And The Letter Came Back. The Very Next Day …

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The day after I put the letter and a stack of bills into my mailbox, Brayden came back from the mailbox with an armful of mail. “Mom! This came for you!” I looked down at his hands and couldn’t believe it. I raised my eyebrows laughing in disbelief, “Seriously!? Seriously?? NO way!” Tears wetting the corners of my eyes as I doubled over laughing. “What, Mom?!” He asked laughing as he watched me.

Soon my whole brood had surrounded me wondering what was going on. “I tried to send this letter back but they wouldn’t take it.” Rob offered up the possibility that perhaps it was a mistake, “Maybe they overlooked it or were confused because it’s addressed to you?”  “I doubt it,” I replied. “It’s probably because I wrote ‘Fuck You’ on it. Mabye the Post Office is the Courtesy Police and they get to decide what is acceptable to put on an envelope and what isn’t?” We all wondered about that for a minute. I could feel eight eyes watching me to see what I’d do. “That’s actually pretty funny. I’ll try dropping it in the box at the Post Office tomorrow.”

The best part about this letter popping up again is that I wasn’t upset. I think I even surprised myself by my sense of humor about it. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Here I am — just going on with my day — and then SHAZAM! there’s my mother, once again, trying to ooze her way into my life. I could have been devastated. I could have started shaking. I could have collapsed to the floor in tears. And a year ago, all of these things were a possibility. But today, I can’t help but marvel at how strong I am and how much my hard work has paid off. Yes, memories keep visiting me in my nightmares but they’re showing up because I’m ready to process them. By being in the front of my mind instead of buried deep in my body, they are asking me to examine myself in a whole new way. I’m the boss. I am safe. I am loved. And unlike my childhood trauma, I can walk away from this. I can open the door. Send the letter back. And move on with my day. With my life. 

After dropping my kids at camp on Monday, I drove the letter to the local post office and dropped it in the blue box. “Happy trails letter. I hope you find your way home.” I wondered if I’d see it again. I think I suspected that I would but hoped that I wouldn’t. I’m not afraid of the letter and experiencing that helped me see that I’m not afraid of my mother anymore. I’m annoyed that she’s disrespected my boundaries but even that isn’t a surprise. It’s typical. I’ve been given an opportunity to experience myself in this new, free, way and I’m taking great pride and delight in seeing that my work is paying off. I am okay.

Last night Zoe brought the mail in. “The letter is here again, Mom!” she said watching me with a curious eye. “Of course it is. Yay! Now I have a great followup post to the one I wrote today.” I laughed. “Okay, Mom.” She said in that way that teenagers do when they can’t figure their parents out. Later I told my friend, “I’m putting painter’s tape over the ‘Fuck You’ and maybe that will work?! She can peel it back when she gets it and can see it! We had a good laugh about this — “Painter’s tape so she can PEEL it. Ha ha ha!” I questioned if my mother would be curious or smart enough to even think to do that. I also jokingly wondered, “What if I’d written ‘Fuck You’ in Portuguese or Greek … or Polish? Would the Post Office have had a translator on staff to check to make sure my note was viewer friendly?” The jokes were endless and it felt so empowering to laugh about something that could have had so much weight.

If the letter comes back — with my painter’s tape on it — I’ll put it in an envelope. Sure, I’ll feel slightly pissed that I have to write my mother’s name and address, pay for postage and that I have to deal with her at all. But the truth is, I’m always managing my mother. This is something I’ve always done. Now I can do it from a place of strength instead of fear and if this letter is confirmation of that, well then I’ll take it. And I’ll just keep singing this song, “The Cat Letter Came Back” because since the letter’s second arrival, I just can’t get it out of my head! It makes me happy.

Take good care of yourself. Whatever that looks like. Ask for help if you need it. Working our way through the places that scare us — holding space and honoring our process — is worth it. It really is. Since remembering my abuse, it’s been a scary bumpy road filled with anger, rage, sorrow heartbreak and even joy. Deep profound joy that’s there waiting once we wade through the muck. Be brave in your living. I’m with you sending love.

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Birthday Magic

June and July have been a bit murky and muddled. I have been trying to maneuver my way through a dense fog and most things have felt overwhelming and exhausting. Like I’m sporting a caveman CrossFit contraption on my back — a hand-sewn hemp backpack larger than me with a 300-pound boulder tucked inside. Life has been feeling ginormous. Even the fruit flies nesting in the peaches might as well be woolly mammoths taking up residence on my counter. Things have felt big and I’ve found myself wanting to get very, very small. As if smaller would somehow make me feel safer.

I’ve attributed my weariness to Ironman Texas being done. After racing, there is always a bit of a letdown accompanied by a strong desire to do both nothing and accomplish everything that’s been on hold for nine months. At the same time. I don’t do well with indecision so I assumed this was why I’ve been feeling so heavy — I’ve been stuck. Spinning in a circle and second-guessing what I should do. Plus there’s been a change to the rhythm of my usual June and July months — when my final build to Lake Placid Ironman is at its highest and I understand that I am appropriately fatigued. But this year, doing two Ironman triathlons within just over a two-month span has left me uncertain of what I’m actually feeling. “Am I tired? But I’m not training as much? Or am I? … I just don’t know.” Add uncertainty to a new fatigued-ambivalence about racing and I’m left feeling a bit, well, foggy.

When I thought I couldn’t stand the fog for one more second, this card arrived the day before my birthday. With it came an understanding that it’s hard for me to be in my body — embracing living — being in the moment and experiencing joy when my days are spent vacillating between fear and being disassociated. I’ve been here but not here. Triggered and not triggered at any random moment. And while I felt the disconnect, I couldn’t quite identify what it was that was making me feel so far from myself. The not knowing made my brain more muddled and dull.

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I was surprised to see the familiar-unfamiliar handwriting. It took a moment for me to recognize that this was a card from my mother. When it finally registered, I didn’t feel like I was hit by a truck. My stomach didn’t fall to my feet. Instead I had an aha! moment and the fog I’d been wandering in didn’t simply lift — it disappeared as illusions do when we find clarity. It was quick like an electric shock and I even laughed out loud with joy as I was zapped back into my body. I immediately understood that the heaviness I’d been feeling was anticipatory old-fear about my birthday coming. I was afraid my mother would show up and deflate me. Ruining my birthday like she always did — spitting rage because not only did she have to give me attention but actually celebrate me. I was overcome with quiet relief when she resurfaced. The one thing I’d been dreading happened and instead of an avalanche bowling me over, I could breathe. 

