Yesterday morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I drove to teach a morning yoga session on Clifton beach in Cape Town. The beautiful summer's day filled my heart with joy, and I felt blessed to have a profession that brings me such fulfilment.
However, as I approached Kloof Nek Road, my serenity was shattered by a distressing scene: police cars, flashing sirens, a crashed car, and the remnants of a helmet and motorbike scattered across the road.
In an instant, my own deep-rooted trauma resurfaced, despite my years of dedicated work to overcome it. Though I have made significant progress in finding lightness and joy, the sight of that helmet instantly transported me back to the memories of my own severe injuries and the prolonged suffering they inflicted upon me for more than half my life. The trauma encompasses multiple dimensions—emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual.
Tears welled up in my eyes uncontrollably as I continued to drive, fully aware of the life-altering impact that person on the motorbike must have experienced. Their existence had changed in an instant, forever altered, much like mine was on that fateful night many years ago.
At the age of 18, I spent two months in the hospital, my body broken with fractures in my neck, pelvis, and sacrum. I have no recollection of the accident itself, only fragments pieced together from the accounts of others and a haunting image of a speeding car losing control, soaring through the air, and ejecting me onto the unforgiving ground. My hospital memories are blurred, a haze of medicated dreams while under the influence of morphine. I often questioned when I would wake up from this surreal nightmare. In the initial month, I struggled to comprehend my surroundings, my own identity, and even the faces of those who came to support me. It took another month for reality to set in - an arduous existence marked by pain, healing, depression, and the relentless fight to regain strength and return to my former self. Anxiety coursed through my every fibre as I grappled with the notion of this "new, broken me," followed by a long and arduous journey of recovery. Acceptance, though still a daily practice, finally found its place in my life many years later.
Witnessing this recent accident transported me back to that very moment - just after my discharge from the hospital, still reliant on crutches, with my misaligned pelvis held together by healing screws from the multiple fractures. I struggled to support my stiff neck and endured constant pain in my fragile right hip and back. It was during this time that my mom accompanied me to buy new clothes, as none of my old garments fit my emaciated 38 kg frame. For the first month, I couldn't eat; instead, I relied on an intravenous drip for sustenance.
On our way to Eastgate Shopping Centre, while stopped at a major intersection, right in front of our eyes, we witnessed a taxi colliding with a motorbike. Upon impact, I instinctively buried my head, overwhelmed with shaking and uncontrollable tears. My mother attempted to console me, but the tears persisted, accompanied by deep gasps of shock and fear reverberating through my entire being. The sheer horror of witnessing such traumatic events inflicted upon someone else evoked haunting memories of my own past experiences. If this were written on paper, tear-stained drops would mark my words, evidence of the emotional turmoil within.
It both surprises and doesn't surprise me that this incident still resonates within me, eliciting a profound empathetic response towards those enduring any form of suffering. The silver lining, however, lies in the fact that in years past, such an occurrence would have completely derailed my day. I would have succumbed to incessant self-loathing, fixating on the physical and mental damage I had endured, mourning the loss of my former strength and grappling with the realisation that complete recovery was unlikely. The toll would have manifested in my demeanour, visible through my facial expressions and body language. My motivation would have waned, and the spectre of depression may have cast its shadow upon me.
But yesterday was different. In the midst of my tears, I took deliberate, deep breaths, drawing them from the depths of my belly, nurturing myself through the act of crying. I gently wiped my eyes and inhaled once more, grounding myself in a brief moment of respite. A smile formed on my face as I transitioned into a state of gratitude, acknowledging and appreciating the strength I had painstakingly cultivated across every aspect of my being. I parked the car, retrieved my yoga mats, and hastened towards the beach to meet my clients for a sunrise yoga session on Clifton - an opportunity to bestow the gift of tranquility and fulfilment upon others, which proved to be both a blessing and a wondrous experience.
The journey of learning and embracing the various facets of yoga has been instrumental in my healing process, permeating every level of my existence. It has been my steadfast companion throughout the years and will continue to guide me for the remainder of my time on this earth. The time has come to commit my story to paper - an account that has dwelled within me for far too long, half of my lifetime. Though I have felt the urge to share fragments of it on several occasions, now is the moment to unburden myself completely, allowing for a deeper level of healing. By doing so, I aspire to offer solace and inspiration to others, instilling in them the belief that recovery is indeed possible - that both body and mind possess the innate capacity to heal, if given the opportunity and approached with diligence.
With love extended to you, wherever you may be and whatever emotions you may be grappling with, I implore you to breathe through it. Trust that you will emerge from the depths and find solace. Namaste.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tammy Sullivan is a yoga flow teacher offering classes in Cape Town’s beautiful natural spaces. Follow her journey at @capetownyogagirl on Instagram.