Tri-Umphant Living

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.


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.


11 replies »

  1. I just want to give you a high five right now for not letting her manipulate you or deflate you!

    I get foggy and sometimes even paralyzed around anniversaries or even gatherings I’d rather not participate in. It can be hard for me to recognize what’s happening but once I do, I can move through it. Now that I think about it, I’ve been having a breakdown every July for as long as I can remember. I’m having a mini aha moment. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And I’m giving you a high five in your aha moment right now too. Yay us! Paralysis is the perfect word, Karen. I couldn’t find the right word to describe it but that’s exactly it. I know something is coming and yet I do nothing to prepare for it. I wait and wait and wait. I always felt bad about it but I’m going to reframe it and just understand why. XO

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have been thinking of you. I wanted to say so much more but didn’t know what.
        The woman who gave birth to you does not treasure or cherish the gifts she bore. Yet without the mothering you so deserve, you somehow gave it to your children. They grow whole, knowing they are special and loved, and growing into all that they can be and are meant to be. You did that! You are doing that, as tiring as it is sometimes.
        That is phenomenal.
        You are an energetic athlete in every way, and especially with the job of mothering, protecting and nurturing little souls as they grow.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m bragging about you to my husband, that I happen to be lucky enough to know a woman who does Iron Mans. Wow, off to Lake Placid… (I said you were a dynamo power ball. I forgot to mention the big heart that goes along with such a powerful woman!)
    I’ll be thinking of you…

    Liked by 1 person

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