Today is the last day of school in our area. I love driving my 7th grade son to school, as in those ten brief minutes, we listen to his music of choice (usually Despacito – the original, sans Justin Bieber – or Me Rehuso), bopping around, chatting about stuff on our minds about the day ahead. Today was the same, but as he got out of the car, he sadly remarked, “This is my last day at this school.”
Three weeks ago, my husband started a new job, with a new company, in another state. This opportunity came out of nowhere, and after much discussion, consulting with trusted loved ones and mentors, and praying that God would lead us or leave us wherever we were meant to be – we decided to jump.
He first told me about the possible job offer around 9:30pm, as I was getting into bed. I still don’t know why he picked that moment, because we have been married for 20 years and he knows that when my ass finally lands on my mattress, I am no longer accepting any sort of conversation about life logistics. I have set my brain in Airplane Mode just like my iPhone, which is docked down in the kitchen.
Needless to say, I hardly slept that night (mental Airplane Mode is far more porous than on my phone, dammit). We had so much clutter after 16 years here with a growing family and a huge basement – that thought itself paralyzed me. Our son had just, three days before, completely out of nowhere, earnestly asked if we were ever planning to move from this house, and I had answered, “Of course! Once you’re in college, Papi and I are off to the South of France!” I had been half-joking, but this was horrible to my son’s ears and he broke down in tears. So, of course I assured him that there were no plans anytime soon to move, and I asked him why he was bringing this up now? He replied, “I just really don’t want to move from this house. It’s the only house I’ve known and I love it here.” So I assured him he had nothing to be worried about. Oops. Turns out he must be some kind of clairvoyant (he is extremely intuitive), because now, as I tossed and turned all night, I knew I was going to at some point, if it got to where this move was a distinct possibility, devastate my son with the news that his biggest fear had manifested. And his parents were the ones who were controlling that ship.
My brain jumped and tripped and perseverated on all kinds of thoughts that night, from the logistical (How does one move with a dog? Will our daughter want to stay here and board at her school? How ever will we afford a house in a housing market where everything costs triple?) To the emotional (It took me so darn long to make friends here and now I am leaving them?! When we lived in DC 20 years ago, we were young and unencumbered by parenting and domesticity – how would it be to move back to something familiar, yet so different? Will I want to start drinking again?).
Even though I am a yoga instructor, and have a pretty consistent meditation practice, and know a lot of tools for dealing with a racing mind, anxiety, insomnia – I didn’t sleep much that night. And I gave myself a pass. I mean, when you’re thrown a big life curve ball, I think even someone with Dalai Lama cred (which I certainly don't claim to have!) has the right to flip out a bit. But once daylight came, and I had to do all those things we do to keep the household humming, I focused on what I have been focusing on since I decided, 1.5 years ago, that alcohol is not an option, if I am going to show up as the mom, wife, coach, friend, human I know I really am. When things have gotten messy, or confusing, or overwhelming – I have focused on simply doing the next right thing. I cannot control so many things in my life, but I can control how I choose to think, or act, in this moment. And then, I can make that choice again, in the next moment. And so on. So, at some point, I figured, recovery work is just like yoga!
I had to bring up yoga here because today is International Day of Yoga. Yippee! Celebrate by striking your best asana (pose). I celebrated today by teaching my weekly class at one of the most beautiful spas in the world, and I even snuck in this quick photo before my students arrived. (My daughter and I follow several travel bloggers on Instagram and I decided to pretend I have this life like they appear to have, of traveling round the world and not having to pay for it, or bother with flight delays and other hassles – so I have some photos in my Insta that show how glamorous my life is between driving kids around and the endless meal preparation that is part of parenting. Check it out @mindfulpreneur).
So, there are so many things I have come to appreciate and love about yoga. I started yoga because of the physical benefits, how it could enhance my triathlon training and competing. At some point, most markedly when I experienced PTSD after a dog attack, I started to comprehend why so many of my students had shared that my classes helped them profoundly with their depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. In addition to studying the physical benefits of yoga, I learned about the ways that yoga (uniting movement with breath) works on the central nervous system, helping release the effects of trauma that was never dealt with in a physical way. I also started to understand what they mean when they say that what happens on the mat, you can take out into your life off the mat. When we are in a yoga practice, we are practicing in the way that an athlete trains hard and consistently, so that when she is in a tournament, the mechanics are automatic, due to muscle memory. Yoga is the same way. I don’t mean that if someone offends you, you automatically assume your best Warrior pose (though by all means, try it – if nothing else, the offender’s surprise may diffuse things). I mean, in yoga, we become aware that nothing is permanent. Even though it may seem that plank in my class is infinitely endless, it too, shall pass. We also learn to be curious about our body – what is it telling us? If we have no energy, or we are chronically sore somewhere – rather than staying stuck in judgment and self-loathing and inadequacy, what is this experience, through our body, telling us about the way we are living? All this stuff we learn - seeps out into our life off the mat as we deal with life. Turns out the way we flow through yoga, can teach us about how to flow through life.
