I was “running” — I have to put it in quotes; that’s how far I’ve fallen from my own standards — so slow on Saturday morning that I was able to take the attached, crystal-clear picture in mid-stride.
Not sure if that’s a sufficient illustration of rock bottom, or if I should tell you about the time a few weeks ago, when I huffed and puffed my way to the top of a hill in the park, and I felt so awful that I stopped “running,” and doubled over and grabbed my knees. I was wheezing so loudly that a dude walking his dog stopped to ask if I was OK.
I’m not proud to admit that I took my frustration out on this poor Good Samaritan.
“I’m fine,” I snapped. “It’s hot out. And I’m not in good shape.”
I turned in a huff and started back down from whence I came, my descent mirroring the trajectory of my physical fitness over the past three months.
One of my favorite parts of recovery is suddenly remembering embarrassing shit I used to do when I was drinking, and then dramatically clapping my hands together in a prayer pose and jerking my head skyward to thank heaven I don’t do it anymore. Sometimes, I even cry tears of joy.
The feeling of relief really does hit that deep. 🙏🏻
Unfortunately, there are also moments when comparing “Old Me” to “New Me” steals joy, rather than inspires it (see above TR quote.)
Those moments almost always have to do with my body and level of fitness.
“You really let yourself go,” I’ll think to myself as I hold a yoga pose, head bent over one of my legs and eyes pointing straight at my upper thigh. My mind will flash back to my CrossFit days, and I’ll start thinking how much slower and softer and lazier I’ve become. The old inner critic starts whispering: Who I am now is not enough…
It’s always tough going back through old photos on my phone. My camera roll is full of emotional triggers, from the head-shaking, facepalming, uncomfortable close-ups of tequilas-on-the-rocks and (dear God!) my face under the influence thereof, to the guilty gut-punch of all those CrossFit gym pics.
You guys, I once won trophies for my fitness! One of them was even made of metal! 💪🏻🏆👸🏼
(I don’t know if you can read the plates in the above image, but that hardware was from a local competition called “Masters of the Universe” that I used to enter every year in my late 30s.)
Sitting here years later, sans six-pack abs, and a good two clothing sizes larger (I would guess…my pandemic wardrobe has been 100% extremely lived-in loungewear), having swapped alcoholism for a sugar addiction, I remind myself for the 10 millionth time that I was not happy as a hard-bodied exercise fiend. Doing muscle-ups and deadlifting 300 pounds and running around in public in a sports bra and booty shorts did not fill the hole inside, just as guzzling booze and buying things and cruising social media and even winning awards at work failed to soothe my restless soul.
True story: Staying sober during the pandemic has been easier for me than staying in shape.
I mean, thanks to my amazing husband keeping our house booze-free (I can’t in good conscience say “dry” when I’m dragging three recycling bins full of empty diet soda and sparkling water conveyances to the curb every Tuesday), I’ve had the safe environment I need to reach the 18-month recovery milestone, then tack on an additional 12 days (and counting).
However, when it comes to diet and fitness, another huge health priority in my life, I’m afraid I’m no longer earning a passing grade.
I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but it might take a formal declaration of renunciation — made “publicly,” here on the internet — to get me to stop eating candy canes and mini Tootsie pops for lunch every day.
I told the hubby to stop buying these things, too, but the man has as much trouble resisting grocery store markdowns and buy-in-bulk deals (did you SEE the bag in the above picture?) as I do mood-altering substances.
I certainly can’t judge him. Whatever spikes your dopamine! We all have our addictions! And don’t they all seem a little more potent around the holidays, whether we’re out partying with friends and family or cooped up at home in “social distancing” mode?
The wind always blows straight into your face on the far side of the track at Honesdale High School, and what I can best describe as unwelcome resistance on a warm day becomes, in the winter, a good reason to stay in bed.
When I pulled up to the snow-swept track on the morning after Christmas, the car’s built-in thermostat read 14 degrees.
I had driven up there reluctantly, and groggily, leaving my husband cozy and warm under the covers in the guest room of his parents’ house. It was nearly 8 AM, and the sun was up, making this an unusually late start for me; however, without my usual high-octane pre-workout drink (I forgot to pack it) and a belly that still felt full of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, apple pie and “moose tracks” ice cream (I took the holiday off from my gluten-free diet), it had taken quite a bit of self-coaxing — maybe more like self-flagellation — to get up, get bundled up, and get my ass out the door.
My preferred form of exercise these days is running, and although conditions never seem 100% ideal, and sometimes seem downright hostile, I’ve managed to make a habit of it.
“It” amounts to around 20-30 minutes of movement, three or four times a week, and if you asked me how far I go on a typical day, I could only venture a rough guess. It’s not quite enough to consider myself “a runner,” or to make a significant dent in my level of fitness, or even to burn off all the calories I’ve consumed over the course of this celebratory (read: incredibly lazy) month.
