This morning, as I led my class (Poga - my version of Power Yoga) into our first bit of forearm plank moves, after the usual form reminders - feel your legs, abs, back work to hold you straight, if you find your hips starting to lower or pop up, take a breather by bringing your knees down - I also pointed out that planks are not a permanent condition, they too must end.
A few days ago, a group of friends and I were chatting via text about the addiction epidemic. Six of us are on this group chat. We are all moms, and we are all in recovery from alcohol among other things - that is how we met. You know that saying, how it is through the cracks, that light is able to enter? Our group is proof of that, as in the 10 months that we have been friends, brought together in our common struggles, we have cultivated an amazing friendship and support group - and we have never met in person! (I did meet one of the women a couple of months ago, but nobody else has met yet; we are spread out all over the U.S.). Anyway, one of the moms shared how her high schooler had just told her about the rampant use of drugs among his peers. As parents, knowing how likely our children are to encounter certain temptations, and even if they resist them, chances are strong that their peers and friends will succumb, is terrifying. In the U.S., someone dies every four minutes due to addiction. Not one of those people woke up one morning and said, “Today I will pop a pill/chug a drink/smoke a joint and start the increasingly slippery slope into addiction.” I think most people who end up with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and other drugs, food, gambling, sex and love, technology, work, etc - were either oblivious of the addiction potential, or were absolutely certain it would never become a problem. That shit happens to other people. Not me.
I have this theory about one factor that may lead to the slippery slope, which for many ends up in a complete tailspin (though not for all). My theory is that we are addicted to changing what we decide are unpleasant states, and we are constantly moving away from discomfort, encouraged by all the people and businesses who stand to profit from this quest.
Let’s go back to today’s plank session in my class. Try it at home: get into a push-up position, with your hands under your shoulders, your back and butt in a flat line, not popping up and not sagging to the floor. Stiff as a board. Now, take it down onto your forearms. This relieves the pressure on your shoulders, transferring the effort to your abs. Your legs, abs, back and shoulders are all working - that’s why it’s a great core strengthener. Push your heels away from you and you get a great Achilles/calf stretch. Try holding it for a minute (or three). If you’re with others, you will feel tempted to laugh, talk (complain), or ask them to talk. If you’re alone, you will feel tempted to check Facebook or Pinterest. In other words, rather than focus on the physical (I’m shaking) or mental (I don’t know how much longer I can do this), we want to be distracted from the discomfort. And then, when I say, “Release,” it’s music to our ears.
My conversation with my friends about kids and substance misuse really got me thinking about our general intolerance for discomfort. If we have a headache, a stomachache, we feel tired, or unfocused, our immediate thought is, I need to solve this immediately. Some of us will pop a pill. I know some of us will try something less toxic, but most of us will gulp down a Tylenol or Pepto Bismol, take a sleep aid, guzzle caffeine. If we are unhappy with the way we look or feel in terms of our weight, we will jump on the quick fix (cleanse) bandwagon, to get rid of our discomfort in 7, 14, 30 days. Or, we will jump into an exercise program that would have been fine for us when we were 28 years old, but now at 43, is an injury waiting to happen - but hey, the social media photos promise muscles and smiles in less time than it takes us to read another self-help book. Anything is better than how I feel now - inadequate, unworthy, less than...
Back to the plank. When we stay with it, focusing on our breath, noticing the effort in our muscles, bones, our mental fortitude, and surrender into it, that is where the magic happens. We get stronger, physically, but if we are paying attention, we start to learn a couple of lessons that serve us off the mat. When we do not run away from discomfort, and instead, notice it, with curiosity - what’s going on in my body? In my mind? What sorts of labels am I attaching to the experience, to the emotions and sensations? - that is the point we enter a more mindful way of being. When we stay in that moment and open ourselves up to what is happening, rather than doing our best to end the state of discomfort, we are getting stronger. And this very practice is something we can take off the mat and into our lives. Are we stuck in traffic? Waiting in line? Overwhelmed by a To Do List? Bewildered about what to make for dinner? At a loss on how to solve a problem? Feeling stuck in a rut? Often, this is the point at which we reach for our smartphone (to check out mentally, not to call a friend for a meaningful connection), a cocktail, a pill or other packaged chemical (food).
That blissful release that we feel when we move from plank to flat on our bellies, with our arms alongside our body, our head turned, surrendering into our mat - gosh, such a good feeling! Why don’t we do this pose more often, in our daily lives? And, yet, it wouldn’t feel as great if we hadn't first pushed ourselves to that edge, in plank. If we went from, say, sitting on the couch, checking Instagram, to lying on the ground, we would not feel the delicious sense of accomplishment and physical tingling that comes from withstanding discomfort and then resting right afterwards. Just like, off the mat, if I have a stressful day, and at the end of it, “reward” or “relieve” myself with wine, I can tell you from experience and after about 16 months of sobriety, that staying with the discomfort and doing the work to learn more about myself, my habitual thinking and behavior, and making some healthy changes in my life, I feel far better now than I ever did during or after the “mommy juice.” But I can also tell you, before I made my decision that alcohol is not an option (a decision I then made every 24 hours), I would not have fathomed the freedom I feel, being released from the entrapments of being a drinker.
I think it’s natural to want to spend as much time in “good” states, that feel comfortable to us. It’s definitely for most people, the default - to instinctively move toward pleasure and away from pain. I remember when I was getting ready to deliver my second baby, my friend told me that her OB-GYN (not mine, phew) said he thought women who didn’t want an epidural were nuts - why would you want to endure pain when you don’t have to? I guess that’s the main reason opiate addiction is such an epidemic right now, since pain became a way to rate medical care, so doling out pills to erase pain was a smart business move. When my kids complain of a headache or a stomach ache, first we think about what may be causing it, then we try solutions such as water and yoga poses. Hopefully, my kids are not learning to end their pain as quickly as possible, but rather, thinking about the root cause, and some more natural solutions. And, yes, talking about this alternative form of discomfort management is part of the prevention plan.
One of my friends posted this quote from one of the best books I have read lately, which I think beautifully sums up what Glennon Doyle Melton calls our “brutiful” life:
“We want life to be as dazzling and painless as possible. Life, on the other hand, has a way of humbling us, and heartbreak is built into its agreement with the world. We’re young, until we’re not. We’re healthy, until we’re not. We’re with those we love, until we’re not. Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”
- Susan David in Emotional Agility
Perhaps we can all be a little more mindful of how we move through, toward, and away from the states of being that ultimately add up to life. It’s not the Easy button way of living, but it’s certainly the road less traveled. As I tell my kids, if everyone else is doing something, it’s probably stupid.
So, practically, what does this look like? Here are some examples:
- I am at the supermarket checkout line and there are two people in front of me.
State: impatience, boredom
Habitual behavior: pull out phone, escape the present
Alternative: look around, engage the person in front or behind, glance at magazines, focus on breathing
- I have planned a workout but it’s too early/too cold/too wet/I don’t feel like it.
State: unmotivated to do the harder thing
Habitual behavior: procrastinate until the workout window has shut
Alternative: commit to ten minutes of exercise
- I want to make healthy dinners every night but I’m too tired.
State: physically and mentally too tired to be creative and productive
Habitual behavior: order out, make something yellow or brown out of a package
Alternative: throw together a kitchen sink salad (any veggies you can find in the fridge or on counter) with a side of grilled cheese
- I had a hard day at work/home and I am cooked.
State: physically and mentally at wit’s end, on edge, anxious
Habitual behavior: numb out on alcohol or other drug
Alternative: acknowledge how hard I work, how I sometimes feel like I am on a treadmill to nowhere, and soothe my body and soul with a hot bath, a five minute meditation, a weekly yoga class, writing in my journal.
- I am in the company of someone or in a situation that makes me feel anxious.
State: anxiety, anger, general discomfort
Habitual behavior: escape via alcohol or technology
Alternative: set boundaries with the person or avoid the situation if possible, and focus on a prayer or mantra (the Serenity Prayer is great)
- I feel physical pain and discomfort.
State: physical suffering, fear
Habitual behavior: numb pain with medication
Alternative: address root cause of pain. Drink water if dehydration may be a cause (eg headaches), learn stress management techniques (often stress causes physical pain), engage in daily movement (exercise), examine possible nutritional approaches, visit a medical professional whom you trust will investigate the root cause.
- I feel mentally and emotionally stuck.
State: depression, anxiety (note: if you suspect this is more than a situational state, or if you are suicidal, please consult a mental health professional)
Habitual behavior: escape via alcohol or other drugs, technology, food, etc. Perseverate, isolate.
Alternative: ask for help. Call a friend, reach out to someone online, go to a support meeting or group. “Move a muscle, change a thought.” Sit with the feelings and pay attention to them, with curiosity and compassion. Accept them.
Our kids are growing up in a time where if they don’t like what they see, they swipe left. When we are numbing, escaping, choosing the path of least (short-term) discomfort, we are essentially swiping our life left. I will be the first to say, that I hate boredom, I hate toiling over tedious tasks. One of the many valuable lessons I have learned through triathlon and marathon and yoga training, is that the reward, the blissful release, is most intense when we sit with the discomfort, and choose not to DNF (Did Not Finish), but rather, sat on the trainer in the dungeon for six hours straight, or meditated for 45-60 minutes every day for eight weeks, no matter what, or finish the race even if we are basically hobbling and every step is a decision not to quit. I guess it's what we call grit. Dealing. Suck it up, Buttercup.... The most worthwhile stuff is the hardest stuff. And we model this to our kids, friends, peers, every day with our choices. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or going vegan or quitting alcohol. It can be something as simple as choosing to leave our phone in our purse, on Do Not Disturb mode, until the kids are in bed. Hmmmm. A marathon sounds easier than that to me. Definitely.
