust me when I tell you it has nothing to do with how much money you make or having a perfect body or perfect life or any of the other nonsense you see on social media. After years of hard work, I finally had my life back and I didn’t “deserve” to suffer again. My friends and family know that I’m a solid, good person- it’s the thing about me that I am most proud of. I believe in fighting for the people you love and anyone who knows me will tell you they can count on that from me. But it turns out, that’s just not the way life works. Life can hit you hard at any time. Even if you don’t deserve it. And even if you have already been dealt your fair share of hell.
After the car accident, my lower spine (from L1 to L5) looked and felt like a Jenga game; none of the pieces lining up the way that they should. I stopped sleeping because the pain was so intense, often going three or four days at a time without any rest. Blinding, ocular migraines became a weekly thing sending me to bed for an entire day. I thought that PTSD was something only our brave soldiers went through, so I didn’t correlate the rare night I finally crashed but woke up screaming to that; but there it was staring me in the face. I can’t tell you how many times my screams woke my then-boyfriend, bolting him upright “What, what? Are you okay??” Sometimes my spine would snap (you could hear it across the room) and I would drop to my knees in pain. Sometimes the pain was so bad I was sick to my stomach. And then as I was getting sick and helpless to do anything about it, I could hear and feel the snap of every vertebrae going out of alignment, sending sharp pain down my legs.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do; I fought. I used my Type A personality and my tough attitude to my advantage, sought out multiple treatments and spent hours a day making it my job to get better. Throughout this journey, I was lucky enough to work with some amazing health professionals that made me whole again. Whether he realizes it or not, my Chiropractor, Dr. Kowalski, was my rock. He put me back together piece by piece and I can never repay him for that. He also patiently answered my endless questions (“Which vertebra is out today? Was it L5? I think it’s L5!”), when he probably just wanted to tell me to be quiet and just let him adjust me. Haha! Brendan Carney, my Acupuncturist was also an anchor for me. He gave me hope and kept me laughing, even while he was injecting needles in and out of my muscle spams along my spine during dry needle therapy sessions. Roberta Hill, my massage therapist, was beyond patient with me and never judged me when I was breaking down; I learned that someone’s hands, someone’s words, can heal you inside and out.
These are just a few of the health professionals that walked my long journey with me and still do to this day. It’s hard to put into words how much these people mean to me. They saved me.
And that’s just the physical part of it. When you’re in pain and suffering for years, the rest of the world is still moving on. How do you explain to your friends that you can’t make it to their important events? How do you tell your boyfriend what it feels like to have your ability to be you, taken from you? I was used to working a million hours a week and in my time off, sweating it out at the gym and hanging out with my friends. I was young and unstoppable. Now I struggled just to sleep and couldn’t carry a bag of groceries. You can’t explain to someone what that is like. You just can’t. And trust me when I say this, I 100% know it could have been worse. I pray every day that my life, my luck, never goes there. If the taxi driver didn’t turn the cab just right, I wouldn’t be here writing this.
A few months after the accident and precisely three hours before I was supposed to get on a flight for my first trip with my then-boyfriend and his family, my spine snapped and I dropped to my knees in pain. Three hours. I almost made it. Turns out, staying behind was one of the best things to ever happen to me. And before you ask, I forced my ex to go; we argued because he wanted to stay back with me but I wouldn’t allow it. Those of you that know me personally are nodding your head right now and laughing “yup, she’s that stubborn.” I wanted him to enjoy the week for both of us (one of us was going to Aruba, dammit!) and the last thing I wanted was to add the guilt of him not going to the frustration I was already feeling.
I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t on the beach somewhere glistening in the sun while sipping on a drink with a little umbrella in it, I was going to make this week count for something. There was a reason I didn’t get on that plane. Bleary eyed, in more pain than I can put into words, I opened my laptop and created my Valerie Cogswell Nutrition Chef page on Facebook. Within 24 hours of starting the page, I had over 1000 likes. And the first tiny seed, what would later become my business, was born.
These days, I’m just grateful. I’m me again. Only I’m the best version of myself. Because I know what it’s like to suffer for years on end, to have your life as you know it, destroyed. There’s a massive difference between pain and suffering. Pain sucks of course but it’s usually temporary and there’s hope or an understanding that you’ll get better and life will eventually return back to normal. Suffering comes from years of relentless pain and changes you. I crossed that threshold a long time ago. Today when I think about the pointless things that used to concern me, I can’t help but shake my head. I was always a good person, but my priorities were silly. And I had no idea how to truly put myself in someone else’s shoes. These days when I see someone suffering, I reach out. The empathy in me is intense. One of the main reasons I’m excited for the increasing growth of my business is because I can’t wait to be successful enough to pay it forward to someone who needs me. It’s only a matter of time.
Physically, I’m strong and aside from hiking a mountain, there’s not much I can’t do! I carry my own groceries and suitcases. I rarely have to ask someone for help (though I’m certainly not too proud to.) I work out every day. I’m in awesome shape and proud of the sexy muscles I see in my back, thighs and abs. I stretch and eat clean. When I’m not working or training, I’m out with my friends and having a blast. If there was ever a question for me about what matters in life, I’m 100% certain of it today. This world is a hell of a lot bigger than you and me; how you treat people and the difference you make for others is what’s important. I feel like I have so much to make up for and I’m living like it every day.
And lastly, business is great- thanks to you guys! Apparently you hate dieting as much as I do! My real life approach to getting fit through easy delicious food resonates with you and I’m so happy for that. This little seed is turning into a full blown flower and I’m both grateful and proud. I’m busy every day working with clients, creating recipes, leading nutrition and cooking demos, and living my dream.
I was hesitant to share my story. I hate showing weakness and I guess I’ve never wanted to be judged for what I’ve been through. People look at you differently when they learn you’re not what they thought; that maybe you don’t have the perfect life that they envisioned. But to me, that’s what makes me beautiful- I’m strong because I’ve had to be and I’m there for the people that need me. Ultimately, I decided to tell my story for two reasons. First, things aren’t always what they seem. We live in a world of pretty filters and happy faces on social media. But the truth is, everyone is struggling in some way. And nothing is perfect.
I’m also sharing my story because if you have a dream or you want something bad enough, it’s your job to give it everything you’ve got and go for it. And who cares how long it takes as long as you have a dream? If I can work hard year after to year to heal my broken body and become stronger than ever, then you can walk away from the people that hurt you, get in shape, start that business or break out of your shell. I have learned that there is nothing I can’t do and 98% of the time excuses are usually rooted in fear. Walls can only stop you if you let them. It’s up to you to break out the sledge hammer.
Throughout this nightmare, I would look in the mirror and wouldn’t recognize the face staring back at me. My mom once looked at me and told me I was the strongest person she knew. If you knew how strong my mom is (all 4 feet and 11 inches of her), you would know what a compliment that is. I may not have recognized the red eyes and the bone weary fatigue and hot anger staring back at me, but I recognized the set of my jaw and the determination. F#$% this. I’m fighting.