“It doesn’t get easier, but you get stronger.”
These were the words of encouragement offered in a chat group when I announced that I was joining Crossfit last spring. I was terrified, but a couple friends who were active in the gym insisted that it was a friendly and supportive place, with lots of middle aged women and many body types.
Every single one of which, as far as I can tell, is stronger, faster, and fitter than I am.
But before I can tell you about that, I need to tell you about this, which I first wrote in 2019:
In the East Bloc light of the indoor soccer field, I was making some notes in a journal. “Are you watching the game?” John asked. “No. I’m traumatized by youth sports.”
“You’re going to have to get over that.”
The rec basketball court in my home town is probably not that big, or that cold, but it looms in my memory like a giant, frigid, Coliseum of terror. Instead of spending Saturday mornings under my comforter watching cartoons, I was forced to enter this baffling landscape of demands I had neither aptitude nor affection for. Slow, awkward, spacey and confused, helpless to escape, I would fumble around in misery hoping that no one would pass me the ball. Once, someone did, and I drove with blind focus toward the basket, deaf to the crowd and the coach and the players, isolated in the echo chamber of survival, and proudly scored the only basket of my career.
For the other team.
It seems like such a little thing; the sort of story you laugh at when family members, meaning no harm, tell. And if there weren’t a dozen memories that felt like that, if the entire enterprise of team sports wasn’t wrapped up in my mind with a sense of tyrannical coercion over which I had no power, no voice that was heard and respected, maybe I would. As an adult, it sounds so silly. So silly, in fact, that most adults repeat the blithe assertions of what kids should be made to do, “for their own good,” for the building of character; the relentless mantra of growth through adversity.
I am the first person to agree that life’s brutal challenges can be our greatest teachers; that it is not the pain but the way we choose to respond that matters. But, even though I work primarily with adults, a large portion of the work that I do ends up being focused on finding remedies to release people from the straitjacket of suffering that was woven in childhood.
It all comes down to set and setting – it is not the event itself but what surrounds it, and what we bring to it, that determines whether it will become a springboard for positive forward movement or a never-ending inward spiral that keeps us from achieving all that we might.
We come into the world with certain predispositions that show up in our adaptations to stress. Healthy adaptations lead to: an increased ability to flow with new challenges, emotional and physical maturation and evolution, mental stability and flexibility. Unhealthy adaptations manifest as rigidity, depression, anxiety, and decreases in overall health over time. Aging causes wear, of course, but that is not disease; the body and mind breaking down under burden looks different from the process of gaining wisdom as the price of exposure to time and gravity.
I do need to get over it. But I need to get over it by healing from it, not suppressing it and shutting down that little girl without acknowledging her pain. I invite you to join me: give yourself permission to acknowledge the events you experienced as trauma to be traumatic. You were traumatized. Don’t silence your memories with the same judgment that was brought to bear on you all those years ago (or yesterday).
In light of all that, just walking into the gym, not the first time, or the second, or the third, for one-on-one training in fundamentals, but the fourth time, when it was me in a class of 15 people who knew (unlike me) what they were doing, took the same level of white-knuckled blind effort to show up for as childbirth and cancer treatment (showing up is about where the resemblances end, however. Regular readers may also recall that I’m not exactly naturally athletic. Or graceful.)
And at first it was hard. Really, really hard. (I don’t know how many of you are familiar with something called a Bar Muscle Up, but if I were trapped in North Korea and Kim Jong-Un himself told me he would send me to the US and set me up for life in Key Largo if I did just one bar muscle up, I’d be stuck with one-grain-of-rice-and-no-electricity until I died.)
But there’s something about Crossfit. Maybe it’s that it’s expensive enough to motivate you to use it. Maybe it’s that there are so many classes that it fits in any schedule. Maybe it’s that there is coaching and camaraderie and customizable competition.
And maybe it’s the results. Because you show up, you do it, and, one day, you’re climbing the rope. You’re squatting and deadlifting and getting the bar overhead. You’re adding weight and reducing modifications and beating your personal records.
And one morning, walking past the mirror (in your own hallway, because the gym is blissfully free of mirrors), your pants fit better.
I find that it is nearly impossible to create, and maintain, new patterns, without understanding why I ended up in the existing ones. How have they served me? What problems have they solved for me? What stories are in the way of growth?
Learning to identify what is happening, when it is happening, in myself, is the way I can generate change and maturity in my life. To do that, I have to sit with the immature, the poorly-expressed, the ungraceful. There are many ways to fall down, get up, and take a bow; they aren’t all physical.
Finding anchors for that practice, and healing the wounds that are revealed, is part of my work in myself, and in the world.
The Flower Essence Webinar this coming Sunday, from which you will walk away with new insights, new tools, and a custom blend delivered to your door, opens an avenue for navigating this part of the healing journey.
There is nothing wrong with you for experiencing feelings. So much of our pain comes from the difficulty we face in ourselves and others in allowing those feelings to be honored and held, without allowing them to stage a mutiny and commandeer the ship. By learning to turn to flower essences in those moments, you can identify and acknowledge your feelings, and give them a productive job. They are the beacons on your course towards what is asking to be healed.
It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.
Seriously. Sign up for the webinar.