I vividly remember one night about 26 years ago, when I was walking home from a college bar. I passed a small group of guys on the street, and after we passed each other I heard one of them say, "If she was about ten pounds thinner she'd be hot."
If you are female and over the age of five, there is a very good chance you would answer YES to the question, Do you want to lose weight? Or, you would have no problem offering some sort of complaint about your appearance. The size, shape, texture of a body part or feature, is something that stands between you and complete satisfaction with yourself.
As a coach, I could get an enormous following and make mucho bucks if I sold you a plan that would get you to some magic number on the scale or the clothing tag. Plenty of coaches and "fitness gurus" and bestselling authors have done just that. I have fallen for it just as you have. I like to try out plans and programs, to see how they affect me, so I can be more informed when a friend or client is interested in it. But I admit that my interest is not just professional. I, too, have been curious about finding the best way to raise my metabolism, burn fat, feel less bloated, avoid cravings. Since I was a teenager, I have poured over "health & fitness" magazines to find out about the latest and greatest way to whittle down the wobble.
When I quit drinking 15 months ago, one of the main reasons I quit is that I felt like a hypocrite. I knew that my wine and beer habit was at odds with the healthy lifestyle I know is best for me, and that I want to represent as a health advocate. I felt like I was living a lie, as intellectually, with my fascination with neuroscience and neurology and nutrition and psychology, I knew that alcohol is pretty much a poison, and for me, a dangerous slippery slope. So I became more and more uncomfortable with my consumption, which in today's standards is probably considered the "norm" for a mom in my life stage and demographic, but as I tell my kids regularly, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean it's normal or healthy or right. I know that for many of us, our social media lives are not exactly accurate (for every picture of joyful times with the family there are 10 images burned into our conscience of really bad parenting fails, for starters). That is kind of how I felt about what alcohol was doing to my conscience, my organs, my soul- what you saw on the outside was a far cry from how I felt on the inside. Tired of the lack of integrity, I decided to take a break, and eventually, I started to realize how full my life was (is) without the hazy filter of booze and how it complicated my life.
This is sort of how I have felt about the whole food and exercise thing. Those of you who know me or have read my blog for a while, know that I am very uncomfortable with Before and After claims and photos that people post on social media to hock their programs and "cleanses." I already wrote a blog about the subject a couple of years ago, so I won't rehash it, but basically, I believe these posts to be inaccurate, and potentially very damaging. Inaccurate, because they promise freedom from the jail you have been living in, consisting of yo-yo dieting, weight battle defeats, shame and self-hatred, because surely anyone with a muffin top or back flab must hate herself/himself. This is where the damage comes in. The best way to sell a product, service, religion, ideology, pretty much anything, is to tap into people's deepest fears, and promise them hope, freedom from the fear. The "health and wellness" industry knows this, and is making trillions of dollars each year (of course, this does include some legitimate, ethical, helpful products and services too). Millions of people have seen the Before pictures and related to the hopelessness they see in the slumped posture and "disgusting" bulges, and they are sold on the success and joy they see in the radiant smile, confident posture, supposedly slimmer After photo allegedly taken a few weeks or months later. Likewise, we are suckers for online courses, books, YouTube videos, etc that we believe may give us the magic ticket out of our shame jail. It's brilliant marketing.
It's also really misleading, and quite frankly, an act of violence because of the harm it causes by feeding into and expanding damaging insecurities and self-hatred. The discomfort I feel when I see this type of advertising has led me to lots of soul-searching about my own posture as a woman who works within the "health and wellness" industry. The thing is, the Before and After pictures are just one way in which we are being brainwashed. Many of us are at this point aware that the media glorify thin, youthful bodies, and we know that a lot of it is fake - enhanced by photo editing tools, magic lighting, etc. We get that. We point it out to our daughters, and if we are really into talking about it with our kids, we may take them to a screening of Miss Representation and Embrace, two thought-provoking documentaries that in different ways point out the objectification of women and how harmful it is. So, intellectually, we may know how our society is contributing to our being judged based on our appearance. But, gosh, it's complicated, isn't it? Because then, when it comes to our own actions, how we live on a daily basis, how we make decisions of what and how to eat, what to wear, how to move our bodies, what photos we share on social media, I will be the first to admit that I have acted in ways incongruent with my wish to be a role model to my teen daughter, my peers and my clients. On the one hand, I want to say a big "FUCK YOU" to our disempowering culture, that reduces my worth to a snapshot of my weight, size and skin quality. On the other hand, I want to feel and be the picture of health and strength.
For a while I have been asking myself, what is health, really? A couple of years ago, a Facebook friend of mine who is a health practitioner as well as a fellow triathlete, was encouraging his clients to completely eliminate dairy from their diets. He and his wife were often posting pictures of themselves, looking extremely fit and happy, along with dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc claims, brags, pontifications. (I don’t follow their posts any more). At some point I commented, “but if being dairy-free is a huge pain in the ass, and you are not even lactose-intolerant – at what point does the stress from being super restrictive about what you eat, outweigh any possible physical benefits?” He never replied to my question.
It is really hard to know exactly what is healthy these days. One day you will have someone coming out and stating with absolute certainty, that a diet of plants and animal protein and no grains or dairy or processed food or starchy carbs, will solve most if not all of our problems. The next week, every health podcast will feature the latest author to come out with a book saying that, actually, sugar is Satan and no wonder it looks like cocaine - it's just as addictive and evil. A week later, while we are feeling righteous for having donated all of our Halloween candy to our soldiers stationed in the Middle East (because apparently we want to poison them), we are told that actually, we really need to get rid of anything that comes from animals, if we are to have a strong heart and save the earth. It's all so confusing that it's no wonder we are completely disconnected from our body's signals about what it needs. All of the "experts" are far more convincing than our body, which is really just quietly tolerating our choices, nudging us through signals like fatigue, aches, pains, insomnia, cravings, viruses, GI distress, etc - and instead of listening to our body, we believe the quick fixes we read about or see in our social media feeds.
In my yoga classes, I often remind the class to not force anything, because then we increase the resistance, which is counter-productive and leads to suffering. I have been thinking about this and how it relates to weight and body image. A friend of mine, Beth Rosen, who is a registered dietician and among other services, teaches clients about intuitive eating We taught some workshops together a couple of years ago. She did the portion about intuitive eating, while I led the portions on mindful living and exercise. It was super cool, and I benefitted from this experience personally as I began to learn more about intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is basically about tuning in to our body, to recognize the cues of hunger and satiety, as well as what sorts of nutrients and yes, pleasure, it may need today. It sounds so simple, and yet, it truly is an art, especially as in order to eat intuitively, we probably need to do a complete mental reboot, practically a lobotomy, because of all the inaccurate messages we have internalized pretty much since birth. Mindful living and exercising are similar in that we tune in to our incredibly wise, patient body, to learn about what best supports us today, in terms of rest, type of exercise, and input from the people and environment around us. It is a way to stop forcing ourselves into situations that only increase resistance and thus suffering. It is a way of living intuitively. Less violence, more compassion.
Since exploring the concept of intuitive eating, I have come across a movement that I had had no idea until pretty recently existed. The world I have lived in is the one guided by the belief that our modern world is becoming increasingly unhealthy, as evidenced by the increasing rate of obesity, for one. So, when my position is that I can help you avoid or tackle weight management issues, and lead by example, then surely I am being helpful? After all, plenty of studies show that "diabesity" is a top public healthy enemy. If I can show you a way to workout and eat healthy, then surely I am doing a good thing? This new (to me, at least) movement, though, says I am part of the problem, if I am going out there and stating or implying that your being overweight is something that needs to be fixed. Health At Every Size calls itself the new peace movement. Proponents believe that fat bias, which is increasing with our growing obesity rates, is highly discriminatory and:
"Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health, etc. Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat."
I was at a dinner party the other night and a couple of the guys, who didn't know I had gone down this fascinating rabbit hole via intuitive eating, brought up the subject. They were talking about this movement without knowing it's a movement, just saying that a Facebook friend of theirs was now posting all kinds of links to articles that celebrated body acceptance. They said something like, "So now she's saying it's great to be fat?" They were confused and thought it was funny. I admit that I was first confused too, when I started to hear about this. I thought it was another way to justify our eagerness to take the easier path. "I will skip the gym today and eat doughnuts because America runs on Dunkin' and that's my favorite way to run" is the new black. The same way that for years, I ignored the voice inside of me that said, you need you examine your relationship with alcohol. It was easy to blow that voice off when running clothing companies were printing shirts that said "Run now, wine later" and studies shared on Facebook were telling me wine will extend my life as long as I don't have more than 7 glasses a week. Ah, yes, we do love to focus on the stuff that proves us right - we see what we want to see.
I am still exploring this whole movement and as I read, and listen, and observe, like with anything new and weird and (to me) counter-intuitive, I try to suspend my beliefs and biases, while also noting my questions and doubts and a-ha moments. Some of what I am learning has been really surprising, while some of it just confirmed what I believed but I didn't know there was a movement that would not only back me up, but that had articles and books by people with lots of letters after their names, talking about what my gut was telling me. For example, this whole fat=unhealthy belief that our media and medical professionals and "health and wellness" industry keep shouting about. In general, yes, this would seem like it makes sense, and certainly, if my weight changes drastically and in a short period of time, my body is saying something is not right. It's a clue that something is imbalanced in my body, brain, life. And I do agree that carrying a lot of weight will probably place extra strain on my back, hips, knees, and even if I am okay with it now, in a few years this may cause some quality of life issues (back pain sucks!). But the thing is, when a person is urged to go tackle their weight issue by eating better and exercising regularly, is that helpful? Is it effective? And is it even accurate? I remember when I first starting doing triathlons, I would get passed in the swimming and cycling portions by women who were probably 20+ pounds heavier than me. Just because I was thinner, did that mean I was healthier? That is the assumption so many of us are being guided by - but is it true? And, how is it helpful to urge someone to basically go on a food and exercise program to solve their existing or "will probably happen in the future" health problems?
