Free Yourself



‘Tis the season in which we get bombarded with messaging and marketing about becoming our best selves. Some of the messages we see are direct: Lose weight, be happy! Some of the messages are more coded: It’s finally time to make yourself a priority! At the end of the day, though, both avenues to your fragile post-holiday brain are focused on selling you the idea that this is going to be the year to get shiny and in shape. Maybe it’s even the year to get in control of your life, after a year spent in the throes of a pandemic and a version of the unknown none of us could have predicted.


I’ve been in the fitness industry for over two decades and I can tell you that those ideas are not worth pursuing, not now and not ever. I can also predict that this year will be a very lucrative year for wellness companies, as every single person I know—including myself—wants to be shiny and in control of their life in 2021. This may be the year that even the skeptical among us take the bait and hyperfocus on a diet, a new trendy fitness program, a juice cleanse, or an expensive vitamin regimen.

When I dial back this urge, even in myself, I discover that underneath it all is a simple desire to be healthy or, to be more fancy about that word, it is a simple desire to be in a state of congruency with my insides and my outsides. If I want to be shiny and in shape, the truth is that I want the simple state of good enough health. I want good enough digestion, good enough sleep, stable blood sugar, lack of illness, good enough mental health, and good enough connection with other humans. The hard fact, though, is that none of us have had Good Enough of any of that this year. And that is what makes us so vulnerable. Our standard of self care has slipped to extremely low levels out of a duty to make all the impossible things work. And we all want to reverse this quickly, don’t we? And we all believe that with a little bit of elbow grease and will power, we can change the course of our lives.


The reality is that this is not the case. No one could have done this year better. No one could have resisted the urge of the sweat pants, I promise. We’ve all just stayed above water and this is not the time to wish we had looked more graceful while flailing. Instead, what if it is the year to re-anchor ourselves to the basics of good enough health and surrender the outcomes of what that might look like for each of us?


For me, personally, this means that I am going to take stock of what Good Enough Health means and I am going to claim it without taking the bait which hooks me into the idea that I need to diet, tone up, or buy tons of skincare products. And I’ll admit there will be some grief in this process. I want to believe forcing myself into a container where sweaty, toned, smiling, tanned humans live will scratch the itch I feel. I want to believe that I can pummel myself into superhero behavior, which would mean that the difficulties of last year were my fault, which is oddly comforting. I don’t want to face the underbelly that we, as tender humans, are tasked with living in unpredictability every single day. And I don’t want to face that reality because then it means that it could happen again and it also means that my job is to find joy/health/peace/security even when it does.


Ugh. Right?


So, what is the way forward then? I have chosen to greet this grief by freeing myself instead. If New Year’s is all about control and containers and cleaning up and betterment, I am going to opt out of that and instead choose to let myself find freedom in a new version of wellbeing. I mean, let’s face it. Doing it the other way has never ever worked for any person I have ever met. At least not sustainably. And worse yet, if we really dig into that, we’d discover that doing it the other way has actually caused more harm than good.


Here’s my hypothesis for this New Version of New Year’s: If I opt-out of containment and opt-in to freedom in certain areas, I will then measure my health on qualifications that equal congruency with my true self. And at the end of the day, when I’m old and I’ve earned my wrinkles, I’ll look back at 2021 and be proud of the choice I made. This takes courage. This takes letting go of the golden carrots that dazzle us with idle promises. This takes watching other people chase those carrots and not joining them. This takes believing in ourselves and in the long game. This takes surrendering our expectations and accepting where we are, right now. This takes all the icky yucky things we want to avoid right now because, holy crap, we want comfort and solutions.


But, stay in the muck with me. Focus on freedom. We will be tackling it all month in our January Challenge in the following weekly breakdowns, each one guided by a different expert:


Free Your Brain


Free Your Resolutions


Free Your Time


Free Your Body


It takes courage to believe this could work and it takes a teensy bit of messy, imperfect willingness to give it a shot. I will be here with you, each step of the way.


SIGN UP TODAY  

Oh, and invite a friend … see the link below the sign up button that lets you gift a month.