I carried the card to my desk. Wrote “Return To Sender” over my address and a lofty “Fuck You” reply to her manipulative “I love you!” I took a photo, sent it to my brother and he helped me laugh in that bent-over, knee-slapping way that people who truly get each other do. Our mother is incapable of doing anything unconditionally. She cannot love because it feels authentic and genuine. She pretend-loves when she wants something from you. This is not a birthday card. Not really. This card is her way of letting us know that she’s moved. She just used my birthday as an opportunity to rear her ugly head. She does this. Surfaces with false-kindness attempting to mask a self-serving agenda. Eventually, or perhaps I should say inevitably, her head spins like the child in The Exorcist and she becomes the devil on your doorstep.

As an adult I can expect this flipping behavior from her — knowing that the nicer she is the scarier she will become. Now that she’s suddenly appeared, disregarding my clear boundaries to leave me and my family alone, I can see that my unconscious anxiety of an unwelcome arrival was making me feel driven to disappear. I was afraid she’d show up and because of this, I’ve been flooded with apathy about doing anything that makes me feel alive and strong and powerful. I was doing what I did as a child — preemptively disconnecting from myself and not loving myself so that I could be safe from her wrath. Staying small in the fog was the safe, smart thing to do. But I’m not a child anymore. I don’t live in her home. I am safe.

Understanding these pieces of my past help me embrace my life now. With clarity I can appropriately identify my triggers and not react to something happening in the here and now with fear-behaviors from my past. I can choose how I want to be in a relationship with myself, my family and friends. I’m in control of my own wellbeing instead of being constrained by emotions which are disproportionate to what’s happening in my daily exchanges. This is why my work is so important. It is me reclaiming who I am as a whole person and not feeling like a victim. I’m re-laying the framework of relationships in my life by starting with the relationship I have with myself.

On 7/7, I celebrated my 44th birthday. I’m convinced there is some magic in those repeated double digits and I’m just going to go with that this year. My birthday came and for the first time ever I didn’t worry about getting it right or having it ruined. My mother showed up in her slippery way and it didn’t even matter. Not one bit. I didn’t lose myself in her arrival; I reclaimed myself more wholly and celebrated with people who really do love me — both near and far — and who help me feel celebrated.

I finally have the strength to look at the pain of my past and accept it as part of my story. I keep discovering that instead of being alone, I’m connected to a new family I have created. People who show up for life in all of its ups and and downs, living bravely and loving unconditionally. I’m going to approach this year with curiosity instead of fear. I’m going to see how wide I can spread my wings and how big I can open my heart. I’m going to trust that when I’m frightened, I won’t have to get small and hide. Instead, I’ll hold my hand out and I’ll have all sorts of amazing people there to hold it.

 

Seven Hours

 

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Rob getting his brave on in his Ironman Lake Placid T-shirt while having a seven-hour chemo infusion.

Seven hours. Seven hours is about two-thirds of the way through an Ironman for my husband. Give or take a bit depending on the course. As I write this, Rob has two hours left of his seven hour chemo infusion. He’d be on the run portion by now.

This past week has just about bowled me over. Reading about the Stanford Survivor, learning about the Orlando Nightclub Shooting and grappling with my own stuff — I keep finding that I have to work extra hard to fight the impulse to curl inside of myself and cry. There are so many things zinging around making me feel vulnerable, it’s hard to stay in the moment and to keep showing up.

This morning before leaving for the hospital Rob went for a run. He got up and he was kind and funny and gentle-spirited to all of us and then he put on his sneakers and he ran. As I sit here, on the seventh floor of the hospital — in a room labeled Infusion Center — watching compassionate nurses care for patients and witnessing people showing up to life, I can’t help but wonder why? Why would I curl up when life holds so much promise? Why stay small when I can run? If we can wipe the grime off of our lenses and see without the smudges in the way — there are things that warrant celebrating. Ourselves included.

But somehow people get lost on this living path, don’t you think? I mean how else can we explain the hurt and heartbreak we inflict upon each other and sometimes even upon ourselves? I think when we let our pain consume us the smoke engulfs the flame and instead of being bright lights we can be shadows. Lost in the dark.

There are all kinds of people in the world and one of the bigger questions often asked is whether we are born good or bad or if life imposes one or the other upon us? I certainly don’t have the answer to this existential question. And perhaps even more fundamental to me is this question — Why is it that some people who have survived unbearable pain, loss and heartbreak turn their suffering into goodness and others harness the bad and perpetuate it? Once again, I’m just not sure.

The only answer I can come up with is, choice. Whether we like to own this or not, we have the power to choose. In order for us to even begin to feel that we have a choice about how we want to be in the world, we have to tend to our own pain. Our suffering. We have to find a home for it and that means working with it. Not ignoring it. Wounds unaddressed are like the vomit you try to hold down. If you’d simply dragged yourself over to the toilet when you thought you might have to throw up, it would most likely be manageable. The toilet would have caught most of it! But in trying to swallow it, we run the risk of projecting it all over everything and everyone near us. I believe we all suffer, it’s part of being human. It’s what we do with our imperfect human experiences that matter. Our suffering doesn’t give us permission to be cruel. It doesn’t.

Seven hours are winding down. I’ve just learned that today is Rob’s nurse’s birthday. He’ll stay late helping and caring for his patients; smiling and making them laugh. He’ll be here until he’s too tired to go and celebrate — yet he does this with grace and love. He touches people’s lives every day and he experiences meaningful goodness in that. And maybe that’s one of the biggest parts of leaning in to goodness — connecting with other people. It is in one another’s eyes that we can see and hold our own raw-selves.

If you’re in the dark, step out. Puke into the toilet, not the periphery. Find people to connect with — you just might encounter some bravery, some goodness, some humility and some honest fear. And, in the messiness and beauty of it all, you might be reminded of your own power to choose.

Rob will be back in two weeks for another seven-hour infusion. And then he’ll do it again in six months. In between these seven hour windows, he’ll live his life wholeheartedly. He’ll have stress and fatigue, joy and vulnerability. And a million other things in between but he won’t curl inside of himself and he won’t be mean or angry or volatile. He’ll lean on us. We’ll lean on each other. And we’ll be close to our friends near and far because it is in connecting to each other — in bearing witness to each other’s honest living — where we are reminded that we can always choose to keep the light bright.

 

 

Happy Birthday Momster

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Switzerland 1977 with the Matterhorn behind my mother and me – age 5.

June 8th came and went. The sun rose and set and in between the two, my day continued in its usual way — with a few side trips. Rob left for a deposition. Brayden set off for Nature’s Classroom. Other than that, I did what I usually do and I didn’t think about the day or the date at all.