Something else I have learned during my investigation into this movement is how prevalent and damaging addictive dieting is. You may have heard of it referred to as "yo-yo dieting." You go on the next best diet or cleanse, lose some weight, go off it because all diets/programs have an endpoint, maybe coast a bit, then the weight creep starts. You start to hate yourself because you lack self-discipline ("ugh - why can't I be like Jenny? She still looks like her After picture, a month later. I'm so weak"). So then you do it again. And again. And when you're killing it, posting all your happy, thinning photos on Instagram, you feel successful, "I've nailed it this time!" and all the comments in your feed confirm your strength and commitment and hotness. You feel superior to people who are still consuming food you actually have to chew, and eating at regular intervals ("didn't you know that intermittent fasting is soooooo healthy??"). And then, well, the two or four weeks are up, or the target event is over, and life goes back to usual. And your body, which has basically done what it's supposed to do when it's trying to protect you by going on high alert because it's in starvation mode, relaxes because phew, it turns out the crisis is over and now it can go back to eating what it has been denied for weeks or months or years. The return may be gradual or in the form of bingeing. In the meantime, as our weight creeps up to its homeostatic point, our self-regard plunges. And so we begin again. Chasing the high of achieving a weight standard that in our minds equals freedom, success, happiness, which is confirmed by the feedback we get via social currency. Of course it's addictive!
In general, we are so out of touch with an intuitive way of living, that takes cues from our body rather than extrinsic sources of information and motivation, that we are putting ourselves through abusive exercise programs, we are devouring dogmatic eating plans, and we are totally stressed out because of our chosen lifestyles. Chronic back pain, thyroid issues and other autoimmune disorders, substance misuse disorders, anxiety and depression, injuries from workouts that are too intense for our body and lifestyle, insomnia, disordered eating - are all on the rise and are not only preventable, but I do believe to a great extent are because we are trying to force ourselves into some image we think means happiness, fitness, health, success.
This morning I was listening to a podcast episode, an interview with Diane Summers, who is a registered dietician who has extensive experience in the field of eating disorders. She referred to the way we treat ourselves and others, judging our worth based on weight and size, as a form of violence. That, when we restrict our eating in an effort to lose weight, it can be a way of inflicting injury on ourselves, especially when it becomes a cyclical behavior. She also talked about this in relation to us going against what is biologically natural. For example, she said, menopausal women, because of hormonal changes, will naturally have a bigger mid-section. When we fight this, we are going against the natural order of things, and this is a form of violence. I was thinking about what she said, with my own filter that has grown from personal experience (myself and loved ones) with eating disorders, and her words really rang true. When I deny myself something, or force myself to do something, am I being kind to myself? I was thinking about women who are past the childbearing age, striving to look the way they did when when they were still technically viable baby-making material. It seemed so unnatural and unhealthy to me when I thought of it that way. The same way it is so obviously unhealthy when a pubescent girl wants to starve herself down to look like she's six years old again.
The tricky thing for me is that murky area of healthy vs unhealthy. As in, surely it is healthy to make the tougher choice and have crunchy broccoli instead of plantain chips. As in, I really don't want to develop diabetes in a couple of decades, and intuitively I know that the choices I make now, will impact my long-term health. As in, going to the gym is not the easiest, most comfortable choice, but I do enjoy my workouts and feel so great afterwards, so surely that's a good thing.
So then, I consider one of my favorite buzz words: INTENTION. When I choose broccoli, what is going through my mind? Am I choosing it because it's a "good food," as opposed to "bad food" chips? Or am I choosing it because I really do enjoy the taste, and I know that after eating trees I feel better physically than after eating canola oil? When I embark on a workout, am I doing it because I know it helps my creativity and focus and I love the feeling in my lungs and muscles, during and after, or am I doing it because I am chasing a certain physique? And if it's a little of all of the above, is that a bad thing?
One of my sober friends, Stephanie, is a magician with hair and makeup She loves going to the gym to work out pent-up energy and frustration, as well as to further strengthen her body and hit new milestones on the treadmill. Stephanie has struggled with weight since she was a girl, and is painfully honest as she talks to us, her support group, about what it was like being a teenager in a body that was larger than that of her peers, and compensating for her feelings of inadequacy, shame and loneliness, by hiding behind a jovial, entertaining persona. She has shared with us how suicidal she became, and although she is much better now, she still feels like the "fat girl." Sometimes the photos she shares on social media have her all made up and ready for work at the salon, with fabulous makeup - and sometimes she shares photos of a "bare" face and just-out-of-bed hair. Stephanie is a "keep it real" warrior and is totally honest about her life struggles, as well as her profound gratitude for being now nine months sober. As she points out, her "insides finally match her outsides." It is a daily effort, a lifelong journey for Stephanie - for so many of us.
This authenticity is so refreshing and inspiring to me. Sometimes, I want to spend all day in yoga pants, no makeup, hair whatever. Actually, this is most days. It's not because I don't care about how I look, or that I have given up, because I am happily married and 47 years old and the mother of two teens. It's not because I am a crunchy Mama (I find that is a relative term), and it's not because I am making a political statement against the "beauty" industry. I am just showing up in the way that feels most comfortable, the way I decided a couple of years ago that any sort of shoe that gets in the way of my love of running (eg high heels) needs to find a new home, the way that the tiny pants I used to fit into when I was in my middle-to-late 30s, no longer need to torture me. I gave them away too, and releasing those ten pounds of fabric was the best weight loss move I have made in years - because it was a huge weight off my shoulders and off my soul! I often say, the real source of oppression against women, especially in modern times, is the woman looking back in the mirror. Ah, what we could all accomplish in terms of making the world a better place, if we only gave ourselves the compassion it takes, to let go of the energy it takes and the self-hatred that comes from measuring our worth by the number on the scale and the size of our clothes! Now THAT is a right and a freedom that cannot be decided by executive orders, and it is pretty freakin' powerful and has a very real ripple effect. Imagine if our stressed-out daughters saw us embracing who we are, for real! Talk about a pink revolution!
So, where I am these days in relation to all of this, is professionally, I continue to encourage those I teach, to listen to our body. Listen with curiosity, with compassion, trying to let go of judgment. And, at the same time, recognizing that if we are not moving forward, we are moving backward. In terms of fitness, this means, as we sink into a stretch, or settle into a plank, let's see if we can soften into the stretch a little further, on the next out-breath. If we can, let’s challenge ourselves to hold the plank an extra breath, to further strengthen our core, so it can support our back, that works so hard every day. If we want to start or continue a form of exercise that appeals to us, awesome! Exercise is key to our continued vitality. But what is our Intention? There is a big difference between doing a workout because on some level we believe we will become more "attractive" and "accepted" - versus choosing a form of movement because it's fun, it helps us relieve stress, and we really do feel great from it. In other words, move our body in a way that is helpful and paying attention to that edge, where we are within our capacities and maybe expanding them a bit.
With food and drink, same thing. Let’s pay attention to how we feel in terms of energy, digestive comfort, our immunity. Fueling our body in ways that are nourishing, rather than being dictated by the bitch in the attic that tells us that if we eat something we really want (eg chocolate ice cream), we don't deserve the admiration of those college boys, or love from the skinny mom who raised us, or acceptance by those Lululemon moms at the gym.
As far as where I am personally with all of this, well, quite frankly, the lines are blurred for me, between professional and personal. Because this is very personal. This body I live in is the only body I will ever have in this life, and while millions of women may be out there marching for our rights to control the choices over our bodies, I am doing my best (some days are better than others) to move, eat, dress, and in other ways, treat my body the way I feel is empowering and authentic. That, to me, is the ultimate statement I can make as a female consumer, voter and role model. To me, as a coach who wants to walk the walk and live in integrity, rather than structure my energy and choices based on how a coach and athlete “should” look, I prefer to practice flexibility, self-compassion, humility, vulnerability and honesty. And, today, the way I do that is to honor my body by working on accepting it as it showed up today, and feeding it and moving it with gratitude and wonder, for its patience, strength, health, and resilience. And, like with Stephanie, this is a life-long journey, that I chunk down to one day at a time. Some days are better than others - and that's okay.
If you would like to explore a new way of thinking about your body, image, and self-worth, I urge you to check out the following resources as a "dropping in" point:
Website: Health At Every Size
Documentary: Miss Representation
Book: When Food is Love: Exploring the relationship between food and intimacy, by Geneen Roth
Podcast: Life Unrestricted Episode 29 with Isabel Foxen Duke
Podcast: Food Psych episode 94 - How to leave the religion of dieting with Alan Levinovitz
Book: Intuitive Eatingwww.amazon.com/Intuitive-Eating-Revolutionary-Program-Works/dp/0312321236 by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
This post is by a guest blogger. "Dr. C" is a physician, a mom, an athlete, and an alcoholic who has been in grateful recovery for just shy of a year. She sent me this satirical look at how easily anyone is susceptible to developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I found it to be so spot-on I asked if I could share it, anonymously. Often, we ignore the voice inside us that urges us to question our habits and self-destructive tendencies. Perhaps our idea of what an alcoholic looks like or how she behaves, does not match up with how we perceive ourselves to be. We look for differences rather than similarities. If something in this brief description below hits a nerve, please pay attention to that "oh shit." It could be an opportunity to seek more information, make a few changes, reach out, before your elevator ride down hits a lower floor.
How To Become an Alcoholic
1. Like alcohol: There has to be some perceived benefit to drinking to which you subscribe. Whether it’s that you think it is cool, part of growing up or simply that you like the way it makes you feel, step one is that you like something about drinking alcohol.