Snails & Joy

 

As I watched a “pandemic-purchased” snail slurp its way up the side of our fish tank last night, I realized it was the first time in a while that I had had sustained attention on something without thinking once about work, or chaos, or my phone, or dinner, or dishes, or all the things. Instead, I was just 100% involved in trying to figure out what is what on the creature’s anatomy. Is that his/her mouth? Wait, are those the eyes? But, what is that part? And then I just got lost in watching this velvety, amorphous living thing and started imagining its tiny heart and its tiny brain and wait does it have a heart? I don’t know.


According to Google, it does. And not only that, once you discover snail anatomy, you will be where I was that night by the side of the tank: Utterly in awe. So tiny. So slippery. So fragile. So protected. So much purpose. So not dependent on wifi and gadgets. Hahaha. I walked away from the tank and took a deep breath. I felt calm and inspired, the combination of which made me feel a tinge of sleep-deprived joy. I need more snail watching in my life, I thought.


The truth is that I’ve come so far away from snail watching or anything idle. Sure, there’s a lot to be done in work and in life. But, how long did that really take me to stop and contemplate snail anatomy? Answer: Like 2 minutes. That is doable, it’s just that I have absolutely wrecked my brain and my attention span, which also means that my tolerance for dopamine surges is now at an unmanageable level. And I know I’m not alone. I watch my kids and my friends and even strangers. We are a restless bunch right now, yeah?


I know about restlessness. I am a person with a substance abuse disorder. That means that when I use something—anything—that changes the way I feel, my brain and my body say MORE. And, yes, there is a chemical component to this. But, for me—and this is solely my experience—there is also a spiritual component. I never knew that using any sort of substance was my misdirected way of trying to feel what I felt while watching snails that night: Connection. Connection to the mystery of life, which is also connection to the warm, outer space-like, expansive, possible, inspiring thing we all feel in our tender human moments.


I was told early in my recovery that connection is the opposite of addiction. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I do. Now I get that even in the darkest of my days when my shadow was running the show, I was chasing joy then too. I was trying to hold and contain the surge of the Feel Good, the tether to the pulse of something-anything-yes-that, and the release from pain and heartbreak. I’ll admit that there is ton more to addiction than this one component, from trauma to mental illness to genetics to environment, but this one part feels important to me right now, this December.


Why? Because I’m tired. I’m a slashed tire. I’m running out of air. We all are. I want to feel something that I know—as a person in recovery—takes work. It’s not a drink away like it used to be. It’s a long, still look at a snail slurping its way up the side of a fish tank. It’s a stopping of a wheel that is spinning so fast towards burnout and depletion and then a spinning back in the opposite direction towards health. I know how to do this. And I’m here for it. But it takes work. Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s just a spa day away. I mean, that might be a good supporting tool, but it’s just not the full scoop.


So, this is what December is going to be about for me: Connection. Doing the hard work of resisting the “attention economy” during a month that begs for me to indulge in it. Doing the hard work of being still. Doing the hard work of taking a breath. Doing the hard work of feeling actual feelings. Doing the hard work of listening to myself and even my shadow self. Doing the hard work of just listening to my kids and lending them some modeling of a different way to deal with restlessness. Doing the things that bring earned joy.


I don’t feel like doing it alone and, thankfully, this month, I get to be a student too. One of our own members, Viki Kelly-Quirk , will be guiding us through a structured swim in the lake? river? pond? of Connection. Here’s the outline:

Week 1 (Dec 7-Dec 13) Theme: What is connection?

Dig a little deeper into what connection is beyond just the obvious. Try not to get too “out there” and provide evidence-based research into the science of connection, etc.

Week 2 (Dec 14-Dec 20) Theme: Self-awareness

How do we know physically and emotionally that we are connected? How do we know we are not?

Week 3 (Dec 21-Dec 27) Theme: Inconvenient Connecting

How do we stay connected even when it is inconvenient, even when it would feel better to check out … like, say, for instance, during the holidaysssssssss?

