Wednesday, May 24, 2023

No Longer Starting OverAchiever Smiles

I found myself laughing last week, realizing that my propensity to overachieve has become a great way to name some of what I’ve been experiencing post-Caribbean-cruise, all 10-days of luxury of it. 

I’m writing because the fact that I am laughing is huge. The lightness in my spirit about all of what is to come is also huge. It’s like bringing together two things about yourself, both about which you’ve condemned yourself in years past, except this time, they add up to a huge bonus. Never before would I put overachiever and overweight as one big plus...but there is laughter in me instead of self-condemnation. Sometimes we really DO get better…with the right peeps and now longstanding habits, that is.

Overachiever: I went on a 10-day Caribbean cruise and I probably gained about 20 pounds. That’s like 2 pounds a day. You have to really be achievement oriented to make that kind of progress. Granted, it may have only been about 15 pounds, but when I stepped on the scale at home, I nearly fell over. Better to round up to 2/lbs a day for the overachiever affect of the story.

The gift in this turn of events is that I honestly had no idea. Which means the relationship I have to my body is fully independent of the self-condemnation and the overbearing critic who used to rule the roost when I would get out of the shower. Back then (not so long ago), I could hardly look at myself in the mirror. For decades. Today? I smile and welcome myself, just as I am. CrossFit and maintaining a healthy relationship with food now protect me inside...

Apparently with absolutely no idea what the extra 20 pounds looks like on my frame. I must just gain it all over? Research into body image points not only to women’s intense judgment of their own bodies, but also to their/our overestimation of size, weight. We tend to think we’re fatter than we actually are. I’ve fit into that category often enough. Except this time, I didn’t get caught in that trap. I literally had no idea I had gained that much weight. I love my body as she is. I'm so thankful these judgments.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, I no longer fear being trapped in a body or weight like I used to be. For most of my life, losing weight was an up-and-down affair. Gaining weight was a shame-fest, driven by cravings and fear of being shaky-hungry. I regularly felt trapped in my own unbreakable patterns and the imposed and ingested shames I carried because of them. Today, it’s a post-cruise overachieving ‘happening’ about which I now know what to do, how to redress it. Knowing I actually prefer my life within healthy norms, practices.

So all of this can just be funny…just a blip on the journey of fitness and pleasure, CrossFit and restored moderation. This week, I’m back into the on-plan eating that I know and love. I can feel the inflammation decreasing and my sleep deepening. I’m enjoying daily WODs again, taking it slowly as I’ve learned to do over the years of “away” and then ‘return.”

I will often say it feels like starting all over again, but it’s not. My body knows the feeling of good health, food as fuel for activity-fun, and a community of support that holds me more firmly in healthy, active patterns for greater longevity and enjoyment of life. Nearly five years of CrossFit, with nearly four years of re-learning my relationship with food as fuel, the weight will move back down to maintenance levels, and the weights/distances for WODs will begin to move back up again. It will probably take 2-3 months for my weight to be back into range of 'maintenance,' but the daily WODs are already coming back into line. Relative intensity. Additional runs in the afternoon, when I'm trying to think through a writing piece for work. That's not starting over. These longstanding patterns of greater health allow blips of cruise-pleasures. Which is good, because we're talking about our next one in May of 2024. This time, only 7-days, and I'll know...perhaps be newly motivated for slightly more moderate choices. Still pleasure-oriented, but a bit more moderate...

The timing now is less than ideal, of course. This weekend is Murph for many CrossFit gyms. I’ve done this Hero workout a couple times before, in full, always wanting to improve my score or the scale-version I'm doing "this time." The Rx version has the athlete wearing a ruck or a weight-vest–20# for men; 14# for women.

I think this is a year for me to cut the rep-scheme, or at least halve the runs. I’ve already got a “weight-vest” from the cruise, overachiever that I am.


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Learning to Feel Good...?

Perhaps this phrase befuddles you, as it does me? Does it really require learning?