2. Build a tolerance: The first way that you build tolerance is to develop a taste for alcohol. Rarely do people like the taste of alcohol from the beginning. You may need to disguise the foul taste with mixers, fancy glasses and fruity decorations or you may need to drink it quickly, as beer bongs and shots. All of these methods will allow you to ingest enough alcohol to build up your tolerance over time so that eventually you will be able to “hold” your alcohol. Beware that the fast drinking methods will likely make you sick a few times. Do not let that deter you from your overall goal of building tolerance. Each time you find yourself making a fool of yourself or feeling guilty, you need to stay the course so that these occurrences happen less often.
3. Associate a psychiatric benefit to alcohol: Pretend that you need alcohol to make you funnier, more social or less introverted at every social event. Drink regularly if you are feeling anxious or depressed to make yourself feel better. Most definitely, drink to celebrate every occasion. Make sure to always include alcohol for all occasions.
4. Drink regularly: In addition to helping you build a tolerance, make sure you drink enough on a regular basis so that it becomes an integral part of your life. You should drink at least weekly but daily is preferred. (Note: binge drinking even if just on "special occasions" or a few times a year, definitely counts as alcoholic behavior; the alcoholic club does not have a minimum requirement in terms of frequency or amount of consumption).
5. Let go of rules that prevent you from drinking: You may have been taught rules for safe drinking such as moderation or not drinking alone. Adhering to such “rules” will not necessarily keep you from achieving your goal of becoming an alcoholic but they certainly don't help so ignore them.
If this message hits a nerve in you, please refer to this blog entry, which contains resources. The best way to solve a problem is to prevent it in the first place, or to prevent it from getting worse. Just like someone with cancer usually doesn't wait to deal with it when it has metastasized, if you believe your drinking is becoming a source of shame, fatigue, compromised immunity, financial stress, relationship discord - today is a great day to reach out and talk to someone about it. You are not alone. (And please feel free to reach out to me).
One early morning, I was waiting outside the pool where I used to train. It didn’t open until 6am, and I found myself standing outside in the dark, with another crazy person. She started talking with me and asking me questions that showed a far deeper curiosity than most people. It turns out she had started a program at a high school in a town 20 minutes from my comfortable suburb, that helped teen mothers stay in school in spite of their overwhelming circumstances as a child mother. Blown away by Marie’s kindness, energy and humor, I immediately agreed to stop by the next day and bring all of my baby paraphernalia. My son was now a toddler and I had no desire to have a third baby.
This began an amazing relationship for me, with a woman who called herself a Catholic feminist. She had the courage to create and champion a program in spite of huge obstacles and plenty of judgment and mocking and misunderstanding by others. Marie became, in many ways, a surrogate mother to me. She was very different from my mother, whom she never met, in that Marie was larger than life, while my mom was tiny, quiet and meek. Like my mother, Marie embraced the underdog and made every person in her presence, feel loved and cared for, and significant. Whether you were the mayor, or a 14-year-old girl following in your grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps and continuing the cycle of teen parenting and poverty – Marie would speak to you sternly and firmly and always with respect. Marie swam laps every day, and ate M&M’s every night. She loved people and hated closed-mindedness. She went to church. Every. Single. Day. And, she condemned certain churchy attitudes that she believed lacked compassion.
Tragically, Marie died quite suddenly just over a year ago. Often, as I find myself in certain life situations, I think, what would Marie do? Given the insanity we are witnessing, and participating in, these days, I often wonder, what would Marie think right now? What would she do? She was certainly flamboyant (purple hair) and would have definitely gotten a kick out of all the women now marching around with hats and posters using locker room language.
I would visit the program at the high school 2-4 times per week, to talk with the teen moms, give them some mentoring, show them how to use my fancy camera and take pictures of them with their beautiful babies. Many of the girls were completely clueless about nutrition and exercise, so I would try to give them some guidance and motivation in those areas. Eventually, though, especially as more and more 12-year-olds were getting pregnant, I became frustrated. I felt like my efforts were coming too late in the game. These girls needed to be taught earlier in life, about self-respect, self-care, breaking family cycles. I wanted to start something at the YMCA to get them moving and more connected with their bodies. And then, I read about a program in a small blurb in a magazine I almost threw out but decided to bring for my trip to Mexico, for my first Ironman triathlon. When I read about the program, it hit me that this was what I was looking for! A few months later (in 2010), we started a youth triathlon summer program at the Waterbury YMCA, and the rest is history.
In the seven years we have run this program, which is now Race4Chase and in multiple locations in a few states, we have, I know, helped create change. One kid at a time. One family at a time. Originally, the program (ACHIEVE) had been focused 100% on kids from urban, underserved environments. At the Waterbury location, Jim (the Executive Director at the YMCA) and I agreed that it was important to include kids from all walks in life, because really, all kids are “at risk.” Also, this YMCA truly is a big melting pot, and we wanted the program to reflect this diversity. It ended up being one of the best decisions we made, as we have seen what can happen what kids and families from totally different backgrounds and ethnicities and life experiences, can accomplish, when given the chance (or forced) to work together – and yes, play together.
I don’t know if any of the kids we have served (about 245 at our location alone) have made different choices as a result of our program. I like to think, yes. Dozens have learned to swim and ride a bike. Many have gone on to compete in other triathlons. I do know that some quit drinking soda. Some learned how to cope with their anxiety. Some learned to open their minds to people who were totally different from themselves. Being a part of this program has had a huge impact on me personally, and on my family. Our comfortable suburb is a bubble town, and I am grateful for the privilege of being allowed into, and bring my kids into, a reality that is not nearly as protected or protective or white-washed, as the one in my town and I imagine, many other suburbs and “nice parts of town” in other areas of the country/world.
Right now, there is a knee-jerk reaction to wanting to create change, which is one way to respond to the realization that our beautiful country does include a great deal of disparity between races, income brackets, educational levels, religious views, genders, sexual orientations, amendment champions. I am so, so glad that people are waking up, finally, to this truth, and I am even more thrilled that people actually care. Once you see certain things, if you really look, it’s really hard to unsee them. That being said, it is my hope that the reaction become a mature movement toward real, lasting (r)evolution. Given some of the stuff I have seen on social media, I realize that a lot of people still don’t get it. Compassion is not true compassion, if it only has room for your point of view. Compassion means, putting yourself in another person’s shoes and really taking the time to consider their viewpoint. Compassion means, listening. Truly listening. We are motivated either by love or by fear, and I see both, on all sides. I truly believe that we are all doing our best, with what we have and know, right now. If we are women, we want to feel loved and significant. If we are moms, we want to keep our kids safe and healthy and guide them toward success, whatever that means for us. If we are providers, we are doing our best to earn, to support our needs and wants.
It has taken probably years if not decades or centuries to create the sort of atmosphere we are living in now. Not one person or group of people, but rather, the maverick spirit that started our nation, the arrogance, innovation, resourcefulness, chauvinistic, Puritanical, rebellious energy, the impatience, that has moved our country forward, has brought us to where we are today. It is easy to vilify one person or one group of people or political party, but I fear that is too simplistic, and it is not at all helpful. We are an incredibly interesting and complex nation, and our problems, and any real solutions, must also be complex. In other words, writing and sharing articles that excite your supporters and shame everyone else, is not going to change anything, at least not for the better. Particularly women – if you are reading this – I beg you to be mindful of what you share and encourage. I have always considered myself a feminist, and I believe that if we are to become a more evolved species, it is up to the girls and women. Sharing links that make fun of our fellow women who do not agree with us, or who perhaps epitomize our idea of a self-serving “bimbo” – only hurts us. Supporting our gender and working toward a more inclusive, mindful world means we need to refrain from shaming and hating on others. If you don’t have something nice to say, please don’t say it, or at least keep it to your private circle. Be pro, not anti.
If, however, you really are bent on working toward change, which I sure hope you are, I recommend you check out these links. Supporting causes like these, will help turn our knee-jerk reaction into long-lasting, sustainable, profound change. These are just a few that I have been involved with and know personally, but if you would rather find your own, I hope you will consider this a launch pad for your own efforts.
Race4Chase - youth triathlon summer program
S.M.A.R.T. - promoting healthy, positive families and children
Naugatuck Youth Services - mentoring & other support
The CT Coalition Against [Sex] Trafficking - awareness and support for victims
IRIS- refugee and immigrant services
Boys and Girls Club- mentoring, youth programs
The Avielle Foundation- preventing violence through brain health advocacy
Dylan's Wings of Change - helping children with autism reach their potential
The Ana Grace Project- promoting love & connection
Jericho Partnership- mentoring, homeless outreach, addiction support
Support for Addicts in Recovery - help those in recovery get back up
Communities in Schools- help kids succeed in school
REACH - youth mentoring
St Vincents de Paul - homeless outreach
NewArts - inspiring kids through the arts
Sega School for Girls - my friend built this incredible school in Tanzania
I recognize that perhaps today, some of us may not have the bandwidth to commit to something as meaningful as mentoring a child, or volunteering at a shelter, or coaching an urban running program. I was on a flight once and my seat mate, a very wealthy man, said, “I really admire how much you do. I wish I dedicated more time to causes like you do.” I replied to him, “Please keep working and making loads of money – so you can write checks to my causes.” We can all contribute. I think what really matters is that as we participate in this conversation, we do so being mindful of our intentions and the consequences of our words and actions. At all times, take the high road and be kind.
Thirteen years ago today, while nursing my month-old son around 4:30am, I got the call. My mom had passed away. Yes, I am deeply sad. It often hits when I least expect it, not on obvious occasions such as today, or on her birthday. Usually it’s when my daughter, who is following in her footsteps in many ways, does something and I think, mom would have loved this moment. Or I hear a Celine Dion song my mom loved (from Titanic). Or I regret the fact that my mom never met some of the women who today are my closest friends – they would have loved her!
