Thursday, October 8, 2015

the struggle is what makes it worth it

Every year, I spend the week of my birthday working through all of my favorite things, little traditions.  I like to go ride my bike all day (bikes are MY FAVORITE) in the sunshine, so I do, and not just because I've signed up for yet another late-season-keeping-me-from-racing-cross ironman.  I like to do a batshit-crazy birthday swim of some sort, especially since I convinced Michelle to be the boss of my sassy britches, so I do.  I like to drink a reasonable amount of tequila and eat an unreasonable amount frosting, so I do.  I don't work on my birthday - not because I don't like to work, but because I simply don't believe in doing anything called "work" for this one day a year.  I want to spend my birthday brimming over with laughter with the people in my life that I adore, so I generally drag them all out for margaritas or over to my house to force-feed them burned meat and fancy ice cream.  I make it a point to get my yearly haircut, to take a real shower in our actual house (not at the gym), put on one of the maybe two or three pieces of clothing that I own that aren't spandex and shake my groove thing until the very late hour of maybe 8pm.  I fill my day with the simple things that makes me happy, and I celebrate the fact I've managed to hoist my ridiculous self out of the path of a speeding train or a piano falling from the sky for one more trip around the earth.
But this trip - this year - has been the toughest ride I've had in a while.  The last six months of my life, I believe, rival the months I lived through right after I decided to get divorced.  I've been coping in different ways (proven by the fact that I have zero points on my driver's license and no broken bones [as of today]), but it has been hard.  Dark.  Ugly, and many times I've looked around and haven't been able to see even a single pinpoint of light.  The letter I wrote to myself for my last birthday feels actual light-years away, not just 365 rounds of sunrise, sunset.
I think, this October, I want to simply be grateful that I am making it.  That I am here, now.  That I am typing in this little space, processing my life out loud, that over the last few weeks I have been able to recognize that there is a lot of joy here, patiently waiting for me to come back around.  I read a wide variety of blogs, and many times I've seen one or the other go dark for a while, and then the blogger comes back with a complete tale of living through a rough time and blooming out the other side.  And I respect that, I do, I know I've been quieter than usual the last six months, but I also have no regrets that I've been digging myself out of a hole of sadness, grief, loss, in a very public manner.  We all do things differently.  There is no one right way to get the rollercoaster slowly clanking back up the mountain.
I take a lot of selfies.  Let's not bury the lede, I do, I'm one of the more guilty naval-gazers out there, and I'm okay with that.  But I've been curious about why I think it's so much fun, and what I've figured out is: I take pictures because I want to see myself being joyful, because I want to share what makes me smile, laugh, pause even, catch my breath.  Being the person I really am: goofy, happy, running slip-shod through life, loose around the edges, that is what I am trying to build, create, reflect.  To be completely full of sensitive crap: this is the person I am trying hard to love.  I spend so much time feeling like I should really be more stern, grow up a little, act my age, but honestly, I like being absurd and after the last few months I could do with quite a bit more of it.  Unapologetically.  I hung a warning sign on all my social media outlets a few years ago; my life is puppies, running shorts, and selfies, and that sign basically says, suck it, haters, this is my goddamn journey.
I don't instagram when I load the dishwasher or write schedules or pay the phone bill, I don't take pictures of the three boxes of spinach I buy every week at Costco, and I try hard (although admit imperfection) not to waste my energy bitching and complaining about things I cannot control or change.  Instead I want to share the moments that make life special and different and my own.  If selfies are a sign of self-love, why shouldn't we celebrate that?  Why shouldn't we say, hey, friend, let me see your smiling face from two inches away doing something that makes you happy?  Why shouldn't we show the world our top-of-the-hour highlights, the way we hope to see ourselves, the best version of the person we are trying to be?  Why shouldn't I fill up the world with pictures that make me laugh because my dogs are adorable or I'm making a stupid face or no, you cannot actually see through the seat of these pants or hey it looks kinda cool when the sun comes up behind me on the bike or even just because I like my new sunglasses?  Is anyone being actually injured by the ability we have developed to take a picture with one hand while crashing through our lives?  (Unless you are one of those people that gets gored by a bison while taking a selfie because you are in the wrong place at the wrong time; rule #1 of the selfie is PAY ATTENTION!).
I've been curious about a lot of things lately, and I think that being curious about myself and what I feel is part of how I am climbing up and out.  I've been working with the talented and fabulous Julie Emmerman here in Boulder on figuring out my shit, and last week I shared a story with her about something that happened in at ironman in August.  On the ride, I came by the poet around mile 35 or so and he was ON IT with everything that was going on, he let me know that I was in second place.  That motivated me, that kept me hauling. When I came around again, I had been struggling with a slightly upset stomach for about an hour and assumed that I had been passed by buckets of women while I troubleshooted.  But on that second lap, somewhere after eighty miles, he let me know that I was in fourth, less than a minute back, and my undiluted reaction was, oh crap.

Oh crap.