Alright, enough about yoga. Now to the other detour – recovery. By the way, I am not a big fan of the world “recovery.” I see where it comes from and how it can be helpful, but I think it only tells part of the story. And it doesn’t apply to everyone who wakes up to the realization that their relationship with a substance or behavior, is unhealthy and has outlived its usefulness. But for lack of a better word (that’s another blogpost), let’s stick with “recovery” for now. So, when we decide to change, and that’s basically what recovery is – letting go of one way and learning and adopting another way – if we really think it through – what it will entail, how it’s done, what might be on the other side – holy crap, that is overwhelming. So, on the day that I decided, enough is enough, I am taking a break from drinking – I did not think of it as a forever thing, because that was way too overwhelming. I chunked it down. No booze for a week or two. This wasn’t a big deal as I wasn’t physically addicted, and I had done this before, preparing for races, etc. Eventually, the chunks got a little bigger as I became more confident and started to realize that because I was diving into recovery work through books, podcasts, growing my sober network, this did not feel like a sacrifice or like deprivation. So, it became a way of life for me. Something that was unfathomable just months beforehand was now my default. Small, consistent steps, chunked down - had let to big transformation, which is still underway.
Back to our move. We decided to make the move. My husband, the quintessential project manager, made a list of all of the stuff that needed to be done to get the house ready to be put on the market. This list alone was terrifyingly long and overwhelming. And it did not include all the other stuff that would have to be investigated and completed, to do with the kids’ schools, finding and purchasing a new home, tying up ends with my own work and classes. Daunting, to say the least. So, the last six or so weeks since we started this transition, I have more than ever, been relying on the Serenity Prayer (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference). I have been focusing on, Do The Next Right Thing. This Too Shall Pass. It hasn’t been perfect. Some days have been super stressful, with momtrums, marital conflict, exhaustion, chaos. A few days ago, when in the middle of it with my 16-year-old daughter, I stated in a voice she would probably consider “yelling” – “This is what’s called ‘adulting’ – not drinking alcohol or being able to drive a car – but doing all this shit that is annoying, unpleasant, and necessary.”
A few days ago, a friend pointed out that it must be super stressful to always have to have a clean house, ready to show to possible buyers. I thought about it, and realized that while yes, it is stressful to have this added layer on my day, and being ready to change my schedule instantly so that strangers can walk through my home and judge it ("This is a really nice home but it's too unique for us, we need something more cookie-cutter") – in reality, now that the dust has settled (literally) and my husband’s Punch List has been completed, I often find myself feeling relaxed and grateful. Even serene.
"Sometimes our lives have to be completely shaken up, changed, and rearranged to relocate us to the place we're meant to be." (Unknown)
I suspect that the above quote has less to do with a geographical relocation, than a more existential state. I guess I will let you know, once the dust has settled in the next state along our path, but for now, I sit in the uncertainty of what lies ahead, in the midst of a huge life transition for me and my family. And I am going to do the next right thing, and spend too much money on huge containers of treats at Costco, for my son's going away party that just a few months ago, would have been his worst nightmare.
Our beautiful home... now on the market
Pausing in the chaos to meditate
I have a crazy story to tell you, that started mid- October and came to a head this week. But first, this.
Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a picture of myself holding a certificate that had just arrived in the mail – my USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Certified Coach certification. I had already been certified back in 2010 to coach adults, but this youth certification is a new offering by USA Triathlon and since I have been coaching kids since 2010, I am thrilled to have this newest proof that I somewhat know what I’m talking about.
