Hagg Lake Tri – I’m Coming For You…

FullSizeRender (35)When my husband told me to look at several race choices and pick one, as a way to celebrate my birthday weekend, there was one important piece of criteria the race had to have. It had to be an easy, relatively flat, bike course. I also didn’t feel ready for an ocean swim, so, no ocean, therefore, no sharks to worry about, was number two on my list. Weather was a lesser determining factor. Being from Arizona, cooler temperatures sounded a lot more inviting, than heat and humidity. Races in mosquito infested areas didn’t make the cut, either. Other than that, a beautiful course, nice downtown, shopping areas, good food and wine, hiking or other outdoor activities, all of those would be pluses. After looking at several races in many states and checking all of the bike courses, I settled on the Hagg Lake Triathlon. It appeared to have a few rolling hills with minimal elevation, a lake swim, cool temperatures, a beautiful race venue and it was in Oregon, one of our favorite states to visit. Portland has so many fantastic restaurants, and with wine country close by, it would be a perfect way to celebrate a birthday weekend!

We had our bikes shipped ahead of time so they would be ready for us. Race week, the weather was looking pretty rough from an Arizonan’s perspective, low 50’s and a steady rain. That’s winter in AZ. To the locals in Oregon, our gear bag contents probably looked ridiculous. We had enough layers, we might have been warm enough for snow. Race day, actually ended up being pretty near perfect though. It was in the low 60’s with cloudy skies. It looked like it would rain, but never did, and the sun actually peeked out a few times.

All of our pre-race activity went smoothly. We arrived early. Our bikes were there waiting and ready for us. Athlete’s Lounge was the sponsoring bike shop. They did a wonderful job taking care of our bikes.

IMG_6397Next was body marking. For my non-triathlete friends, body marking is when they write your race numbers on your arms and also your age on your leg. Race day was the actual day of my birthday, so for the first time this year, they wrote my true age on my leg. I remember how appalled I was when I did my first triathlon and they wrote my age on my leg! I soon realized it wasn’t so bad though, when during the race you pass people who are younger than you. It’s no big deal anymore. As they say, “Age is just a number, THEY WRITE ON YOUR LEG.”

My husband and I got our gear all set up in transition. We both noticed a lot of really nice bikes and that the field of athletes looked to be pretty experienced. Not that it was intimidating at all…  🙂

The only thing I didn’t get to do, which may have made a big difference in my race, was a FullSizeRender (37)warm up run. I have asthma and being able to run first really helps me with the breathing when I swim. Since we had to be out of the transition area early, that wasn’t going to work. Everyone was already putting on their wetsuits for the swim. We got our wetsuits on and headed down to the lake for the start of the race. We were unaware that we were allowed to do a warm up swim, but we weren’t by the lake early enough for that. At least we got a couple minutes to get in the water, which gave me a chance to be sure my goggles weren’t leaking.

Here’s where the story starts. That swim. I’ll never forget that swim. That swim made me think about not doing triathlon ever again. That swim made me think about never wanting to swim again, period! I had a triangle of three buoys to swim around. I was to do two loops. It started out ok. I choked a little, which I do from time to time. I ran into a couple people. That happens. I swallowed water. That happens, too. But by the time I was around the second buoy, the wind had kicked up the water and there were waves like none I’ve ever had to swim in before. The water was choppy. I’m used to swimming in a lake with high canyon walls, protected from wind, really. There are no boat waves, just kayaks and a few paddleboards. I’m a wuss, is what I’m saying! No matter how I turned my head to breathe, I got a mouthful of water instead of air. I choked several times. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to swim with my head up. I still couldn’t breathe. I stopped to catch my breath. I sat in the water watching  swim capped heads pass by, all seemingly unaffected by the turbulence that was causing me to lose hope that I could finish one loop, let alone, two. I rested a few times, and then tried to propel myself forward. Every time I put my face in the water, within not so many strokes, I was choking and out of breath again. I finally reached the second buoy. A boat was there and the man was yelling for me to turn, which is what I was going to do as soon as I got around the buoy. I wasn’t understanding that the wind had blown the buoy off course and I had swam farther than I needed to and he was trying to tell me I didn’t have to swim around the buoy, but could turn in toward shore sooner. Blame the slowness of understanding on lack of oxygen, maybe… There was another boat guy after the buoy. Winded to the point I felt my wetsuit choking me, I asked if I could hold on for a few minutes. I’m not sure how long I did hold on, but I did a lot of talking. I apologized for having to burp, because burping is what one has to do much of when they drink half a lake. He said he had seen worse. Poor guy. He was a good listener. I talked about quitting, about how I thought I was going to be last and how I had never quit and I didn’t want to quit, but I couldn’t breathe, and I still had another loop to swim. My stomach hurt from swallowing so much water. My wetsuit felt like it was choking me. I wanted that medal! I didn’t want to be last… Finally, he acted like it was time for me to get going. He didn’t try to influence me. He just listened and said he would be there if I needed him. So off I went toward that last buoy. It was so close to shore. I could go in and this whole horrible mess would be over with or I could go back out into the waves one more time…

IMG_0920It’s amazing how much thinking you can do under duress. I have a mug that says, “The Mind is the Athlete.” It’s so true. I had so many reasons not to finish the race. They sounded good to me at the time. Hey, breathing is a big deal! I really wanted that medal, though. When you train hard, you should get something to show for it, right!  How many people wish they had what someone else has, but they aren’t willing to do what it takes to get it? I thought about that in the water. I did NOT want to finish that swim! The only way I was going to get that medal was to stay the course, finish the race and cross that line at the end.

