Break Free… What We Can Learn From Aron Ralston

I was recently reminded of the gruesome and unbelievable story of a man, Aron Ralston, who had to cut off his arm to set himself free from the boulder that captured it. He was out alone in the wilderness for days as this nightmare unfolded.  The story is an agonizing tale of both relentless fight and desperate diligence.  If you haven’t read or heard of the story, go here.

As he was out rock climbing, a boulder fell onto his arm holding him captive for days until he did the unthinkable. He was starving and freezing and slowly dying… he knew the only way he would live, was to break free from that rock that bound him. By doing so, he would take his blunt knife and scrape away the decaying skin, only to slam his body against the rock to break the bones free.

In order to live, he needed to cut off a part of him.

It’s an extraordinary story. 

I often wonder if there are pieces and parts of who I am that are stuck, keeping me from living the life God intended for me to live.

Aron’s experience is one that ignites a powerful question for us all…

Is there a part of our lives that is bound and stuck that we need to painstakingly cut off in order to truly live?

Oh, to be starving, freezing, and all alone for days out in the wilderness with not a soul in sight…  watching your ‘stuck part’ rot in decay, while it destroys the rest of your body.

I doubt many of us are enduring such a vicious event.  I simply can’t imagine…

But perhaps this resonates deeply in us all?

Are we slowly dying due to parts that are decaying in our own lives? Are we desperately longing to be free of what prevents us from experiencing true joy ? Perhaps we are using a blunt knife that never succeeds in cutting us free, because we are just too afraid to break it off?

Toxic relationships.


Behavior patterns.

Negative thoughts.

Abusive marriages.






Burning memories.

Childhood traumas.





We watch those parts rot, as it sucks the very life out of us.  We are terrified and tired and trying to save ourselves, but the very thought of breaking it off is unthinkable. Have we realized that its power is what’s slowly decaying parts of our life that need new life?

Perhaps we can learn from Aron’s fight for freedom…

“When his blunt knife pierced his skin but came to rest against solid bone, Ralston thought there was no chance he could perform the gruesome amputation that would save his life. He brushed some grit from his trapped thumb and a sliver of flesh peeled off “like the skin of boiled milk”, he remembers. “I’m like, what the . . . ? I take my knife and I’m poking a bit more and the knife just slips into the meat of my thumb like it’s going into room-temperature butter. My hand has almost jellified. The knife tip goes in and, ‘pssstt’, the gases from decomposition escape and there’s this putrid smell. I go into this rage. I’m in this hyper-emotional state after all this regimented discipline to keep it together and in this moment, when I’m trying to rip my arm out from the rock, I feel it bend and it stops me – ‘That’s it! I can use the boulder to break my bones!’” 

Can you imagine the noxious vapors that expelled from his rotting thumb? Can you imagine the rancid waste that may be released if you attempted to puncture that fatal piece of your life?

Aron didn’t figure out how to be set free, until he touched the decaying part and realized its demise. This is what inspired him with the answer that would eventually save his life.  It would be gruesome and painful and yet, he was euphoric in the revelation. Why?

I can only guess that when a person gets to that place of true desperation, the inevitable answer and relentless force is awakened to BREAK free.

I can picture it, can you?

Slamming his arm violently against the rock and hearing the loud CRACK of his bone echo through the canyon. Slamming once again, to break the second bone that was locking him in…  CRACK!

After that intense liberation, he had more work to do. Climb down and walk miles to find someone, anyone to help him…He was without his limb, probably bleeding, starving, cold, utterly exhausted and alone. He couldn’t survive unless he found someone- anyone that would nurse him back to health. He had come so far, through the perils of self-preservation, discipline and courage to dispose of his dead arm, with the hope of restoring his withering life.

Maybe we should all take a close look at our own lives. There may be a process much like his we need to bravely endure, in order to save our lives. Perhaps we need to first identify it, brush off the surface of dirt to expose the eroded flesh beneath, then start to carve away the layers, and eventually break free. After doing so, we can set our path on finding the help we need to restore, repair, and renew the vital life we were meant to live.

My favorite pivotal part of this story is when he deliriously envisions his future playing with his son with his amputated arm.

This dream of a life worth living… full of purpose and a plan is what gave him the strength and conviction to be set free.

Perhaps you too, have a dream. One of hope and fulfillment and purpose. A plan that will unleash the power within to set yourself free. A different you will emerge, stronger with a fierce new perspective and passion for the life you were meant to live.

The link to where I found his information is here:

  Break Free



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    • says

      Thanks so much Meredith. I really believe we all could think about this more seriously… asking ourselves if there is any places we own that are surely rotting, or interfering with all we can be.

      It’s an ongoing journey- 🙂

  1. says

    Wow, very powerful Chris and couldn’t even imagine Chris. I give this guy tons of credit and truly a hero in my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing and heading over to read more about this now front he link, too.