I hesitated to post the photo of my latest accomplishment, though. Some of the hesitation came from the “is this bragging?” filter, but most of it came from the “what will this post attract?” filter. What I mean by this, is that every time I post something, I am conscious that on some level, it is influencing how I am perceived – how people on some level think of me in terms of what interests me, what I am seeking, with whom I like to hang out, what choices I make, what I am all about. Even, what opportunities to throw my way. So, before I hit “post,” I asked myself, “do I want to be labeled as a triathlon coach?” And, of course, this is a silly question at this point, because if anyone knows me or follows me on Facebook or has read any of my blogs over the last several years, you know that I have been doing triathlons since 2005, even competed in a triathlon national championship and have qualified for it several times but only bothered to do it once, and I have been coaching kids via ACHIEVE and Race4Chase Youth Triathlon programs since 2010. I have finished two Ironman triathlons. I love triathlons. And yet, I hesitated when it came to posting something that I felt would be like getting an Ironman tattoo, which I never did – I think I am one of the only Ironman finishers who doesn’t have a tattoo. I never wanted the tattoo for several reasons, but one of the main ones is that I have always felt that while I adore triathlon and triathletes and that whole subculture, it doesn’t define me. It’s something I do. It’s a means, not a destination. It’s a bridge.
And here is where my crazy ass story starts.
Back in October, the kids and I were wandering round Manhattan waiting for Bill (my husband) to get off work. We were crossing through Rockefeller Plaza when a scruffy guy came up to us and asked if we would like a free NY hat. Of course, my inner skeptic kicked in, because we all know nothing is free, especially in NYC. We also know that people coming up to you in an area that is mobbed with tourists, are probably looking to scam you in some way. And, as a mom with kids in tow, obviously I had to role model to my kids how we handle these kinds of situations. So I politely declined the offer, and was about to shepherd the kids across the street, when I decided to really look at this guy. And I was surprised to note that atop his scruffy blond head sat an Ironman hat. Not just Ironman – but Kona – as in, world championship. The race that you need to be practically superhuman to qualify for, or at least be ridiculously lucky and win a lottery bib. People were already crossing the street but I had to ask.
“You’ve done Ironman?” I don’t know if John (I would soon learn his name) detected my incredulity, but I am pretty sure he’s used to people making assumptions about him so it didn’t faze him. See, this is totally stereotyping, but most male triathletes who roam the planet with an Ironman hat, are clean-shaven (their heads often included in the ritual), have a certain physique that shows through whatever moisture-wicking shirt, and have this really intense (cyborg-like) look. I can pick them out of a crowd in a heartbeat. When I was at my coach certification trainings, for adults and now for this youth one, the rooms were filled with these intense humans. John looked more like a surfer who was scamming tourists for money to buy weed, than like the typical Type A triathlete. So I had to hear his story on how he got a hold of the hat.
With tourists swarming around us, in a rush to cross the street, we stood at the curb and he told me his story. He had just done Ironman in Kona. He qualified for it (because it turns out he has done several Ironman triathlons), but he actually, on top of showing up, raised $50,000 for a little boy dealing with cancer. I admit, I was still skeptical at this point. My kids were getting impatient. And then he turned to my kids and said, “You kids should appreciate your mom. She’s awesome. I had a really rough childhood. My dad was an alcoholic and my brothers and I were so abused that we got taken away and put in a foster home. And that was awful too – we were abused so badly. And then we were put in a group home and that was terrible – we were bullied, beaten up.” So, at this point, I was totally intrigued, but at the same time, I was aware that my kids were standing there, and who knew what they were thinking about this weird stranger that had their mom intrigued, who said he was giving out NY hats for an optional $5 donation that would go to a soup kitchen?
And, I was still skeptical. The story got even better. John started getting into serious trouble on the streets. He was constantly in fights. He got into drugs and was selling them. He was arrested. A lot. And then at some point he got into punk rock. And that was the beginning of his transformation. And he was led to the Hare Krishnas. Which then led to yoga, veganism, sobriety, triathlon…
I think we stood there for about twenty minutes, talking. His story was incredible. So much, so that I didn’t totally believe it. But something compelled me to stay, to ignore my kids’ impatience, to listen to this man. So, of course, I did the logical thing and asked him if he was on Instagram. When I asked this, I still thought he was some bum who had found or stolen an Ironman hat and had an amazing imagination and personality. On some level, bringing up Instagram was a test – did he have an account? Was he really an Ironman, a member of a famous punk rock band (a genre I know nothing about, beyond the Sex Pistols and the Violent Femmes), spending his days raising money for kids with cancer and soup kitchens?