There was another very powerful thought that went through my mind. As I said, it was my birthday. Thanks to Facebook, my friends and family knew we we’re doing the race, so I was getting a lot of support from that. I had briefly scanned some of the posts as we were driving to the event. My mom had posted. In her post she said I was an example of courage and perseverance. Wow, the power of the words we speak! My mom’s words were power that day. No I didn’t feel courage at that moment and finishing that swim was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was going to be what my mom said I was. I rounded the third buoy and I kept swimming. If you think you’re hearing Dory singing, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming…” It’s me! I sing it all the time now.

The rest of the race, I just had to make the best I could of it. By the time I got back to transition, my bike was the last one, meaning I was the last one to get out on the bike course. The thing I feared the most, being last… I thought it would be like it has been in other races, I’d be able to make up time and pass people, but not so. The bike course that I initially chose for it’s easy rolling hills, well, I must have gotten mixed up with all the courses I had looked at. This one did not have easy rolling hills. I train on mostly flat routes because of issues with my knees, so not only was I not prepared for the hills, my knees were very unhappy with me. I also hadn’t had to use the gearing on my tri bike much, since I ride flat routes. That further complicated my race. We had to do two loops around the lake. The first loop, riders that were finishing their second loop passed me, but once I started my second loop, I was on my own on the course. It felt really lonely after a while out there in the woods. Then there was the stupid fall. It was just stupid! Of course, the support motorcycles show up out of nowhere and catch me on the ground. I did one of those things where you jump up, bush off, say I’m ok, and take off, too embarrassed to acknowledge the blood running down your leg. I was so glad when I finished that bike ride and got back to transition again. SO glad!

Many people had finished the whole race and were walking around with their medals on and packing up their gear to go home. Here I was just getting ready to start my run. I couldn’t believe it. I was really going to be LAST! I had never even come close to doing this badly in a race. Even in my first couple triathlons, at my age, I still came out around the middle of the pack for all ages on my time. Now I knew how it felt for those who do come in last, those who still have to push themselves to keep going to get across that finish line, even when they know they’ll be last. It was a horrible feeling! But I wanted that medal. I still had worked hard. I still had done the best I could with the circumstances at the time. I still had to fight to get to the finish. It was very humbling. The whole thing was, but I think I needed humbling, so that’s ok.

As it turned out, I did catch up to one other lady on the run. I wouldn’t have had to be last, if I didn’t want to be, but it sure didn’t seem worth it to pass one person and make her feel the way I knew I would have felt, so I stuck with her. We enjoyed the rest of the race and crossed the finish line together. We’re all better together, right! I do have to say, even though it was my worst race ever, the race director, the volunteers and the spectators that were left, made the finish line awesome. My husband had mentioned to one of the volunteers that it was my birthday. He told the announcer, who had called everyone back to the finish line as I was coming in. Everyone sang happy birthday to me at the finish line. Yes, I was a little embarrassed, but at the same time, it took some of the sting out of being last. And I got my medal! IMG_6415

I learned a lot from this race. I hope it’s the bad race experience that’s behind me and I’ll never live through again, but no guarantees on that. I’m glad it’s over, but at the same time. I’m glad I did it. It didn’t kill me. It did make me stronger. And Hagg Lake, I hope you can hear me. I’m coming back for you!

Thank you to Sherri McMillan and staff of Why Racing Events and all of the wonderful volunteers of the Hagg Lake Tri and Du. This is a beautiful race venue, a challenging course, and a very well run race! Everyone was awesome!

Thank you, to Don and Russell from VeloZoom, who took care of the AZ end of the bike shipping process and then Christine and Gary from Athlete’s Lounge who took care of our bike’s in Oregon!

#whyracing #whyracingevents #hagglaketri

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A Few Things I Had to Tell My Kids…

Women.shameI’d been wanting to write a letter to my kids for the last two years or so. I guess the number one subject would be something that most parents deal with. I’m inclined to say every parent, but then I think of some whose kids outwardly appear to have it all together and the parent takes all of the credit. I’ve heard parents brag about how successful their kids were, followed by, “I raised them well,” or “I did everything right.” While those types of comments may make them look good or feel good, for me, they’re like a dagger. They hurt. What I hear is, “Since your kids had some rocky years, you must have screwed up somewhere.” And the pot of failure and guilt gets stirred all over again.

