Saturday, August 25, 2012

Empowerment (inspired by Swim Bike Mom)

If I am posting again today, that can only mean one thing:  I am not back in training yet.  :(

I have been kicking around an idea for a post for a while and since I have some time on my hands right now... Well, there is no time like the present, eh?

A while back, SwimBikeMom posted about starting points.  She said something in that post that really resonated with me.

"You may be starting this journey from a place of rawness, a place resulting from years of fatness or sadness or defeat.  Remember to take care of yourself and treat yourself gently as you begin."

My journey began long before I started training for triathlon.  But the place I was in then was not so different from where I was when I began the training.  I carried a ton of baggage with me early on.  Physical baggage, emotional baggage; it all amounted to a ton of work to carry around.  No wonder I ran so slowly!!

I have danced around the idea of going deeply into my past experiences here since there might be someone who benefits from it, but have decided against it.  For me, this journey is about moving forward.  While part of the healing process most certainly was facing, discussing, and accepting the events of the past, the most significant step was when I stopped dwelling on it and moved forward without those things rattling around in my brain.

In addition, to the many physical health challenges that I have had to overcome, I also had the not-so-fantastic experience of battling PTSD.  One of the important things to note about the events that cause PTSD is that regardless of how varied they may seem, they have the following quality in common.  The victim experiences an event that causes great horror WHERE THEY FEEL OVERWHELMINGLY HELPLESS.  I read this description (I would properly quote and credit it if I had a clue where I read it) years after I had regained my life and realized that this truly was the crux of it.

Why is this so significant?  Well, because part of the process for me was ultimately dealing with my contributions to my situation.  No, I was not truly to blame, especially early on... HOWEVER, at some point I had to accept a certain accountability.  I was careless with my life, careless with my safety, I allowed myself to be in situations that provided increased opportunities for people to hurt me.  I increased the odds of becoming a statistic, so no matter how harsh it may seem, I couldn't really be surprised when it happened.  I became a statistic.  (One caveat... this is a reference to MY situation only.  Many people find themselves in terrible situations and there is absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent it.  And other find themselves there because they are fighting for something and are willing to make that sacrifice in service to others.  This post is in general terms and should not be applied to specific situations!)

Accepting responsibility early on was impossible.  I hated myself enough without that, thank you.  That is where my fitness journey came into play.  I started just doing sessions with a personal trainer.  Early on, it was a last ditch effort to get out of pain.  But what was significant here was that I was doing something, anything to save myself.  It was truly starting from a "place of defeat".

You've heard of "fake it till ya make it".  That was kind of what happened here.  I spent money, time and effort on myself and it helped me to start thinking I might be worth it.  It was baby steps.  I lost a couple of pounds, I could stand up a little straighter.  I was taking less ibuprofen.  Then it led to other things.  I got my hair done.  I bought some new clothes.  A tiny spark of self worth was glowing in the ashes and the little things I was doing was blowing it brighter every day.

Then one day I ran for a few minutes.  Then I entered a 5K, and completed it.  I was still deriving my self worth from outside accomplishments because that was all I had but it didn't matter.  It was growing.  As I grew, the sense of helplessness was replaced by a sense of empowerment.  For me, this was the key to true healing.

I became very intimate with accountability.  My actions had definite consequences.  If I did my workout, I felt better, looked better, saw progress.  If I did not, I did not.  Basic stuff but it was foreign to me.  Then I asked if I could do a tri.  My trainer didn't see why not.  I joined a tri club but didn't show up to a group workout for six months because I didn't think I was good enough.  But then I did.  And I had a great time.  And I hired the coach.  And I asked if there was any possibility that "someone like me" could do this.  He asked me if I could give him a reason why I couldn't.  The trainer and the coach gave me permission, validation, and opened the door for my developing sense of self to walk out into the sun.

Eventually, I gained some confidence.  It was always with a caveat: "I may not be this but I am at least good at that."  Usually the "this" had to do with body shape and the "that" had to do with my performance on a bicycle.  I embraced the fact that I could do it.  I enjoyed the fact that this was something that I could control.  I began to truly understand accountability and consequence.  It is not an external thing, a coach you report to or a justice system that lets you down.  It is about controlling the things that you have the power to control, whether it's making responsible decisions about training and nutrition or not driving after drinking or choosing to run with a buddy.  The world is designed to test you and ultimately it will hurt you if you do not pass that test.  (Think of the gazelle that is not paying attention on the African savanna.  He gets eaten by a lion.)

In no way, shape, or form am I advocating becoming risk averse; quite the opposite, actually.  I am saying that you have control of so much.  Take that control and own it.  It's a terrifying, beautiful, liberating thing.  Every little thing that you do to improve you lot in life, to change what you don't like about the person in the mirror (and I am not talking beauty here folks), is a step towards true freedom.

Jump out of an airplane (I've done it and highly recommend it) and love every second of it, but understand the choice and all it's possible ramifications.  You own your future and you own your results, good or bad.  That isn't scary, it's AWESOME!!  If your life feels out of control, if you are in pain, if you cannot face yourself, look around.  Find one thing that you can take control of right now.  Can you clean your house?  Too much?  How about just the kitchen?  Maybe just one dish?  Can you make the next thing you put in your mouth nourishing?  One time sub chips for grapes?  Can you walk around the block, even if you do it with tears running down your face?  One thing.  Don't worry about anything other than this single moment in time but pick something and control it, own it, and feel good about the result, no matter how tiny.  It starts with one small thing that becomes two, then three, and so on.  I promise that the little things at the beginning are huge leaps, even more so that the astonishing feats at the end.  You are SO worth the effort and you WILL SO see the results.  Fact.  Indisputable.

For me, I am in a wonderful place.  I am in that place were I have replaced wishing with dreaming, survival with goals.  I still have PLENTY of work to do.  I'll be done when I have decomposed but for now, I have reached a place where I never thought I would be.  I thought true happiness was only for other people but here I am and I am happy.

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