Week 4 (Dec 28-Dec 31) Theme: Connecting for the Long Haul

How do we create a feasible, sustainable relationship to connecting? Instead of this becoming a resolution or a goal, how does this become a life style and a non-negotiable? What is the benefit?

Come hang with me. And the snails. The challenge started today and you’ve got a few more hours to register! Click the “Challenges” link in the navigation menu once logged in at mommastrong.com, and make sure you are signed up. If you need help or are unsure of your registration status, email us at help@mommastrong.com.

I Believe You

From age 7 to 13, I lived with a daily dose of duty to rituals that I believed would secure my safety in this weird world.  For instance, I had to count to 8 every time I turned a faucet on and off and if I messed up just a little bit, then I’d have to repeat that set again in multiples of 8, sometimes getting up to 64 and even 160.  This happened with more than faucets.  Cracks in my floor boards, stairs, doors, rolling my ankles, all of it.  I believed in my bones that if I didn’t perform these things in perfect multiples of 8 that I would die in my sleep.  Like, die croak dead … in my sleep … at age 7.

And, yes, I know I am describing clinical obsessive compulsive disorder and, yes, I was officially diagnosed with it decades later.  The point of this post is not about mental illness, although I do hope to always and forever reduce the stigma around trauma, mental health, and getting professional help.

The point of this post is that I wish I could go back to that tiny 7 year old girl, put my hand heavy on her racing heart, hold her close and say, “I believe you.”

No one believed me as a kid, but that’s not because anyone was doing anything wrong.  My parents responded to me the way most of us would lovingly respond:  “It’s ok, Courts.  Stop worrying.”  They didn’t know that I would lie in bed at night, obsessing for hours over how easy it would be for my body to just stop breathing.  How could I trust that this necessary act would continue without my help while I slept?  I would then ruminate about cancer and strokes and brain tumors and so many other diseases.  Thank god Google and WebMD weren’t yet a thing in the 80s.  I had a working disaster search feature in my brain as it was.

How could they know that what I needed was to be believed?  Can you imagine sitting down with your tiny panic stricken child and saying “I believe you”?  No way.  We want to stop the panic.  We want to wrap our little people in giant bubbles and take a huge eraser to their fears and just smudge smudge smudge them away.

The problem, for me, was that the erasing only intensified the need for the rituals. The more I was asked to not worry, the more the fears roared.  The more the fears roared, the more demanding the rituals would get, begging me to find yet another better way to find safety.  That intensity brought shame and embarrassment.  I would think, I’m such a worrywart.  My worries are too much.  Why isn’t anyone else thinking like this?  What is wrong with me?  And then, boom.  I’d be lost in a solitary panic, held hostage by multiples of 8 and fictional stories made real. 

In an odd twist and in no reflection of my current belief system today, the thing that resolved my rituals was a trip to Ocean City, MD with my best friend’s Episcopalian youth group at age 13.  I distinctly remember wondering how I would survive staying in a room with a bunch of other kids, unable to perform the rituals.  And as a result, the fears would whisper to me early in the morning before sunrise and force me to wake up and find my way to the bathroom and to the multiples of 8. 

Finally, on the last night of the trip, I sat with my friend and all of her friends and the pastor asked us to bow our heads and pray.  Coming from an agnostic family, I had considered all forms of head bowing and praying to be silly.  But, for some reason, that evening, I was so tired that I did it.  And then I heard the pastor say, “Aren’t you so exhausted?  Are you so tired of trying to control it all?  What would happen if you just let it all go?”

I don’t remember clearly what happened after that, but I do distinctly remember crying and crying and cryinggggggggg that night.  I wanted to yell back to the pastor, YES I AM SO TIRED HOW DID YOU KNOW?  And, shockingly, after returning home from that trip, I stopped performing the rituals within two weeks.  I’d feel the taunting of the fears, the impulse to do the dance for them, and then I’d just walk away instead of saying Yes.  I didn’t have words for it or a need to explain it, I just know that I started actually living after that.  Like I had been living under a suffocating blanket for my whole life and just suddenly was on top of it. 

