Loss and relationships after ACL surgery


I don’t know why I find it so comforting to find out there’s another climber in the world recovering from ACL surgery right now. I guess it’s nice to know that in the ACL-recovery sphere, which is generally focused on helping teenagers return to playing competitive soccer and basketball, there is at least one other person in the world who will never be worried about cutting and pivoting drills…whose primary concerns include whether she will be able to bend her knee enough and have the strength to mantle onto a ledge, whether she’ll have the stability to bound down a 1000’ boulder field at the end of a long day, and whether her knee will stop hyperextending so she can plunge-step safely .

Okay, so maybe Vera  – let’s call her by her name already! – hasn’t articulated these concerns explicitly, but I bet she is probably thinking about these things.

One of the things Vera insightfully articulated, though, is the loss of identity when an injury prevents you from doing the sport you love. In a blog post she writes:

I struggled a lot with my sense of identity after the accident. I viewed myself as a climber and an outdoorsy person. All of sudden, I could not walk and do things I love doing. And sometimes it got to me.

Yup, nailed it! In addition to identity, I experienced a lot of other losses, too. I go to the mountains every weekend to recharge and feed my soul, to connect with people, to get a feeling of accomplishment, to face the unexpected and have an adventure, and to get plenty of strenuous exercise that my body needs to thrive. Tearing my ACL was like pulling the plug on all of these things.

These losses led to some pretty bleak times for me leading up to surgery and after. As my husband can testify, I still have moments where I just lose it. I also have avoided some social situations that would have rubbed salt into my wounds.

There is a powerful lesson, though, at least with respect to identity and relationships. Vera writes:

I’ve had time to think a lot and the realization that climbing is not what defines me (despite me loving it to bits) was a huge relief. I am more than a climber. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, girlfriend, friend, employee and much more . . . Sometimes we forget those, who patiently wait for us, when we come back from our adventures.

Yup! I hate to admit that it took such a horrible injury to push the reset button on some of my relationships. It’s awesome to be able to go to such amazing places in the mountains, but not at the expense of the people you love, the people who are your anchors when times are not great.

Like Vera, I cannot wait to get back to climbing, scrambling, and skiing again. This time, however, I’ll  do so with a greater awareness of who I am and the impact on the people who are important to me.

Photo by alexindigo.


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2 responses to “Loss and relationships after ACL surgery”

  1. Vera says :

    First of all, thanks so much for stopping by at my blog.
    It’s comforting knowing there’s another fellow climber out there going through ACL rehab. My main concern are aggressive dropped knees. I’m quite short and they are my trademark. Fingers crossed we both heal well and send all our projects when we return back to climbing. I just need to watch that power to weight ratio.. 🙂
    Another well written post, I am very glad I have found your blog.

  2. Anne Lene says :

    I understand exactly what you guys are talking about.

    Any injury that is major or prolonged can take a bit of your confident away, confident in who your are and what you are good at.

    I noticed that myself with my ongoing 3,5 years of migraine/stress headaches from car accident, there was a little while I lost a lot of confidence in what I was capable of doing. You just need to chug through it, and you tend to come out stronger at the other end 😉

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