After that came out of my mouth, I had a brief moment of self-awareness that I needed to file it away to untangle sometime later.  I kept on pedaling, knowing that I was still in striking distance of the front of the field, of the podium, for the next thirty miles I stayed focused every time I wanted to sit up and stretch out my back and soft-pedal.  And the entire time that oh crap was trotting laps around the track in my head.  Then I hit the run and my day blew to absolute smithereens and it was a long, long time before I was really ready to think about any of it again.  But I got there, I remembered feeling like that at mile eighty and I brought it up and we talked about it and it made me so uncomfortable that I was crawling backwards up the couch like a pissed-off & terrified cat.  What it boils down to, I think I uncovered, is that I don't see myself as an athlete.  At all.  Definitely not a strong one, one who belongs at the front of the field, at the pointy end, in the thick of the race.  I should be in the back, cracking jokes and throwing spitballs and absolutely not taking myself or anything around me seriously.  Because if I don't take it seriously, then it doesn't matter when I fail.  And there it is, the circle closes, it all comes back to failure.  
That's nuts, right?  I've been running on and off since I was 19 years old, I learned how to swim in 2008 when I broke my foot, I bought a bike in 2009 which has now multiplied into a garage full of slick whips, I train my ass off, that I'm not a real athlete crap ship should have long since sailed by now.  I've done six IMs, over a dozen half IMs I even went to the freakin' world championships last year blah blah BLAH BLAH blah, there are a million things I could list, scientific facts on paper that should make it easy for me to say this about myself: I am an athlete.  But that isn't how I see it.  I would never describe myself as an athlete to a stranger.  As a coach, yes.  I love what I do and I also understand that this makes no fucking sense but it's my personal pile of crazy bananas and it doesn't need to make sense to anyone but me.  Being a coach is my job and being an athlete is my hobby.  I'm okay with being better at my job than I am at my hobby, I work really hard at my job; I have plenty of athletes that are a lot faster than me and I can own that because I would much rather be good at my job than my hobby.  But a strong athlete?  I would never dare to say something like that out loud, for so many reasons, the first of which is that I was taught from birth to be humble above all else, to be quiet, to be seen and not heard.  Daring to stand up and say that I am good at something doesn't feel like plain truth, it feels like boasting, even thinking it makes me disgusted with my own arrogance.  One of the many things I am learning is that maybe there is room between humility and arrogance - a place as wide as the sky - and I need to shove a crowbar in that crack and learn to live there, and to be okay with it.  Somehow.  

For a while, I forgot how to fight.  I let the world, other people, loss, my own hands and brain and translation of the story that was happening, shrivel me up.  I sank deep into my own pain, I was weak, I broke, I hid.  I went into a hole because I thought that was the only place I deserved to be, and I blame no one but myself.  But what is the truth here?  What does Marianne (yes we are on a first-name basis by now) have to say about it?  Your playing small does not serve the world.  That is what I was doing.  AGAIN.  Playing small.  Letting other people who ARE, in fact, small, teach me to shrink instead of shine.  Letting the struggle make me feel unworthy.  But.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people will not feel insecure around you.  It's hard to feel like that when life is beating the absolute shit out of you, it is a lesson I will learn over and over, but my God it is the truth.  And I feel like I am standing on the wobbly Bambi-learning-how-to-walk legs of a newborn, but I am rising.  Standing.  Strong.
Right now, all I am doing is piecing together moments.  Small ones.  How odd is was, the first time a laugh split my face open after weeks of grief.  The first time I dug into the water and pulled hard instead of zoning out into 17 strokes-flip-16 strokes-flip-17 strokes-flip.  When I let the sun shine on my face in Vancouver, where I found a tiny seed of no, this is not what I want my life to be.  When one of the trainers said I like your striped pants and I laughed and said you just like what they are holding up! instead of looking at him blankly and then going back to my clamshells in silence.  The day I rode most of the way up to Ward and then turned around to descend, and after a few minutes, started singing to myself, softly at first but by the time I needed to brake for the hard right turn it was off-key Genesis at the top of my lungs.  It was me again.  All the good, all the bad, everything that I am, loud as the trombone player hopping around in the back row of the pep band when the touchdown is good, all of it.  Me (last one, promise, even I am getting tired of my own face by now).  
It doesn't mean I'm done wrestling with all my baggage, it doesn't mean I am somehow magically the person I was last winter or that a perfect human has alien-invaded my body, that hey presto! the past has been erased.  But I don't want to revert to who I was before life got really hard, either.  I don't want to go back.  I want to put all these pieces together into something new.  I don't want to be flawless, I want to be indestructible.  And I don't wish that I could have skipped over the struggle.  I don't want those months back where I was numb, or even the ones before it where I had no idea what was waiting, just around the corner, to knock the wind out of me.  I don't think ruefully and regretfully of the birthday I celebrated a year ago, how simple and happy that day seems compared to where I am now.  Because the struggle?  Is what makes it fucking worth it.

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2014 birthday post
2013 birthday post
2012 birthday post
2011 birthday post
2010 birthday post