“I feel really nervous lately.” I said in therapy the day after. “Scared and skittish. Easily frightened.” I explained how I felt myself wanting to get smaller and that I kept catching myself lacking self-compassion and being self-critical. I talked about the ways in which I felt myself getting stuck and each time I did so, I noticed I wasn’t simply observing and working through the inertia, I was being harsh and judgmental about it. “I’m tired too and I’m not sleeping well.” Maybe that explains it? I wondered aloud about both but I attributed each to being anemic and my thyroid meds being too low — both new discoveries. Even with all of this, I couldn’t explain my anxiety, “Rob’s going in for his second round of chemo next week … ” I said with my voice trailing off. I was drifting which meant I hadn’t hit the heart of it yet.

My therapist and I sat in silence for a bit. I looked at the floor. I twisted my fingers. I looked up. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled apologetically. I struggled with trying to stay present — wanting to get to the truth of my discomfort — and wanting to flee. And as things always happen in therapy, when the clock is winding down and minutes that ticked too slowly suddenly seem to be tocking at warp speed, I said in a by-the-way sort-of way, “Oh. And yesterday was my mother’s birthday but it’s not a big deal. I didn’t even think about it, really.” And we looked at each other, my therapist and I, both knowing this wasn’t true.

I remember wrapping my eight-year-old self around my mother’s legs. Rooting myself into her feet and clinging to her as if I were falling from the tip of the Matterhorn, about to plummet towards my own icy death. I can hear myself screaming like a child possessed; begging her to see me. To help me. To, for the love of all things, choose me over him. My own words cut off from my sobbing gasps for air. My mother’s face was shriveled with contemptuous rage, her dark brown eyes burning black with hate, glaring down at me on the floor. She dragged me to my bedroom, turned away from me and closed the door while snapping at me to be quiet.

In the very next moment, with her eyes light and her face calm, my mother would apologize for my obnoxiousness while opening the door wide, Wide, WIDE. I buried my face in my pillow. Terrified. Quieting myself enough to be able to listen and hoping beyond hope she’d send him away. But she did not. She opened that door as wide as the sky and invited him back into our home. What do I even call him? The pedophile? The sociopath? The rapist? The monster? Yes.

The discrepancy between what was real and not real was so cavernous I couldn’t make sense of it as a child. I still can’t today. “You are okay!” My mother would tell me more as a command than a comfort. I’d be raging with self-hatred — safer to hate myself than her — or sobbing hysterically, crippled by fear and she’d shake me while saying it over and over, “You are okay!” As if she could drill it into my brain and be assured I’d believe her enough to keep the lies buried.

I didn’t think I was okay. I definitely didn’t feel okay. I was not okay. When I wouldn’t stop crying she’d once again turn away from me — my mother — oozing disgust. And it was this disgusted look and my fear of her abandoning me that made me stop and be quiet. My mother abandoned me over and over again from the very first day she chose the pedophile over me. And to this day she still stands by her lies and entwines herself with him. I think if she did otherwise, she’d have to own the choices she made. She’d have to be accountable. She’d have to be human.

On March 31, 2014, I divorced my mother. I closed the door. I finally stopped taking care of her and began taking care of myself. The only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner. When I did this, my manipulative mother sent a lengthy, foaming at the mouth email — itemizing all of my faults and shortcoming and any other number of evil things someone would contrive about a person they loathe. A person they detest. A person they’d gladly hang to perpetuate the fabrication of their own goodness. This was her last attempt at ensuring I understood and accepted myself as crazy and my thinking as delusional. She was trying to put me in my place and calling on others to rally beside her — not only did she send it to me but she copied my father’s sister, my husband and other people I love.

It was a disgusting letter. It made me sick to read it. I remember trembling with horror — lightning bolts of confusion firing in my brain as I tried to make sense of the fact that my own mother was once again trying to annihilate the truth and me along with it. A strange, unfamiliar wailing — a primitive painful moaning — escaped me as I crumbled to the floor in tears. I was horrified that after all these years, my mother would still use every weapon in her armory to blame me. Only months later did I recognize this voice as a familiar one — it was the same gut-wrenching sobbing that had often exorcized itself from me while I lay in the dark — in my childhood bed — injured by him and ignored by my mother.

This time my husband held me. My brother and his wife held me. Friends and family held me. And instead of the letter breaking me, it set me free. For the first time ever, captured in ink, immortalized forever on my laptop, the people I love and who love me got to see all of the ways my mother manipulated me. So many things I could never explain about my mother no longer needed explaining. She’d done it all on her own. No longer did I have to try to preserve her public image of mental health at the detriment of my own peace of mind. Her letter solidified my divorce and I could finally breathe.

I wish my mother’s birthday didn’t trigger me. I wish I could go on without fear the week before and anxiety the week after June 8th. My therapist says it’s because I’m not taking care of my mother anymore that I get frightened she will retaliate as she once did and that she will try to hurt me — even though I know she can’t. I think this is true. But I also think it’s more complex than that. Because it is my mother’s birthday, she’s rumbling around in my mind and I’m left to contemplate my own rage more than usual. I am truly incredulous that my Momster and the sexual predator get to go on with life as normal. With no punishment and no accountability. She get’s to celebrate her birthday and I don’t think she deserves to celebrate anything at all. Nothing.

In my own way, I am learning to untangle myself from her. I can appreciate that I am the light. I am the love. I am the goodness. She can never take that away from me. She tried but she did not succeed. I am unbroken despite her trying to break me. She goes unpunished. Both of them do. But they cannot touch me anymore. My birthday wish for my Momster is that she live a very small life without two of her children in it. Without access to her grandchildren. And I hope, that while she may go unpunished, she suffers miserably. Yet even as I write this, I know it won’t happen. Remorse, regret and change happen to brave people who are living triumphantly. To people who are engaged and present with a willingness to be self-reflective, honest and accountable. This is how we grow. My mother was never any of these things. She never will be.

 

 

The Things I Forgot To Say


I love you.

There’s no lack of I love you being said in our family. Rob and I often open up or finish a statement (or command!) with, I love you, when speaking to our children. Whether shepherding them out into the world, sending them to bed, greeting their morning grumpy-selves or yelling at them for their awful behavior, I’m certain there will be an I love you whispered or yelled. Or both.

Please empty the dishwasher! I love you.” I love you! Did you do your homework?” “For the 900th time, get off your Tablet! Oh, and I love you.” Sometimes I joke about it.It’s your turn to pick up dog poop. But don’t worry! I love you.” Because … I don’t know … maybe they’ll forget?! Our house could be a spoof on the spoof, Go The F**k  To SleepExcept we’d holler, “GO THE FRIG TO SLEEP BEFORE I LOSE WHAT’S LEFT OF MY SANITY! AND BY THE WAY, I FREAKING LOVE YOU!”  