I know that that is a lot to say in a blog post and I know many people will walk away with differing ideas of what happened to me.  I will say, first and foremost, that I wasn’t magically healed that day.  I still suffer from clinical OCD, although it presents differently for me today.  I still require oodles of specialized therapy and treatment, in fact nothing has been more important for me in my life than professional help.  I think it is dangerous to ever present the idea that mental illness can be cured or that a person can be divinely saved.  So, my tendency is to dip into the science of what happened, while also holding hands with the mysterious aspects of being human that I’ll never be able to fully understand.  And, so, what I’ve come to understand is that what occurred for me on that trip is that I surrendered to the idea that I – a human with limited power – simply couldn’t control “it” … my body, the world, catastrophe, disease, disaster, none of it.  And the exposure to the refusal of the rituals and the fact that that refusal didn’t kill me, THAT was freedom.  It was as if, instead of erasing the fears or repressing them, I had – that night and thereafter – asked them to crawl out of the shadows and join me.  I even used to picture myself sitting at a tiny table, having a tea party and just letting them talk to me without a reaction other than, “There there, I hear you.”    

I can see now that the fear of the fears was the toxic part, not the fears.  In fact, the point of this post is actually to suggest that not only were my fears not toxic, they were friendly messengers with an intense need for connection and a tendency towards tantrums.  They were the primal, unformed parts of myself that were simply begging me to listen.  They didn’t want to be erased.  They wanted to be believed.  They wanted me to say, “I believe you.”  And then they wanted me to get back to living.  They wanted me to be powerful and to be connected to The Things That Matter, so that they could simply exist and be a part of the family of me.

The reason I am discussing this rather personal (hello vulnerability hangover on its way) experience is that I think we – as a society – have done the same thing with pain as we have done with fear.  We have spent a lifetime trying to erase it or avoid it.  We have spent hours awake thinking that the pain we feel might actually destroy us.  We have spent money and resources on our own versions of health and fitness related “multiples of 8”, all the while believing this will be the way to be immortal and superhero-ic. 

And it is exhausting.  When pain gets avoided, it gets louder.  It doesn’t go away.  It just gets louder and it finds new ways to get your attention.  But, its intentions are not bad.  It just wants to exist, to be a part of your body, to be listened to.  It wants to be believed.  And if it is believed, just like my fears, it usually doesn’t have to get as loud. 

I know that the way I am explaining this makes it sound like believing pain (or fear) is an easy choice.  And so I will buffer this and say that it is not easy.  It is the opposite of easy.  It takes courage on top of courage.  It is quite possible that our pain will send us messages that will change our entire life.  Slow down, it might say.  Stand tall, it might beg.  Get help, it might whisper.  Wake up early and move your body, it almost always says. 

Is it worth it?  Yes.  Because freedom is on the other side.  And what I mean by freedom is trust.  The freedom I felt after letting go was because I unknowingly decided to trust something other than myself.  And when it comes to pain, the freedom that can come from listening to it involves the reality that you will trust your body and it will trust you.  Yes.  It will trust YOU. 

This matters.  Aren’t you exhausted?  Are you tired?  I know you are.  Let’s dig in together and give pain room to play with us instead of haunt at us. 

Join me this September, this month where you think your life will make sense suddenly but then NO it does not make sense still, and learn about the friend that your pain truly is.  We will show up together for 5-15 minutes of exercise on your terms.  And we’ll be guided by our own brilliant PT Advisor, Stephanie Dillon, who will be providing bonus content every day on the science and the function of pain. 

Click here to join, whether you are a new member or a current member.  For new members, it’s only a $5 risk, which I think is way worth it because you are way worth it.  Starts Monday, Sept. 7th. 

Golden Thread

I want to go back to the beginning of time and restitch the past.  Bolster it with reverence for nature and patience for each other.  Remind it that nothing else will matter but health and peace.  Tell it to stay close to the basics of Truth, against all odds.   Take its leash off and tell it to run wild barefooted through the mud.