I can’t help but wonder what’s really gone on behind the scenes in those seemingly perfect homes. Had the child rearing years really taken place with an always warm and loving home atmosphere, sounds of love and laughter, sharing and caring, fun and games? Were the years of child rearing really filled with everyone having a good attitude, never any rebellion, anger, yelling or arguing, or no behavior issues? I’m doubtful that any perfect home exists, that any perfect parent or kid exists, but I’m not here today to argue that. My purpose is to be honest, to take responsibility for my actions whether good or bad, and to bring death to my own guilt and shame.

There, I said it and it wasn’t easy, especially in such a public way. Yes, I feel those things. Women.shame2If guilt and shame are present, then I’m also admitting that somewhere along the line, I think I screwed up. Some of you parents can relate. Whenever you spend years in condemnation, living under guilt and shame, no matter how hard you try, you can’t just blow it off. It doesn’t work that way.  So the purpose of my letter was to take some forward steps to address it.

Guilt and shame are cruel to those personally acquainted with them. They latch on to the person who has opened the door and invited them in to be a part of their everyday life. The longer they are allowed to stay, the more they infiltrate your being. At first they don’t seem quite so harmful. Sure they point out every flaw or fault they see, but you see them, as well. As a result, you deserve to be accused. Since you deserve it, you allow guilt and shame to continually bring attention to Pointing finger.shameyour faults. Their pointing fingers become poking fingers, prodding the same spots over and over again. Unless they’re stopped, they’re able to work their way deeper, growing roots that eventually infiltrate every area of your life. Your thoughts are affected. Your perception becomes clouded, even murky. Your reactions become altered. Negativity increases. Unhealthy comparisons of yourself to others become owned. False judgements become facts. Relationships become strained, often damaged. You feel rejected, misunderstood. Gratefulness decreases, bitterness sets in and joy is lost. And it can all start with something as small as one flaw, one failure, or one life altering date in your history, one tragedy, or victimization. Or maybe, it was much more, such as living under years of torture and abuse, something that was out of your control and due to no fault of your own.

Brick Wall.ShameGuilt and shame don’t appear to be all consuming monsters in the beginning. They sneak in, almost unseen. They start small, tiny even. Like a buried seed that grows a root and sprouts through the soil as a blade of grass, so they grow. With gentle, yet consistent pressure, that seemingly fragile blade is able to break through a concrete slab. That same constant pressure enables these harmful guests to infiltrate your life. That same pressure is all that guilt and shame need to hold you captive as their prisoner. They deal harshly with their captives, shouting constant accusations, constantly abusing those they enslave. They are enemies whose accusations cause addicts to stay addicts, alcoholics to stay alcoholics, undealt with pain to become full blown depression.

The only way to stop them is to first, identify them as an unwanted enemy, which isn’t easy. They like to deceive those they’ve lived with so they are allowed to stay. They remain hidden behind all of the wrong perceptions of their host. Exposing them often takes help from a wise counselor. It requires us to dig deep into the dirt, expose the roots and pull them up, not a trace left behind.

While I had exposed my roots to counselors or in support groups, it was time to expose Words of Shamethem to the people that mattered the most to me. You see, guilt and shame don’t go down once and for all when the carrier dies and is buried in the ground. Guilt and shame become hereditary, so to speak. If they have affected years of my own life, they have also effected years of my kids’ lives. I wanted to expose it, hoping to dig it up before it was passed any further in our family line.

You see, the roots of guilt and shame for me stem mostly from victimization at a young, impressionable age. I was a young teenager. I had big dreams. From as young as I can remember, I thought that growing up and being a mommy was the best possible thing I could ever achieve. I loved playing with my dolls, holding them, rocking them and caring for them as I would my own children one day. Being a wife and a mother was my big dream, what I longed for. I wrote my goals down at a young age even. The number one thing at the top of my list was to be the best wife and mother in the whole world. And that was the only thing that was on my list.

I started off pretty well as a kid. My parents loved me, took me to church and disciplined me when I needed it. I think I was a pretty good kid in those early years. There were a few minor events of teasing or being hurt by another kid in some way, pretty typical things for a lot of kids. Those events, even though minor, did cause a seed of shame to sprout in my life. Thus, began the hard work to make myself good enough, to gain approval, to be perfect. I set high standards for myself.

It was during the junior high years that one pivotal event had the most damaging impact on my life. I will just give you the nutshell version here.

A friend had started smoking and she offered me a cigarette to try. I accepted, wanting to please the friend. After school that day, I ducked into a wooded area along my paper route to try out the cigarette. Yes, back in the day we actually went house to house delivering hard copies of the news. I wasn’t aware that someone had been being watching me on my route, nor was I aware that this person had followed me into the woods. While I was smoking, I was approached by a male carrying a knife. With a knife pressed into my side, I became a victim of sexual assault. It wasn’t something that I had heard a lot of talk on at that point in my life. It just wasn’t talked about much and rarely was it reported. I went home crying and muddy, my paper route cards torn. I couldn’t tell my parents what had happened. I wrongly, thought that I was responsible. I was in a place I shouldn’t have been in, doing something I shouldn’t have been doing, therefore, I would be in trouble for the rape. When my mom questioned as to why I was so upset, I made up a story. I kept that event a secret for years, not understanding how to respond properly to what had occurred and not knowing how deeply it would affect me.

