Monday, February 3, 2014

Just go for a walk.

I started walking for exercise for the first time a little more than 4 years ago. I was 42. I was at the end of my rope. I was in constant pain from a second back surgery about 16 months before.  I had been told I would have daily pain the rest of my life and I was given muscle relaxers and painkillers that rendered me a babbling idiot--when I wasn't falling asleep while sitting in the car waiting for my kids to run into the store or when I was propped on the couch whiling away the hours between running them back and forth to school. I was in the midst of a separation from my husband of 20 years. I couldn't understand why everything in my life was going wrong. I was angry. I was scared. I was exhausted. Once I stopped taking all the medications, the pain came back with a vengeance. See, for some reason the bottom of my spine has a right angle in it, it looks like a capital letter "L" at the bottom. If I stand for too long without moving, I hurt. If I sit for too long, I hurt. If I bend over to pull on my clothes, I hurt. If I squat to pick something up, I hurt. Bottom line? I finally got mad enough to do something physical about it when my physical therapist told me I needed to move for 30 minutes a day. "Just go for a walk," he said. "You've got to be kidding me," I thought. If only it were that easy. Did he even know what he was asking? I have suffered social anxiety since before it had a name, more than 30 years. Many people close to me don't even know this, as I can act completely the opposite when I'm able to get control of my thougts, so for many years, if I went out socially, a sense of control could be quickly accomplished with several glasses of wine. The problem is that I'm sort of a lightweight with alcohol, so if I go overboard with it, it can turn into a bad situation pretty quickly. A massage therapist had recently told me, when seeing my naked backside, "Oh, wow, did you know you have no muscle tone in your butt?" Now that was embarrassing. All I could think of was that I would never again be able to have any man look at my ass (clothed or not) without thinking the same thing. Forget about ever having sex again. Forget about even putting on a swimsuit. I was convinced I was through. It was one of the most difficult obstacles I have ever faced, just to get outside and walk. I put myself down constantly in my head, and even when I worked up to a 4-mile-an-hour pace, I never congratulated myself. I didn't believe in myself. I didn't even like myself. I was resentful of the woman who had let herself get overweight. I didn't allow myself any break, no mercy, no nothing. I was not a friend to me, and to those around me, I had a short fuse and I ended up alienating many friends who stood by me during some really dark days.
Fast forward a few months....I walked almost every day, almost 4 miles on most days, and I worked up a good, healthy sweat. I wore sunscreen and a baseball cap, and big clothes so that my shadow couldn't taunt me as I walked up and down the dock where I used to live, which is close to a mile long. I began to allow myself to think about why I was angry. Was I any less angry after a long walk? Not at first, but as the summer came, I began to realize that I was feeling something else: joy. I didn't recognize it at first, because I was going through so much emotionally that it was hard to process anything but anger through tears. I finally had enough confidence to walk 45 minutes away from my house: yes, out on the sidewalk of a busy street. I listened to audio books or music that empowered me. After a few months, I decided that I wanted to try biking. At first, I was scared that I would fall. But I kept at it, and as I got more confident, I began to ride a few miles every day. I looked forward to the wind on my face. I took silly photos of myself after a long ride, and I posted them on social media, as I had a few close friends that knew what I was going through, and they were my biggest cheerleaders, texting me with messages of encouragement. Mostly, I just lived to ride. A year after beginning to exercise, I had probably lost about 20 pounds, and I felt better. I even carried myself differently. My nightmare divorce was over, and somehow, I had survived. I still wanted to ride that bike. I became addicted to the endorphins, the feeling of being in control of something for the first time in my life. I was able to ride as fast or slow as I wanted. I could ride in lazy arcs in empty parking lots. I blocked out the entire world when I rode that bike. I rode like the wind. 
Since that first day, my life has changed dramatically. I have moved 3 times. I have learned how important real family and friends are in a crisis. I have discovered what I don't want in a romantic relationship. I have realized how important it is for me to process things before making snap decisions or judgments, and that this is perfectly alright. Somehow, I have rediscovered the me I never became, the woman I had never before allowed myself to be. Don't misunderstand: I'm not claiming to be perfect, and I will readily admit that I still don't always make the right choices, and I'm still pretty hard on myself, but I have realized that I LIKE ME. I have discovered peace in the knowledge that even if no one shows up to pat me on the back, it's ok, because I know how to do it myself now, and it works. I don't have to fake it in life anymore. I can even go out in public without feeling self-conscious all of the time. Life can be amazingly beautiful when you discover the peace of understanding that everything is working out according to God's plan, and that He is in control.