He told me his Insta and I looked him up right there and followed him. He took out his phone and followed me back. I looked briefly at his photo and thought, well, it does look like him. But he could totally have made this account up for the purpose of scamming tourists of $5. (I know, I am even embarrassed to write this). Then he asked, “Do you know who Rich Roll is?” I said sure, he’s the vegan ultra-runner who used to be an unfit, alcoholic lawyer, and now has inspiring books and a great podcast. So John now opened his Twitter app and scrolled to Rich Roll’s account and gleefully said, “I am one of his most popular podcast guests. Check this out.” And sure enough, Rich Roll tweeted a link to a podcast episode with John Joseph, stating how this was his highest rated podcast episode.
At this point, I didn’t know what to think – but I did know that my kids had had enough, and that this man, whoever he was, was one of the most compelling people I had met in a long time, and even if he was scamming me, I was going to hand over a decent bill out of gratitude for his entertainment. We took a selfie and shared a hug, and then my kids and I finally crossed the street.
I mulled over this interaction, and a few hours later pulled out my phone and looked at John’s Insta more closely. “Holy crap!” I showed Bill and the kids – “That guy John has well over 20k followers – I guess he wasn’t bullshitting me!” We all had a good laugh, and I pointed out to the kids something deep and meaningful to the tune of, you really can’t judge people based on their appearance, and it really is worth it to pause and have a conversation, because everyone has a story, blah blah blah (I think they only heard the blah blah blah part).
So, soon after that, I looked up his Rich Roll podcast interviews and listened to them (I think at that point there were three episodes – he is that popular a guest – as of today, Rich as interviewed him five times). His story is incredible. Listen for yourself. So, you could leave it there – fun story, another hero in our midst that I got to bump up against, another door opened because of the commonality of triathlon, and then really widely swung open because of our common passion for yoga, staying sober, eating plants.
But no, that wasn’t the end of it.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out running with my friend Sandra. At some point, she started to tell me about a friend of hers, who lives in our small town, a woman named Diane. Diane started running 5k’s a few years ago and has now done a few marathons. She runs to raise money for the Child Tumor Foundation – her four-year-old son has neurofibromatosis (NF). Sandra went on to say that last year, Diane was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, which rendered her quadriplegic. And then, against all odds and medical predictions, Diane recovered and ten months later completed another marathon. Sandra shared with me that she hoped that Diane would have her other son participate in the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon program this summer, since she believes he would love it. I marveled with Sandra how strange it was that I had never met Diane – we have some mutual friends, we are both runners. I told her I had read Diane’s story in the Patch, and I had even shared it on my Facebook Reboot Coach page – an inspiring hero in our midst!
So, this is where John Joseph comes back into the story. This week I had a long drive to a treatment center where I was teaching yoga to people in recovery from brain health disorders/addiction, so I decided I wanted to listen to one of the latest Rich Roll podcasts as I had two in my queue. It turned out that one of them was John Joseph – again. So I started to listen – and was again blown away by him. This time, he really got into some stories about his horrendous childhood. He just published a book, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, which unlike his previous book Meat is for Pussies, is about his childhood – and how he has overcome extreme adversity. I immediately ordered the when I got home. Near the end of the interview, Rich pointed out that he (John) is going to do Ironman Kona again, and John confirmed this, and added that he is once again doing it for the little boy with cancer. He then went on to say that they found some more tumors on Alex’s spine, and that he really wants to support Alex and his family, whom he has grown to love. And then, John went on to say that Alex’s mom has an autoimmune disease that left her paralyzed, but she worked her way back and ten months later did a marathon!
When I heard that my jaw dropped. What?!?!?! As soon as I had parked, I looked it up. Could this possibly be the same family? Is it possible that this guy I met while wandering round NYC last fall, whom I almost dismissed for reasons most people would have kept walking after a polite “no thanks” – is it possible that he raised $50,000 for this little boy whose mom is good friends with one of my dear friends? I looked up Diane. Then I sent John a message, asking if this was the boy he was once again raising money to support? Affirmative. This was the same family.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that God puts people in my (and your) path for a reason. I also believe that every day, we all have opportunities to make these connections. Often, we are too busy to see the opportunity, or if we do, we say no – we are too busy, too rushed, too self-conscious, too uncomfortable, too fearful. Totally normal. And I can’t help but wonder, how many times has an amazing opportunity passed us by, because we chose not to be open to it? We stood on one side of the bridge, but dared not step onto it.