The bottom line is guilt and shame became deeply rooted, and yes, what followed for many years was a downward spiral of bad judgment and unhealthy behaviors. Guilt and shame from victimization can cause us to get ourselves into situations where we are repeatedly re-victimized or we live with a victim mentality. Therefore, my kids, too, were indirectly victimized.

My oldest two children had to live in the hell that I took them through. It’s no secret that there were two marriages and divorces, one to an addict and another to an alcoholic, one where I was abused and one where my kids were abused. Those marriages were each followed by the struggling single parent years. My children had to live with a mom who was always at work and when she was around, she was tired, sad, and moody, just totally overwhelmed with life.

Shame corrodesThere are times that I don’t remember. I think they were too painful. But there are enough painful times that come to the forefront of my mind every now and again, which I am truly ashamed of. Of course I’m ashamed of most of it, but I specifically had to apologize to my children for the things that they probably did remember. I said I was sorry, so sorry, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. How do you make amends for this stuff?

Remember? I just wanted to be the best mom and wife in the world and I had failed. It was hard living with such a failure that I felt that I was.

I married for the third time and had my two younger boys. Even though they didn’t remember much, they also lived with results from my life events. And then came the grandchildren. They’ve lived with results from my bad judgements from years ago. If left undealt with and unexposed, so would my great grandchildren to come, as well as the partners and spouses who have or will join us along the way. They would also be affected in some way.

There were years that I was not emotionally available. Instead of dealing with things that I needed help with, I kept myself occupied. Being busy distracted me from the issues I really needed to look at. It kept me from having to recognize problems. Trying to be perfect in outward things, like keeping my house clean, gave me the false sense that I was in control. It was the only thing I felt I could control, when I learned that life doesn’t play fair. Bad things do happen to everyone and there were times we were just trying to survive until we could get through the storms that raged around us. There were times when it seemed the storms would never end.

I had to apologize to my grandkids in my letter, as well. I’m so sorry that I’ve missed so much of their lives. Not that I had control over all the reasons as to why it’s been that way, mostly due to distance. I really wish I would have gotten the pleasure of being more involved. They’re all beautiful and make me very proud.

You know, parents aren’t given any instruction manuals when they take a baby home from the hospital. We don’t have our children for the purpose of seeing how bad we can screw up. We just do the best we know how, and at times, we just don’t know how. What we do isn’t always the best. Looking back over the years now, I’m sure there were things I would have done differently, had I known what I do now. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to change the past. It’s all water under the bridge. What I could do was to confess my failure and say, I’m sorry. I promised to continue what I know to do to the best of my ability, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Shame QuoteIn writing them, I had to expect nothing from them. They could choose to not forgive me or not even acknowledge the letter. This is something I needed to do for myself. And yes, I’m making myself very vulnerable here by posting this. My blog is named what it is for a reason, because that’s how I want to live my life. Being real has to start at home.

Yes, I’m sure there will still be times I fail. You know I’m human, too.  There are a few things that I promised my kids that I would not fail at. I will not fail to pray for each of them by name, every day. I will not fail at believing in them, at loving them and wanting all the best for them. I will never give up hope for wonderful futures for all of them. I’ve entrusted their lives to God and I know that he will be faithful to complete every good work that he started in each of them. He promised that to me.

Counseling, support groups, the letter and this post are all steps I have taken to free freedommyself from the enemies that have caused such destruction. Guilt and shame are no longer welcome here. I choose to live in freedom to be the wife, the mom, the grandma, the great grandma, the mother in law…

Maybe someday, the best in the world…

 

When Fear Runs Deep…

20140515_030355283_iOSI opened my eyes as I had already done many times throughout the night, waiting for the sound of the alarm to signal that it was finally the right time to be awake. It had been one of those nights. You know the kind I’m talking about, when your mind won’t get quiet and sleep evades you. It felt as if I had been semi-conscious for the last several hours. Nervous apprehension had replaced every last bit of excitement I felt the previous evening, as I had prepared for this morning. It was to be a big day for me! Another milestone was to be reached. Another step crossed off the list of steps I needed to take on this road to become a half Ironman finisher. My first 70.3 triathlon at the (young) age of 58 was a big deal, one I really was unsure that this body with all of its aches and pains could actually endure. Today was the day to put on that new wetsuit I had packed and go to the lake for my first open water swim. You should be hearing the theme from the movie, “Jaws”, playing in your mind right now.Jaws

Maybe it seems silly to you that swimming in a lake would be a big deal. I had splashed around in the lake as a kid. I even thought my little doggie paddle for a few yards every so often as I played, was actually considered swimming. As a matter of fact, I really thought I could swim, that is until I took my first real swim lesson two years ago. My coach at the time informed me that my doggie paddle was not “real” swimming. I learned that I actually had to put my face in the water! I found myself embarrassed as I was made to practice bobbing up and down in the water at a public pool, to blow bubbles out of my mouth and nose. I had to do it in front of “real” swimmers even! That was six weeks before my first sprint triathlon. Six weeks was not enough time for me to get this swimming thing. That first race was so hard! I was out of breath after the first 50 yards. I had to stop and rest each time I reached the end of a lane. I won’t say how long it took me to finish that little 400 yard swim, but let me tell you, I was slow!