Yes, I am sad, but I am also happy. As my kids get older, I see parts of her in them. My son’s tenderness – that was my mom. She was one of the sweetest, most giving people I have ever met. I used to get annoyed with her – do you have to be so nice to everyone? Can you be a little more selective? My daughter’s innate sense of style and elegance. My mom dressed up to clean the house, and she always looked fabulous for her daily exercise classes, even wearing a belt with her leotard.
My mom, Ulla, was a stay-at-home mom. She and my dad moved 17 times by the time I was in college, and while she didn’t go to a job in the whole time she was my mom, she worked hard at raising my sister and me, and supporting my dad as he rose through the corporate ranks across continents. She showed my sister and me the importance of healthy eating, daily exercise, working hard at whatever it was we had to do. She also always had hobbies, and said that the key to happiness was to always have hobbies that helped you relax, be creative, have fun, feel accomplished.
At my mom’s funeral, during my dad’s beautiful eulogy, I learned stuff about my mom that I didn’t know before. While I was busy with schoolwork, ballet, hanging out with my friends all over Mexico City (where I grew up), and doing whatever teens do (which includes ignoring anything our parents say and do), my mom had developed her hobby (knitting) into a business. She actually had a group of Mexican women creating clothing that she had designed. I had no idea. I had always thought my mom was a housewife, and it turns out she was a business owner. She was always quiet, soft-spoken (unless she was yelling at the mother of two girls who bullied me BIG TIME, then she was fierce as any mama bear), and subtle. A class act.
I miss her. And, I am happy that I was raised by such a loving, fun, adventurous, generous woman.
This past weekend, we took our son, and the exchange student we are hosting from South Africa, to Washington, DC. My husband I were invited to the presidential inauguration, and to one of the official inaugural balls. Even though we met and got married in DC, one of my favorite cities in the world, I had never been to any inaugural activities. This was a huge honor and we were excited to be so close to something so historical. We were excited to be taking the kids to something that would, for better or worse, always be spoken of in history books.
I knew that the fact we were going to this, was going to be fodder for judgment and hatred and assumptions by people in the real and in the virtual world, so I mostly kept the information private. I created a secret Facebook group for friends and family to witness our experience through my photos. I only invited people who I knew would appreciate the excitement and value of our firsthand experience. I posted some great photos of the places we took our exchange student to see, as it was her first time in DC. Monuments, a museum, Arlington National Cemetery. And, yes, photos and video of the inauguration, as well as of the inaugural ball, and an insider view of the new Trump Hotel.
The next day was the women’s march. I mentioned to a friend that we were going to show the kids the national cemetery, and watch the impressive, moving changing of the guard, and then we were going to head to DC and catch some of the women’s march. I was wearing a pink scarf. My friend remarked about the juxtaposition – we were participating in inaugural activities, and checking out the women’s march. Of course we were! They were both historical events.
Life isn’t about OR. Life is about AND.
My mom was sweet, dainty, tiny, and super strong, physically and emotionally. She was about 95 pounds, and so gentle, yet she had totally cut arm muscles and moved her family around the world. My mom was devoted to her kids and husband, and she had many interests of her own, outside of the home.
When we were in DC, we saw, heard, spoke with people from all walks in life. Many were wearing red hats, many were wearing pink pointy hats. We were all walking around the monuments, the national cemetery, respecting the land we were on, and the people who were sharing our path. My mom would probably have been super sweet to everyone (well, probably scared of the protesters we saw in front of the hotel and at the inauguration – it did remind me of the time we were in Madrid when I was a kid and were hiding away in our hotel room watching the anti-Franco protests in the street below, and the riot police in action).
I can be a person who wants our president to succeed, and I can be a woman who wants women to bring the passion, camaraderie, acceptance, and desire to achieve positive goals, back from the march and into our daily lives. I can be a mom who cringes when she hears and sees women acting or speaking or dressing a certain way (“because it’s my right!”), while also eager to support any efforts to create and nurture respect and appreciation for women. I can be a woman who lives authentically, while also recognizing the strength that comes from being impeccable with my word, and taking the higher road. I can be a woman who is angry when witnessing or being subjected to intolerance, judgment, negative assumptions, while choosing to model tolerance, acceptance, and listening.
My mom was a beautiful, intelligent, humble woman. She taught me many things, including the fact that a family’s wellness often depends on the mom’s wellness. And as she led me and my sister through the ups and downs of living, she also taught me how powerful I can be if I just show up, listen, and dare to avoid the herd mentality. Subtlety and quiet strength are sometimes as effective or even stronger than the shouty kind. And, because this is an AND kind of life, not an OR, there is room for both kinds of strengths and leaders. We NEED both.
A lot of people, when they decide they are going to quit something – pigging out, cigarettes, drinking, etc. – make a calculated decision to have a final binge, sort of like a person on Death Row has their Last Supper on the eve of their execution. (At least, according to movies they do). That’s sort of how this time of year feels to me in some ways. We are all so busy getting stuff done, with the final deadline of Last Day of School/Christmas Eve/New Year’s Eve looming over us. Gotta get all the shopping, wrapping, baking, cleaning, Elf-moving, card-sending done, while at the same time keeping commitments to holiday parties, Nutcracker performances, religious services, charitable causes. It’s exhausting. And the first thing to go is our self-care. Who has time for yoga, decent bedtime, 10 minute meditations, preparing meals from real food? So, we are running around like wild turkeys with our heads cut off and eating all kinds of sugary treats and sipping on (or gulping down) “well-deserved” cocktails, and then, when we get sick, we blame it on the fact that the flu shot doesn’t work this year, or “it’s that time of year” so obviously, it was inevitable.
And then January 1 hits us and we say, I need to detox. I need to get healthy.
Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir here and this post will be a validation of everything you are doing. Most of us, though, are probably not quite choir material, at least not in action. We may know something needs to change, but either it’s too overwhelming, or we really don’t know what to do.
These are the 12 steps I recommend following – as part of a solid self-care plan. And if you are too busy to do them, then you need to REALLY do them. Someone asked the Dalai Lama once, “How long do you recommend I meditate each day?” He answered, “20 minutes is good.” So then the person said, “But I am too busy for that.” And the Dalai Lama said, “Well, then you need to meditate for 2 hours.”
Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. Not January 1. Today. Right now, this very breath. Why wait until you have hit your version of rock bottom? A heart attack, a panic attack, a horrible hangover, an affair, a breast lump, a blood sugar level, a financial meltdown, 30 pounds of overweight, a child in crisis (because they are our best mirrors, but their little bodies and brains aren’t able to absorb as much – so pay attention!) – these are all signs that we are living an unbalanced life. Follow these 12 steps and chances are, things will fall into place.
One of the highlights of my week is the Spanyoga classes I teach at a local preschool, to 3-5 year-olds. For about half an hour a pop, I lead these adorable little sponges through yoga movements, often cueing in Spanish (arriba, abajo, toca los pies, vaca, gato, perro, respire por la naríz…), as well as songs and conversation in Spanish. Playing – I mean, working – with kids is one of my favorite things to do, in large part because they haven’t yet become stuck in their ideas, stories, beliefs about the world and themselves. When I hang out with them, I get a front seat to observing real, live child-like wonder. So awesome.
Yesterday, I mentioned to them that sometimes, I don’t know a word in Spanish because at least during my time in Mexico (from ages 7-17), it was not a word that was relevant, either to my life paradigm, or maybe even the geography of where we were. Every class, I read a book to the adorable tykes, but most of the books I have access to are in English, so I basically have to translate them on the fly. There have been a few times that I didn’t know the word, and had to look it up. A few times, there was no translation. So, yesterday, after practicing the word for snow (nieve) and snowing (nevando), I shared with them that the Eskimo actually have about 50 words for snow. Cue: eyes open wide in childlike wonder. I explained that in places around the world where snow is prevalent, stays a long time, and has all kinds of uses, the cultures have adapted a vocabulary to differentiate between the different kinds of snow.
Lately, I have been thinking about this in terms of where I am on my health and wellness journey. For a while, I have been mulling over this belief I hold that as humans, our brains, and our intellectual grasp on life, are currently incredibly limited. As a coach, I am fascinated by the concept of self-limiting beliefs, and I think a lot of it starts with vocabulary. We grow up, as young, impressionable kids, being told what and who and how we are, and that becomes our language. It becomes the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world, and who and what we may become. I am an athlete. I am not a runner. I suck at art. I have no focus. I am good at math but suck at writing. I am a talented pianist. I can’t dance to save my life. I am lucky. I am poor. I am diabetic. I am clumsy. I am a hard worker. I am adventurous. I am a Christian. I am a victim. I have a learning disability. I am special. I am a girl. I am lazy. I am a leader.
Words are so powerful, as they reflect the way we see ourselves and the way we interact with our environment. So, I think it makes total sense that one of the reasons we don’t experience the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual growth we are capable of, is because maybe we lack the vocabulary needed to explore further growth. Words and language are designed to help us understand our world, but they can also create misunderstandings (like when we had just moved to Mexico, and I was in my ballet class with the other seven-year-olds, and the teacher asked me to do something and I said no, because I was “embarazada” – which means pregnant. Oops!)
Those of you who are kind (or bored?) enough to subscribe to and read my blog, know that last week I celebrated one year of being completely alcohol-free. I announced this with a blog entry, and I quickly followed that entry with something I am convinced is lacking in the mental and physical health world, surrounding the discussion and exploration of substance use disorders, especially alcohol. I spoke of how many opportunities are lost, to prevent more advanced stages of addiction, simply because there is no official framework where people can assess or be assessed, in their alcohol use, before they hit the obvious bottoms. Check it out here: stages of alcoholism.