Lately Brayden and Elias have been driving each other (and me!) bonkers. They are relentless in their bickering. Like old hags who won’t shut-up. Complaining to any poor bystander about toenail fungus and Cribbage cheaters. On autopilot. Not even hearing themselves but tormenting anyone and everyone who is unfortunate enough to be in their miserable company. Yup. Like that. But somehow worse. And it really is torture. Last night I thought my ribs would break from the tightness in my chest. They were antagonizing each other and pushing my buttons. It was unbearable. “Stop. Just STOP. Holy shit! You have to S-T-O-P! I cannot listen to this anymore!!! You are making me crazy! But I love you.”

This morning Brayden left for Nature’s Classroom. A three day excursion with the fourth grade. In the woods! My kids love the woods so this is a good, good thing. Plus, with the insanity of June — also known as the end of the school year month from hell! — percolating in the air, we are all losing our ever-loving minds. For real. A break-up in the routine may just save us until school is finally finished.

Last night we were up into the wee hours packing Brayden’s gear because, well, when your life is over scheduled you pretty much take it minute by minute. If Brayden were a Slinky Toy he’d have been springing around the house with Elias tauntingly yanking on the end of him to make him more springy! We packed. We yelled. And we fought from fatigue, frustration and complete weariness. Dripping our angst all over each other until we’d wrung ourselves dry. Only then did we efficiently get to packing. In between checking off lists and stuffing a suitcase, we sent texts to Rob who is away again working on big work things. On overdrive. Subsisting on adrenaline and virtual I love yous.

I’m excited for Brayden to go. To have a break from the daily things he shows up for and to have his own adventure. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that a part of me thought, “Wow, with just three of us in the house this is going to be so easy.”  And maybe this is true. Probably. Yet as I focused on getting each child out of the house this morning I forgot — I forgot how young they are. How little. They have so much energy, my children. Our lives are intense and demand a lot. Each of us, in our own way, takes up a lot of space in our house. With so much space being taken up there is a feeling of largeness. A bigness that each child both expresses and demands in their own unique way. So I forget — they really aren’t big.

As I worked with Brayden to pack his boingy-self out the door he felt larger-than-life. He was exhausting. Truthfully, last night they all were exhausting. But this morning, as I  gave him one last hug, he surprised me with his hesitation to leave me. He looked up at me with his soft brown eyes and said, “I’m really going to miss you, Mom.” My breath caught in my chest and my throat closed up a bit. I looked at his beautiful face, held his intent gaze and smiled confidently at him. “I’ll miss you too! And if you’re lonely at bedtime remember I’ll be thinking of you. We can be thinking of each other from afar. I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

I waved goodbye and then cried a little bit as I left the parking lot. By the time I got home I had thought of all of the things I’d wished I’d said. Reminders of his competency, his resiliency and of the many new things he’d been nervous to try but did anyway. I had thought about telling him my wish for him — that he go out and express himself and have a blast! Other things too. So many things unsaid. But when I was caught by surprise by his vulnerability, I returned to the simplest thing I know. I love you. 

To Be Moved

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Rob and I in Mendocino California 1997

At some point, I thought, well, I’ve been really lucky to see many, many places. Now, the great adventure is the inner world, now that I’ve spent a lot of time gathering emotions, impressions, and experiences. Now, I just want to sit still for years on end, really, charting that inner landscape because I think anybody who travels knows that you’re not really doing so in order to move around — you’re traveling in order to be moved. And really what you’re seeing is not just the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall but some moods or intimations or places inside yourself that you never ordinarily see when you’re sleepwalking through your daily life.

~Piko Iyer from Becoming Wise by Krista Tippet

Lately, I want to move back to California. I want to live with my family nestled on the crest of a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I’ve camped in such places. In campgrounds tucked along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur. My imagined house being simple and modern. A square, flat roof with angles both sharp and soft. A home that is both interesting and unassuming, designed to honor the landscape it has been forged into. I see it made mostly of glass — where the inside and the outside merge together and you cannot tell whether you are inside or out. I’d build it with natural resources and its design would be one that treads lightly on our planet leaving a modest carbon footprint. That. I want that.

I imagine a vegetable garden with fruit trees and berry patches. Hearing the forceful break of the ocean crashing on the rocks below my perch. The perfumed scent of jasmine mingled with ocean salt and the stink of fish at low tide. I picture music playing and voices singing. Sometimes there is dancing in the kitchen where foods leave sultry aromas calling us together to linger over seasonal meals where time doesn’t matter. Lively conversations about silly things and soulful things. Laughter. Lot’s of laughter. And eyes lighting up followed by deep sighs of joy as foods that were created with time and love are tasted and enjoyed.

There is an empty hollow space within my heart that aches for this place I dream of. A place where there isn’t haste or rushing but a taking in of life and an opportunity to create, to dream and to be still. To have more time with the people I love and care about. What does this mean? What is my longing? What am I hoping for? It doesn’t feel like an escape — in fact I don’t want to escape at all — I want to fully embody myself after having left for so many years. My California fantasy feels like a quest to get to the root of living and to experience my wholeness in all of its pieces.

Pico Iyer hits a raw nerve when he says, “And really what you’re seeing … (are) places inside yourself that you never ordinarily see when you’re sleepwalking through your daily life.” I don’t want to sleepwalk though life. Not for a second. Not one. I almost cry at the thought of it. Of missing out on living passionately and engaged, with compassion and connection as my compass. Is it because I spent my childhood waiting for things to end that I want so desperately to live awake with presence and purpose?

Perhaps this is my longing — wanting a life that nourishes the places inside of myself that I desire so deeply to know. I want to turn myself inside out and see every fabric of myself. Beyond the mere stitching or the thread. I want to touch the soil where the cotton grew and smell the dirt on my fingertips. I want to see it all because it matters to me. I matter. My family matters and I want my life to reflect that.

But how?  How do I create that in my daily living? To be fully awake when I do the mundane and so called meaningless things in my life? To not sleepwalk while doing, say, the laundry or the dishes? I wonder if in part my feelings are more about a sense of loneliness and a fear of loss. Time racing by with me trying to grab onto the wisps it leaves behind. Like an airplane’s tail of exhaust, where the end is dissipating more quickly than the trail is being laid. We lead busy lives and this busy-ness leaves me without a moment to clarify what it is exactly that I long for. But I do know that I want life to feel more like a celebration of the good things even when there are the tough, real things to contend with. Perhaps allowing the responsibilities and burdens of daily life to mingle with my dreams by making it a priority to allow for both.

Can I have both? Can we? I like to think so. But sometimes I feel like a petulant child being offered a kiddie cone and demanding the sundae. And maybe that’s the problem. Sundae or kiddie cone, they both melt if we spend too long wishing for the other. I read and observe and even believe that life is in the moments and what we make of them. Our perceptions. But what if — what if life would feel more full if I were in a different space than the one I now call home. What if?