A hamstring injury the week following that first race, kept me out of the pool for several months. That was followed by several months of swimming using the pull buoy, as I wasn’t able to kick. In spite of the injury and lack of proper training, I felt I needed to do a 2nd sprint the following year in order to keep my standing as a triathlete. I signed up for the same event I had done before. That swim was even worse than my first had been!

I really wanted to do this triathlon thing, so here’s where my current triathlon coach enters the picture. Swimming is her strong area. She’s been working with me just over a year now. Believe me when I tell you, this swimming stuff hasn’t come easily for me. I’ve worked hard and I’ve come a long way, but even recently at a master swim session, my coach was laughing over some weird movement I was doing in the pool. Somehow, she always manages to find something to correct, as a good coach should, I might add.

Fear.1I remember many of my early swim sessions with her. Every time I had to do a workout, I fought anxiety and apprehension. I remember times when I dreaded getting to the end of the lane and I knew she was going to have me do another lap, and then another and another. I was so out of breath at times, I felt lightheaded and even in a state of panic. There were a few times I even wanted to cry. Ok, maybe I did cry, but I sure couldn’t let her see that. I imagine I’ve made her wonder if I would ever make it as a swimmer. Even if that’s not true for her, it definitely is for me.

Confidence about my swimming had evaded me as much as sleep had the Strengthnight before this big day. I had volunteered to drive out to the lake that morning. A couple of my team mates were riding along. One was a seasoned open water swimmer. I didn’t know at the time, but our coach had given him strict orders to stay with us and keep us safe. Poor guy! Who would want that responsibility! The other team mate was a near neighbor, a.k.a., my “tri in the hood friend”. We had begun to do some of our training together. She was new to this open water swimming experience, as well. Even though she had been a swimmer longer, she was as nervous as I was. It’s funny to think back to one of our early swim sessions with our coach. I remember her commenting on how she would never be doing any open water swimming. Never say never, right!

 

It had been years since I had been to this particular lake. While the desert landscape was beautiful, the road is narrow as it winds up and down the sides of the mountains. The anxiety was building in my chest and my shoulders grew tighter with each hairpin turn. Of course, our conversation over how nervous we each felt only amplified the tension. I rounded a bend and had my first view of the water. The lake looked huge and the boats so small from our elevated vantage point. It’s good that I had passengers in the car that day, for had I not, I’m sure I would have turned around and high tailed it home!

When we arrived at the lake, several other tri club members were already putting on wetsuits. Trying to get a wetsuit over aged, loose skin that just moves up with the compression of the suit, well, that’s just an ugly story. Having to do that in front of others is down right, humiliating. I’m glad it took what seemed like forever to get the suits on. Anything to delay us from having to get in that water was okay by me. But alas, the moment arrived and it was time.

My “tri in the hood friend” and I had only planned on splashing around a bit to get used to the wetsuit, maybe swim along the shore a little, but certainly not go in over our heads. We were told we wouldn’t drown in a wetsuit, as it makes you more buoyant, but still, the idea of going deep was frightening.

Motivational-Quotes-40I’ll never forget the first time I put my face in the water. It was so cold, it took my breath away. It took several times of bobbing up and down before I could blow bubbles under the water and take a breath when I came up. We swam along the shore a little and stopped to stand up every 25 yards or so. There was security in knowing we could still touch the bottom. I think I was ready to call it a day after about fifteen minutes, but our seasoned team mate seemed determined to be sure we actually got in a little more of a workout. He was able to get my friend to swim out to a buoy. It wasn’t too far off shore, but it was definitely beyond my comfort zone. She was very pleased with herself over having done it and apparently she wasn’t satisfied with me not having the same experience, so now there was double the pressure for me to swim out to the buoy. Not wanting to jeopardize my “tough, old lady athlete,” status, I resigned myself to oblige their request. It was horrible! I forgot to breathe. I choked. I swam crooked and ran into my friend. Each of those things caused my heightened anxiety level to become a complete state of panic. My chest felt like it was being crushed and I couldn’t breathe. I stopped and begged for someone to unzip my wetsuit. Our seasoned team mate told me to keep it zipped. I had to get used to feeling that, as it happens to even experienced swimmers on occasion. I tread water for a minute and tried to calm myself until I could breathe. So much for the tough, old lady athlete! I did make it to the buoy once that day and as you can see, I lived to tell about it.

