Oh my aching back...

A few years ago, while driving back from physical therapy, I thought about all of the time, energy and money that I was spending either there or at the chiropractor, or doing the laundry list of other things that helped take the edge off my chronic lower back pain and sciatica. I just keep thinking that there had to be a better way to live and if I’m going do all this work, where was the payoff. I remember thinking “You’ve seen all the ‘experts’ and you’re doing all the things they recommend but if you want to feel different that’s all on you Maria.” Yes, I talk to myself in the third person all the time, like my own coach. When I got home that night, accompanied by a throbbing lower back and shooting pain down my left leg, I popped a few ibuprofen and keep hearing “thoughts, words and actions” in my mind.

I pulled out my journal and wrote those 3 words at the top of the page. Thoughts. Words. Actions. I stared at them for a while and then realized that I had to change my thoughts, words and actions when it came to this or any situation in my life that I wanted to improve.

Okay, first, what were the thoughts that I was rehearsing that were holding me back? It was time to be honest….I was thinking that I would have to live with chronic pain because of the accident and that’s just my life. Woe to me. The thought was so whiny in my head that it made me feel sick to my stomach.

Ah, gross.

So I thought, ‘What would be the opposite of that?’ Then, I wrote a new thought “I am whole, healthy and healed. Every muscle, organ, fiber, bone, muscle and cell of my body functions in accordance with it’s purpose, individually and united. I am pain free.” That is still my body mantra and a part of my daily affirmations.

Second, ‘What were the words I was repeating about this condition?’ I was constantly retelling the story of my pain whenever someone would ask me what was wrong when they’d catch me rubbing my lower back and/or grimacing. I would usually say something like “My back is acting up again.”

I repeated the previous question to myself, ‘What would be the opposite of that?’ I wrote “I’m just showing my back some love and gratitude.” And I would have to start catching myself before the grimacing began and smile as I rubbed my back, thanking it for doing what it does. I also decided to convince myself that the discomfort I was feeling was my spine shifting into a more comfortable position for my ease. Sounds crazy right? I know. You have to be a little crazy to go against the grain and create change.

Last, I asked myself about the actions that I was taking. This one was a little harder because like I mentioned, I was doing all of the stuff that the experts suggested. Then, later that evening, while I was cooking dinner and thinking about this lingering question, it hit me that the expert on me, is ME. The internal conversation went something like this “Holy moly Maria, you have to do some research and start trying some different things to see what works for your unique body because the other experts can only tell you what they believe works for the majority of people. You are not those other people. You have to own this part as well.”

I ran back to my journal and started writing a list of research topics….foods, vitamins, minerals, stretches to do, stretches to avoid, how to build muscle to support a spine in my condition, cardio, shoes, insoles, posture, etc. etc. I went so deep into this list that I almost burned the chicken.

Then I decided to write this in all caps and highlight it, “I HAVE HEREBY DECIDED THAT I WILL FIGURE OUT HOW TO REDUCE OR ELIMINATE MY BACK PAIN.” I remember after writing it saying it out loud and then my daughter shouted from the other room “I do hereby declare…” in her best southern drawl. It was awesome. I decided that even with a ‘weak’ and ‘leaning’ spine, I would do, what many doctors doubted was possible, based on their science, and build a strong core that would reduce, if not eliminate, my back pain.

Before bed I fond myself researching foods that help with inflammation and that boost metabolism, as well as foods that were the enemy to avoid. I eventually scheduled a day to shop, prep and start a healthy and clean food cleanse. I learned more about yoga stretches and muscle building exercises. I went to Walmart and bought a yoga mat and block, some dumbbells and resistance bands. I got books from the library to learn about the muscles in the back and core that support and stabilize the spine.

I tried all kinds of exercises and meals. I figured out what made me feel worse and more importantly, what made me feel better. I learned that what worked for others or was fun for them, wasn’t always fun for me and I gave myself permission to be okay with that and head in my own direction. I learned more about posture and how to correct mine when standing around or sitting at my computer to work. I learned that standing is better than sitting and learned the hard way that standing without the right support in your footwear leads to plantar fasciitis, which sucks. I learned how to heal myself of plantar fasciitis. I learned that I needed to invest in proper footwear and insoles. That was huge for me by the way because I had been taught, and bought into, the idea that I could get by with just enough. But just enough wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted, and dare I say, deserved, more. I learned how to spend money on myself, to be quality materials and how to not feel guilty about any of it.

I learned that I love learning about the human body, more than I ever did in my biology classes in high school or science. I learned about a whole slew of new foods, nutrients, and flavors that never existed in my world before. I learned that with trail and error, I came to discover who I was, what I was made of and what I enjoy. I found new levels of myself, and new levels of peace and happiness. I took responsibility for the areas of my lives that I previously thought was another person’s job. I found freedom in letting them go and power in owning the work and the reward. I grew and expanded. And, my back got stronger.