 

Sigh.

 

It is hard to be a human these days.  If you are like me – even if you are an optimist – you’ve had moments recently where you are like, this may not be ok.  Things may in fact be doomed.  And, so, I am here today to remind myself that IN SPITE OF IT ALL we are still here, doing “it”.  We are waking up and trying again, day after day.  We overcome the whispers of despair and insecurity and we get our butts up and in imperfect action IN SPITE OF IT ALL.  We forget this fact, I mean at least I know I do.  And when I ask myself why I forget, I feel my whole body sigh and say, “Because you are tired.”  I feel my heart say, “Because you feel helpless.”  I feel my mind say, “Because you don’t know where to start.”

 

If I have learned anything in this weird life so far it is that these three choruses can either haunt me or propel me.  I can run in circles and stay distracted or I can put blinders on and do what I can.  I keep recalling all that I have learned from teachers like Pema Chodron, who explain that life is not an unfair deluge of destructive chaos but rather an expected vehicle of endurable and informative suffering.  I can either get mad every time it pulls up or I can say, oh hi, I was waiting for you.

This is why I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can rally to be that person who sees the Suffering and says, oh hi, I was waiting for you.  And maybe – just maybe – I can rally to be the sort of person who sees that this Life vehicle has got a busted tired, an empty gas tank, and a bunch of unhinged toddlers inside and maybe – just maybe – I’d lean in the window and give some clear directions for the nearest mechanic.  Go get yourself fixed, I’d say.  And no, I won’t give you a ride.

My therapist would be proud of that last sentence.  Just FYI.

The point here is that there are ways that I can ready myself for all of This.  There are ways we can all ready ourselves.  Together.  We really can.  I believe in you and I know that you are on fumes, but fumes aren’t meaningless.  Fumes might look like the end of things, but what if fumes are the presence of possibility?  What if they are the part of us that only needs support and cheerleading and little bit of replenishment in order to get back into gear?

 

It’s our time to bolster ourselves and stitch ourselves back together.  There is still time.  It is not too late.  Not for you.  Not for this world.  Not for our children.  It is not too late.

 

Now, with all of that said and that peppy attitude infused into these words, I’m also aware that I need to be cautious.  I have burned myself out before.  I’ve summoned the warrior in me only to then be wrecked by heartbreak, physical illness, and/or circumstance.  We’re all at the end of our ropes when it comes to disappointment and disillusionment.  So, while we rally, we also have to be vigilant and protect our well being. 

 

I have been considering what that sort of vigilance means and it often brings me back into a familiar landscape of good girl to-dos:  Earlier bedtimes, green smoothies, baths, and rest.  And while I’m not knocking any of those things, I can’t help but wonder if that version of self-care is just surface level protection.  It’s valuable, but is it going to hold us together in the months ahead?  I don’t know, but my dissenting personal opinion is that No.  It will not.  Not entirely.

 

What will hold me together, then?  The answer is clear, for me:  My center, my “golden thread”.  It is the thing inside of me that speaks so simply and gives me a lifeline in the middle of the darkness.  Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, first taught me about the golden thread and its symbolic presence in mythology and literature throughout the ages.  She taught me that it is gold and glittery and always True.  She explained that it won’t hang on to me, I have to choose to hang on to it.  And I have to keep coming back to it when I’ve let go.  It will always be there. 

 

My golden thread will get me through.  Yours will too.  This month, here in MommaStrong, I will be dedicating myself to the strength I need to hang on to my golden thread while I flail my way into the months ahead.  And I will honor that personal adventure with a more public one here, in reiterating and magnifying the golden thread of MommaStrong.  It is a beautiful thread, full of a bunch of well-formed knots, which I grasp in my hand every single day that I opt-in for my functional strength here, with you. 

 

And, so, this October, we will go through ALL of the basics here in MommaStrong, from brace blink rocket to frontals back to mid backs to glutes to underwhelming goals to accountability to winning ugly to beginning again to enoughism.  You will walk away knowing, very clearly, what MommaStrong’s golden thread is and how to hang on to it.  My hope is that it will help guide you towards defining your own.