My dream home connects me to nature and to the earth — both making me feel held and safe and acutely alive. When I envision myself in this space, I imagine having so much more time to be with the people I love. I see myself with so much more room, not physical room, but heart space and head space. I have a friend who longs to live in Manhattan — the hum and and energy of the city connecting her to herself the most — making her heart joy-filled. Perhaps I need to continue to foster time in my daily living to create the life that matters. Making the meals. Turning on the music. Slowing down and allowing for stillness. I think in the stillness we create more room for the things that matter.

I need more stillness. I crave the stillness so I can allow myself to be moved. So I can experience the people and life I love without it zooming by too quickly. I don’t want to miss it — life! — and I think I’m afraid I might.

 

Ironman Texas In The Books!

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Rob waiting for me at the finish line of Ironman Texas!

Konk! “What the hell?!”

Clobber! “Seriously?!”

Biff! I look out of the corner of my eye with each breath-stroke and I think, “Dude! Move your ass over!”

Whack! Another breath. Punch! Another stroke. “Man you are going the wrong way!” I scream in my mind at the powerful mammoth of a man heading diagonally instead of straight to the buoy ahead. Using my head as a punching bag for his big beefy fist.

Sigh. I glare at him although he cannot see me. I quicken my kick and swim ahead. Annoyed that he interrupted my rhythm with his lousy sighting skills. This is open-water swimming. This is navigating a triathlon swim course. This is the way it goes when you unleash approximately 3,000 anxious athletes into an open body of water. We don’t mean to swim over each other. Or claw at each other. Or scare the bejesus out of each other. We are all just trying to move forward. Quickly. Swiftly. And without drowning.

Ironman is actively choosing to take care of yourself on hyper-drive. You have to weed through your shit and stay in the moment. Keeping your mind clear and sharp. One second at a time for hours and hours. Focusing on what you need. Planning for things to not go as expected. And learning to roll with its unpredictability without attaching yourself to any specific outcome. I love this.

“1589! 1589! 1589!” I yell out at the start of a quarter-mile stretch where guardian angels — also known as volunteers — line the street along the bike course with our special needs bags. I am suddenly surprised to find myself at the half-way mark of the bike. Bags are lined up in numerical order for riders to grab as they go by. I’m moving over 20 mph and I’m communicating what I need as I zoom by. A train of volunteers holler out bib numbers through megaphones. A chain of command down the line. I call out to anyone and everyone, “I just need the gels! In a ziplock bag inside!” And they yell down the line. Instructions: “She’s coming! 1589! She needs the gels! JUST THE GELS! The GELS!!!!” I’m pedaling. My heart is racing. I’m steering. I’m watching and looking. I’m thinking, “Holy shit! What if I miss it?! What if I miss it and I actually have to stop and turn around?!” And then I see a young teenager up ahead with trembling hands reaching into my bag, procuring my gels as if by magic just as my hand reaches out to grab them from him. Barely breaking my speed. “YES! I yell out. You are so AWESOME! THANK YOU!” I feel like I might cry I’m so relieved.

I hold that ziplock bag — first in my teeth and then in my hands as I try to open it while on the fly. As if my life depends upon it. “Don’t drop it. Just don’t drop it.” I whisper trying to calm myself. My salt tabs fall to the road but the gels I hang on to. Somehow. I had eight gels in my bento box on my bike when I headed out but I had needed to put four more into my pockets. In the swim to bike transition chaos I forgot them and at about 45 miles into my ride I realized I was low on nutrition. I got nervous for a second and then remembered the special needs bags.

I don’t like to stop at special needs. In fact, I’ve completely changed my nutrition plan so I don’t have to stop. But today I knew I had to. We do what we need to do in any given moment. That’s living. We keep moving forward at warp speed. Asking for help. Reaching out. Hoping our timing is right and that we are ready to receive what we’ve been hoping for.

One hour left on the bike. Maybe 45 minutes? I press the button on my electronic shifters. Nothing happens. I press again and again and again. Nothing. My new bike has electric shifting. Shifting that needs to be charged. Yes. Charged. Being new to the world of electronic shifting, I neglected to charge mine so I lost the use of my large front chain ring. I went from panic to adaptive thinking in a nanosecond. My mind whirring. Scanning for a solution. Troubleshooting. I remembered Rob telling me this happened to him on a training ride. I remembered our mechanic, Mike, telling us that the front chain rings stop working first so I knew I still had access to my rear ones. I just wasn’t sure for how long. I try to find a gear that will let me hold my power at a higher cadence without having to shift too frequently.

And truthfully, I think I prayed. I probably prayed a lot that day — and I’m not sure to whom or to what but I talked to anyone who would listen to my inner thoughts which throughout the day went like this: “Stay calm. You are okay. Be very very kind to yourself.” That was my biggest goal of the day — to not rage an internal war upon myself. To not conjure up and become my critical mother. And I did it. I was successful throughout the entire day. What a gift to celebrate yourself instead of harshly judging yourself. It was freedom tied together in an Ironman bow and my heart felt light and joyful and proud.

For the first time ever I was ready to get off of the bike and run. I decided my shifting had crapped out deliberately to help me feel ready to say goodbye to Enso, my bike. I patted her on her tattoo and thanked her for a job well done. I turned the corner to the run transition and handed her off to the volunteer who took her from me as I raced to my run bag. Scrambling to gather my sneakers and run gear.

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Getting my bike, Enso, ready for IMTX!

“I’m running with you!” I hear my teammate Jay say with a smile as he came up behind me on the run course. Maybe six miles into the 26.2 miles. “No!” I blubbered. “You can’t. You’re so much faster than me. It will hurt your knees. This is your race. You need to go! Don’t wait for me.” “I’m staying all day.” He said clearly and unequivocally.

Jay had come to this race with his own supportive family at his side and now here he was declaring that he was going to run with me. He was a living example of all of the things I was holding in my mind and in my heart to get me to the finish line. With Jay running beside me, I didn’t have to call upon my mental slogans to keep my head clear. I didn’t have to fight the negative thoughts and think about my family and friends to gain strength and courage. I just had to look at him running with me and everything I loved about our triathlon team-community-family and my own precious family and friends was right there for me to draw upon. No effort needed. No need to slay any dragons. I just had to move forward with a light heart and an open mind. And gratitude.

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Our friend and teammate Jonathan coming up behind us to give us a pat on the back! Right as we approached our cheering squad! How cool is that?!

We had the best cheering squad on that race course! As we ran past them and headed out for our last 10 miles, I picked up the pace with Jay’s encouragement. This had been my hope and I was elated that I had it in me to execute it. I grew euphoric as we pulled the miles in. Closer and closer to the finish. We charged ahead as the sky broke open and released us from the suffocating heat. Rain like I’d never seen before blinded our vision. Lightning flashed through the sky and thunder shook the soggy ground beneath our blistered feet. Within seconds we were running with smelly water up to our shins. At some points it felt as if we were barely moving forward because the winds were blowing us backwards. We kept moving. Faster despite the storm. Easily passing people. I was hungry to reel in each mile.

