On Monday, Labor Day 2021, I woke up feeling a bit lethargic and unmotivated. Knowing the seasons were changing and the mountains where I live will be snow covered in the coming weeks, I decided to head to the “high country” and go for a mountain bike ride, alone with my 2 dogs. This area is one of the most remote in the lower 48 states, with a high probability I would not see another human while on a 20ish mile loop with no cell phone coverage and being completely on my own.
As I was feeling less motivated than I normally do for a day full of adventure, I left my house a bit later than usual. After 1.5 hours of driving into the remote backcountry of Idaho, I arrived, unloaded the bike and dogs, and made sure I had all my food and tools needed to head out for a day’s adventure. As I biked, I was in awe of the natural beauty of my surroundings, the solitude, and the gorgeous weather after a cold morning at my house where the temps dipped into the 30s for the first time post-summer.
After about four hours of hard riding enjoying the scenery, having grunted up some intense elevation stopping for lunch, and spending some quality time on my bike, I finally summited the pass and was looking forward to the upcoming downhill as this is one of my favorite trails in the region. After stopping to replenish my water I realized it was getting late and I needed to boogey and get home as darkness was not far off. With a big smile on my face and the excitement of knowing the downhill ride I had ahead, I took off.
The next thing I knew I remember flying over my handlebars with the realization I was in deep trouble as I was about to crash head-first into a large fallen log that was blocking my path. I vividly remember realizing I would be unable to lift my arms to protect my head and neck at the speed I was going. As I slammed into the log with a large crunching sound, I heard and I felt, as my 220 lb. body goes from hurling through the air to immediately being stationary. Not only was this completely terrifying, but I was in immense pain as I writhed about on the ground in complete agony upon impact.
Laying there, and processing what had just happened, my first instinct was to do a quick assessment - physical / emotional / psychological. The bike was on top of me, pinning my crumpled body between the log I had hit and a second log right next to the first. I yelled out for help in case there was a random hunter or adventurer - anyone who could possibly help me. There was nothing. Miles from my truck, and hours from medical assistance, there were no other humans in the area that day. As a former Wilderness EMT I had enough medical training to know I was in a bad predicament.
As I lay on the ground, crumpled, injured, alone, and growing increasingly scared, I was doing my best to evaluate the situation, my needs, and how to proceed. I struggled between reality and what I wanted reality to be. Specifically, I did not want to need help let alone ask for it. I was resolute in thinking I could get out of this situation on my own. I didn’t know it then but I soon realized I would not be getting out by my own power.
In hindsight, when thinking about this through the lens of conflict resolution, it was clear I was in need of outside help and would be unable to navigate this predicament on my own. However, pride and denial were prohibiting me from immediately reaching out and seeking the help I needed. Like so many of my clients and those I assist, I had to stubbornly and naively attempt to get through this situation on my own before the ultimate realization, I needed help.
Denial is a natural psychological defense mechanism. In traumatic events, it’s completely normal, especially in a time of great stress or trauma. While denial often has negative connotations, it is actually a mechanism that can save survivors in crisis as it serves to protect us in the initial stages of shock after an overwhelming loss, fear, accident or traumatic event.
As I step into the role of mediator or work with individuals on conflict resolution, guiding them past these personal stages of denial is where we start to really get into acceptance of their situation. It allows them to step out of the shock of what they feel is out of their control and into a place where their mind is ready to accept a neutral third party, like a mediator to help them get to the next steps on their journey towards resolution.
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