We had many lake visits over the summer, but there were very few that I

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

The mass start under Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ.

didn’t experience the whole gamut of emotions associated with my fear of the swim. It was particularly unnerving when I found myself panicking in the water just two weeks prior to my half Ironman event. That was an ordinary workout day, which didn’t include the hectic frenzy of bodies thrashing about, which is what takes place in a race scenario. I couldn’t imagine how incredibly terrifying it would be to experience that during the race.

One thing I have learned about fear, not that I would deny that I felt it, but the more you talk about it, the more you give it a voice, the more it grows, the more powerful it becomes. I couldn’t afford to talk about it, so I didn’t. That would only feed it.

Another thing that I had learned about fear, I had heard from a speaker one time. They shared an acronym for fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. My fear was ungrounded. Sure, there was evidence. I had panicked in the water, MANY times! And it was terrifying! But it wasn’t real. The facts were, I could swim. I had listened to my coach. I had done my training. I had put in the hours, the distance, the time. And I hadn’t drown, not even “almost”, not even once!

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Packet pick up day! Some of our tri team mates with our awesome coach on the left. Less than 24 hrs. until the big event!

The week before the 70.3 Ironman event, I was amazed that I felt excited, rather than anxious, as I usually felt before a race. I mean I was really excited! Training for this had involved a lot of sweat and tears. I had gone from seriously doubting my ability to even do this, to knowing I would finish. My emotions were running high all week, so it didn’t take much to cause whatever I felt at any given moment to spill out. My coach said that was normal.  In spite of my carefully laid out plan for the morning of the event, it seemed as if everything was going wrong. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. I left the house later than was planned. It was raining. Two freeway ramps that I had planned to take to get to the venue were closed, forcing me to exit in an area I was unfamiliar with. I lost my wrist bracelet which I had to have to get into the transition area. Four different people working the race venue, had me running all over the park area to get help with the bracelet issue. When I finally got to the transition area and saw my coach standing there, I felt as if I would explode. She knew just what I needed. After she hugged me, she got in my face and with a gentle firmness, instructed me on what to do next. She was perfect! That minute or two made all the difference in the world to me. I had just enough time to get my transition area set up, stand in the bathroom line, get my wetsuit on and get in line for the swim start. My coach and team mates were there, along with my husband and one of my sons. My son read me an incredibly, awesome text which he had sent me that morning as encouragement, but I didn’t have my phone, so I hadn’t seen it. That made me teary eyed! Ok, everything made me teary eyed at that point, but his text was really special! I could feel slight undercurrents of frayed nerves, but I chose to block out any negativity and stay focused. My strategy was simple. I had borrowed it from the movie, “Finding Nemo”. Nemo and DoryAnd yes, I’m admitting that I even watched the movie that week before the race for inspiration. I was going to take Dory’s advice and “just keep swimming.”

It was time and our group was called to enter the water. We swam out to the start line and waited for the horn to sound, and we were off! The hectic frenzy of thrashing arms, legs and bodies was just as crazy as it had appeared in the triathlon videos. All of the things I had feared, happened. I choked. I couldn’t breathe. I got kicked, swam into and slapped in the face – HARD. Someone grabbed my leg at one point and it felt like they were trying to pull me under, but I just kept swimming. I stayed calm. I was amazed at how calm I felt. I kept focused on the next buoy, then the next and the next. By the time I rounded that last buoy, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, I wasn’t swimming by my own strength that day. Yes, I had trained for it, but I knew I had supernatural help. As it turned out, I wasn’t even the slowest one in our group, which amazed me even more, because I’m always the slowest one. My son and my husband said they were shocked when they saw me run past them, as they didn’t expect to see me for, at least, another ten minutes.

That’s the biggest part of my race story. The rest was just fun. Because of Ironman Runongoing knee issues, I had to ride easy on the bike, just fast enough to make the cut off time. On the run, I kept stopping to try to get what felt like rocks out of my shoe, but there were no rocks. It turned out to be a bigger issue with my foot. I had a killer headache, I think from lack of salt. I had dropped all of my salt, right up front on the bike course. I ended up walking a lot of the run portion, as a result of all of it, but I knew I would make the cut off time so I wasn’t concerned. It was hard and it was hot, but I had a blast! Crossing that finish line was a high that I’ll never forget! It stuck with me for a long time after the race, too!IronmanAZ70.3

I can’t tell you my story without sharing the most important thing that I’ve learned about fear. That is the fact that I don’t have to have it. I can choose to not fear. Real life experience has a way of teaching us things that become rooted deep into the fiber of our beings. That truth for me is that I have a big, powerful and completely, faithful God who always comes through for me. Even when life throws unfavorable things my way, as it has often, God has always, one way or another, worked things out for my good. Helping me with a little swim was easy! When fear runs deep, my faith is deeper still.

You didn't come this farWhat’s next? I’m not sure. I’m grounded from biking and running right now until my knees and foot recover. Yes, there is the thought that it would be really cool to do a full Ironman one day, but right now, it’s hard to imagine it being a possibility with this body. Of course, I’ll never say never, because we all know what happens when we do that, right!

Let the Future Begin!!!