But “it” is something. And once I clear that initial motivational hurdle and start moving, it’s something I always enjoy. Fresh air is life-affirming, even when it’s so cold it numbs your face, and any time spent out in nature feels like sweet freedom, when you’ve spent the bulk of your year cooped up in the same eight-room townhouse.
Themed workouts are a big thing in the CrossFit world, and these workouts tend to be community events. So when the holidays rolled around, back when my husband and I belonged to local gyms, both communities offered opportunities to run around for an hour or two in reindeer antlers, socks splattered with Santas, etc., and shove your face full of food and booze…not necessarily in that order.
Hubby’s place was pretty laid back about it — they called it “Festivus” and strung lights on a PVC pipe, then stuck it in a stack of weight plates to represent Frank Costanza’s pole (see above pic) — and we showed up with gym bags filled with Mad Elf (see below pic), ready to sweat through a “12 Days of Christmas” circuit, but really prepared to party.
Some of us took the party portion of the day a bit more seriously than others. I mean, I’m not gonna lie: Working out and drinking were my top two hobbies for most of my adult life, so Festivus was always one of my favorite days of the year.
What I love about the Delaware Canal towpath — long, flat, soft stretches of trail uninterrupted by roadways — is also what I hate about it. How I’m feeling depends on whether I’m on the way out on a run, or on the way back, when I’ve gone as far as my achy lower back, touchy hamstrings and crampy calves can carry me without anything snapping or falling off, and I’ve slowed to a walking pace out of self-preservation.
That return trip to the car takes for-EVER.
It feels like plodding away on a treadmill, watching the seconds tick by but not really getting anywhere. You know you’re covering ground, but the distance ahead only seems to grow and grow. Your mind starts to dwell on all forms of discomfort: you’re cold, even moreso because you’re sweaty, and the coffee + energy drink from an hour ago is sloshing in your bladder, and your entire lower body is stiff as 🤬, and you wish like hell you could time warp to the point when you’re showered and cozy in house coat and pajama pants, probably also a winter hat for added warmth, and you’re eating egg whites with spinach and broccoli in front of some “Law & Order” rerun on TV.
It occurred to me, as that exact scenario played out on Sunday morning, that I spend a ridiculous amount of my life wishing away my life. I’m constantly looking at the clock, then looking anxiously ahead to when whatever is happening will be over.
This is why I’m not a good cook. Who wants to stand idly in a kitchen for 20 minutes, waiting for meat to reach that no-longer-potentially-deadly “done” point, or for a pizza to get un-soggy in the center? Who wants to spend TWO minutes heating up water for tea in the microwave? It’s so uncomfortable I have to, like, grab my phone and start scrolling through Twitter to occupy the emptiness.
“Patience is a virtue…something something…” Hell, I couldn’t even stay in the moment long enough to listen to the entire proverb my grandmother used to say back in the day. No clue why she was always saying it to me. 😉
The other day before a recovery meeting, I was chatting with someone in my group who, like me, enjoys working out.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic and CrossFitter,” I told him with a chuckle.
It wasn’t really a joke. After more than a year away from the competitive fitness circuit that consumed my free time and dominated my consciousness for about a decade, I can see very clearly how it brought out the best parts of my Type-A achiever personality.
I can also see how it fed and enabled my darkest demons.
Now, before anybody gets their booty shorts in a bunch, let me be clear: I have absolutely nothing against that community, nor would I try to pin any of my personal issues on an exercise methodology, a gym culture — or anything outside of my own brain, for that matter. I was a sick puppy long before I walked into my very first WOD back in (I think) 2009, and it’s like they say: Wherever you go, there you are.
Or, to quote another cliché: It’s not you, CrossFit. It’s me.
And I am a person plagued with never-ending, nagging not-enoughness.
It’s getting to the point where I can say that in past tense — “was plagued” — because 202 days of sobriety has begun to ever so slightly soften the sharp edges of stringent self-appraisal that used to make me look in the mirror at lean legs, cut arms and six-pack abs and think, “Yeah, but you can do better…”
Maybe some of you can relate to this awful affliction. It’s as damaging as any physical addiction, this innate compulsion to always keep reaching for more than what you have.
You’re in the best shape of your life, and you focus on what you perceive to still be wrong with your body. You push yourself hard, physically and mentally, in an activity, but still emerge displeased because you could have gone harder.
You measure your self worth by constantly comparing yourself to others.
If it’s possible to be better, why would you ever accept where you are? If satisfaction is somewhere else, why would you ever stop and enjoy the view here in this spot? If happiness is a few more accomplishments away, you can’t be happy until…