One day, one moment, one breath at a time. Oh my, I’m pulling air painfully down my throat, to the place where my body is going into spasms of violent coughs. Throat constricted, airways inflamed, each breath a struggle. March was a tough month as I battled an upper respiratory infection. With each effort to breathe, I was reminded of the powerful gift of breath that I had come to realize in the year before Percy Stoma was created. Following is an excerpt from “Better With A Bag Than In A Bag”, From the brink of death to recovery through humour and inspiration, the book I authored that chronicles my illness that led to colon surgery, Percy’s creation, and the year of recovery that followed.
In 2008, when my illness and pain had become chronic, there were times when I was only able to take life one day at a time. Through the years that followed, I was eventually reduced to coping with my body and life one moment at a time. During these times, I often found myself searching, trying to find any reason, any excuse, to have a positive attitude, a positive outlook. I, of course, could find many. I am very fortunate to be blessed in so many ways. But as time advanced along with the illness, I realized that I was not being totally honest with myself in thinking I was being positive while knowing in my heart that I was downright miserable. My mind was in a push-me-pull-me mode. I endured the physical pain as I was drowning in an emotional quagmire. I was sick, angry, and fighting for my quality of life.
As the illness progressed, I arrived at the realization that I was taking life one breath at a time now. It was becoming more and more challenging to remain honestly positive so I decided there must be another way. I could try to talk myself into “positive thinking” until I was blue in the face, but in reality there came the understanding that this approach, this life tool, was not working for me anymore. It was not the appropriate tool for this circumstance. It was not real. It was a mask. It was dishonest. It was downright denial. I needed to step down into the depths of my current reality with eyes wide open. Be truthful with myself. I had to look the monster of my illness and predicament in the eye, with full awareness.
Aha! Awareness. That’s the ticket! I began to insert awareness as a coping tool, rather than positive thinking more often than not. In my attempts to simply be aware in the very breaths I took, I used this tool to help develop a deeper understanding of my individuality and the many aspects of myself, my illness, and the life all around me. With full awareness focused and interwoven into each breath, I eventually became sensitive to the truths I was operating from, those I was expressing, and the true realities of my situation. It was honesty, not a fantasy in all its wonder and all of its ugliness. A value-added bonus to this approach was an immersion into the fullness of breath. With every inhale and exhale I realized that time expanded on occasion to the place of forever. I was beyond positive thinking and had arrived at a place where I realized that any one of us can die at any time. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, or in twenty years from now – who really knows? The only thing that is true is that the “now”, the “present”, is the reality that exist. It is up to us to put as much into and receive as much as possible from that breath, that moment, that day. I was hurting in all ways possible, so it was hard to see a positive future, but it was easy to immerse into my breath and explore the depths, wonders, and potentials a breath can hold. Like a string of pearls, my string of breaths encircled me with the hope and the strength that life – at least for the moment – continued.
I live in awareness because I could die today, tomorrow, or in twenty years from now. I really don’t know. Awareness as a tool works for all times, circumstances and situations during the course of a lifetime. Positive thinking is a great tool, one that is appropriate when we are working hard and anticipating a successful outcome. Positive thinking is a tool of great usefulness, but it is not the only tool in our personal and professional toolbox.
Sitting on my patio on those warm summer days during my recovery, I found myself looking back, and looking forward. Awareness is a valuable tool I use quite regularly and continue to hone as my life continues to unfold.
Jo-Ann L. Tremblay
“Everyone you meet has a story to tell.”