Red_Desert_ButtesYou’ve heard, “kids say the darndest things”, and indeed they do!  Having raised four children of my own, I can vouch for that.  I have to tell you about a particular little 7 yr. old boy that I met last week.  I’ll call him Jaxson.  I’ve been thinking about him ever since.  He was super sweet, yet kind of shy, and he had the roundest chubby cheeks framing his huge, playful grin.  As I talked, I asked him questions to get to know him a bit, but he would just quickly bob his head to respond.  He didn’t say much but, he did say one thing to me that I’ve thought about ever since.

He was telling me that he enjoyed reading.  His Grandma had given him a Bible for Christmas.  A Bible isn’t your average 2nd grade reading material, you know.  While his was a version designed for kids, it still has a hefty volume of text for a 2nd grader to wade through.  Jaxson said he had been reading his Bible, but he was having a problem.  He said, “Every time I start to read, I have to start over again because I don’t have a book mark”.  I had an urge to laugh, but just smiled as I explained that he could just use a piece of scrap paper for a book mark.  I wonder how many times he’s reread the story of creation.   “In the beginning…”  He couldn’t get past the beginning.

Jaxson’s little confession also caused a tear to well up in the corner of my eye, from a different place than where the laugh came from.  I baby hand with fatherwasn’t quite sure why.  Maybe I was just touched by the sweet innocence that was expressed by this child, but something about my experience with Jaxson had touched something deep in me.  His statement taunted me this week as it played over and over in my mind.  Now I know why it resonated with me.   Jaxson was stuck at the beginning and so was I.

Perhaps you’ve read some of my earlier posts where I have talked about being raped at knife point as a teenager and being physically abused in a previous marriage.  If you have personally experienced rape or abuse, you understand that the after affects can be extremely damaging and far reaching.  While I have previously gone through counseling and participated in recovery groups to find healing over the years, I am currently involved in yet another round of group therapy sessions.  I’m doing this as part of a training program to be able to facilitate support groups for women who have been abused, as I have.  By going through the sessions as a participant, I not only gain experience with group dynamics, but I’m forced to take an even deeper look at myself.  It seems that each time I go through this, still another elusive wounding is unearthed from the rubble of my past and I become more whole.  That’s a good thing!  It makes me a little easier to live with, so my husband should appreciate that.

Monument ValleyIn our recovery group, we have homework assignments to complete between sessions.  As a part of the homework this week, we were instructed to draw or find images that would serve as a visual prompt, a reminder of our healing, like a monument, a stone of remembrance.  I love stones!  I know that sounds strange, but there is just something about them that draws my gaze.  When we hike, I always take a stone from the trail home with me.  I live in the rocky state of Arizona.  The rock formations that may be drab to some are fascinating, even beautiful to me!  I was excited about this assignment, or so I thought.

Images of things that would serve as my “stone of remembrance” came to mind very quickly, but all the thoughts surrounding my stone lighthouse in wavemonuments were emotionally exhausting.  Today, my tangled mess of thoughts seemed to jell together to form a realization that sparked excitement.  It was an excitement that I once had, but had forgotten.  I had some moments of enlightenment that I won’t go into detail on in this post, but I can give you the bottom line.  Tough seasons of life over the years have dulled my expectations for my future.  Goals and dreams that I had imagined for my future hadn’t totally disappeared, but it was like I had placed the goals and dreams up on a very hard to reach shelf, in a perpetual place of waiting.  I truly believed in my heart they would happen someday, but not now and not anytime soon.  I would have to wait and wait and wait…  I had forgotten some of the lessons of the past.  I didn’t have those stone monuments in place to help me remember and I realized that I’ve been stuck.

I’ve been living my life like Jaxson has been reading his little Bible.  Each day, instead of moving forward to my future, I begin in the very bookmarkssame place, waiting…  I’ve spent years looking up at that shelf, longing for the day when I could take hold of those things.   Here I am at my age, still in the creation story and there is so much more ahead that I’ve been missing out on.  It’s like, I didn’t have a bookmark!

Going through another recovery group, yet again, will be my ladder.  I’m choosing to hoist this ladder through the darkness, through the dust and the cobwebs, as I ascend to that very hard to reach place.  I intend to take hold of that box, those goals and dreams.  This blog post will serve as as one of my stone monuments, my bookmark.  It’s not over yet, not even at this age.  I say, let the future begin!

Domestic Violence… It’s NEVER Ok!

As always before I went to sleep, I reached down to be sure that the knife was still hidden between the mattress and the bed rail.  I kept it there just in case I would need it to protect myself during the night.  There was always the fear that somehow he would find it and the weapon that I hoped would protect me could be used against me.  Of course, this was not my only fear.  It was just one of many that come with having an abusive partner.

Knives themselves brought terror to me.  To think that I would even consider that one would protect me was almost ridiculous; however, it was now my best option.  Well, I guess my best option would have been to leave, but to consider that also brought fear, so much so that it didn’t seem to be a viable option in my mind at the time.