Today, as I think about the Eskimo words for snow, the power of language, the lies we tell ourselves because of what parents, teachers, coaches, babysitters, family, friends, media, society have told us and we have believed are true – it strikes me that there needs to be a new way to talk about what we now refer to in the very loaded, stigmatized term alcoholic.
As I stated in my previous blog mentioned above, although I am not a mental health or medical professional, I believe that alcoholism can be broken down into four stages (with some overlap between them). Going further, what I would like to suggest, is that the word alcoholic could be nuanced. Why? Well, I know for me, if I had known sooner about the concept of High Functioning Alcoholic, I may have been less likely to justify my socially-accepted, but soul-destructive behavior. I could not relate to the stories out there of complete destruction or extreme alcoholic behavior, but if I had heard the stories of women who were concerned that their alcohol consumption was eating away at their integrity and completely at odds with their breast cancer awareness pink ribbons (because alcohol DOES cause cancer- read THIS), I may have quit sooner. Maybe not. Who knows? But in my quest to help others avoid going further down the slippery slope, I would like to suggest we entertain the idea of adding some new words to our vocabulary about alcoholism and alcoholics:
In my conversations with other women in recovery, we have all experienced that once we share with someone that we are abstaining from drinking, the first reaction is often, “Is this forever?” and the next statement is, “but I never saw you drink any more than most people – surely you aren’t an alcoholic!” This is well-intentioned, but unfortunately, far from helpful. This is exactly why we ended up where we did – because we were telling ourselves that same story of denial for so long. In our minds, there was only one definition of an alcoholic, and it was an ugly label that definitely did not describe our current behavior, or the state of our lives. Being unable to identify with this loaded term – alcoholic – kept us from understanding our behavior, our health, the slippery slope progression. It kept us from seeking the help we needed, be it through self-help programs or professional treatment. How many of us have said, “I don’t believe I am an alcoholic, because I never xyz and I only drank xyz, so I am not going to go to a 12 step meeting, because I feel like I won’t belong” - ?
If we return to the staging framework I jotted down in my previous blog entry, similar to cancer staging – it would be like me feeling a lump in my breast (perhaps stage 1) and then having as my only option, as far as I am concerned, getting on the bus with the patients with stage 4 cancer and getting full-blown chemo. If that were the case with cancer, I would probably be so terrified, and consider the treatment so extreme and overdone for my stage 1 diagnosis, that I would stay in my denial and not do much. Kind of the same way people do with their problematic drinking – until it hits a low enough bottom that they can start to identify with the word “alcoholic.” In the meetings, we are urged to find the similarities rather than the differences, but this can be a tall order for someone who already feels uncomfortable, self-conscious, and may be looking for any reason to run out the door and never return. However, if I know about the staging in alcoholism, and can identify as a Problematic Alcohol User (Stage 2), and I am aware that if I don't control my dis-ease with a structured program that is open to anyone in all stages, whose shared goal is to abstain from drinking, I am probably going to be more likely to explore the program before my dis-ease progresses to a more advanced stage.
Words matter. Where I live, we may not need 50 words for “snow.” THANK GOD for that. We may not need 50 different words for the various landing points on the alcoholism slippery slope, but we definitely need a better way to talk about it, if we are going to be serious about prevention and treatment. As much as I dislike labels because of how confining and self-limiting they can be, I do appreciate how they provide a way to communicate, especially to ourselves, what it is we need to do, to take better care of ourselves and grow to our potential.
To humans, words are more than a means of communication, they can shape our beliefs, behaviors, feelings and ultimately our actions. Although swords can coerce us, and threaten, nothing is more powerful than a tool which can shape our opinions.
"The lubricant became a crutch that became a habit that became an addiction."
- L, a grateful alcoholic in recovery
When I shared in this blogpost, two days ago, that I had reached the one-year milestone of living in sobriety, I was showered with love and support. THANK YOU! I received several messages from people that really got me thinking, and validated my decision to be open to the public about my journey. These messages, both in the virtual world and in the real world, were some iteration of, “I thought I just needed to take a few days off of drinking, but your blog made me realize I need to make this a long-term commitment, maybe even a forever goal.”
During my year of recovery, I dove head-first into books and podcasts and documentaries on recovery. I tried on different types of recovery meetings. I saw it as a mission, to learn more about myself, and to learn more about the human condition. I thought, if I pay attention, and do the work, I will (hopefully) become a better person, and be better equipped to help others. In the way that I am eager for all my friends to hear about the latest and greatest shoes, song, restaurant, supplement, podcast I have discovered, I wanted to know what was available in the world of recovery tools, so I may share them.
I started to notice something in this world of addiction and recovery, that as far as I can tell so far, is really missing. This is what is missing: the discussion about the in-between period, between the period of "I drink socially, but I think maybe I should cut down," and the period of "I definitely am not drinking today" - only to pick it up and do it all over again, obsessively and compulsively. I think the fact it is missing is one of the reasons so many people are continuing to live lives of increasingly quiet desperation – unnecessarily. I think it’s one of the reasons that there is stigma, which really boils down to ignorance and fear. I think the lack of this discussion means we are missing out on a really important opportunity to intervene before things get really messy. We can prevent needless suffering if we would only recognize that we can actually be proactive way before the Rock Bottom.
When I first gave up drinking a year ago (after a few years of “controlled drinking” experiments), and started looking into different recovery programs, even going to some meetings, my Imposter Syndrome kicked in, as well as my typical “I don’t fit in here” feeling. I knew that alcohol was sabotaging my efforts to become the human I am meant to be. And yet, I could not relate to many of the stories I heard of complete disaster. I would hear of women who drank gallons every day, or who didn’t drink in social settings but started pounding as soon as they got home, or who drank in the morning, just to be able to function at work. It was easy to say “That’s not me.” And it would have been easy to say, “I don’t belong here. If I think I do, I am just being a fraud.” Many people on a solid recovery path will point out that that is my alcoholic voice trying to convince me that I am different, I am better, and I don’t belong in a recovery program, I just need to try harder at controlling my drinking, or, I can abstain from alcohol without any sort of program or structured support program. It didn't help that several well-meaning friends and family, upon learning of my abstention, would say stuff like, "But you didn't drink that much, did you?" And then I would find myself explaining that it may not seem like I merited AA membership, but I had made the decision to quit BEFORE their reaction could be, "it's about time."
Luckily, I told the voice in my head that doubted my "alcoholic qualifications" to f-off and I kept showing up. I kept reading the memoirs and listening to the podcasts. And, gradually, the labels, and all of the baggage attached to them (“alcoholic,” “addict”) while important as a reminder to practice humility and to be grateful to exit the elevator down, before sinking further – no longer became a loaded, stark definition that created separation between me and “those who really are.” As I learned more about the deadly power of alcohol, I learned about the progression of its grip on our organs, especially our brain, and on its dissolution of our soul. I realized that while I had not, by the grace of God, experienced calamity due to my drinking, it was very likely a statement that needed the word “yet” on the end: I had not experienced calamity – YET.
I began to think of my alcoholism the way we think of cancer. In stages. I had learned enough to know that problematic behavior around alcohol is a progression, and at some point, if not dealt with, takes a serious turn and can (does) lead to horrible crap, including death. I thought of it like cancer, in that, if we are diagnosed with cancer stage 1, we do not say, “well, it’s not really cancer, it’s just stage 1. I don’t really need to treat it or make any major changes.” That would be beyond stupid, I think we all agree on that. Problematic drinking is the same thing. It is not a problem that takes care of itself. Someone who read my blog from two days ago said, “I was going to take a few days off of drinking, but reading your blog made me realize this is more serious than I wanted to admit.”
If I go to my OB-GYN and she does a PAP Smear and it reveals I have cancerous cells, I am not going to say, “well, I will just carry on and see what happens.” No! I will listen to the doctor, do whatever follow-up I need to do, and make any necessary life changes. I will ask my closest loved ones for support and prayers. Same goes for if I learn that my blood sugar levels are at a point that I am pre-diabetic. I will adjust my exercise and diet and do what I need to do, because I now have this important information and I am empowered to make changes before my health worsens.
This is what we need to do with alcoholism. I really believe that we need to have a way to self-assess, and for our medical and mental health practitioners to assess, where we fall on the alcohol consumption spectrum. Because I am absolutely certain that millions of people are not doing what they need to do, because they do not identify with the label “alcoholic” as they know they aren’t “as bad as that.” And when they do this, they are missing an amazing opportunity to stop the progression, to be more connected and self-aware and healthy.
Roughly, I would suggest a framework like this:
If we have this type of framework, we can then, I think, have a better understanding of where we are, if we need to take steps, and then start the process of recovery before we get any further down. It’s sort of like when we weigh ourselves (actually, I don’t weigh myself – but I do know how my jeans fit me). If we realize we are ten pounds over where we know we feel our best, we then have the power to decide to do something about it before we continue down the path and perhaps end up 50 pounds overweight. It is harder to lose 50 pounds than ten pounds.
The other thing is that if we recognize stages this way, it makes it easier to discuss our problem with others. If we have more clarity, we are better at communicating what we feel and need. Our doctors no longer need to be completely misguided with their off-base questions like, “do you consider yourself a moderate drinker?” I know I always wanted an A on my physical so I always answered, YES! Put a check in the moderation column! If, on the other hand, he had asked me to fill out a questionnaire based on the stages, even if I had lied, it would have, I think, alerted me earlier to the need to speak honestly. As stated above, alcoholism is a progressive disease - and I do believe that whether we are in Stage 1 or Stage 2, if we don't make some major changes to figure out the root of this behavior, we will ride that elevator further down.
