I’m Cooper Dewalt, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
“We didn’t get to go hiking the first day of our family camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains because it was raining a lot. It rained for 12 hours straight. So we went hiking on the Hen Wallow Falls trail the next day and about two miles in, an enormous tree started to fall. I was trying to get out of the way and I lost my balance. I’d only had just a little bit of warning. My mom yelled that the tree was falling, and I could hear it slipping. I think I turned around and saw it falling, and then I tried to run. There were already other downed trees on the path and it was wet, and that was how I lost my balance. Basically it hit my hand –kind of smacked it- and I landed right next to the tree; I wasn’t pinned underneath. I thought I was alright, but something felt off. I looked down and my left hand looked deformed and beat up real weird –crushed- and then I turned it over and saw the bone sticking out, and a lot of blood. It was the worst pain of my life; like someone had torn the skin off my hand and shoved it in a bucket of ice- numbing and throbbing intensely. I thought I was going to die. I was just in so much pain and it was clear something was severely wrong. They had to rush me, first by ambulance and then by Lifestar chopper, to the hospital so I wouldn’t lose my left arm. My left hand was immobilized the first several weeks after the accident as I went through several surgeries to deal with the damage. I spent nine long days in the hospital where I had received a skin graft, over 100 stitches, and an X-Fix to rearrange my bones back into place. I had to do therapy for three months before my hand was functional again. This happened in October 2018 –I was a junior at West High School- and I did school from home until February because the pain was so overwhelming. I couldn’t get comfortable or do anything with my left hand until about March. The skin graft was more painful than the hand and arm surgery because they were taking a 9 x 3 section off of my thigh. That was to replace the skin I lost on my hand and wrist. Both the arm and leg were major healing traumas.
I was mad and confused the whole time of my recovery, which took about a year and a half. It was like a dream and it didn’t make any sense. I kept having hard conversations with my parents about why bad things happen, and trying to logically understand the purpose of this. I couldn’t talk with God about it because I wasn’t sure I believed in Him- not believing, not sure what to believe. I went to talk to a mentor for a couple months and decided to continue in my faith even though I didn’t know what would happen. During this same season of life I also met with a therapist because of the trauma; through that I came to realize I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I tried a couple therapists over the course of six months before I found a good fit. It was good to go to therapy to talk about it. The OCD had multiplied the questions about my faith. That was what was so hard about it. In some areas, I didn’t know what was real and what was just an intrusive thought. There’s an imbalance in some of the chemicals in my brain cells, which means my brain goes to fight or flight most of the time, and I see stuff in very black and white terms. Because of that, I can kind of go down rabbit holes and obsess or catastrophize- my thoughts can go south really quickly. Intrusive, disturbing thoughts, like about the accident… I’m also prone to dwelling on those. I couldn’t stop thinking about the pain- kept unnecessarily trying to tell myself that I was having pain even though I have a pretty high pain threshold. Then there was the questioning of whether I had faith in God. That was something I was struggling with before the accident: Where do I stand with God? Do I even have faith with Him?
My therapist, who was a Christian, challenged the irrational thoughts I was having about God. In my mind, I thought I had to earn God’s love in some weird way. There were other questions, too, which made me ask whether I had a real faith. But she challenged that. At one point she said, ‘Well can’t you just believe it?’ I was driving home afterward, and I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess I do just have to believe that I have faith in God. You can’t see Him so you just have to have faith, and that’s part of it.’ That was a big moment; that was when it clicked. Even though I still had a lot of questions and concerns, I saw I did have faith. I just had to believe, I didn’t have to do anything. Looking back, I’ve come a long way. During the rough season of battling OCD and doubt, each day was a major struggle. Every day felt heavy. I remember feeling the lowest I’ve ever felt and more exhausted than words could describe. I don’t regret or despise God for any of it. I think God ultimately revealed my OCD and doubt to reach me. The help I received from my mentor, therapist, family, and friends was all God’s providence. People always say they’re so sorry to hear that I went through so many hard moments in a span of a couple years. What they don’t know is that I would do it over and over again if it means I can rest in the Lord’s faithfulness. Now I’m a student at UT and spend most of my time either studying, seeing friends, or volunteering for Young Life. I’m still working through OCD, but on a much smaller scale. My college life has also been so spiritually rich with my Quest bible study. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my accident to build that foundation.”