    • says

      I couldn’t imagine either Janine!! I don’t think I would make it. But the strength and perseverance that comes out in a human being is a fascinating thing to admire in cases like these. We are a mighty strong species indeed! It makes me think of the people who have had the unbelievable determination to break free from the chains of their lives… there countless who have endured incredible atrocities, and managed to break free.

  2. says

    You have such a gift for words, Chris. I suspect there are a lot of people who need to cut something out of their lives, but they are paralyzed with fear. I wonder how far I would be able to go in that situation.

    • says

      I think of those precious souls bound in a relationship that is abusive, and those that are captive of addiction… and my heart just bleeds for them.

      I don’t know how this guy did it- I simply can’t imagine what he went through. It’s such an amazing story.

  3. says

    I can’t watch the movie, but I do like reading about it here.
    I would hope I’d have the courage or whatever it takes to do the same thing to save myself.
    Now I’m Googling him!

  4. says

    Wow, what an amazing analogy. I haven’t watched the movie b/c I am scared it will be too intense. I bet that is how a lot of people who are struggling w/ their own “rot” feel. They turn a blind eye b/c facing what is holding you down is too hard or scary.

    • says

      I know there are so many who want so badly to break free, but just can’t find the strength and power within themselves to do it. It’s quite heart-breaking and literally sometimes breath-taking.

  5. says

    I know the story – and I LOVE your analogy Chris – like LOVE it all caps LOVE it. Because sometimes, we are so hell bent on hanging onto something that if we can just let go it, life opens up in a whole new way. That new way can be scary. So scary. But most of us aren’t going to lose an arm over it, right?

    • says

      Do you know that I seriously thought of you when I wrote this post!? Simply because you are one of those heroes in my book, that cut off your arm to gain your health and your life back- and offer a better life for your precious children as well.

      It wasn’t easy- but I know you were starving and alone and watching that part decay and you BROKE away from that part… I envision your ‘future dream’ that gave you the determination to find that life with purpose and fulfillment as you trudged forward limbless and bleeding-alone, embarking on the hardest journey you ever imagined.

      You did it. You not only survived but now you’re climbing BIGGER mountains that YOU HAVE CHOSEN to climb, and the victory tastes sweet amidst the fear of the unknown, doesn’t it?

      You. Are. My. Hero. <3

  6. says

    I didn’t want to go to the link, fear of panic to be honest, however, this post struck SO close to home for me, right now, I know you know that SSSF. Thank you for sharing. XO. ~a~

    • says

      Oh bless your heart honey… I know. I know. And no need to go over there and read more about the story, you have your own and that is surely enough!!! Love you SSSF!!!! ALWAYS praying for you and thinking about you- truly!!

  7. says

    Such an amazing story about the will to live. But I love your analogy as well. It’s definitely food for thought. Thank you, as always, for making me think about things that I need to change in my life.

    • says

      It really is incredible… I just can’t fathom. But it really does speak to us in the analogy I posed… Even little parts of our lives that tend to decay, and eventually post a threat to our well being. I think it’s always good to re-evaluate in this way often, so we can lead the full lives God intended for us all.

  8. says

    Wow Chris!! His story is awesome! Where there’s a WILL, there’s a WAY! Reminds me of my post I wrote on Monday about childbirth…”Mind over Matter”. It is amazing what our human wills are capable of doing when we’re put in a position to survive! Thanks for reminding us my friend to always be aware of that “dead man” we so often carry around with us and how we must work daily to keep him at bay! Thanks for linking up! Love ya! xoxoxo

    • says

      I need to go read that post Michell!! I have somehow lost it!! Ugh. Can’t keep up for the life of me!! Hey, at least I linked up this week, right? LOL 😉

      There are so many facets to our lives we must consider- are they all filling us with LIFE? I think we need to evaluate our choices and our circumstances continually to ensure the vitality of our God given purpose, amen? 🙂

      I know YOU know this, my dear friend. Oh, how I know you know!

  9. says

    I’ve heard this story but not a lot of the details. I cannot imagine the terror and pain and fear. Your analogy…it’s got me thinking. As you always do! Thank you!

    • says

      Thanks Stephanie! It really is an amazing story… and I think we all need to constantly evaluate our lives to ensure there are no rotting parts that impede our vitality.

  10. says

    An amazing story and an important analogy. We must always remember that when we cut something negative out of our lives, we are simultaneously making room to bring something positive in. For every loss there is also a gain, as difficult as that can be to see sometimes.

    • says

      …”when we cut something negative out of our lives, we are simultaneously making room to bring something positive in.”

      I LOVE that Katie. Beautifully said, my friend.

  11. says

    Chris, just studied Matthew 5:29-30. Thanks -thanks a lot-said with a sarcastic tone- for your timely and thought provoking post. (tone gone now) And hey…..where is that knife…..?

    • says

      Ouch! Perhaps I should say “gotcha!!” Totally cracked up at the *tone* you used Lori!!

