My name is Kevin and from about 18 on life has not dealt me any winning hands. I’m now 30 but feel like I just hit my 70’s. Growing up in California with a set of wonderful parents was a true blessing. My early life was exciting and growing up in my family allowed me, or at times forced me to, try a bit of everything growing up. Life circumstances threw me off center and I want to share how I found meditation and how it helps me keep my internal balance.
Despite me not being gifted athletically and that I caught more pop-flies with my face than my glove, I always looked forward to game day because of the snacks afterward. I consider myself extremely fortunate because I was always participating in sports.
I played a few years of little league baseball where I was played exclusively for snacks. A single season of soccer, I quit after I somehow found myself sitting on the ball just as another kid was in the mid of a kick. As well as a few years of basketball, which I enjoyed. The best was when my Dad took me water and snow skiing regularly. Not only was it really fun. It gave us something to bond over, strengthening our relationship.
Things were great till I moved off to college in Flagstaff AZ. Freshman year was great, I met amazing people, made some wonderful memories exploring and camping all through the four corners area. I was even able to excel at all my classes. Then things quickly fell apart.
From 15 on it seemed that every 3 or 4 months I would do something that would hurt my back. I was quickly told that I had scoliosis. From then on I just had to be extra careful and I was able to get by with only minor issues.
Starting my Sophomore year, my knee or elbow would randomly swell up and become unbearably painful. My low back started to hurt all the time and I never really seemed to recover. After many Urgent Care visits and endless doctor appointments, I eventually found out I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Despite sounding like a cool dinosaur, there was nothing cool about how it changed my life.
AS is a form of arthritis that typically presents in young adulthood and can be crippling if not treated. My life became scheduled by doctor visits, testing of all kinds, and what seemed like a whole pharmacy full of pills. Eventually I found a medication that helped. Despite this whole process wasting three years of my life, I felt relief.
Unfortunately, things only got better briefly. The new medication I was on was an immunosuppressant drug and one of the side effects was that it weakened my body’s natural defenses against infections. It started with a small ingrown hair from shaving which normally was just an inconvenience. Within days the right side of my face just above the jawline turned into a huge abscess. Once more I was back at another Urgent Care.
The Nurse immediately grabbed a scalpel out and drained it. Soon they cleaned me up and gave me a bottle of antibiotics. Again, I thought I could get back to my regular life, and again I was wrong.
A few weeks later I hurt my back and thought nothing of it because that was kind of normal for me by now. Normally a week or so of rest and I would be better, but it got worse. So bad I could not walk and the pain medication was not helping. So I decided to go to the hospital. Turns out the bacteria that caused that abscess found a new home in my spine. Because I waited so long, the last vertebra before my hips was so weak it was almost to the point of collapse.
By now life had become one misfortune after another I felt so overwhelmed, I just could not take it anymore. So, I turned to the only thing I knew would dull my pain: opiates. Soon the only thing I looked forward to was the pills. Intensely addicted with constant back issues and an infection that came back multiple times, I was beaten. Broken, both figuratively in spirit and literally at my L5, I found my way to Alcoholics Anonymous.
AA was not just complaining about your problems in church basements with a bunch of people chain-smoking and drinking bad coffee. Although that did happen, most importantly they helped me hit the pause button in a way I desperately needed so I could collect myself. After a while, I noticed that daily meditation is a big part of AA and it reminded me of just how great it is to have a quiet your mind.
I had done this in the past but I have neglected all self-care and self-love that I know are vital. All because of how wrapped up in my problems I became. And just like that all my memories of how beneficial meditation and mindfulness were thought of my most teenage years.
I grew up in Southern California very close to a place I can only describe as new age and alternative. I got exposure to yoga and meditation at a pretty young age. It was almost inevitable when the Self-Realization Fellowship (which was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda who is largely considered the father of yoga in the west) was less than 10 minutes from my house right on the coast. Through that organization and some free spirits, I learned tons about meditation and yoga and their benefits for internal balance and well-being. I quickly made both of them part of my routine all through high school, then promptly neglected it.
One of the recommendations you always hear in AA is that most of the successful members do a daily meditation. Meditation helps create an internal sense of balance and in turn, it creates internal strength to stick to the program. And I can tell you from personal experience, having that time to check in with your physical and emotional self makes a difference in the way you approach the day. It helps you to sort yourself out and be less reactive to the challenges in your life.
It turns out a big portion of working the AA program is self-reflection and self-improvement. The best part is it is all laid out for you. My favorite part is the evening meditation and reflection. Now, I’m sure not everyone does this, but I like to calm my mind by focusing on my breathing. It gives me room to reflect on how I acted thought the day and I make a mental list doing my best not to repeat the same mistakes.
After enduring all the pain and addiction, meditation not only restored my balance. It also reminded me I have more control over my body than I realized. This was the first time in years where I felt like I had regained some control over my life. Now that I am opioid-free, I still have a lot of pain and things are difficult. Breathing meditation really helps if I’m in a ton of pain, but to be honest, sometimes I’m overwhelmed and I can’t function.
Nonetheless, the more I practice non-attachment as my intention during meditation, the more I feel internal balance. Also, the more at peace I am with my own, particular situation. I have no clue what the future holds. So, I do the best with what I have that day and I’m in a much better place than even 6 months ago where life seemed like a cruel joke and all I knew was pain. I reigned a bit of hope that continues to nurturing my soul.
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