I looked Diane up on Facebook and sent her a friend request. I saw we had over 20 mutual friends and didn’t bother to look up who they were because I rushed off to the next domestic task, so I assumed our friends were all local moms and runners.
But Diane noticed a mutual friend and sent me a message – how did I know this other woman, whose name is also Diane? Once again my jaw dropped. This mutual friend, Diane J. – I met her when I was in Brussels three years ago, visiting my sister. Diane J. is one of my sister’s best friends over there, a fellow ex-pat. It turns out Diane J. is Diane’s cousin! In fact, today Diane sent me a photo from a shower she was attending – of herself and another young woman. I sent the photo to my sister in Brussels, who has no idea all of this story has been happening (I am enlightening her with this blog entry) – and my sister said she knows the girl, how do I have this photo??? The young woman is a good friend of her daughter’s (my niece’s).
Suddenly, the world is indeed a small place. It was once said that we are all separated by six degrees, but with social media, I recently read that we are actually now separated, on average, by four degrees. How many times have we had the opportunity to knock off one of those degrees, or all four of them, simply by crossing a bridge? Every interaction, real or virtual, is a potential bridge. When I changed my pace during last year’s Labor Day half marathon in New Haven, CT, to chat for a few minutes with an acquaintance and she mentioned a woman in my town who runs to bring awareness about and funding for NF, that conversation planted a seed. When I stopped and talked with a total stranger wearing an Ironman hat in NYC, that planted a few more seeds. I don’t know where these seeds will lead to, but I suspect it will be an ongoing, long-term journey of seed-planting. To me, running and triathlon and yoga and everything else I do, is not a bucket list item, an end goal or destination, or a source of identity. Rather, each of these endeavors, which I am passionate about and seek to bring more people into, is merely a medium – a bridge – to something else. To connection. This crazy story is a tangible, graphic illustration of the ways that we can forge connection, once we are open to it.
A few days ago, a neighbor told me how sad he is that we are moving. He described me as a bridge (yes, he actually used that word), saying that I had connected so many people in our area with each other, and with people from other communities – people who would not have otherwise met or have thought to get to know each other. It truly meant a lot to me to be thought of that way.
Yesterday, Diane and I met for the first time, in person. She came to my house for lunch and we chatted for almost three hours. I don’t know why God decided to connect me and Diane a mere month before my family and I move away from this area we have called home for 16 years, but as I make plans now to introduce my other friends to this incredible woman, who truly is a living, breathing example of steadfast faith, hope, perseverance and love – I suspect new beautiful bridges are being built.
Love is the bridge between you and everything.
Here in CT, our spring weather is either chilly or scorching, which I have learned after being here for 16 years – and as I moved forward over what ended up being six miles, I thought about how good it felt to be running on a hot day (by then it was somewhere in the 80s). Running in a tank top and shorts, my skin and hair thirstily absorbing the vitamin D, I joyfully watched the cardinals, blue jays, chipmunks, and butterflies as I ran past farms, along the dirt road. This was my idea of heaven.
Meanwhile, next to me, my dear friend Marni ran along, and in her head, this situation pretty much sucked. Marni hates running in heat. In fact, she has about 3 degrees of comfort, and one degree above or below that comfort window is intolerable for her. But we had a lot to catch up on, and she knows that I am a sucker for a run (I don’t think we have ever met for lunch or coffee unless I was meeting her near her office), so being the good friend she is, she hung in for three miles as we chatted.
I decided to turn around and do another loop after dropping her at her car – because it just felt so good, and the landscape was so serene. And as I ran, I chuckled as I thought of Marni’s zig-zagging across the farm road, as she chased any shady spot under trees. I began thinking about how different we all are – our sensitivities, what we enjoy, what we find intolerable, what motivates us. How differently we are all designed, physically, emotionally, mentally, either from the moment of conception, or because of the lived experiences that have shaped us into the people we are today. In particular, I was thinking about this when it comes to exercise.
A few days ago, a friend was bemoaning the fact that she hasn’t felt very motivated to run, and when she does run (on her gym treadmill), she feels blah. She was wondering why this is, and how can she improve her running? I get this sort of question all the time. “I feel like I’m losing my mojo. What’s going on?” “I had such a great run last week, and today I ran again and it sucked. Was my great run a fluke?” “I am training for my first half marathon and I am getting tired of running” or “I feel some aches I never felt before.”