      Don’t ya just hate that God is SO PERSONAL, He knows exactly how to getchya? Knife? Not sure if that will work against the hard bone. Perhaps break with a the force of GOD against that boulder, and walk away. Perhaps limp away. But leave that ‘eye’ there to rot. Whatever it may be. Break free.

      His Grace is sufficient, sweet friend!!

  12. says

    What a painful but powerful read! The analogy you draw is as sharp as the crack of bone when broken by the boulder. Certainly gives me pause today to reflect, and also to be incredibly grateful for all I have.

    • says

      I love how you put that Kim. Yes- chilling story, and harsh challenge for those who need to break free. I believe when the pain is most unbearable and the revelation comes… the bone can be broken and many miserable souls can be free at last!

    • says

      I know… it’s such a difficult process to bear with that blunt knife gnawing at those decaying parts of our lives. BUT God is with us…as we agonize to break free. In time, dear one. Freedom comes.

  13. says

    What a thoughtful post! If Aron could cut off his arm to get himself into a better situation, I’m sure I could let go of something to get myself into a better one.

  14. says

    Wow! Chris, this is a wonderfully powerful piece. I know Aron Ralston’s story well, and I’ve never thought of it like this. You are so right. Sometimes there are things in your life you need to break free of, even if it will be a painful process. It’s worth it…and it must be done if you are to live. Just beautiful. I’ll be thinking about this post all day. –Lisa

    • says

      AW Lisa!! Thanks hun!! i really believe we all must constantly be on guard and evaluate our life choices often, so we can truly live without any ‘rotting pieces’… yes?

      Aren’t you girls gone yet? I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I read your pinterest post!! Brrr….. still in my fleece and triple layered socks shaking in my bitterness. Ahem. Excuse me while I go get me some hot cocoa and pout more… 😉 (lol)

  15. says

    I know exactly what I need to break away from, Chris. Aron Ralston’s story is a perfect analogy. I need to think and pray about things and then just do it. Thanks for the vivid example.

    • says

      Oh Jennifer… I just love how you have such clarity on what you need to break away from! I will be thinking about you and praying for you to have the strength it takes to just do it. I love your courage and in insight- and I SO honor your determination!!

  16. says

    Wow, Chris! This story is very powerful and it makes me really think about how we so often hold on to toxic stuff that we should have let go of so long ago!

    • says

      I think everyone has some toxicity in their life that they need to take a good hard look at and find the strength and courage to break free from it. It’s worth the struggle to do this, as it will truly allow us to live a more vital life we were meant to live!

      I’m so glad you stopped by Trinity!!

  17. says

    I have to admit I was too cowardly to even read that in its entirety and full gruesome details.. I cannot imagine that nor would I want to. How awful and scary a situation to be placed in.. On another note, it is very true we hold on to things that are damaging to our psyche – it’s a nice thought to hope that one day we will be able to let them go. Hopefully one day I can let go of all my toxic baggage 😛 Great post, truly makes me think. Have a great one Chris! -Iva

    • says

      It’s a tragic and gruesome story and I totally understand you not reading all the details!! But the message is powerful, and as daunting as the break may be- sometimes living ‘stuck’ is worse than breaking free…

      I love that you came by to read it!! SO grateful and I do pray you muster through the strength to let go of all your toxic baggage… we ALL have some we need to drop by the wayside. And in the end, we will be all the more healthy and liberated- it’s worth the work!

  18. says

    Love the analogy. Fabululous.

    I watched the movie of Aron’s life recently and thought to myself— “could I ever do that to save my own life?”

    Great insight: ****I can only guess that when a person gets to their place of true desperation, the inevitable answer and relentless force is awakened to BREAK free****

    Breaking Free. Liberation. Releasing.

    What could be better?


    • says

      It’s a tragic and yet incredibly powerful story, isn’t it? I know many who have endured circumstances that have brought them to their knees- and only then were they able to take those steps to BREAK free. It’s never easy, always terrifying and quite liberating…

      I pray for those who are trapped in their boulders… I pray they throw the dull knife away and break free from the barriers that bind them.

  19. says

    Ah Chris. Breaking free from what’s slowly killing us… It makes sense on paper, but our flesh and soul (mind, will, emotions) don’t want to get on board sometimes. Only grace gets us to that point where we recognize the putrefaction and the noxious fumes and can make that life-saving decision to part ways with what is destroying us. God give us grace to be a people who desire life strongly enough (John 10:10 life) that courage and determination will override fear and folly!

    • says

      Yes Alison!! You are so wise!! Our God is our greatest source and sometimes only source of strength and grace to truly take those fearful steps in breaking free from what destroys us. We must trust in Him, and in Him we can do all things through Christ.

    • says

      Ya know what?? THIS was the post I was going to give you for your blog!!! I wondered how you would respond to it- and I was going to let you know if you read it, that it was originally written for YOU.


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