I learned that when we set a goal or an intention for ourselves, and start to take the steps to make it happen, with our thoughts, words and actions, we find that it wasn’t actually all about the goal or the intention at all. It was really about who we are, learning more about what we’re actually capable of, who we become in the process and how we grow, expand and get stronger on the way there.

I’m happy to report that my core is stronger than it has ever been and that I’m mostly-almost-always pain free. I had to acknowledge the defeating thoughts that were holding me back, no matter how valid they may have seemed. I had to be intentional about changing those thoughts and practicing the new thoughts over and over and over. I had to do the same with my words and then I had make sure that my actions were lining up with my new thoughts and words. I am the expert on me and I am the only one responsible for me. Me.

There are days when I sit too long or don’t stretch enough and my body sends me cues (what some might refer to as pain) that I have to stick with the program. Sometimes that means reaching for my toes in public places. And the more I practiced that, the less I cared what others may or may not think about me. They’re not going to deal with the side effects if I don’t or pay my medical bills. Lol. And now, when I get those cues I am thankful for the nudge and get back to owning my well-being, my body, my health and ultimately, my happiness.

Super Sparkly Honesty

While shopping for a backpack my daughter had 2 bags that she was considering. She kept switching between the 2 and parading in front of the large body mirror that the store provides. At first she looked like she was having fun and then this concerned look covered her face. Knowing my daughter and that something was up I had to ask, "What's up baby girl?" 

"I'm practicing super sparkly honesty with you and it makes me think....I'm looking at these bags and I'm wondering if I like them because I like them or because someone else will approve of them" and her eyes went back to the reflection of herself wearing a backpack.

I couldn't help but smile. I was smiling so hard that when she caught me staring at her and smiling she smiled back and asked, "What?"

"I can't believe that you're asking yourself that question. That is amazing! It's such a self-aware question....such a mature question....such a wonderful growth question....I'm just so..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah Mom. I pick this one. I like it for me."

We both left that store happy and I left reminded that I get to ask myself that question about everything in my life in order to ensure that I'm making decisions for my approval and not for the approval of others. And so do you!

Let's get honest with ourselves and get better at practicing super sparkly honesty. 

Accepting The Moment For What It Is (Self-Love)

Because of the accident that I had as a child and all of the damage that it caused my body, mainly my spine, I have some things that I have to do every day that most people will never have to think about. For instance: Every day I have to do a version of traction where I lay on a contoured foam roller which puts the natural curve back in my neck for 20 minutes. It's even better for my neck if I do this twice a day. Now I know you may be thinking that 20 minutes is not a lot of time but have you met me? I am high energy and I can get SO much done in a small amount of time. And to be honest, I would also feel guilty about laying around for that much time.

A few years ago, I used to feel sorry for myself that I would have to carve out this additional time and build my life around making sure I do this in order to function throughout my day. Blah, blah, blah. Then one day I decided that I wasn't going to do it because apparently I believed that I needed that time for something more important. The first day...no problem. The second day...I felt a little pressure but it wasn't uncomfortable or unmanageable so I pushed into a third day. And on the morning of the fourth day, my neck muscles were in spasm, every joint felt so stiff and the pressure in the back of my head was unbearable. When I am in that level of pain all I can think about is the pain and nothing else matters. I was useless, for almost a week as I did the work to out the curve back in my neck. And the worst part was, I didn't feel like myself. I had little to no energy, I could feel myself forcing myself to be nice and everything felt like a struggle. 

I'm a fast learner and pain can be (unfortunately) a great teacher. So, I decided that instead of complaining about what I had to do and repeating my sob story, I would fully accept that this was my body right now and start telling a new story. And that new story is built on the foundation of: I will accept the moment for what it is and respond to it with love as much as possible. I needed to change my vocabulary from "I have to take this time to take of my neck" to "I GET TO take this time to take care of my body." When I did that I would get excited about my ME time to lay still in quiet. To make it better I would put on my essential oil diffuser, play some zen music playing in the background and meditate for 20 minutes. I GET TO take care of my mind and body at the same time. I GET TO mandate the importance and necessity of this time. I Get To do this small thing in exchange for huge benefits. And I had nothing to feel guilty about. When I took time to prep my body and clear my mind, I became better at everything and for everyone. I mean, when I think about the alternative, I'm grateful for where I am. 

Part of self-love and self-care is being present and accepting the moment for what it is, for where you are and for who you are. It doesn't mean that things won't or can't change, it just means that you're going to change the way you talk about it and the story you tell around it. When that change is made then the situation itself may not change but the way you participate with it will and that makes all the difference. That's what leads to a super sparkly everything life.

Your Turn: Think of an area of your life where you feel a struggle, fight, or 'have to'. How can you change your vocabulary, or your story, to make that thing feel lighter and easier?  Are there things in your life that you know you should be doing to take care of you so that you can give from your overflow but you feel guilty about? Being aware is half the work and taking a small baby step to make a change is the other half. Schedule some you time and make it mandatory.

With love and gratitude, Maria Milagros