Like so many stories, this one is in progress. It is a story of how the loss of expectations brought me to the greatest realization …. I alone can stand strong because I am strong.
My parents divorced when I was 16…but this is not a story about a broken home and a damaged childhood. In fact, my parent divorce was pretty amicable at the time. Looking back, it was life changing, but not in the way you would think.
From my parent’s divorce, I decided (at 16 mind you), that I would NEVER get divorced. When I got married, that was going to be it…through thick or thin we are in this thing together. Within five years, my first marriage began to fall apart. Months of disappearing overnight (I later found out he was cheating) ended in a simple sentence, “I think we need some time apart.” I fell to my knees, unable to walk on my own. We were in the middle of renovating a 1900’s farmhouse, our cat had just died in our arms on our bathroom floor; how could this be happening? That was the spring of 2000. I spent my weekends at Blockbuster renting movies, sleeping on the couch all day. Work was my solace because it gave me a focus and a reason to get out of bed. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I stopped eating, refused to take medication and continued the cycle of sleep and work for weeks.
Then, in the summer, something changed. I had recently started going to the gym simply as a reason to leave the house. I had lost 25 pounds from not eating (NOTE: I do NOT recommend this AT ALL), but now I was starting to see muscle definition. Others started to notice the change in me physically and mentally. My negative cycle of sleeping and work was being replaced by a cycle of normal sleep, work, working out and using food as fuel to maximize those workouts, which then was rewarded with comments from friends and strangers, “You look amazing! What are you doing?” The physical act of working out every day allowed me to work through my pain, quieted my mind and reassured by self esteem. I was hooked! My therapist was amazed at my mindset, but cautioned me, “Exercise addiction can be just as detrimental as any other addiction.”
A few days before September 11, my ex husband came home. We began working through the issues in our marriage. In 2002, we moved to Florida so he could train to be an airline pilot. Our daughter, Lindsay, was born in July 2003. My workouts stayed intense. I still wasn’t over the separation but wanted to do what was best for my daughter and live up to my expectation that I would never get divorced. Exercise became my addiction. Work stress – go to the gym. Nervous about baby weight – do laps in the pool. Thoughts of my ex cheating on me again – paddle my kayak for a few hours. Working out became MY thing. And, those reinforcing comments continued coming, “WOW! There is no way that you just had a baby! You look amazing!”
Flash forward and my ex and I separated again when our daughter was six months old and were divorced when she was three. My expectation of never getting divorced was shattered. I failed. Not only did I fail, but I failed this precious little human that I created and loved so deeply. Lindsay was my angel – I didn’t know it, yet, but she was what saved me.
The failure of my personal expectation and the need to do what was right by my daughter led me to reevaluate. It wasn’t about me any more. It was about me and my daughter, and I was determined to show her that a woman could be strong no matter what life throws at her – physically and mentally. Balance was critical. I was no longer willing to go to the gym for two hours and leave her behind, but I knew I still needed the physical exertion to keep my mind in check. I took her to the park and ran and climbed jungle gyms, we went to the beach and played in the surf, I bought workout videos that I could do at home while she napped – my exercise therapy changed because the focus was no longer solely on me. I was now a role model and example for positive behaviors for this little girl.
Flash forward again 13 years. I am remarried, have three stepkids and Lindsay is now looking at colleges. My exercise therapy that started so many years ago continues to evolve and change. Now I rely on YouTube (FitnessBlender and Fightmaster Yoga are my current go-to’s). At 48, explosive kickboxing no longer feels great, but a good strength building session after a quick Tabata workout is EVERYTHING! I am strong – mentally and physically. My expectation for that perfect size 0 has been replaced by being able to fit in my jeans every day. My mental health has improved. When the alarm goes off at 5AM, I tell myself, “You’ll feel so much better in 40 minutes.” I say, “improved” because sometimes the alarm goes off and I tell myself, “Get up or you’ll get fat,” but that’s a whole other set of expectations that I am still working on.
Daily exercise has done more for me that just made me look at feel good. I have gained self confidence and self conviction. And, that gain is an expectation I will take with me to my grave.