Monday, September 9, 2013

Empowered

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***Fair warning, this blog post comes with some French.***



I have (over)contemplated exactly how to explain myself on this blog; gone over and over the events that need to be detailed and the resulting emotions that ultimately formed some new realities for me. I've come to the conclusion that over-thinking things doesn't necessarily help, that I just need to spit it out... So here goes:

I am fat.* I gained 35-40 pounds during chemotherapy and have been holding onto 15 pounds (give or take a few here and there) since then.

So I joined a weight loss competition.  I can't exactly remember what the winner would receive because I spent the entire summer worrying about the consequences of losing. What's that, you ask? The losers would have to pose for a photo shoot in their BIKINIS. In Laguna Beach. On labor day weekend. 

Basically, as a loser I would be shamed into standing half naked on the one of the busiest beaches in Southern California on the second busiest beach day of the year, uncomfortable in my skin and insecure about my hair - which seems to be growing slower than molasses on a cold winter's day in Nebraska, and is uuuuuber thin (the only thing on my body that's thin). 

Awesome. 

Fast forward a few months...  

I stood in the fitting room two days before the shoot. Looking at the bloated, scarred version of the vessel I used to inhabit and actually uttered the words, "I hate myself." And then I hated myself more for saying those words, and thinking those words. But the worst part was the anxiety that simmered inside of me. 

I spent most of the summer hungry. Tracking every stupid calorie I consumed and every stupid calorie I expended. I wasn't perfect. Shit, people who know me well enough will tell you that a big part of the reason I'm so active is so that I can eat more. (Or, um... drink more.)

It's been a decade since I looked at myself and had the kind of anxiety that comes along with hating myself. That feeling, to me... it's worse than cancer.

I'm not an excuses girl. I hate hearing them, so I try not to rely on them. Thus, I'm pretty hard on myself. But if I'm being totally honest, I'll tell you that there was a little voice that managed to be heard through the despair of the day - a slight whisper that said quite eloquently: This is bullshit. (The little voice speaks french - apparently.)

Wait, what??? Bullshit?

"Yes. Bullshit." - The little voice, now screaming.

Perspective:

Within a year of the start of this little competition I had six rounds of "heavy" chemotherapy. I had mastectomies. I had 18 rounds of "light" chemo that ended in June... Yes, June. JUNE! Two months after I returned home from walking 350 miles over nine weeks... with a 40 pound BACKPACK on my BACK, with tissue expanders! Not to mention the six weeks of radiation that completed two weeks before I set off for Australia, and then on to New Zealand to walk the 350 miles... Which by the way, coincided with a half marathon. Right, I finished radiation and did a half-marathon two weeks later, and set of for Australia a few hours after that. A week later I was doing a triathlon in Brisbane. When I came home, I had two surgeries while I finished up "light" chemo, the second of which I brought on myself after causing internal bleeding by riding my bike too far, too soon.

More perspective:

This body has been running since it was ten years old. It has run trails, outrun locals in African villages, combed some of the dirtiest streets of Asia, and climbed mountains on five different continents. This body climbed 19,500 feet while cancer was growing inside of it. This body has done countless half-marathons, marathons, triathlons and cycling races and whacky (off)trail races. This body has had its ass kicked on the mountain bike and cycled by road bike 30 miles to radiation, regularly. This body did an Ironman!

THIS BODY BEAT CANCER. 

Excuses? Maybe... but then I remember... 

In the past five weeks I've ridden at least 500 miles and run more than 70. I've also been swimming, working out with a trainer and running the stairs during work. I've climbed my mountain, twice. 

Ohhh man. The perspective makes my heart sink and I start to see myself as though I'm standing outside myself looking at the girl standing in the fitting room - sobbing, hating her body. I want to shake her free of the conflict boiling inside of her. I want to scream at her about how her body deserves a fucking parade.

I lost zero weight.

I went against every fiber of my being and did it. The whole shit and shaboodle... Four hours of hair and make-up and a photographer and sand and bikinis and people staring at me while I try to make my body look natural in the world's most awkward poses. I was determined to have a good attitude about the whole thing. After all, it is an experience. And I didn't hate it. And more importantly, I didn't hate myself.

Me, trying really hard to embrace the awkward pose and the new version of the vessel I inhabit. 
I have to say - I came home from an entire day of "photo shooting" completely exhausted, deflated, confused and torn about the whole thing.

My catalyst to feeling exhausted, deflated, confused and torn?

The mountain.

I barreled up my mountain the next day in complete bliss. Dirty and disgusting - dust for make-up and my favorite visor as a headpiece. I was strong. Really strong.

And, exactly as it should be - I summited my mountain to find Pavel - my mountain-man friend/yeti (an over-sized Baldy resident who I swear, knows every nook and cranny of that mountain - and because of such, is a soul mate of mine...) passing out beers at 10,000 ft (another reason he is a soul mate of mine). Yes, the man carried 80lbs of ice and 180 beers up the mountain. Serendipitous? Uhhhhh hu! Shockingly, it was the first beer I've ever had at 10k feet.

Empowered.
It went straight to my head, and because it went straight to my head Pavel was able to convince me that I needed to go down the mountain a new way... his way. (He scares me.) So down I went - straight down. I literally slid down the side of the mountain in shale so deep I couldn't see my legs from the shins down.

IT WAS EPIC.  

I laughed the entire way down. Was it scary? No.

Empowering? YES.

I'm not sure I came off the mountain with certain clarity about the way I view and treat my body - or how exactly to feel about the weight loss competition and the bikini photo shoot... It is nice to get dolled up and look pretty and have someone take pictures of you. Nicer yet, when you feel good about yourself. But is it empowering? Meh. I'm going to take a "to each his own" stance on this one, because I've learned that for me, I feel empowered when I feel strong. The act of putting make up on and having my hair done and standing in front of a camera does not make me feel strong... But I'm willing to accept that for some, it might.

It has made me wonder how many women would feel more empowered  knowing that they could scale a mountain... Or run a trail... Or run a mile, for that matter. And then I have to question how much of our strength or beauty is based on some societal norm rather than what really makes us feel empowered.

This much I know is true - for sure. I am too hard on my body. I am not exceptional. Most people are too hard on their bodies. I love food - all food. And alcohol, almost all alcohol... It's not my body's fault that I can't figure out why I want to keep eating when it's clearly telling me that it is stuffed. It's also not my body's fault that I tell it to keep going, even after the 9th, 10th, or even 15th hour of exercise. Not is it my body's fault that the cancer grew inside it, or that poison, a sharp knife, and invisible burning rays would be the only way to save it.

Gratitude abounds, again. Not just for the fact that I am so lucky to have a body that will let me torture it (myself), but for the ability to know what I know and to try to make some sense of it and put it into practice. And really, really super grateful for the understanding of what makes me feel empowered, and for the physical ability to make that happen.

*I realize that "fat" is a feeling, not a fact, but this is my blog and I get to pretend that feelings are facts here (when I want).

PS - For the record, the photographer for the photo shoot was amazing, as were the other girls doing the shoot. Someday I'm sure I'll look back on the photos with fondness. 

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