Finally, I really believe that when we are faced with a situation that gives us the chance to be honest, starting with ourselves, about our need to let go of perfection, to be truly seen and heard by others, to simplify our lives and connect with our spiritual side, whatever that means to us – only good things can happen. During this year of recovery, I have often had these moments of “omigosh, everyone could benefit from following this program! So much unnecessary unhappiness, anger, resentment, and shame could be resolved if more people did this!” If my writing, my message of “you do not need to be in Stage 3 or 4 of alcoholism to step into the wonderful world of sobriety and recovery” reaches just one person’s heart and plants a seed, it will all be worth it, for me.
My dog, Penny, will go to the front door, scratch it and then sit expectantly, waiting for someone to reluctantly stop the very important stuff they are doing, to go and let her out. We will open the door for her and she will sit there, sniffing, but not go out. And then, she will trot to the door to the garage and scratch there, and sit again. And we will go to that door and let her out the garage, and this time, she will go out. Both doors lead to the front yard – so no matter which door she goes through, she will end up in the same spot. And yet, she does this every day. For the last 6-7 years. If you think about it, it is rather insane. Frustrating, a cute idiosyncrasy, and absurd.
A year ago today, I started on my own journey to quit doing the same stuff, expecting, or at least hoping for, different results. After a couple of years of trying different routes, only to end up in the same place, I realized, on December 6, 2015, that I had exhausted all options and it was time to get off the hamster wheel before the nonstop insanity took me closer to disaster, or at the very least, to becoming more of who I wasn’t.
Today marks one year of an alcohol-free lifestyle. I did not set out to be a long-term teetotaler. I had simply reached the end of my rope, physically, mentally and emotionally, and I knew that my alcohol consumption was the greatest and most toxic symptom of my dis-ease. Deep-down I had known this for awhile, and as I delved deeper into mindfulness, meditation, yoga, authenticity – the cognitive dissonance became more and more apparent. In mindfulness, we practice tuning into our body, noticing stuff like fatigue, sleeplessness, restlessness, bloating, immunity issues, skin irregularities, aches, cravings, etc. We also pay attention to our emotions, with an intention to practice curious, non-judgmental, compassionate observance. Physically, my commitment to regular exercise and whole foods and high quality supplements, helped me, I guess, because there wasn’t much deterioration that I was aware of. Of course, one can only assume that on a cellular level, drinking several drinks a week starts processes only visible once the compound effect takes place. But mentally and emotionally, I knew that what I was doing, even though in many circles is considered normal and even deserved (hey, work hard, play hard, right?) was not something I could continue, without eroding my own sense of integrity, honesty, authenticity and self-compassion.
So, after having the worst momtrum of my life, which was a result of my being completely exhausted in every way – although I was completely sober when this happened, I knew that alcohol was a major factor in my exhaustion- I decided I needed to give my body, mind and soul a break. I quietly decided to “detox” by avoiding alcohol for a week or two. Not even a sip. Bill came home from his business trip, it was Friday a few days after my decision, and I declined the glass of wine he offered. I explained I didn’t want to drink for awhile, because the ugliness of five days ago still haunted me. I still didn’t know where I was going with this “detox” – how long – but I knew I would know the plan when the time was right, so in the meantime, I would abstain.
Now, keep in mind that most people who decide to abstain from alcohol (or sugar, another big source of addiction) regard starting during the holidays as impossible if not terrifying. But that is exactly what I did. That is how sick I was of myself – or rather, of the person I had become. I did at times wonder if this was the right time to start this abstaining thing, but at some point it hit me – this is the perfect time. Alcohol, which is celebrated for its ability to take off the edge, ease our stress, enhance a festive occasion, reduce inhibitions and facilitate connection – well, at this point I knew that all of this was a bunch of crap. Alcohol wants me to believe all of the above. But I was no longer believing it. I knew that to be the mom and wife and human that I want, and need to be – I need to have a clear mind, and a clear conscience. I need to be available for my loved ones. And ESPECIALLY during an important time of year such as Christmas.
About three weeks into my little detox experiment, I decided to come clean, so to speak, publicly, because of the role I play as a coach and mentor to many adults and kids. I was done with feeling like a hypocrite, wearing a running shirt that says “Kale Queen” and feeling like people were misled into believing I lead a totally healthy, balanced existence. I figured, if I share my own realization and experience, the pedestal people may have placed me upon will hopefully be knocked down, because it turns out, it’s pretty scary when you think people know you as being a certain way, they hold you to a certain standard, when you know you are not worthy of that standard. It was my way of staying authentic. Even more so, I suspected that there were (are) a lot of people just like me out there, and maybe my story will help someone else feel less alone, and perhaps even nudge them toward creating change, and getting help if they need it.
My revelation led to some pretty amazing stuff, which I guess happens when you are willing to be vulnerable, with the intention of being truthful and of service. So many of you reached out in support – so many of you said “me too! Welcome to this awesome journey!” – so many of you said “me too – I think I need help.” I created a private group on Facebook that has grown to a number I would never have expected (please let me know if you would like to join us). I started to realize that this was much more than a “detox” for me. I loved the mental clarity, I loved being available to my family. I started to explore recovery beyond simply abstaining from alcohol. Online resources such as blogs, recovery communities, as well as local meetings, and podcasts (see list below). I now have a whole shelf dedicated to books on recovery. I am in a text thread with five other women all over the country, who are on the same journey as me, and we have become like sisters.
One of the reasons I delayed facing the truth about what I needed to do to clean up my act and be the person I really am, is I was really scared that by not drinking, I was going to close off many areas of my life. I was going to reject certain parts of myself – the fun, wild, spontaneous parts. Alcohol is a huge part of our culture, and I was afraid that I was now going to be a boring teetotaler who was surely going to be a social outcast, even more of a square peg in a round hole than I already often felt. I was afraid that living in suburbia sober was about as tedious as life could get, and I would go nuts.
As I think over the past 365 days, and now, as I write the paragraph I just wrote, I cannot help but think, holy crap, Susanne, look how wrong you were! To say that my life has opened up is a gross understatement. I have met some amazing people. Every day, when I think of the people who only a year ago were not in my life, or who I knew but did not know at the time were also living in recovery – I am amazed. A lot of people who are susceptible to addiction or problematic drinking (it’s a spectrum), I am convinced, are extremely gifted – many are brilliant and have tons of energy – which when sober, will be channeled to starting businesses, non-profits, running marathons and finishing Ironman triathlons or longer. Many are extremely sensitive, so they are keenly aware of what’s going on around and within them – which when sober, can be expressed by reaching out to others through creative endeavors, and helping other lost souls find their mooring. There is something magical about being in a room, or at a table, with people who live every 24 hours with deep gratitude, and who really do their best to accept the things they cannot change, have the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The serenity is real.
I have heard there is a lot of stigma (certainly a huge amount of fear of stigma) out there about people in active addiction, as well as in recovery, which is a big reason many choose to remain anonymous. But I can tell you – if I hear that a doctor, therapist, lawyer, teacher, business person, or potential friend, is in recovery and actively working on recovery, in the way that works for them, I will probably choose them over someone else any day. I am a big fan of personal development, and I really believe that a recovery program is the best personal development program out there. A crisis is an opportunity to change, and when we embrace the opportunity, and work on recovery, which really is the less-traveled path, we are choosing to let go of mindless living, do the hard work, move through things instead of away or around them, while helping others do the same. When someone is judged, or stigmatized, for doing this, it is clearly out of lack of awareness of what it really takes to be in recovery. I don’t blame people for harboring fear (which basically is at the root of stigma). Most of what we know about addiction and recovery is the over-sensationalized trainwrecks in the media, or the relapses that end in tragedy. And, yes, those cases are real, and awful. And I hope that as more people are open about their recovery, people in general are less judgmental, and also, less afraid to ask for help. There is a lot of misinformation and misguided assumptions, regarding how to best support someone who needs or is asking for help. There also really is a huge lack of resources, and information. I have learned that when someone is ready to ask for help, the path is far from clear-cut. You can’t go into your doctor’s office and announce, “I am ready for rehab” and start the process of recovery. Well, unless you’re wealthy and/or a celebrity. For most people, it is a complicated, frustrating process, which I hope will begin to change as the awareness grows that alcohol is the most dangerous drug out there.
Something else I have learned this year, is how many shades of grey there are on the, shall we call it, problem drinking spectrum. Only about 10% of the people we would consider alcoholics are the ones you may think of as a typical alcoholic – drinking all day, life in a shambles, bankrupt or homeless, etc. The reality is that it can be much more subtle. I know of professionals, parents, in recovery, who drank maybe once a week, but often to excess and would hate themselves for the next few days. I know people who drank every day, be it one glass or five, sometimes more, sometimes less. I have come to the conclusion that since alcoholism is basically a self-diagnosed disease, and we all have such different lifestyles, biological makeup, values and priorities – if and when we decide to ask ourselves, “do I have a problem?” these are the real questions we need to ask:
When asking ourselves these questions, if we feel uncomfortable, this may be our gut telling us, look closer. I think if we try to evaluate our problem, or lack thereof, based solely or mostly on amount and frequency of consumption, we are missing the mark. We are enabling our justification to continue. The eating away at our soul is not something that can be measured in number of ounces of days of the week.
