15 years ago I was face down on an operating table with an incision that ran from the center of my neck down to my tailbone.
I was 13 years old.
Two years prior, I had been diagnosed with a severe form of idiopathic scoliosis that confined me to a back brace.
This surgery was an optimistic alternative to wearing a back brace that left me nearly as cripple as the disease itself. Doctors implanted two long metal rods on each side of my spine. They’ll be there for the rest of my life.
Before and after the surgery I heard so many things: that I wouldn’t do a lot of things the same again; that the extent of my physical aptitude would be limited; that I should take things slow; that I shouldn’t play sports.
But the doctors and nurses who expressed such grim hope didn’t know that my tiny child mind held some of the most stubborn, relentless, and fearless dispositions.
I didn’t listen.
One year later I had made the high school basketball team. I had picked the viola back up — I had already been playing for a few years. I was also running track and cross country. I could stretch my body like a rubber band and bench press just as much — if not more — than all the big girls at practice.
At the age of 14, I resolved that I would be the only one who made the decisions about how far I would push my own limits.
And push I did.
After about seven years of self-medicating, self-educating, and some serious self-loathing, I had begun to suffer with chronic pain. Sometimes the pain would be so unbearable I could barely move my back and lower extremities.
We would call the doctor and his only reply would be:
get in the shower with the water as hot as you can stand it. Let it run down your spine.
I was beginning college at the time: studying classical viola at the University of North Texas. Four hours (minimum) of daily practice was required for surviving the gruesome music program.
I also held a lot of physically taxing jobs, like waiting tables and delivering packages. They would require lots of man labor. But there were times when I had no choice.
Some days the pain would make me so depressed that I would stay in bed until a few sunsets passed.
I never sulked for long. I needed saving. I needed refuge. But it needed to be something natural.
I got in the gym.
I began to teach myself basic lifting techniques, proper form, and proper nutrition. I took up yoga and later found the ultimate salvation that would be responsible for solving many of the other problems in my life: mediation.
The true treasure was in discovering that all of these were essentially connected. And further, if I could master one, I could master all. I worked from the outside in.
I found a way to weave these discoveries into this magical spider web of vital tools that I would use to rebuild a normal life.
I had never been so physically weak — not even after the surgery. My mind and body seemed to be spinning on two separate orbits in two different galaxies.
I set a goal to whip my body into the best physical shape I had ever been in.
Three months later — after extensive lifting, meditation, and diet — I had built my dream body. I could lift nearly two times my body weight in pounds. I could bend over backwards, and I could sprint like the wind.