Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Replacement (Part 1)

I've been a runner since spring of 2005. In my memory I started running to offset the boredom of walking with the baby in the jogging stroller. But, it was probably more to combat the extra weight I was carrying from having been pregnant. (baby weight on top of the extra weight I was already carrying from a lot of late night binge drinking) 

Another fighting my body. 

I have always wanted to be effortlessly beautiful. 

When I was in my early 20's, I moved home a year or two after dropping out of college. I got a DUI the night before my mom was driving three and a half hours up the mountain to Boone, NC to pick me up and bring me home. I called her as soon as I got out of jail just before dawn that morning, lying, saying I had to work just one more day, could she please come get me tomorrow? 

Back at home, I got a job waiting tables at Chili's and I'd go hike up Crowder's Mountain whenever I had free time. I lost weight- down to a size 2, which to me felt like a weird miracle, and yet I still often felt excruciatingly big and uncomfortable in my own skin. I was probably a size 8 or a 10 to start. None of that feels important now, and yet it does- these decades old numbers and the images that go along with them tattooed on my brain. Anything past about size 6 started to mean you were an out of control body failure. I have spent years of my life resenting the body I have- wishing someone else would find me substantially beautiful enough enough times so I could start to believe it myself. 

You know how you get so tired of something, exhausted from carrying the idea you were taught that wasn't even yours to begin with? And yet, resigned you sigh, heave it up, ratty and worn, heavy old burden that's super glue fused to your thoughts, the boomerang that can't be tossed far away enough to not come back? God, damn my fixation about my body. I'm so sick of it. 

I start to feel uncomfortable. I start to try to control it, but then following my pattern, I alternately want to starve myself or stuff myself. I stress. My body is the first place I turn against when I'm stressed. I immediately start finding things wrong- my stomach isn't flat, my legs are dimply. The solution seems to become "look different and all problems resolve themselves". I feel ugly. I start to change clothes 7 times when I get dressed, my anxiety making it harder and harder. But also looking too pretty is a problem, so I have to find the right balance of I look great and I didn't try at all

If I only could look right then everything will be okay. 

What does "look right" even mean

It's interesting to be 50 years old and still feel like this. To tangibly want to give up giving a shit about this, and to be so attached to it as a coping mechanism that losing it feels like losing myself, in a way. What do I have if I don't have this consistent criticism of my appearance in my thoughts to comfort me? 

The empty space is harder than the familiar. It is hard to quiet the voice and wait. It feels inauthentic to cheer myself on, the other option feels like waiting for what else I have to say but that is so...empty. I resort to comforting myself by trying to say the truth (I look like me, I 'm supposed to look like me) but I can only approve of myself in an echo chamber for so long before my own voice coming back to me feels insulting. 

It seems like it's about control. I think about myself on the beach in a bathing suit and the people who see me are thinking: look at her body, she has no self control. 

Ha! I am overflowing with self control! I have a grand surplus of it! It squeezes out of everywhere, bursting forward, leaking all over everything. 

To let go of control. Or approval? Or both? 

Circling back to the beginning and me being a I physically can't run much more than a mile. I can walk about 4 or 5 miles, only after some ibuprofen and it isn't great. I have to stop some, and the last mile or two I'm often wishing I were finished already. So I don't go as often, even though running in the woods is my redemption, my saving grace. 

It happened suddenly, not being able to run. Around Christmas I was continuing a long practice of running 6 miles four or five times a week, sometimes further. I was signed up for an 8 mile trail run in February. But I had to email the race director mid January and let them know I wasn't going to be there. I physically could not do it.  

My body reflects this change in my running practice. It feels like a slap in the face. I have been devoted, careful, dedicated to running in a way that felt wise and good. Losing it means I lost my comfort in my own skin. I feel like I'm in a stranger's body. Like I inflated a little and can't exhale. It's not much, no one would notice. Like a rock in my shoe, you probably don't see it, but I feel it. It's painful, and annoying, and also feels petty and vain. 

The picture above is one I took of myself before my consult with the surgeon who is going to replace my hip on June 13th. Finally, after years of pain and lack of mobility I will get a new hip. He will replace the one that's worn out, the one that is bone on bone, with bone spurs that act like locked doors and that for the past couple years has only let me do one kind of movement: run. In turn, running let me feel okay. It gave me control of my body, and my own approval. 

Now, it's gone. 

And it's not okay. 

For now, I'd like to acknowledge that. To not rush myself past what I'm experiencing now, but to feel it, suffering vanity, the lack of approval, the discomfort I have in my own skin. 

Not rush towards the solution, to the but, but, but! 

"But no one can tell!" 

"But it's not forever!" 

"But you know you are (insert positive descriptor here)!" 

I am here now to say: I want the time to feel uncomfortable. 

I want to see what it feels like, to get to know it, so maybe I learn something about myself by not being okay. 

To be patient enough to hear the silence of me not knowing what to say. 


Friday, March 18, 2022




Out on a run/walk/wander I remembered what I thought on a recent early morning: I am separate from other people. It really struck me that what I feel, think, decide, am... it's all mine. And that other people's those things are all theirs. Like I am a cloud, and you are a cloud, and we are each our own weather systems that can also create weather together. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about humans- how we behave, our histories, our family histories, our behavioral legacies, our training, choices, conditioning, changing, stagnating- it's all fascinating to me. I think about myself and how I got sober and what it took to get there. 