And then we stopped. Dead in our tracks. Hundreds of athletes trapped together on a soaking wet path in the woods. Unable to move forward. Or backwards. Or anywhere. All we could see was water and confused, tired faces. We stood huddled and uncertain of why we weren’t allowed to move and whether we’d ever be set free. We waited 30 minutes. Some people waited longer. Others less. What we didn’t know at the time was that the finish line had been obliterated. They were fixing it and making sure we were safe to move forward. I felt nauseous and dizzy and anxious to be done. Terribly sad that I was stopped when I finally felt like I was moving swiftly. Scared about not being able to move again.

One of the reasons I compete in Ironman triathlons is because it makes life feel more alive. It’s like watching a movie in 3D — you get a little more of it. I know each of us possesses the capacity to have a visceral connection to our life when we do things that deeply matter to us. Things we are passionate about. Things that stretch us and challenge us and leave us face down on the floor exhausted but wanting more. A musician striving to master her piece, an artist trying to fully express himself with his medium, an athlete working to harness her body’s greatest potential. It’s impossible to attain perfection — to capture what our hearts want to convey — because we never quite have the tools to externalize our inner experiences. Our minds often get in the way of our soul’s true expression. But we try anyway and I love that we do. It is in the trying that we experience life in its fullness of possibility.

Ironman lets me palpitate life’s complexity in my body and mind. The isolated training takes me to places I cannot completely describe. Fear. Courage. Joy. Pain. Euphoria. Love. Hate. It’s a complex balance begging me to apply myself constantly while keeping my ego in check. Always. Let’s not forget that in all of our yearning and efforts, we are not bigger than the universe simply because we have set out to do this big, big thing. Everyone does big things all of the time. Things with far more meaning and substance than 140.6 miles powered by your own human strength and will within a 17-hour window. That is nothing when compared to the real-life struggles so many of us face in our day-to-day living. This I know for certain. I do. In fact, the training humbles me. It connects me to others. It reminds me that I am fallible and more importantly, that my shortcomings and frailties are not to be dismissed or disregarded, but honored and respected. They make me human. Touching my high and low points as an athlete makes me less afraid of life and living bravely no matter what is thrown my way.

 

This Is Me. #FacesOfPTSD

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There’s been a movement going on and I’ve been hiding from it. A movement to highlight the many extraordinary faces of PTSD beyond our limited definitions of it. I hide when I’m scared. It’s what I do. I hide and I get stuck and I feel trapped by my own fear until I can’t take it anymore. Until I feel like I am suffocating and my ribs will crack. Or my heart will implode. Then I come out. Sometimes kicking and screaming from sheer desperation. Sometimes crying and timid. Sometimes both.

I’m a little bit of both right now.

I’m navigating so many of my own vulnerabilities these days. I have days when I feel powerful and ready for Ironman Texas. When I can see the woman I truly am and embrace the work I have done to get myself here. I have days when I get incredibly frightened by some seemingly insignificant thing in my daily life — my children not listening to me, my husband asking me a question about why I did what I did, or simply being exhausted — and I’m catapulted into my past. A flashback, triggered by fear. I feel panicked and paralyzed. I believe not only can I not do the race, but I can’t do anything at all. The shame spiral starts spinning and I am once again the worst human being on the face of the planet. I don’t deserve to do anything. I’m a lost cause. I am helpless. What’s the point? — I will always feel this way. I will always be unprotected by my mother. I will always have been sacrificed for her own selfish needs. And anyone who has a mother who abandons them so profoundly must be incapable of anything. Right?

Wrong. It is these old beliefs and fears that leave me hiding from a grassroots movement. Afraid to be seen. To reach out. To connect and break the cycles of abuse which are fueled by silence. Knowing the inner workings of our minds doesn’t ensnare us, it does just the opposite. Embracing ourselves fully and wholly sets us free because only then do we have the awareness to make different choices for ourselves. We empower ourselves by seeing all of ourself with compassion, love and courage.

Dawn Dawn captures this so well in her discussion of PTSD and this campaign on her blog here. Dawn writes:

If “women and PTSD” is searched, one is left believing a female with PTSD is in a constant state of falling apart.That is another misrepresentation. Those who suffer with PTSD usually do so while raising children, working 9 to 5 and/or taking care of necessary day to day tasks. Survivors are professionals at looking “normal” on the outside. People that suspect they may be experiencing PTSD, who go searching for faces and information to identify with need to see images that look like PTSD in the real world – faces of moms, dads, children, teachers, social workers, cashier, nurses, etc. They need to see the real #FacesOfPTSD. Faces that look like mine.

When I was first contacted about #TheFacesofPTSD campaign I was afraid. I thought — I can’t do that. I cannot label myself. I can’t pigeonhole myself. I cannot brand myself by a diagnosis because I will be trapped by that diagnoses forever. It will forever mean that I am a face of PTSD. Period. The end. It will imply that I am stuck because of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

But that’s fear talking. That is the abuse system that was my childhood home. Keeping me afraid to step out. That is, in fact, PTSD rearing its ugly head and stoking the fire. I’ve met many amazing people through my blog who share similar stories. They are the faces of PTSD too. Check them out. Come see them — Here. Here. And Here you can join the event and add your own remarkable face to the page. Checkout my Counter Stool Face Book Page. I’ll be sharing more stories there.

Yes. I have PTSD. Yes, I will always have to navigate the undercurrent-hum; the voices of a sexual abuse system that ran through my childhood home now whirr through my adult mind so many years later. But I am navigating them! I am. I’m not frozen by fear. I battle it head on every single moment. And that is me refusing to be a victim. That is me choosing to not let PTSD call the shots or trauma play the trump card. It’s me owning my life. It doesn’t get better than that.

Taking care of myself can be arduous and tiring. Sometimes, for a moment, I’ll find myself thinking that I really don’t want to bother doing the things I love to do. I get afraid to stick my neck out and claim the things that matter to me because it’s risky and there are repercussions. Or there were when I was a child. But not now. I’m safe now. And I have to tell myself that constantly throughout my day. I am safe. The way I respond to stress — the way I experience this intense push-pull feeling inside of myself — is exhausting. Being brave and being afraid simultaneously. Feeling so stuck and needing to move. I live my life afraid of just about everything. Can you imagine how much effort it takes to live life when you are continually scanning the horizon? But it gets easier. Being self-aware and embracing the challenge instead of turning away from it makes it possible to learn new ways of relating to ourselves.