When I first moved to this town, I rarely saw anyone outside on foot, and now, it’s rare that I don’t see someone out running no matter what time of the day. It’s really cool – I love how this town has become such an active, fit community, even hosting several 5k’s every year. Each year, a few people from our area participate in the Boston Marathon, because they are fast enough to qualify. With Lake Quasapaug nearby, and its top-rated triathlons (Pat Griskus and Rev3), we really do live in New England’s version of Boulder, CO, in my opinion. So cool!
The downside, though, is that it’s really easy to get caught up in the belief that if we aren’t doing it too, then we are lesser than. When I first started participating in running races, I didn’t have a single friend who did it. Also, there was no Facebook or other form of social media, so I was just doing my thing, with no one the wiser. I had no one to compare myself to.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
When I started doing triathlons, back in 2005, I did not know another triathlete. I trained alone, picked my races on my own, went to them alone. Back then, it was what I needed. My kids were young (i.e. very needy) and I got my much-needed sensory break during solo training sessions. I preferred my training sessions to the actual races, which I found (and still find) stressful – in part, because of all of the chatter among triathletes about how unprepared they are (which is generally total bullshit, by the way). Yes, even people who train like it’s a part-time job still feel it’s “never enough.”
Today, everyone and their grandmother is doing a marathon or half Ironman or longer. And I don’t think this is a good thing. I have written before about intuitive eating, where we learn to tune into our bodies to give them what they need in terms of food and liquids. Too often, our signals have gotten crossed or hijacked because of what we have been brainwashed to believe is the “right” way for us to look, which is supposedly a direct result of what we consume. The same has happened with exercise. We are designed to move often, throughout the day, every day. That is what is best for our physical, mental and emotional health. And yet, rather than think of exercise that way, we replace intuitive movement with exercise gimmicks and gadgets that are basically a huge industry that while often well-intentioned, really ends up leading to our feeling inadequate, and often, injured.
If you read my blog, Facebook and Instagram posts, or know me personally, you know that self-care is basically the 11th Commandment in my “religion.” Thou Shalt Self-Care is as important as Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor. So, we embrace whatever exercise program or activity we choose. After all, that is self-caring, right? But the thing is, at some point what started off as a healthy habit, can become another source of stress, addiction, dysfunction. Sometimes we picked the wrong type of exercise for us, because it’s what our friends are all doing or we want those Pinterest abs, or it’s what we did 20 years ago so surely we can work out way back to where we left off. Sometimes, we picked the right type of exercise – we enjoy it, or at least enjoy how we feel afterwards – but then we start to feel like a fraud because our friends are doing it longer, faster, lifting heavier weights, got accepted to Cirque de Soleil, qualified for Boston Marathon, etc. Meanwhile, we are forked after three miles, or can’t do tree pose without holding onto the wall for dear life. So now our Self-Care either becomes Self-Torture as we force ourselves to “push through the discomfort” because surely we aren’t trying hard enough, or it becomes Self-Disgust because the bitch in the attic is having a field day with our “failure.” This is not kind. Self-care is about self-compassion, so when our "healthy" habits start to feel more like yet another way to bully ourselves, something has gotten out of whack. And our body, in all of its wisdom, is telling us so.
Every summer since 2010, I have had the privilege of coaching kids ages 5-13 to become triathletes, at the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon summer program. It’s not only a privilege, it is downright awesome. I love coaching these kids, because they remind me of what we adults lose as we get older and become more inhibited, self-conscious, governed by the messages around us rather than from within us. When a kid has had enough, s/he will stop, slow to a walk, or take a break and try again. They generally do not really care so much about split times, about what they “should” be doing, about following The Plan. They really are coming from an intuitive place. Don’t get me wrong - it is often trying of a coach’s patience, as I find myself challenged by what I perceive as whining or an unhealthy intolerance for discomfort (“suck it up, buttercup!” does apply to certain situations). But I find their innocence and self-acceptance so refreshing and a great reminder of how important it is to achieve some sort of balance in this area.
So, as I set out yesterday, on the second half of my run, I thought about how much I respect Marni for knowing her limits and for being unapologetic for her lack of wanting to run longer, and I checked in with my body to see how it was feeling (great) and with my intentions (a desire to spend a bit longer in a space of gratitude for the beauty around me, and the good health and strength within me). I thought about smilepacing, the philosophy I made up back when I started doing triathlons. My fellow triathletes would have strategies and metrics, but this was all too anal for me – I just wanted to keep going forward, as fast as I could while still smiling. I paced myself based on feeling joy, gratitude, and playing with that edge of pushing myself while honoring where I am today. I kept running - smilepacing.