What it was like to live the life I lived before I quit drinking. 

What it was like to live that life. 

What it's like to live this life. 

The things I have learned and how much I still have to go. I remember being out on a run in the beginning of my recovery and thinking "What if I never finish?" and starting to cry because then I thought with relief and joy "I will never finish!!!" 

I realize periodically that something I do unconsciously pretty often is: I try to not make any mistakes by being me the individual. I really guard myself closely, collecting myself, looking for loose threads or flyaways of self. Oh this? That's nothing! And I scoot that part of me you might have seen under the rug. It's weird for someone who is like me- I am open to talking about your behaviors or your life so I seem like I am open and revealing, but just try asking me about myself and I will probably clam right up like a... clam. I'm so good at it you may not even notice that I change the subject or that I'm very brief and that I rarely talk about myself. 

I am working on this. It can feel like being pushed out onstage naked when I talk about myself. I watch the audience closely. Was that my line? Am I saying it right? I watch for signals. Did I mess that up? Am I in the right place? Did I hit my mark? Your mark? I try to be palatable. Too much of me and I start looking around for you, but you coming from me. Talking about myself makes me feel afraid. I don't like it. I worry you/the world won't like it. 

My afraid is the fear of being ridiculed or looking foolish, of making a mistake. My therapist and I have discussed this for several years now and I am at this place where I really love and trust myself inside. How to put that on the outside? It's like if you had a beautiful treasure but you keep it hidden. I love my beautiful treasure and I'm afraid if I show you you'll make fun of it or tell me it's stupid or that I don't know what I'm talking about. So it's much easier to live inside myself where I'm safe. 

Vulnerability is hard. 

Except.. I want to connect. I know I'm mostly not breakable fragile like that anymore, and I'm working on remembering that I'm a 50 year old woman who made my own recovery (don't we all?) and I've been purposely living and studying human behavior for almost 10 years in my own cool way and I have pretty terrific things to share about that and about me. I have mothered and run my own business and been married and separated and/or ended and/or repaired signifiant relationships- like my marriage, my relationship with my parents, a couple of friendships. 

These boundaries, the separation from other people is not a wall, it's a defense mechanism. A coping skill. I was thinking about how I tend to think people in my life think like me, but it's more like I try to guess what people are thinking and then I make myself like them. Writing that makes me think about how I don't really do that as much anymore but I feel like I do and I need to catch up to where I actually am. 

The idea that I am separate from other people means that we might be in relationship but we aren't the same person. 

What a relief. And what a mind fuck. For a lifetime I have thought that if someone was in my life it meant we matched. A strange sort of branch of codependency. Gaining the understanding that we can be in each others lives and differ vastly feels like maturity. It feels like I'm responsible for me, you're responsible for you- and we are responsible for each other too, but not dependent on similarity to function. 

This gleaning of personal separation feels like a wise expectation. 

As in: 

I expect me to be like me, and you to be like you. 

That seems real, and honest, and much less confusing than thinking the people in my life are mostly like me but I actually have to be mostly like them. It was a blind spot. It feels validating to see myself in the pool of that insight. 

I was reading something somewhere about how lately these days we all think we are unique and separate and individual and that's what's getting valued- that the collective has become the pieces, not the picture. I think it's both. 

It's the permeability. 

The ability to allow things to pass through you. To keep your self while keeping community. A frog's skin is permeable to water- but the frog does not become water, and the water does not become frog...they exist together, and apart. The frog is a frog, the water is a water. And there is the frog in the water, and there is the water surrounding the frog. 

Putting yourself - the youest you- out into the world as yourself is crazy: hard/easy/hard/easy on and on. There are so many ways we are bombarded with different options and do you know? And then how do you not short circuit when rejected or laughed at or made fun of- even if it's only in your own mind? Being the "right" frog in the "right" water- it can be exhausting. 

And such an unconscious habit to be absorbed instead of be permeable. 

When I am absorbed I do not have boundaries. Something I have started noticing is that I do have boundaries, but I tend to set them and then erase them. It's wild to watch. I'm learning that if I am permeable I don't lose myself, or my boundaries- and it feels healthy and care full. I know where I am. It's kind of like always telling myself the truth and being willing to stand with that truth, and knowing that truth can change. That it isn't a threat to know more or do things differently. 

Taking it apart- here's me in a situation:

Me deciding what feels wisest for me. 
Wanting to erase it (oh no! I didn't mean it! never mind! it's okay!), but not erasing it. 
Feeling totally uncomfortable in the itchy scritchy sweater of not erasing it. 
The sweet nugget of warmth that comes, a bit of confidence, of trust, of love. 

I have to do things in these kinds of instructions because then it makes more sense: I slow down, recite my practices to myself- whatever they may be- First you do this, then you do that. It's not about right or wrong. Please slow down. You don't have to go fast. 

There's a sense of recognition and congruency that arrives. I am me, and I am here, standing next to you, apart and together- permeable.