Musings of the Day
Hear this read aloud below
I am the queen of starting over…and over…and over…again. The number of times I’ve been knocked flat is more than I can count, but the number of times I have picked up the pieces and re-created myself is at least one more than that number. I’m still standing. Shaking a bit, but upright.
Isn’t that what resilience is? The ability to come back again and again, to find the courage and will and fire to create from the ashes of what has gone before?
I have a saying on my wall that has been there for years. It sits beside me when I paint.
“The very purpose of the Phoenix Process is to go alone into the flames, to burn away the illusions, and to arise from the ashes with the prize of one’s true self.”
I can’t recall where that comes from, but I knew when I read it that it was speaking to the story of my life. Whether physical fires, emotional or spiritual trials, the call is the same. Each time I have arisen from those ashes I have risen with more of my truth, more of mySELF.
Once again, it is my physical body that needs to be resurrected from those flames. I have been through hell with illness and injuries, surgeries and treatments for years now. Trust me when I say this, I am not exaggerating. Each year it has gotten a bit harder to come back. I’m older and there is an accumulation of damage to deal with.
I’m grateful that I have the experience behind me to draw on, telling me that very little is impossible. I recall nearing 40 and being told that someone with my “condition” would never be able to live an active life again. I heard a lot of “nevers” back then and ever since. What I chose to do with that information was digest it and spit it out, leaving a resolve to get my life back and a willingness to do whatever it took to do just that. At 40, with a severe case of Chronic Fatigue that had put me in bed for years, I began weight training. I knew that I needed my physical strength if I ever wanted a life again. I had no background in this, but something told me that this was the route to take. Call it Divine Guidance.
I hired a strength coach from a local university. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing, but he agreed to take the journey with me every step of the way. He researched CFS, but there was very little out there at the time. Most doctors treated it (and me) as if it was a psychological condition. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that it was all in my head and I needed a shrink.
My son was very young at the time. When I couldn’t put him to bed at night and read him stories, he asked his father if mommy was going to die. I was heartbroken for both of us. This was not OK.
The first day in the gym was embarrassing and humbling. My trainer asked me to do a push up. I couldn’t even get myself off the floor. I had been almost completely bedridden for many years with no physical conditioning left. So we started with one set of leg extensions, little to no weight. That was all I could do. I went home that morning and went straight to bed. Two weeks later I got up.
And that’s how it all began, taking my life into my own hands and saying the words that would transform my life forever.
“This is not OK. I know who I am and I am not a sick person. I am a strong, powerful person with some physical issues to deal with and a whole life to live. I need my physical strength to get well.”
I continued to go back time and time again, bedridden in-between with no guarantee that one of those times wouldn’t be my last time getting up again.
It took me 8 months of one set at a time, back to bed, picking up the phone a week or two later and saying, “OK, I’m ready.” We went back and forth this way until one day my trainer, Jim looked at me and told me that he thought I needed to take a break because I’d been training consistently without getting sick for a month. Both of us realized that I had crossed a huge threshold.
We started cycling my workouts with rest time in between. Others in the gym were approaching me with questions about how I was managing to do what I was doing, because they had seen me from those very first embarrassing days. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but witnessing me do what appeared to be nearly impossible, inspired others to do the same for themselves. If I didn’t give power to the excuses I could have used to stop, then they couldn’t either.
Then one day about a year into this routine I was sitting on a bench between sets of cable crossovers. I can still picture the small workout room, the only place in the gym with free weights. That was where the “serious” people trained. There were sweaty, smelly men in there and very few women at the time. By then I had graduated from bulky sweats to cover my out of shape body, to workout gear fit for someone in their prime. Jim was standing to my left waiting to get going on another set and I turned to him and said these very words.
“I know what I have to do with my life. This has given me my life back and I need to share it with others. I’m going to become a trainer.”
