Saturday, June 23, 2012

When One Little Thing Changes Life

Two weeks ago, I spent most of my out-of-work hours lying on the couch, trying to cope with my back pain from an old injury. The injury happened a few years ago, but my back finally gave up and went south last year. I had to leave my job, and spent six months doing NOTHING except going to doctor appointments and physical therapy. The only other activity my doctor allowed was swimming, because it allowed my spine to completely decompress.

After six months, I decided I needed to go back to work. The only other alternative was to start preparing for a disability claim, and accept that at age 30, my life was pretty much over and I was just lying around waiting to die.

Instead of waiting to die, I wondered, what could I do with my life now that my injury essentially frees me from the societal pressure to work at a respectable 40-hour-a-week job? My husband's salary pays our bills (barely, if we want to do nothing else in life except pay our bills and eat). If I'm bringing in any income at all, we're OK. Now that I'm not expected to do what everyone thinks I should do, I can do anything I want.

I got a part-time job for an animal rescue. The organization drives me nuts, and the pay sucks, but I can work as many or as few hours as my back can handle. It's just a steady paycheck, though, not an end in itself. And honestly, my 25 hours a week pretty much wipes out my back, leaving me to lie on the couch the rest of the time.

Until two weeks ago. While wasting an afternoon on Twitter, I came across an article about all the ways soda is killing everyone. I knew all of these things before, but it was more scary reading them all together in one article. I really have no desire to rot my teeth, become grotesquely obese, and die of cancer. So, I decided to quit.

I have "quit" soda many times before. I'm not sure why, this time, I dropped it with no looking back. I know it's only been two weeks, but I already know that this time is for good. I also kicked my sweet tea habit. I decided that I wouldn't order sweet tea whenever I was out; I would only drink sweet if I sweetened it myself at home so that I knew exactly what was in it, and how much. After two days of only water and unsweetened tea, I felt better than I had in years. By the third day, I suddenly felt like, if I could do this, then there must be countless other things I can do.

I dusted off an old writing project, and started working on it. And I started thinking, what if I just self-published this as a series of e-books? And suddenly, my lifelong dream of being paid writer (maybe even a career writer?) didn't seem so huge and unobtainable.

I added a serving a day of kombucha, which a friend of mine introduced me to a few months ago, into my strict daily beverage routine. It was amazing. On the second day, I woke up and didn't go to the couch. I cleaned my house and played with my dog. My back hurt less and I had more energy. Do you know how good it feels to be moving?? And then I thought, what else? What else can I do?

Today I quit fried food and committed to 30 minutes a day of exercise. It's been almost a year since I had good exercise habits, when my back injury forced me to go on hiatus from Kung Fu. I've steadily gotten softer in the middle and slipped into worse cardio shape. But then I thought, what if I keep removing bad things and replacing them with good things? What if I'm healthier and more fit in my 30s than I was in my 20s?

And then I started meditating. I started focusing on my breathing and choosing to inhale positive things, like love, health, and happiness, and to exhale negative things like fear, illness, and depression. Just for a few minutes, just for a few breaths at a time, whenever I get a quiet moment in the day. And it changed the way I thought of everything around me.

Two weeks ago, I was a near-invalid on my sofa, with nothing to look forward to in life. And then I quit soda. And now I'm a writer, as I always should have been but was afraid to be, with dreams of becoming healthier and happier and more successful every day. One small decision taught me a couple of really big lessons. First, that making one positive change leads to other positive changes. Second, if you purge something negative and replace it with something positive, you can't help but feel so much better that you would never dream of going back. And third, no matter what your circumstances, you can always stop letting life happen to you and start making life happen, and it will completely change the way you see the universe.

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