Winning Life Back

So, this essay I am sharing with you tonight was published in "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times for Teens" and the really cool thing about it is that it's the first story in the book, which means it will have a high probability of being seen by teenage eyes! WAHOO! I couldn't be more thrilled. 

Something to note: This was a tough essay for me to write. Well, basically anything I write is tough, although it may look easy to you, the lovely reader. Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, "Easy reading is damn hard writing" and I couldn't agree more. What made this piece so difficult to write was that I already went through 2 back surgeries and having to relive that hell again... well, it was kind of brutal. Coming up with an ending that left on an optimistic note was also tough. I wanted the reader to know (as well as to continuously remind myself) that through life's tribulations we can and will prevail. And trying (keyword: trying) to be profound is not a piece of cake... although that would be nice since I love cake. 

Anyhow, here is my essay. It was published in February of this year (2012) and you can purchase it on or you can also just read all the stories on their website for free as well. You will find 101 marvelous awe-inspiring stories written from teens that will definitely bring tears to your eyes. 

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~Erich Fromm

While the majority of my senior class was getting ready for prom -- which I was told was the biggest, most important moment of one’s high school life -- I was preparing for a much different event. A bigger and more important moment in my life than prom would ever be.
I was about to undergo a second back surgery.

From the time I was fourteen, I sort of felt like Benjamin Button, except that my elderliness was internal rather than external. Whenever I went to see the spine doctor I was always sitting amongst exclusively silver and gray-haired patients. I think the closest patient to my age was at least forty years older than me. Yeah, you can say I felt out of place.

When it came to school, life was beyond excruciating. High school was an incredibly self-conscious period and having to wear a hard plastic back brace that highly resembled a corset and made you look as though you possessed a duck tail whenever you bent over didn’t make it any easier. It sounds weird when I put it this way, but drugs made my school life miserable as well. I was on the hard-core stuff that most addicts wished they had, stuff like vicodin, percocet, oxycontin, oxycodone, etc. I had to choose between dealing with sheer agony or feeling as though there were a million cotton balls stuffed into my brain after I took the medication. There was no happy medium. Life was awful and I never thought my suffering would end.

At age seventeen, only a year and a half after my first back surgery, I was already heading for number two. My first one failed because the fusion did not take place in my L4 and L5, which subsequently caused two of my four titanium screws to crack completely in half. Apparently, only one percent of all patients who get the surgery crack one screw and I cracked two! Of course this was happening to me. With these odds you’d think I’d have had a good shot at winning the lottery!

I had my surgery in May, during the home stretch of my senior year. It was a brutal race to get all my credits done before graduation, especially since this was a much more invasive surgery; the surgeon went through my stomach and replaced my disc with a cadaver bone and then replaced all four of the screws in my back. He also extracted some bone marrow from my right hip. The other challenge was that the only credit I really needed was math because I skipped out on it the previous year while I was out of school for three months after my first surgery. Let me tell you something, trying to complete your pre-calculus homework after surgery on oxycodone sucks! In all honesty, I don’t remember much about that hectic month other than it was incredibly stressful.
My goal at the beginning of my freshman year was to graduate as Valedictorian, and nothing less. I used to judge myself so hard when I didn’t meet my own expectations. I felt like the world’s biggest failure. I was failing my doctors because I could never seem to will my body into healing itself and I was failing myself because I wasn’t attaining thegrades that I so desperately wanted. I was forced to take a hard look at my life and reevaluate my expectations.

Life is about winning, but who said there was only one definition for the term? My stubborn and misguided fourteen-year-old freshman self would have told you that “winning,” meant getting straight A’s no matter what. It meant being the absolute best. I’ll have to admit that I agree with one part of that statement -- you should strive to be the absolute best, strive for your absolute best. When life throws you a curveball don’t shrink from it. Sure the bat may tremble in your hands, but you swing that bat full and hard, and show the world you are a force to be reckoned with.

When I stepped off that stage at the end of senior year -- taking my diploma with me -- I didn’t think about the fact that I wasn’t Valedictorian. I thought about what I had accomplished and how proud I was that despite my challenges I put my best foot forward. I was definitely a winner in that moment and couldn’t wait to see what came next in my already incredible life.


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