And I did. I studied. I trained. I eventually moved across the country and opened my own business training others. I created a 12 week transformational program taking students beyond limits they never believed possible for themselves, a program created out of yet another health crisis, one that had threatened my ability to ever train again. But here is the heart of this story and why I’m sharing it now. It wasn’t about weight training, not in the strict sense of those words. I never considered myself a bodybuilder. People tried to get me to compete, but it wasn’t about that for me. It was about creating. It was about finding my truth, walking my own path my own way, and then inspiring others to do the same. It was about embodying who I knew myself to be, a strong, powerful, resilient woman with a huge heart and a ton of courage.
When I worked with my clients, which I did for over 17 years, I was an artist and a “midwife.” Yes, they transformed their bodies, changed the way they ate and lived, but the real transformation was in connecting them to their true power and brilliance. What I was for them was a mirror for what they couldn’t see in themselves. I held the space for them, for their unique power and gifts, until they could step into their truth, waiting patiently while they struggled with so much of what I had experienced myself. I said YES, when all they could hear within their own minds, was I CAN’T. I midwifed them back to a more authentic way of living. The more I helped my clients, the more I helped myself. It was a beautiful exchange, very much like my process of creating a painting.
Being an artist is all about vision, about seeing with eyes beyond our physical senses, and about bringing that vision into physical form in some way. As an artist, a trainer, a coach, and a teacher, I have had to re-create myself as well as help others do the same. And when my time as a trainer came to an end due to more physical illness, I mourned that loss as if I had lost my entire purpose and value.
It has been almost 20 years since that time and I am once again facing the challenge of bringing myself back to health. There have been years of doctors and surgeries and treatments, most of which have done more harm than good. I’ve done the deep inner work of freeing myself from shame and trauma, and now its time to heal my body again. The common “wisdom” is that with what I have to deal with “just so much is possible.”
This time I am 30 years older than I was when I first went into the gym. The years of physical illness and health challenges have accumulated in my body. I don’t know what is possible, but I do know that being this debilitated is not a reflection of who I truly am.
This is what I used to teach my clients.
Possibility means that something might or might not happen.
To turn Possibility into Probability you need to say YES to the possibility. That “YES” adds power and movement to something otherwise static.
That is me saying yes to life, to living my dreams, my truth, to embodying who I truly am. That is me saying yes to the seemingly impossible and making it probable once again.
Resilience looks different at different times in our lives. At this stage of my life I am taking a gentler approach. Though bodybuilding was never about shows and competitions for me, it was still a tough sport and one that took a kind of energy and discipline more suited to who I was at that time. After surviving breast cancer, more bouts of Chronic Fatigue, arthritis that has impacted my ability to do my work, and other autoimmune conditions putting me in constant pain, I am approaching starting over quite differently. I know that I still need my physical strength to get well, but I need to go about it in a new way. There is more surrender required of me now. My bandwidth is narrower. I cannot do everything, multitask the way I used to, nor do I want to. I have to make some difficult choices.
Surrender is the hardest part for me. I am good with working hard at something, but doing less, leaving behind things I love to do, takes more courage and trust than I am comfortable with. So this time the courage to say YES to my life looks very different than it ever has. It means that I work less, take in less stimulation, learn how to relax and how to set boundaries. It means telling friends I can’t talk now or see you now when what I need is quiet and less distraction. It means putting away all of the unfinished projects still tugging at me and only focusing on the things that are most important to my health and well being. It means losing some things in the hope that more of what I truly want will fill the empty spaces than what I had to let go of. And above all else it means focusing on those creative ideas that I love, really love. Those things that I just have to bring into being because they won’t leave me in peace until I do.
And it means asking myself this question every day, “If I only had a year to live, would I be doing this?” Because none of us knows how long we have here and what I want more than anything is to fully live whatever time I do have. I want the juiciness of life, the experience of it. Something tells me that in that lies a key to my health.
I’ve never been good at surrender so this time around I will need to trust my deepest knowing telling me that all that I desire is just on the other side of letting go. This time, surrender is all there is, letting go of all that I have believed about myself, all that my life has been thus far and all of the dreams that are based on who I was for the past 70 years. This is the time for total reinvention. Nothing that worked before will work now. To discover what will work for me, I must let go of the past and retain only the fundamental truth that I am who I know I am in my soul and that person is as resilient as she ever was, getting up one more time than she has been knocked down.