If your workouts are feeling blah, or you don’t feel like signing up for an event, or showing up to it, ask yourself – could your body maybe be fatigued from over-training, from doing the wrong kind of exercise for your body type or fitness level or personality or lifestyle? If you are running longer distances (eg longer than 3 miles), could you maybe benefit from sticking to shorter spurts of higher intensity, or maybe doing walk-run workouts such as those recommended by Jeff Galloway? Maybe you are comparing your chapter 2 to your friend's chapter 10? If you “know” that yoga would be really good for you, but you are “not flexible enough” or “too hyper” have you tried different yoga classes (taking a yoga class and deciding "yoga isn't for me" is the same as trying chocolate ice cream and not liking it and deciding "I don't like ice cream" based on one flavor)? Or, maybe the right type of exercise for you right now is actually not a program or plan or membership of any kind. Maybe you just need to move more throughout the day. Maybe you need to be outside more, and feel the wonders of nature on and around you. Maybe today’s self care means letting go – of plans, comparisons, expectations. Maybe you need to figure out, what can you do to smilepace today? (Unless you are sponsored by NIKE and your family is supported by your athletic career – then this may not be the blog for you- yet).
The world needs more kindness and compassion. Let us start at home - in the one home that will be with us for the rest of our lives - our beautiful, resilient, patient, wise, strong, healthy, perfectly imperfect body.
This past weekend, I sat in a swanky hotel lobby in lower Manhattan, waiting for five friends to come down from the meeting room where one of our event's keynote sessions had just concluded. Women were descending into the lobby in groups, pairs, or alone. They were happily chatting, punctuating their sentences with laughter. They were in their twenties, all the way up into their golden years. Dressed in suits, yoga pants, and everything in-between. They were, on the whole, gorgeous. Any observer oblivious to our reason for being there would have assumed it was a health and fitness conference of some sort. I suppose it was, if you really think about it. We weren't learning new workout methods or sampling the latest supplements, but our work was indeed all about profound, long-term wellness - the kind that outlives the latest fitness trends and whose only membership requirement is willingness. I thought, as I gazed out at these women, my sisters in recovery, this is the hottest ticket in town, and any smart people who want to meet a woman with depth, faith, wisdom- should be sitting in this lobby right now. (Seriously - if you are on the market, stay tuned to the next #SheRecovers conference!).
Of course, unless you are yourself in recovery, you may not know that someone who is actively working on their sobriety (not to be confused with merely abstaining from their addictive behavior or substance) is such a good catch. Stigma is real, and I got to experience if first-hand a couple of weeks ago. I was running errands and an acquaintance came over to me to chat. At some point, she told me she was really angry with me when she heard I was in recovery from alcohol, because I had "put her daughter in danger" when she was in my presence. I was shocked by her assumptions, and angered, especially because she did not seem interested in hearing the truth (to be fair, she wasn't mean, she just wasn't interested in listening). I thought of this unpleasant interaction as I experienced this past weekend's gathering with 500 other women who were dedicating themselves to figuring out what led to their seeking solace in a bottle, a pill, disordered eating, abusive relationships, while doing the hard work it takes to avoid making the same mistakes. As I marveled on the wisdom I heard and saw and felt from these women, some of whom have become cherished friends over the past year, I thought about that misguided woman who probably was voicing the fear felt and lies believed by those who are not in recovery. I thought, gosh, if only more people knew how important these voices in this room are, not only to help others struggling with addiction, but indeed, to help this insane world that is only becoming more and more imbalanced and disconnected. If only more of us were in a position to come forward and show our faces, and live our recovery out loud! How f-ed up is it that so many of us are afraid to come forward?!