Somebody asked me the other day, how have I done it? And have I faced a lot of challenges? From the get-go, I told myself, alcohol is not an option. Just like, selling my child on Craigslist or allowing my children to dock their iPhones in their bedrooms at night. Sometimes tempting (well except for the iPhone thing), but totally off the table. The other thing that I think has been really important for me, is not to compartmentalize sobriety. When I talk health in any way, be it running, fitness, mindfulness, nutrition – I urge people to avoid compartmentalizing. If we want to become fitter, we can’t assume that a one-hour workout class followed by sitting for eight hours will do much for us – we need to move throughout the day. And let’s look at your food & drink consumption. And how you manage stress. And your sleep habits. And so on. I see my sobriety the same way. I abstain from alcohol but that is just the jumping off point – I also need to do the work to get to the root of the problem, the dis-ease, and create a framework that stops it from happening again. Life is hard, we get thrown so many challenges through incidents, circumstances, and people – and a solid recovery program helps us learn tools such as recognizing triggers, planning for known challenges, being connected with a tribe that gets us, and having the humility to accept that we are not always in control, and it’s a very courageous thing to ask for help. Alcohol is a powerful, highly addictive drug, and consuming it problematically (which, by the way, 51 million Americans do) is a symptom. When we truly live a life of recovery, which to a great degree means, prioritizing self-care, we start to move away from the person we had become, and toward the person we, deep down, really are.
Several years ago, an acquaintance on Facebook posted a status that said something like, “By the grace of God, five years today.” I suspected that must mean, sobriety. I was intrigued. A beautiful woman, a mom, always so put-together, as far as I was concerned, had it all. I thought – her??? That opened up something in me, some new level of self-awareness and inquiry. A couple of other people I know who have been sober for a few decades, would also post on their soberversaries. I was in awe, envious. Further self-awareness. A mom blogger whose theme was something like the “3 Martini Playdate” announced she was getting sober, Elizabeth Vargas came out as an alcoholic… all of these seeds were being planted and my journey of self-discovery in this area was starting to gain traction.
I am using this occasion of my first soberversary, to hopefully plant a seed in someone else’s journey. I know our culture glamorizes alcohol, and the current normal is to flaunt our alcohol consumption on social media. At the risk of being the biggest buzz kill in people’s newsfeed today, I urge you to consider that alcohol is the most addictive drug there is, and the main reason it is allowed so much freedom and publicity and legality is because it is a huge industry that makes a fortune off of people’s habits and addictions. More often than you probably realize, alcohol use leads to poor parenting, accidental deaths, diabetes, cancer, domestic abuse, violence against loved ones and against strangers, problems with the law, obesity, anxiety, depression, opiate and cocaine and other illegal drug use disorders, and all sorts of other personal and public dis-ease. I am hopeful that the tide will start to change, and more and more of the cool kids and adults will start to embrace a sober lifestyle. Many of them are – in fact, my relatively short time so far in the recovery world has given me a glimpse into a fascinating, compassionate, loving and grateful - and totally cool - world I didn’t know existed.
Below, I am listing some of the resources I would recommend to anyone who is wondering if sobriety is something they should consider, or if you are currently in recovery and want to add more tools to your kit. Please feel free to suggest others I may have left off, or haven’t come across yet.
I am deeply grateful, to all of you (you know who you are), for being incredibly supportive and generous this year. I thought I was starting out on the road less-traveled, and it turns out that I have never felt more accompanied.
Finally – I have a request of you. I started a Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/sobriety-healing-recovery) specifically to help two incredible sober warriors who are struggling financially, and I want to help them attend a recovery conference that I know will be an enormous source of support for them. If you can spare $5, $50, whatever you can do, that would be amazing.
Okay, time to let the dog out.
Thank you for staying with me this far.
Drink – The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol (Ann Dowsett Johnston)
Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Breaking the Cycle and Finding Hope (Sarah Allen Benton)
Kick the Drink… Easily! (Jason Vale)
The Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous)
Websites & Some Favorite Blogs:
Women For Sobriety
Crying Out Now
The Bubble Hour
Tommy Rosen Recovery 2.0
The SHAIR Podcast
That Sober Guy Podcast
I officially started training for my 8th marathon, the New York City Marathon, on Labor Day, which means that I trained for about 8 weeks. Definitely not something I recommend others do, and the only reason I would do this is because I have been running and doing triathlons for about 11 years now, so I have a decent base. The other thing is that I don’t really have a time goal. I am not trying to qualify for Boston Marathon (BQ), or beat my 4:03 PR. So, when I showed up on Sunday, after about 3 hours of sleep, for my first ever NYC Marathon, my expectations as far as finishing time were really low. As in, I assumed my time would be high – around the 4.5 hour mark. I wasn’t wearing a watch, and I wanted to save my phone battery for photos and videos along the course, so I didn’t use any tracking apps. I really had no idea what my pace or the time was the entire race.
I took loads of photos and videos. Of the start, with the singing of America the Beautiful, and the first mile as we ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn.
I took photos of some of the many hilarious signs spectators had made to encourage us along.
When I came upon my husband and son and my friends, who had made the trip in to support me and another friend running it, I stopped each time, to hug them. I took pictures.
My husband texted me to tell me where they were located, and as the miles passed and my legs and feet started longing for some downward dog love, I clung to the expectation of seeing their beautiful faces 30 or so blocks away.
At a few points I thought, 26.2 miles is a helluva long way. It’s a distance that truly demands respect. I can’t believe I did this twice, after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles, in my two Ironman triathlons. And that I am considering repeating that feat. The enormity of what it does to your body and mind really hit home when at mile 25, a woman collapsed a little ways in front of me and was rushed off on a stretcher.
This particular marathon was not really on my radar until I was asked to join a team that was fundraising for St. Jude’s Children. I didn’t know that much about what St. Jude’s does until I accepted the invitation to run for this team, first for this past March’s New York City Half Marathon, and then this full marathon. A few times during Sunday’s marathon, when it crossed my mind that some of my lower extremities were a tad achy, I immediately thought of the children and their families, who were benefiting from St. Jude’s mind-boggling support (they don’t have to pay a dime for their cancer treatment or any associated costs – for life!). Who was I to complain about a blister or ailing toenail or tired muscle?
I didn’t know what my finish time was until a couple hours after crossing the finish line, when I was headed home. I pulled up my name in the marathon app on my smartphone and saw I had finished in 4:32. Huh. My slowest marathon to date. I thought about the time I had taken to fiddle with my phone (camera), hug my family and friends, pee. Since I hadn’t been tracking my progress, while I knew I had negative splits starting around mile 18, I didn’t know exactly by how much or how consistently. I suppose that would have been interesting to know. I knew I could have gone a bit faster, especially if I hadn’t smilepaced and treated this like a fun party as opposed to something to measure and prove. So, I sat with both parts – the part of me that is competitive and was a little annoyed I hadn’t pushed myself more, trained harder (or at least for longer!), that part of me that was ruffled when other people shared their faster times and PR’s. And then the other part of me that really and truly loves to be immersed in the whole experience of soaking in the scenery, the crowds, the effort that my friends and family make as they support me all year long in all of my endeavors, and especially on the day of the event. The part of me that loves to document it all, even if it means running 26.2 miles with a phone the size of a tablet (iPhone 7 Plus), in my hand, and running more slowly to get certain footage to share with those who aren’t up for the actual run themselves.
My first New York City HALF Marathon several years ago was one of my most unpleasant race experiences ever. I had made poor food and alcohol choices the night before. The morning of the race was much colder than expected (it was August, but was in the 40s), and around mile 7 the driving, cold rain and the dehydration from stupid choices kicked in and my knee became a throbbing mess. Every step was excruciating. It was all I could do to continue running. I just focused on one step at a time for the next 6 miles. I don’t remember what my time was but it wasn’t spectacular by any means. And yet – it will always be one of my most memorable races, one of the ones I am most proud of finishing. It was the closest I had ever come to quitting. But I didn’t quit. I grit my teeth and kept moving forward.
Some of my friends, real or virtual, complain after their races that they were dismayed by how lousy they felt. That their time sucked. They felt great in training – and yet they fell apart in the race. What happened? They ask themselves. When I got my triathlon coaching certification, one of my favorite workshops was with Bobby McGee, the author of Magical Running and a coach to elite and professional athletes. He explained that if we go into a race with a specific time goal, we are very likely to be disappointed. There are so many variables beyond our control, no matter what our training looked like. Weather, terrain, crowd behavior, opponents, etc. He suggested, instead, that we choose a time possible as a target, but that our goals be something we actually can control: patience; flexibility; gratitude. In other words, that we adopt a certain attitude as our goal. Because, inevitably, no matter how much or how we train, there will be surprises on race day. And if we are married to a time-measured goal or a rank, we are setting ourselves up for potential failure.
So – if your performance at your recent event was in your opinion, disappointing or downright mortifying – I invite you to look at it this way: did you quit? Or did you keep going, in spite of the fact that you were in pain, you wanted to puke, you questioned your sanity? So, you missed your desired finishing time by a few minutes or hours – what did that teach you? Maybe you need to tweak your nutrition (try FuXion by the way – it’s amazing stuff!). Maybe you need to build more rest into your training plan, especially if you have a stressful life. Maybe you need to do more strength training, cross-training, yoga. Maybe you need to say the Serenity Prayer on a regular basis. Whatever it is that you learned from this experience, the fact that it was an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and about life, makes it in many ways an awesome race. I have a lot of finisher medals and podium medals and trophies, and the ones that mean the most to me are not always the ones that looked the best on paper (or in an App).
Sometimes success is not measured as much by a GPS watch as by what is felt in the soul. The fact that people can so easily track us now via race apps and social media can put a lot of pressure on us. But it’s good to remember that most of us are not sponsored by NIKE (though if anyone from HOKA or OOfos is reading this, I would love to be sponsored by you, you saved my feet!!!) – so our split times and finishing time is really not that important to most people. And all that work that we put into ourselves by living in the discomfort zone for hours on end each week, working toward something that very few people do – that cannot be measured by linear time as recorded by a finish line mat. No more than the love that we have for running can be measured by a ruler.
YOU ARE AMAZING.
Just. Keep. Going.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.