So much has changed since I attended RWA 2017, and I’m still struggling to deal with it. For those who don’t know, I participated in a panel discussion on creating disabled characters, with Karen Rose, Tessa Dare, Andrew Grey, Sue Ward Drake, and Alice Eakes, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude for getting me through what turned out to be a very traumatic event, after which the old nightmares resurfaced, and I woke gasping for air and searching for my husband, only to find myself safely tucked in my bed, at home. Now, don’t let that make you think I regret doing the panel, because nothing could be further from the truth.

The simple fact is I owe Karen Rose a huge debt of gratitude, because through her panel, I find myself once again moving forward, when I thought I’d done all the healing I could manage. Yet, fate has a wicked sense of humor, and here I am trudging forth in a new direction, when I least expected it. In truth, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I’m finally free, after almost twenty years of self-imposed silence. And in sharing my experience, in revealing my scars, I’ve met countless lovely individuals fighting their own battles, so many in need of support and encouragement, and I’ve pledged do what I can to help them, as Karen helped me, with ice cream and alcohol, and I love her for that.

But Karen wasn’t the only one who came to my aid at RWA. Like a chivalrous knight, Andrew Grey selflessly donated his hand, and almost suffered a few broken fingers, as I clung to him while I spoke. During the panel, I related the events that ended my law enforcement career and left me disabled. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. One thing I thought might help me reconcile my decision to out myself as a disabled person, after fighting so hard to hide it for almost twenty years, was to explain what romance meant to me during some of the darkest days of my life.

When it comes to the disabled, and I’m speaking of those who suffered a life-altering impairment, most people assume it’s the difficulty in accepting our limitations that presents our greatest challenge. That couldn’t be more wrong. In truth, we’ll never accept how we are now. We just learn to cope with the new version of us. The greatest barrier to recovery and healing is our tendency to look to the past. To remember how we once were, when we saw ourselves as ‘whole.’ And the loss doesn’t happen just that once—at the moment of the injury. It happens again and again, in countless different ways, so often entrenched in the seemingly insignificant things we previously took for granted, and part of us dies a little more each time we’re confronted by what we can no longer perform.

For me, the hardest thing about surviving a devastating injury was the overwhelming temptation to keep looking back over my shoulder. To remember what I considered my glory days, when I could do anything I wanted. When I ran marathons. When I put on a uniform, loaded my gear into my unit, went 10-8, and tried to make positive change in my community, a single call at a time. Maybe that’s why I turned to fiction for an escape, because I couldn’t bear my reality, and I couldn’t let go of the past.

Why romance? What did stories of love and happily-ever-after give me? Hope. And for someone with no hope at all, no ability to see past the pain of the moment or the memories of what they used to be, that’s no small thing. During that time, which my husband refers to as my lost years, because he said I just looked lost, I had no direction, I had nowhere to go, but slowly romance opened my eyes to the possibilities I’d never considered.

Through those characters who fought to win the ever-elusive love, I began to see myself as something new. As viable. As useful. I also realized I had taken my family and friends for granted, because I was not the most pleasant person to be around. I was angry. I was mad at the world for abandoning me, but all that didn’t matter when I picked up a book.

For a few hours, I could travel to Regency England, ride with medieval knights, join a posse of cowboys, or run with the vampires, interspersed with the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, angst, tension and, above all, never-ending love. While some might consider the requisite happy ending somewhat trite, for me it was a lifeline. Most important, I could get away from the doctors, the physical therapy, and the fear of the unknown, because I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. All I knew was what I’d been and that there was no going back. My life as I’d known it was over, yet I could relate to the damaged characters who somehow found a way to move forward, amid seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and I began to realize my life wasn’t over, and I still had something to contribute to the world.

Now, when I sit down at my desk to write, I imagine someone out there, someone alone, some poor soul I don’t even know, and I try to invest my words with the inspiration I needed when I was so low I couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed. While I don’t expect everyone to enjoy my work, if I can help just one person, that lost reader who doesn’t know where to go next, that’s worthwhile, and I can live with that.

In the spirit of giving, I’m awarding two e-copies of my latest release, The Stablemaster’s Daughter, to two lucky readers, which I will announce on Monday, August 21. All you have to do is answer a single question: What does romance mean to you?

***CONGRATULATIONS to my winners: Christa Paige and Maggie Whitworth***