 

Join us.  Get yourself ready.  Invite your people too, help them get ready (pssst … you can gift them the challenge).  Your strength matters more than ever now and your function is what will be tested.  Starts Monday, October 5th.  Click here to register for the October Flailing into Fall Challenge, either as a current member or a new member.   

 

PS:  It is never too late.  

Free Yourself

‘Tis the season in which we get bombarded with messaging and marketing about becoming our best selves. Some of the messages we see are direct: Lose weight, be happy! Some of the messages are more coded: It’s finally time to make yourself a priority! At the end of the day, though, both avenues to your fragile post-holiday brain are focused on selling you the idea that this is going to be the year to get shiny and in shape. Maybe it’s even the year to get in control of your life, after a year spent in the throes of a pandemic and a version of the unknown none of us could have predicted. I’ve been in the fitness industry for over two decades and I can tell you that those ideas are not worth pursuing, not now and not ever. I can also predict that this year will be a very lucrative year for wellness companies, as every single person I know—including myself—wants to be shiny and in control of their life in 2021. This may be the year that even the skeptical among us take the bait and hyperfocus on a diet, a new trendy fitness program, a juice

Continue Reading »

Snails & Joy

  As I watched a “pandemic-purchased” snail slurp its way up the side of our fish tank last night, I realized it was the first time in a while that I had had sustained attention on something without thinking once about work, or chaos, or my phone, or dinner, or dishes, or all the things. Instead, I was just 100% involved in trying to figure out what is what on the creature’s anatomy. Is that his/her mouth? Wait, are those the eyes? But, what is that part? And then I just got lost in watching this velvety, amorphous living thing and started imagining its tiny heart and its tiny brain and wait does it have a heart? I don’t know. According to Google, it does. And not only that, once you discover snail anatomy, you will be where I was that night by the side of the tank: Utterly in awe. So tiny. So slippery. So fragile. So protected. So much purpose. So not dependent on wifi and gadgets. Hahaha. I walked away from the tank and took a deep breath. I felt calm and inspired, the combination of which made me feel a tinge of sleep-deprived joy. I need

Continue Reading »

I Believe You

From age 7 to 13, I lived with a daily dose of duty to rituals that I believed would secure my safety in this weird world.  For instance, I had to count to 8 every time I turned a faucet on and off and if I messed up just a little bit, then I’d have to repeat that set again in multiples of 8, sometimes getting up to 64 and even 160.  This happened with more than faucets.  Cracks in my floor boards, stairs, doors, rolling my ankles, all of it.  I believed in my bones that if I didn’t perform these things in perfect multiples of 8 that I would die in my sleep.  Like, die croak dead … in my sleep … at age 7. And, yes, I know I am describing clinical obsessive compulsive disorder and, yes, I was officially diagnosed with it decades later.  The point of this post is not about mental illness, although I do hope to always and forever reduce the stigma around trauma, mental health, and getting professional help. The point of this post is that I wish I could go back to that tiny 7 year old girl, put my hand

Continue Reading »

Golden Thread

I want to go back to the beginning of time and restitch the past.  Bolster it with reverence for nature and patience for each other.  Remind it that nothing else will matter but health and peace.  Tell it to stay close to the basics of Truth, against all odds.   Take its leash off and tell it to run wild barefooted through the mud.   Sigh.   It is hard to be a human these days.  If you are like me – even if you are an optimist – you’ve had moments recently where you are like, this may not be ok.  Things may in fact be doomed.  And, so, I am here today to remind myself that IN SPITE OF IT ALL we are still here, doing “it”.  We are waking up and trying again, day after day.  We overcome the whispers of despair and insecurity and we get our butts up and in imperfect action IN SPITE OF IT ALL.  We forget this fact, I mean at least I know I do.  And when I ask myself why I forget, I feel my whole body sigh and say, “Because you are tired.”  I feel my heart say, “Because you feel helpless.”  I feel my mind say, “Because you don’t know where to

Continue Reading »