When dancer Samantha Diaz, 34, was severely burned in a fire, she felt lucky to be alive. Part of her recovery was accepting that her body, especially her skin, would never be the same. With mindfulness and grit, she’s pushed through, and she’s ready to dance again.
The accident happened during a performance. We were doing a show that involved fire, and as I was backstage refueling a torch with alcohol, the bottle exploded. At first all I could see was fire, and I just kept thinking, “This can’t be happening to me…” Then after they put out the flames, I could see some of the blisters and melting skin. I was in total shock, and it didn’t sink in how badly I was hurt.
I found out the full extent of the damage later. I had first-, second-, and third-degree burns over 40 percent of my body. They are mostly on my left side, on my left leg and arm, part of my right arm and leg, and my belly. The burns on my belly actually look like tiger stripes because I was hunched over trying to protect myself. I was in the hospital for a month and a half. They took skin grafts from my back and thighs to help my arms and legs heal. Now I’m home and doing therapy: learning how to walk, learning how to shower, learning how to eat again, building strength. It’s like being reborn and going back to the basics. I’m so lucky that my mother and grandmother are living with me. They are so supportive, and this journey would be so much harder without them. The doctors say recovery will take about two years.
One of the worst moments of my recovery was when I finally saw myself, my skin, without any bandages or compression garments.
I was getting out of the shower the second week I was home and I saw myself in the mirror. My skin, my whole body, was so drastically different and the full weight of what had happened to me finally settled in. On top of reliving my accident in that moment, I realized would never look the same, and the shock was so intense. My scars would always be there on my skin. They would always be visible, reminding me and everyone who saw me, about the accident. I had an anxiety attack — I couldn’t breathe and I was just crying nonstop. And for a long time, I would cry every time I took a shower.
As the weeks and months passed, I realized that part of the initial anxiety I was feeling was a lack of power and needing to let go of my past self. I decided that I was not going to be a victim of this experience, so I am consciously choosing to see the good. I knew I had to make peace and love myself the way I look now. Slowly but surely, I began to appreciate how incredible my skin is to be able to heal after such a traumatic experience. If I loved my body before the accident, I love it 100 times more today for how strong and resilient it is.
I am turning my showers into a time of healing, self-care, and transformation instead of fear. When I take a shower now, I spend time massaging every part of my body, and sending it love and letting the water cleanse and heal. I think about the work it is doing, regenerating, and I thank all the cells in my body for how far we have come since the accident. I’ve always been a meditator, and now I meditate with so much more intention in order to keep my mind quiet and at peace.
I try to take it step by step. First I was walking, now I am walking better. My arms are getting stronger. I go to physical therapy two or three times a week. I recently danced in public for the first time since the accident. I hadn’t planned to — I was just there to observe at a festival that I used to participate in. But after a few hours I felt inspired, and I just got up and ran through some choreography. For me that was a big accomplishment, to be able to go back to that environment and do what I love to do, which is dance. The experience made me feel so thankful for my body and my skin and how I was able to heal — both externally and internally.
When I go back to dancing and teaching again, I want to be able to help people, especially women, to really connect and love their bodies as they are. We can learn to nurture consciously and give ourselves compassion and love through dance. I feel like people will understand that message because they know what I’ve been through. Yes, I changed completely, but I embrace the change. I’m going to love myself through the change and beyond.
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