Freud has long convinced us–or aligned with generations of inherited religious presumption–that we move toward pleasure and away from pain. “The pleasure principle”... Habits, beliefs, histories suggest we avoid even momentary pain, consciously choosing pleasure, again and again, to the detriment of others. Except I think he’s wrong, or at least inaccurate in some fundamental ways. I think most folks I know fail at pleasure, living a really conflicted relationship with it. I think we are conditioned to believe virtue and purpose align with difficulty, even pain, not ease or pleasure. No pain, no gain, Nike marketed, selling shoes galore.

adrienne marie brown defines pleasure as the “measure of freedom” (Pleasure Activism). I’m just beginning her well-known work here, and I’m finding it hard going, to be honest. Then another volume found me from another direction, a coaching-friends’ circle this past Sunday: Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It for Good by Kimberly Ann Johnson (HarperWave, 2021). Chapter Four, “Learning How to Feel Good,” offers a somatic-experiencing, neurobiological primer on the body’s capacity for downregulation, experiencing ease, receiving (and remaining in) pleasure. Johnson observes the human tendency to prioritize awareness of pain or discomfort–a survival mechanism of old–and offers practices for expanding our capacity for pleasure (and awe, connection, wonder, etc.). She suggests that we must practice learning to feel good.  

Brian’s and my ten-day Caribbean cruise April 10-20 continues to percolate within me here. It was the first all-out vacation he and I have taken since autumn 2019, pre-Covid. No bookended family visits. No other functional purpose. Relaxation, reconnection, pleasure... 

Which completely befuddled, even threatened me, for a time. Only for a few days, thankfully, after which I simply practiced saying yes, curious how I would feel, what I might learn. Trusting my capacity to choose pleasure and relax my “practices” for the seven days that remained. What harm could seven days do? I reasoned. Observing now that my first presumption was harm.

Johnson places “the problem” she’s trying to solve in our culture, “addicted to intensity. … It’s our puritanical inheritance: we’re not supposed to feel good. We’re supposed to be humble and stoic and work hard.” (79) My whole body resonated there, pulling me in. I'm Pennsylvania-Deutsch, after all. But then she writes, “CrossFit, paleo, unassisted birth; we are always looking to increase the stakes and maximize our time. … we’ve bought into the idea that to find pleasure or to heal  we need to push beyond what we thought was humanly possible. We think in order to change we need to go harder instead of learning how to settle into what feels good.” (79) I resisted these words, noting it here to find out a bit more why. I am an intense woman, ‘tis true, but oddly, CrossFit has been the vehicle by which I can release intensity, live more peaceably, love my own body more fully...even more gently inside.

Which brought me full circle to consider who and what I’ve become as a CrossFitter, 54-year old woman, in love with feeling good in her body. For decades, I was plagued by constant internal criticism, shames, self-condemnations. CrossFit and a much more measured relationship with food brought me great pleasure, instead, in these middle-aged years. I love how I get to move, how peaceful I feel off of sugar. I love the absence of cravings and the heightened energies I get to experience when a WOD brings the group together, each in our own challenge(s). I love doing more, and I thrive in doing less sometimes too.

Those seven days when I finally just practiced saying yes, relaxing into the abundance that was all around me on the cruise, I also felt a freedom, the pleasures of new tastes and unexpected delights with entertainment and conversation, dancing and stunning vistas in sun- or moon-light. It was a manner of feeling good, and it was quite different than my “now normal” or “usual” at home. And it took me at least three days to learn how to feel good in that more predictable-vacationing way (with food, drink, etc). Was the freedom particularly tender because normally those "indulgences" ultimately treated my body poorly, over weeks/months/years? Was the freedom possible because my "usual" is now so disciplined?

Since being home, I’ve returned to my “usual” habits that bring me peace, ground my body, invite me to feel good again with clean eating and rhythms of movement in community. This way of feeling good is pleasurable, even with adrienne marie brown’s definition–measure of freedom. “Food freedom” I’ve often called it. No addictive behaviors, driven by carb-highs or sugar crashes. It feels good to move, to extend myself, to rest too.

And I am increasingly curious about my puritanical resistance to saying yes to pleasure, all the same. There is a numbness within me, somehow. Inherited, for sure, but also sustained by/in my own embodied history. 

What might it feel like to truly receive how safe I am in my own skin now, finally, knowing how to nourish myself well, and bound myself safely from attitudes, persons, assumptions that do not align with my own values, needs? How might I play with pleasures in simple ways, re-learning the delight I’ve written about for years…? How might I continue to learn how to feel good, in new and simple ways, healthy for me, inviting of others...truly free?