Some days are harder than others. This week is harder than others. I have to continually support myself and my choice to race. I have to manage my past trauma and terror and try to stay present in the here and now. I had to decide to join this campaign despite the knee-jerk reaction to hide. And … it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday which really is the final straw that might break me. Mother’s Day makes me want to run away and hide in a dark small corner where I will never be found. I really want to shut down. But I’m fighting that urge head on. With lots of tears, too much anger and a whopping dose of compassion. I have to be compassionate towards myself. We all do.

Last year I wrote about Mother’s Day here and if I may say so myself, I was quite eloquent about it. But today, I don’t feel very eloquent. This year, I’m here to tell you that I absolutely hate Mother’s Day and I am holding my breath and myself so tightly just waiting for the wretched day to be over. So I can breathe again. Maybe next year will be different. My guess is that it will be. We’re constantly growing and changing. Thank goodness.

Check out what these amazing women are doing. If I can do it, you can do it. This I know. Take care. Be brave in your living! Much love.

Running Naked

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1999 Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon Pre Race

In 1999 I ran the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage Alaska with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. Before this race, I’d go through spurts of running but they were inconsistent at best and I’d never officially trained for a road race. Knowing I’m wretched at paperwork Rob was hesitant to have me jump on board, “If you don’t do the fundraising, Jess, we’ll have to pay thousands of dollars we don’t have.” “I know,” I said unfazed, waving a hand in the air. “Don’t even worry about it. I’ll do it. I promise.” But he worried. And rightfully so; I’ll admit it — the hardest part was the paperwork.

For some reason I got it in my head that I was fast. I’d start with a group and often the pace was too slow. I’d hang for as long as I could and then finally I’d just need to go. Run free at my own pace with my heart thumping and my legs moving. I’d talk to myself when I was out there on the roads. The coxswain in me chanting things I’d said to my college crew. I’d remind myself not to go out too hard. To stay steady and solid and to “wait for it.” The “it” being the turnaround point.

I never knew how far I ran. I just showed up with some sneakers, my crappy little Timex watch and myself. Just me. I’d hit the start button and turn around at the halfway point and head back. I only knew the time and my self-imposed goal heading back was to cover the same ground faster. I’d wait like a racehorse stomping at the gate, eager and ready. And scared too. I was always afraid I wouldn’t meet my goal. Funny thing is, I always did but that fact didn’t quiet my fear. I had to run by sheer guts and will. Determination and a fine-tuned sense of my body and myself. With no pace or mile markers, I had to trust that I knew my body well enough to know how hard it was or wasn’t working.

Quickly my casual running turned into an ambitious goal. I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t certain of my pace, my ability or whether I was just a delusional woman with a lofty goal. It didn’t matter. Qualifying became my focus and whenever I wavered I thought of the team I was representing, my friend’s dad who I was running in honor of and how much endurance and courage he embodied every single day. I would dig deeper and it felt good to challenge myself in this new and unexpected way.

Running on trails and roads engulfed by the Santa Monica mountains or by the vast Pacific Ocean reminded me of my own smallness and how big the world is. I felt the most connected to people when I was running. Being tuned in to myself connected me to everything and everyone and I felt strength and frailty intertwining with each step. I cannot describe it eloquently enough with words. It’s something I felt in my soul. I think I felt joy in being free.

Fast forward to 2005. Two children later. Transplanted to New York — closer to my family of origin, leaving my friends, my support system and the identity I had carved for myself miles and miles away. I forgot who I was. Who was that woman who used to run? Who ran on the roads and trails of Alaska? Who had a goal and met it? I trained. I raised the money. I qualified for Boston and ran it in 2000. Did that woman even exist? Rob had helped put a scrapbook together for me after the race. It was now tucked away in a cabinet under the window seat. Gone to me. Forgotten.

I got outside every day. Pushing Zoe and Brayden in our double jogger while walking our dogs on the dirt trails near our home. Rain, snow, cold, heat — it didn’t matter. We went out every day moving our bodies and connecting to nature. Somedays it would take longer for us to get out of the house than it would take us to complete our excursion. When Brayden was big enough to be jostled around I started to run again while pushing the jogger, but everything hurt. I hurt. My hamstrings hurt and I was slow. Really, really slow. I don’t like being slow.

Elias was born in 2008 and I’d wear him on my body in a carrier and push the double jogger. I was carrying and pushing more than my own body weight. Bent at the waist with no solid core to support me. My hamstrings pulled tighter and I began to believe I was broken. “I cannot run anymore.” I’d say to Rob after my solo attempts. “I’m just so slow. I’m injured. I’m hurt. I don’t understand. What’s wrong with me?”

Trying to run with aches and pains brought me back to the water. Rob surprised me one Christmas with a membership to our local gym. I remember feeling conflicted when I opened it. A tiny burbling of excitement quickly overshadowed by fear. I was scared; it felt more like pressure than a gift. “What if I can’t do it?” I asked. Searching his face with tears clouding my vision. He silently looked into my eyes for a long time. I was holding my breath. I remember sitting on the floor by our Christmas tree with the kids crawling around the presents, getting eerily still as if we were all frozen in time until Rob spoke with conviction, “You can.” And I let go of my breath. I cried. Reconnecting to myself wasn’t something I was sure I knew how to do. I had become afraid of my own body and didn’t trust it anymore.

I went anyway. I went to the pool right away — before the New Year — not wanting to wait for any resolutions or promises which could grow into disappointments. Reluctant and terrified, I went. I began to swim again. Slowly. So much time had passed since I had last swam laps in a pool. I didn’t have a proper swim suit so I wore my maturity suit which hung on my soft body. I didn’t have a swim cap so I used one of Zoe’s fabric caps from her swim lessons. I didn’t have goggles so I used the kids sand-scraped goggles from summer. Everything leaked. Everything sagged. I sagged. But I also moved. I told myself if I stuck with it I’d get a new suit and the things I needed to go with it. I showed up three mornings a week. After nursing Elias back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning and before everyone woke up, I’d go and reconnect with my long lost body. My broken body. Averting my eyes from the mirror as I walked to the pool.

Within a month at most I was signing up for my first triathlon. Rob asked in his most supportive non-critical way, “Maybe you want to take it slow for a little while?” No. Nope. I didn’t want to go slow. No. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t really run (because I was broken) I was going to do it anyway. And no, don’t worry about the fact that I didn’t really know how to ride a bike either. “Yes, Rob, I remember that every time we ride bikes together I have a tantrum because I hate it so much. It’s okay. I’m going to love it. I just need a new bike!” “Hmmm … a new bike? You have a bike and you never ride it. Why don’t we give that a try and see how it goes.”

