I had an interesting, life changing revelation a few weeks ago when I went to the doctor to have the staples removed from my recent back surgery. It was two weeks since the surgery and he asked me about my pain level and how I was feeling. I replied that I was still in quite a bit of pain - not so much from the surgery site but the original nerve pain. He said that this was normal and asked how many pain killers I was taking each day.
"One," I said.
"ONE?" He gasped? "Why are you only taking one?"
"Well," I said, "according to the post-op instructions, after two weeks I'm to resume normal activity with certain restrictions, so I figured that meant by now I'm pretty much better, plus I don't want to develop any kind of addiction to pain medication.
He sat there, shaking his head for a moment. Then looked up at me and said calmly, "You had BACK SURGERY. The nerves that had been inflamed and painful for the past three years got even more aggravated from the surgery. Your body is going to heal as it's going to heal, there's nothing anyone can do about that. You can choose to be in pain or not as it's healing."
Whoa. I had to let that sink in. My body was going to heal as it was going to heal. In its own time, the only way it knew how, it could take weeks, it could take months, but it certainly wasn't healed yet. And as my body reacted to what it had been through, I had the choice to suffer through it in pain (even though I didn't have to) or not.
So that got me thinking about that as a metaphor for life. Things happen. Bad things that are completely out of our control. Good things happen to, that sometimes we don't recognize or appreciate. This experience taught me that things are going to happen and it is often 100% our choice to feel pain about them, OR, to do what it takes to push through them until they're over.
Now I'm not talking about tragedies like sudden deaths, sicknesses, disasters, or things like that. Those are in another category. I'm talking about things on par with my minimally invasive back surgery. Things like people being inconsiderate and saying hurtful things. Or being stuck somewhere (an uncomfortable or frustrating situation) that you can't get out of. In every one of those times we can make the choice to take offense, be hurt, get angry, hold a grudge, and do all of those things that poison our lives and our joy much more than the person or thing that is causing us all of the pain in the first place. It's not easy to do, but with practice, I believe it can get easier to the point of it being the natural reaction instead of the pain.
Have you ever noticed that while there are certain things that might drive you absolutely crazy, they don't bother another person at all? I believe that we are hard-wired from our early experiences to have our own reactions to things based on feelings/hurts/offenses that we are still holding onto. Absolutely understandable. But when we're adults, hopefully we can see that the current offense may not actually be intentional, but we're taking it that way because of something that has happened in the past. It's our choice to change that initial reaction to choose the path of happiness instead.
Example: I was recently in a situation that made me extremely upset for several days. Each offensive thing that happened on every subsequent day became compounded because of what had happened before. These things - specific actions by a specific person - made me repeatedly angry, sad, upset, and at one point I was so frustrated that I actually imagined myself throwing drinking glasses so I could have the satisfaction of seeing them shatter. (I don't know if that has ever happened to you but it has never happened to me before and I sincerely hope it never happens again. I was holding everything in to keep the peace around me but inside I was bristling with rage and despair.) With regard to the other people I was with in this situation, one was also very bothered by the actions, one was mildly annoyed but kept her attention on the newly released Pokemon Go game, and the other one wasn't upset or disturbed by anything at all. The same things were happening to all of us, but some of us chose the road of bitterness and exasperation and some of us chose to let things roll off of their backs and go with the flow.
Again, it all comes back to perception and what's going on in our own minds. Person #4 wasn't offended by anything because she had no prior experience of the treatment. Person #3 was upset, but made the choice to remove herself from the situations and found a welcome distraction to help herself do so. Person #2 was partially upset because she knew how upset I was, and Person #1, me, couldn't get out of her own head to see that while some of the actions were definitely meant to be dismissive and hurtful, many of them were not, they were instead just based on the ignorance and utter cluelessness of the person doing them.
This is hard stuff. I'm not saying that at any point you can just choose to say, "I'm not upset about this, I'm going to choose joy instead." But there are times when we can look at the reality of a situation - the cold hard facts separate from the emotions - and make the choice to have precious moments of our own day ruined by a thoughtless comment, or to take the higher road (the proverbial pain meds) and either laugh it off or at least consider the source from whence it came.
It's also all about perspective. I worked with a colleague whose husband was extremely ill and was embroiled in a difficult lawsuit regarding the negligence that caused the husband's current state. While the rest of us complained about the latest horrible treatment from our boss she just shrugged it off. When we would ask her, "Doesn't this bother you?" She would answer, "This is small potatoes compared to what I'm going through."
Now as you know, I'm a big advocate of "If you don't like your situation, CHANGE IT!" If you're unhappy in your job, in your relationship, where you live, etc. do whatever you can to get out of it! As soon as possible! Life is too short to be stuck in situations that you CAN control - and most often you CAN control those kinds of things, even if you think you can't. But in those situations that we actually, honestly, truly cannot control or change, then each one of us can make the decision to choose how we handle it. If it's going to happen as it's going to happen, then we can open up our "medicine bottle" and do what we need to do to free ourselves of the pain. Think of a happy memory, remember a funny scene from a movie, sing a happy song in your head, or just rest assured in the promise that "this too shall pass." Because it always does. It is hard to do, but there's always a choice in how you react to and deal with difficult things. And the choice you make will affect your health and well-being as well as those of the ones you love around you. So what will your choice be?