By Warren Alan Tidwell
Humanist Service Corps Volunteer
My Ghanaian teammate killed a spitting cobra on his farm today. He used only a stick.
I don’t normally condone killing snakes in the wild, but a bite from this particular one is akin to a death sentence here. We are a four hour drive away from the nearest antivenin I am told- and that’s if the road is passable, which is not a given.
As I held the snake’s tail up over my head for a picture to show everyone how enormous it was, I was struck with how far I have come in the last two years. I was working at a hardware store in Alabama a year before and here I was holding a cobra by the tail in rural Ghana. It was a surreal feeling to say the least.
The Tipping Point
In November of 2014 I turned 36. I am 5 foot 6. I weighed 200 pounds at the time and was very overweight for my small frame. I had recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea and was well on my way to blood pressure medication. Even though I had left the high stress job that had pushed me to that point, I was still very unhealthy and had maintained many unhealthy habits. I would often drink three to four glasses of wine a night. I wasn’t a good husband and I wasn’t a good father. I was alone in my own world and I was drifting further away every day.
On my 36th birthday I woke up with a splitting headache. I had went out the night before and had entirely too much to drink. My 6-year-old begged me to take him outside to play but the room spun every time I sat up. I spent the entire day on the couch. My wife didn’t speak to me. I felt like a horrible person and I did not want to be that person anymore. I resolved to make a change.
I have to believe that many people feel like they’ve reached that point and have to make a change for a variety of reasons. I know I had felt that same way in the past. I never had the willpower to follow through and most of the time it was the singular act of losing weight. This time was different. I knew failure wasn’t an option. I immediately changed my diet and started using phone apps to track my caloric intake. My wife was supportive but I think deep down she didn’t truly believe I would follow through. I had tried to take better care of myself in the past and failed miserably.
My work at the hardware store was labor intensive- setting shelves, loading rock, and stacking wheat and pine straw. There was plenty of exercise and, as long as I would eat healthy food, I could lose some weight. I had taken a job as a commercial salesman there earlier in the year and ended up doing whatever was needed. It was much less stressful than my previous job in auto parts sales. It also paid less than half of what I had earned before. Changing jobs had been my first step in attempting to take better care of myself even if that meant taking a steep pay cut. The money wasn’t worth the stress that was going to kill me- not to mention the long hours that kept me away from my family. Still it wasn’t enough to get me on the road to mental and physical health.
I knew I didn’t want to spend my life at a hardware store either and I was looking to the future for an opportunity to do something I loved and would make me happy. I didn’t know what that future held but I kept on my diet plan- that included no alcohol whatsoever- and as the weight came off I started feeling better every day. I worked hard at the store and waited for that opportunity.
How I Almost Missed My Opportunity
Six months went by and I was down 40 pounds. I felt like a new person. Still my confidence- something I never had a problem with in the past- hadn’t recovered. The years of working retail sales management in various other jobs in my past had drained me. My entire life I feel like I’ve been a square peg trying to fit into a round hole and, while I love dealing with people, the job had beaten me down to where I doubted every decision I made. My friends would try and build me up and remind me of the multi-million dollar impact I had on the tornado recovery in Alabama in 2011. I couldn’t explain to them what the imposter syndrome I suffered from felt like. It was as if every good accomplishment I’ve ever had in the past could be chalked up to dumb luck or just being in the right place at the right time.
Still I stuck to my plan and my marriage improved right along with my health. Come hell or high water I was going to reclaim my life. Six months later and I was down 70 pounds. I had to donate all my old clothes and buy new ones. What a wonderful feeling that was. I could chase my son around the soccer pitch and not get winded.
I had accomplished a good portion of my goal. I was genuinely happy. I didn’t care where life was headed because it was so good at that point. Then I received a Facebook message from a friend.
It detailed the recruitment process of the Humanist Service Corps and told of secular humanists doing work in Ghana. I commented on the post that I would love to go but I cannot leave my family for a year. My wife heard me sigh and asked what I was reading so I handed her my laptop.
“Why can’t you?”, she asked.
“There’s no way I can leave you and Connor for a year!”
“I think you should think about it.”
Over the next week my wife gave me numerous reasons why I should do it.
“This is the opportunity you’ve been looking for!”
“Military spouses spend far longer apart from each other.”
“You can do this. We can do this.”
She was relentless.
So after a sleepless night I applied. I secured some amazing references and went through the weeks long, multi-stage process. My wife never wavered in her confidence and I drew upon it to bolster my own.
It goes without saying that I was incredibly fortunate to be chosen. I owe a great deal of gratitude to a number of people, but the most goes to the person who has always stood by me and who has absolutely honored her commitment to me. My wife volunteered to be a single mother for a year and is one of the strongest people I know. I’m doing incredibly meaningful work and hopefully finishing a book that will allow me to do what I’ve always wanted to do- be a writer. I owe her more than I could ever repay. Making her proud of me again is the first goal.
The Result is Worth the Struggle
Change is never easy. It’s ugly and difficult at times. In the end, however, the sacrifice and pain can create the happiness so many of us long for as we grind away at a job that is doing nothing more than killing us.
I called my son to tell him about the snake. I explained to him why it had to be killed and he understood. He is handling things so well and just wants the details of what I am doing. We have a song, our song, and it’s Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. At the end of every conversation he sings the same thing to me.
“Every little thing is gonna be alright!”
I remember being horribly out of shape and disconnected from my family. I miss them terribly now but, thanks to the support of my wife and my hard work, I’m living a dream. I will return home and our life together will be better than ever.
Every little thing is going to be alright.