It's been quite a full year for me. I'm two years closer to being a 30-something, I just married the love of my life, I'm half-way through my college career and I've officially closed the door on a decade of medical hurdles.
Called both a "surgical disaster" and a "medical miracle," I don't have a body quite like I'd imagine everyone else's to be: a feminine figure with smooth flesh, voluptuous curves that effortlessly flaunt tight mini-skirts and t-shirts without worrying if certain medical additions are exposed.
At least, that's how I thought every woman felt about her body.
At 18 years old, I was sucked into an alternate universe of IVs, CT scans, cutting apart, putting back together and having my body manipulated like medical marionette.
Ten years later, it's hard to remember what my body looked like before the scars, ostomy bags and IVs became a mainstay in my physical life.
I don't remember what it felt like to sleep on my stomach or to jump in the pool fearlessly. But in exchange, I've learned things about my body, the vessel for the vitality that flows within me, that I will never forget. These lessons have made me who I am.
Mostly, I’ve learned through my body, I can experience the best of what life has to offer. Sticking with difficult times has allowed me to gain some of the most cherished moments in my life, like my wedding day last weekend.
Each surgery has taught me some kind of lesson about the power of positive thinking. Here is my dedication to all 27 of them:
1. Life has many obstacles, many challenges, many blessings and many triumphs, but you only have one body. If you want it to experience the good, you have to stand the bad, too.
2. Emotions are powerful, confusing things. “Talking things through,” or “thinking it out” isn’t always the answer. Some of the most powerful feelings only come to light when you can express them in creative ways. Draw them, take a walk or find a song that embodies what you’re feeling. Let your heart know your mind doesn’t always have to run the show.
3. As long as there is breath flowing through you, you are alive. Wake up. Throw some ice cold water in your face, and scream at the top of your lungs.
Give yourself the jolting reminder you’ll never experience this moment again. Do you really want to miss it? Emotions are really just arrows in your life. Listen to them. They point you in the direction you need to go.
4. Life is about moving on, but it is not about running away.
5. You body needs every kind of nourishment, whole foods, a bit of pampering and a daily open dialogue to reach its full potential.
6. You can’t live a full life if you don’t accept the good with the bad. Only when you can feel the depths of despair will you be able to feel the lightest of joys. I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.
7. The magical, quick-fix solution to finding happiness wherever and whenever you are? Gratitude. When I was stuck in the hospital for four months after a disastrous trio of surgeries, I forced myself to keep a gratitude list from A to Z.
It wasn’t always easy to fill out, but by the time I reached “Z” every night, I always ended up feeling a bit better than when I started.
8. When you’ve been through a difficult, trying period in your life, a part of you becomes “wounded.” This wounded self will always be with you, even when the darkest times are over. If you are able to listen to this wounded part, honor its story and learn from what it has endured, your life will be richer.
9. Laugh even in the roughest of circumstances. Laugh when the surgeons put your family on lockdown because your parents have unsuccessfully tried to sneak you out of the ICU to go shopping.
10. Things don’t happen for a reason. You make things happen for a reason.
11. Reframing “Why me?” into “Why not?” has the power to change your perspective and open you up to possibilities. It’s been said many times that it’s the journey that matters in life, not the destination. And the more detours your journey takes – the more bumps, hiccups and setbacks – the more beautiful eye candy you’ll spot along the way.
12. Every little twist and turn in life has made me who I am today. On one level, I wish I never had to go through a decade of medical trauma. But then, I wonder if I would have had the same amazing people in my life or been pushed to explore new ideas and try new things.
13. You are not your life’s circumstances. Make your life bigger than your present situation. Things pass, but life will always be here.
14. Life is filled with whatever amount of joy you choose to fill it with.
15. Surround yourself with the people you love. They have the power to ignite you.
16. When you’re not sure of your choice, make the decision that best supports your life.
17. Finding yourself is not an “event.” It is a moment-by-moment practice that has no end point.
18. Children are the best teachers on “fearlessness,” “openness” and “presence.” Soak in their lessons any chance you can.
19. Every imperfection and quirk on your body is gorgeous and uniquely you. After my surgeries, I like to think of myself as a beautiful mosaic. I'm broken apart and put together again differently, but I'm still beautiful.
20. To quote one of my favorite Broadway musicals, "Sunday In The Park With George," by Stephen Sondheim, “I chose and my world was shaken – so what? The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. Just keep moving on.”
21. Speaking of musicals, you should stay true to who you are. Follow your passion, and it will be your compass back to yourself when you’ve lost your way.
22. Creativity is more than arts and crafts. Creativity is the willingness to view the world in a different way. See the world with a bit of creativity, and you’ll immediately spot the blessings in your life, no matter the circumstance.
23. Food nourishes your body and invigorates your taste buds. But more importantly, food is a potent connection to your memories, emotions and heart.
Because of my surgeries, for six years out of the past decade, I was unable to eat or drink. I didn’t realize until I had that first nibble of food once again how being able to savor, sip and taste fills the body with every rich sensation of being alive.
24. Even when life feels terrible, there will be a time when you say, “Remember when I went through that? I thought things would never get better!” If you wait it out long enough, all things change, just as life changes. Make it a good change.
25. Hope, faith and trust are more than just fairy dust and whimsy. It is medicine for your soul. I came out of my coma to my doctors telling me I had no stomach, I couldn’t eat or drink and no one knew when or if I would ever be able to again.
I was given no timeline, but I made myself believe “any day now” a miracle would happen and I would be eating. “Any day” turned out to be years later. But now that I can eat and drink freely, my “willing suspension of belief” was worth it.
26. If you feel alone or disconnected, remember you always belong to the universe. There are cells and molecules in your body, just as there are cells and molecules in every tree, dog or person. We are all one and the same. If you feel something, chances are someone else has felt it before. You are always a part of a larger whole.
27. And, since you’re apart of something larger, everything you do has meaning. Every word, step, thought, action or feeling affects someone else, even if you can’t notice it right away. So, keep living your best life, even when it seems there is no way to. You matter.