About 25 of us went for a run at 6:30am on Saturday, before the conference resumed. Yes, 6:30am on a Saturday. In NYC, party capital of the world. I point this out because if you are holding any stigma, I want you to ask yourself, if you were in a swanky hotel for 3 days in NYC, would you be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:30am on Saturday, when your conference doesn't begin till 10am? Sober is badass. In fact, I kind of hate the word sober, because it sounds so... sober, as in serious, subdued, "showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy or emotion." As our colorful, blinking (Heroes in Recovery had donated bracelets with blinking lights for our run), smiley, and eventually, sweaty group made our way along the Hudson River, the only thing sober about our jovial tribe was our livers and other alcohol-and-other-drug-free organs. As I would be several times throughout the weekend, I was struck by the thought that if I had know that this was what living the sober life looked and felt like, I may not have postponed it for so long! While I may not have hit any shocking rock bottom, in fact I probably drank about as much as you do, if all your alcohol-glorifying Facebook posts reflect your attitudes toward alcohol and its ability to enhance celebration, soften the edge, escape the ugh - I definitely feared that aspiring for long-term sobriety would pretty much sentence me to a life of prudish, unremarkable, convent-worthy behavior. Gosh, I couldn't have been more wrong. At some point I thought of Karl Marx's statement that religion is the opiate of the masses, and thought how today, alcohol is the opiate of the masses! What a privilege, and so much fun, it is to be a part of this community that one day at a time, is choosing to live in a way that is thoughtful, mindful, conscious. To move through the world awake.
The thing is, I can't blame that woman for her assumptions about me. Just like I can't blame myself for having made assumptions about what sobriety would be like. We don't see enough examples, or hear from enough people, of what exactly recovery looks like. The wonder. The camaraderie. The fun and laughter. The glow. The courage and strength. THE CONNECTION. The freedom. The authenticity! Most of us are only privy to the examples of dis-ease, and how it manifests itself, with usually only the extreme examples making their way into the public eye. It has often struck me how absurd it is that very often, addictive behavior happens openly, especially if it involves alcohol, a socially-sanctioned drug, but once we cross over to sobriety and recovery, we hide in basements and private chat rooms. No wonder most people don't have a fucking clue about two very important points: 1) you don't have to be a hopeless drunk in order to decide that alcohol is stupid and needs to be questioned and 2) choosing sobriety and working on recovery is an incredibly powerful, empowering thing to do, for yourself and for the world at large. It's the most badass thing you can do. Don't get me wrong - it often isn't nearly as pretty as the women on the stage or in the audience of She Recovers NYC. The recovery journey often feels - and probably looks - just as awful as mile 20 of a marathon. But that's a good thing, because it means we are no longer running from stuff or denying it. The only way to get to the glory of the "I did it!" Is to keep going, one foot, breath, day at a time. And holy crap it's worth it.
Here are some of the nuggets I got from our keynote speakers:
"Sobriety is no bullshit... To people not in recovery it means not drinking, but it's actually much more than that. It's figuring out who we were before the world told us who we were supposed to be."
- Glennon Melton Doyle
"Anything that I use to escape a perceived intolerable reality, is something that can turn into addiction."
- Nikki Myers
"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. It's in the story I make up about the event."
- Nikki Myers
"I drank to feel the way other people look."
- Elizabeth Vargas
"We should be grateful for all the situations that make us uncomfortable, for without them we wouldn't know what needs to be healed."
- Gabby Bernstein
"Say nice things to yourself, because you're the only one listening."
- Gabby Bernstein
"Suffering gives you x-ray vision into the suffering of other people."
- Marianne Williamson
"This will pass one day, and I will embrace this pain because of the person I will be because of having gone through it."
- Marianne Williamson
"If you desensitize yourself to your own suffering, you desensitize yourself to others' suffering - and then the whole world suffers."
- Marianne Williamson
"It's a process, but at some point it becomes spewing. At one point it's 'allowing our feelings,' but at some point it becomes self-indulgence."
- Marianne Williamson
"The psyche has an immune system just like the body. And grief is the bulwark."
- Marianne Williamson
"We are so concerned about the chemicals in our gut, but not the ones we are putting in our brain."
- Marianne Williamson
If you are wondering if sobriety is something you should explore, perhaps start by asking yourself, why not? Sometimes one of the biggest obstacles standing between us and what we need to do for our health and happiness, is actually stigma. The assumptions we have about something we really don't know much about, which causes fear. For example, since I began my recovery journey, I have learned that the only thing that all of us in recovery have in common, is the fact that we were engaging in behavior that gave us a shameful, sinking feeling. The actual quantity or frequency was irrelevant - for some of us it was daily, for others monthly. For some, it was gallons, for others, occasional glasses. But if we could have some way to measure the sinking in our souls, we were pretty much in the same tank of ugh - or headed that way. If this is striking a chord with you, listen to it. That is your truth speaking. Follow it, or at least notice it. And if you want to explore any of this, please reach out to me. You don't have to do this alone.
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.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.