Rob encouraged me to go for a ride outside with him — not on the spin bikes I’d recently come to love. He pulled out my old Univega from 1986 and made me ride with him. It was the most horrible ride ever. I think it took us 3 hours to go 20 miles. The gearing didn’t work, we got caught in a torrential rain and lightening storm and froze our butts off hunkered under a tree. I thought I was going to die. The last mile uphill my chain broke and I had to carry my bike up the monster mother of a hill to our house while twinkle-toes Rob cruised around me with the ease of a seasoned rider. But I didn’t cry. I really wanted a new bike so there was no crying. “Why not use the mountain bike then?” Rob asked as I ditched the Univega on the front lawn and proceeded to make a sign that hollered, “FREE!” “Nope. It’s too big for me. I need a new bike!” We got two new road bikes. One for him and one for me. And I learned how to ride a bike. I’d like to say without crying but I’d be lying.

Here I am today, having recently purchased my third new bike. I’m getting ready to race my 5th Ironman —  Ironman Texas is 15 days away. Writing this is me psyching myself up to race. It is me, for the first time ever, embracing that I am racing. I am afraid but I am also ready. I am both. I have never said that before. I have also just come to see that I am, in fact, not broken. Nope. All these miles and all of this time has passed since 2005 when I decided I couldn’t run. That became my storyline. I was scared of my own body and it was drowning in repressed childhood sexual abuse. I was afraid of my body disappointing me or of it getting more injured. I worried about my body being too slow or too broken to carry myself by foot. To run. I had become a confident cyclist (even with the tears) and rekindled my love for the water but I was afraid to run. My fancy watch became my compass. I looked to it obsessively to prove — or to assure myself — that I couldn’t run. To affirm my brokeness and to bind myself to my storyline that I could not run free.

So I took off the watch. A good friend told me to do it in September after I raced the Pumpkinman Triathlon but I couldn’t part with the numbers. The same numbers that tormented me and came close to making me sabotage my own race because I balked at my own intuition and looked instead to the numbers. I tried running without it a few times but I desperately needed it to measure me. Two weeks ago at training camp one of our coaches said it again, “Just cover it up. Just run. Don’t look at it.” I didn’t think I could run without it. My watch told me my truth — that I believed this is so remarkably ironic because it goes against everything I’ve been writing about. My watch doesn’t really tell me anything. It simply squelched my own intuition and inner knowing. It disconnected me from myself. I was using it to hold myself back by believing it knew me. But only I know myself. Just me. I simply allowed it to support my old belief systems. I was clinging to those old beliefs.

I finally got my brave on and I just leaped. Cutting myself free from some warped idea I had of myself. And you know what I’ve discovered? I can run. I’ve always known how to run. I didn’t forget how to run — I just told myself that I couldn’t and I was more comfortable believing that than not believing. I am reminded repeatedly that old habits die hard, but that doesn’t mean we let them win. It means we have to keep doing our work because we believe we are worth it.

Running naked — without my watch, without the metrics, without the numbers and its chirps — takes me outside of myself and brings me inside of myself all at once. It’s connecting and letting go simultaneously. It’s seeing the huge mountains and the vast ocean and remembering that with each breath I am part of that big huge expanse. I’m not alone. None of us are. We are connected to everything. We can’t measure that. We have to feel it. We have to trust ourselves intuitively and then just run. Naked. Without the storylines we subscribe to.

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Just  a few snacks after the finish!

Life Magnified

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I’m curious about the dude who invented magnifying mirrors. Really. Why were they invented? What purpose were they meant to serve? Okay, don’t answer that. I don’t really want to know; I’m sure there are a zillion excellent uses for magnifying mirrors. But in my small world, my round orange sized suction-cupped-back magnifying mirror is used for me to look at my face. Up close and large.

Maybe too large and too close? I mean really, do I need to magnify my eyebrows to the size of an elephant to pluck the errant hairs? Does anyone even see the little black sprouts zinging out in different directions? And if they do, well, what in the heck is their problem? If I see someone with untamed eyebrows I usually like them more. I nod a bit in my mind and think, “Yep. This lady has a busy life and she’ll tend to those suckers when she’s got some time. Or not.” But I like her more for her crazy brows and I often let my guard down a little. Thinking, “I want to get to know her better. I want to know who she is in the world that makes her too busy to tweeze.”

I’ve gone through periods of wonderfully tended eyebrows to times when they are terribly unruly. Lately I think I’m more of the latter. And, as I’m aging, for some unknown reason, the hairs seem to be getting longer? I think I dislike their length more than their relentlessly rapid growth. But the kicker is the one white eyebrow hair at the crest of my right eyebrow that dares to pop up every few weeks. It’s soft and thin and hard to find without my mirror because it is so unlike my other eyebrow hairs. Whether I’m at the apex of my eyebrow grooming or at the bottom of the barrel, I always keep an eye out for that baby. It represents the parts of myself that I don’t want to see.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of peeling back the onion layers of our lives. Taking a peek. Poking around and examining who we are beneath the surface. That’s where the richness of our wanting and longing and hope rests. The parts we are often too afraid to see. Sometimes it’s easier to sit still — motionless in the dark — than to see it all. I have touched this lately and it’s a scary place to be.

The closer we get to something the more frightening it can be. I don’t like seeing my face up close because it reminds me that I’m getting older. I can’t avoid it. There are things about this living thing I’m doing that I simply can’t control. Which truthfully is just about everything. I don’t need to look into that mirror to know my time here is limited. I wear that truth whether I want to or not. We all do.

I went to Texas last Thursday through Sunday to train with some of my teammates and coaches for Ironman Texas. I’ve been training in my own small space for months and months and this was the time to step out and give everything a huge test run. One month before race day. I was excited and afraid. Happy to be able to do this for myself and sad to leave my family. Grateful for the opportunity and scared I wasn’t ready for the magnitude of it all. Do we ever feel ready? 

When I headed home on Sunday I was a little weepy from choking back fear. I had gotten a glimpse of what was to come. A close up view of what waits ahead in 25 days. Whether I went to training camp or not, Ironman Texas will be there waiting for me on May 14, 2016. All 140.6 miles of it. I know this. In fact, I chose this. And even with that knowing, I am afraid and I’m finding that I want to slow down time. But I can’t.

Time will not stop for me. Life will not wait for us. Everything just keeps moving forward. We move forward whether we want to or not. Whether we embrace it or not. We keep moving. I have to choose to move forward with life instead of hunkering frozen in the shadows of my fear watching life passing by. I have to bravely hold my fear in my hands. Feeling the weight of it on my chest while embracing my heart’s steady beating as I force my fear-clenched lungs to breathe. Just breathe. And then do it again. I’m terrified. I am. But I have to work with that because this is living. Being afraid but showing up anyway. This is the big picture. It is.