I love to cook, but cooking involves knives.  I understand how a chef’s knives are a prized possession.  In the hands of a chef, they are a necessary tool used skillfully with speed and accuracy.  A Chef can do such amazing and creatively wonderful things with a knife.   That’s what knives were intended to be used for.  To this day, even seeing a knife in the hands of a skilled chef makes me cringe.  I can only watch them work with one eye open.   I will never be able to handle a knife with the speed of a chef.  Knives bring back memories…

There was the time that a knife was used in a sexual assault against me.  It doesn’t feel good having a knife blade pressing against your skin, not that it really distracted from the atrocity that was happening to me.  All these years later, I can still see it at my waistline, almost still feel it.  I wrote about that in an abstract way in series of previous posts in my Fairytales from the Dark Side.  “The Dark Room…”, “The Dark Room… Continued” and “The Dark Room… The Final Chapter”, tell that story. 

On another occasion, I remember not only the sight of knives being hurled past my head, but also the sound as they stuck into the wall behind me.  It was all for the thrill of watching me be terrorized.  Yes, that’s a really bad memory, too.

It wasn’t just knives that brought fear.  Actually, any object that could be picked up and thrown or any body part that moved suddenly in my direction, those brought fear.  Hands that could be used in a loving caress one minute could have a death grip around my throat the next.   Arms that could hold me in a secure embrace one minute might be pushing me down a flight of steps the next.  A mouth that could be offering kind words one minute could be screaming obscenities the next.  Never knowing what was going to happen next, that brought fear, too.

Riding in a car and not being the driver brings fear.  I think anyone who I’ve ridden with can attest to that.  I can’t seem to keep myself from giving driving directions as a passenger and it doesn’t matter what seat I’m in.  You see, I remember the time that the car was spun around wildly in the middle of the freeway, more than once.  One time, I must have deserved it, though.  He was right.  I didn’t have a picture of him in my wallet.  There were the times that the car was driven onto railroad tracks, dangerously close to oncoming trains.  That was more than once, too.  I will never understand how someone finds pleasure in seeing someone else in terror.  I guess it must be like watching a reality horror flick.  Of course, you never forget someone trying to push you out of a moving car vehicle either.  Yes, I’m much more comfortable being the driver.

This particular night, the feel of the knife on the bed rail brought enough of a false sense of security that I thought I would be able to sleep.  He had tried to throw me out of the upstairs bedroom window earlier on this day, but he seemed pretty out of it by bedtime.  I thought the large amount of alcohol in his system would keep him asleep for the night.  Or it could have the opposite effect as it had done in the past and turn him into a raging lunatic.  Yes, the knife was a false sense of security, but thankfully that night the alcohol did keep him asleep.

Yes, there was mental abuse, as well.  There was the unfaithfulness in a relationship that brings betrayal.  That’s mental abuse.  (Yes, that happened more than once, too.)  Being verbally degraded and devalued on a daily basis is mental abuse.  The constant need to have to “walk on eggshells” out of fear of making the abuser angry is an abuse.  Having to live in fear 24/7 is mental abuse.  The ramifications of such abuses are just as long lasting as physical abuse.

Why didn’t I leave?  I didn’t leave because I was afraid to.  I was afraid for my life.   He threatened to hurt me if I tried to leave and I believed him.   I couldn’t see any safe way out.  How would I take care of myself and my son, and now the unborn baby I was carrying on my own?  Where would I go?  It was all just too overwhelming to consider.

I couldn’t tell anyone.  He would hurt me if he found out that I did that.  I knew that whoever I told would just tell me to leave.  They really wouldn’t understand.  I mean, he was always sorry afterwards.  He promised to never do it again.  Maybe this time, he’d really mean it.  People can change, right?

This was all years ago for me, yet the unnatural fears I was left with as a result, took years and much help to recover from.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I made it out alive.  Many aren’t so lucky.  You would probably be surprised to find out that someone you know is the victim of abuse like I’ve described.  Maybe even, it’s you.

Abuse is NEVER ok, not even once.  Too many ignore those first warning signs.  It’s easy to let reasoning justify the choice to stay in an abusive relationship.  The reality is there is NO good reason to do so.

Warning signs: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm#warning

October is Domestic Violence Month.  There really is a lot more help available today then there was when abuse was happening to me.

If you are a victim or know someone who might be, please get help.  You don’t have to stay a victim, but it usually can’t be done alone.

I’m happy that here in Arizona, Maricopa County just launched a new website to help victims of domestic violence.  Please, please, if it’s you or someone you know is being abused, go to: http://geo.azmag.gov/maps/victimadvocates/  Here you can find a map of places that will help, as well as phone numbers and other helpful links for those outside of Arizona.  Do it now, while you are still one of the lucky ones.

Looking for the Fountain of Youth…

I’ve never posted on Craig’s List but if I did, here’s my want ad for the day: “Looking for the fountain of youth, a.s.a.p.!”  If anyone really did find a fountain that would bring back youth, they would certainly build a resort around it and become a billionaire.

You won’t get me on the expensive surgeries that will restore a more youthful look (just yet anyway), but I’ve been a sucker for the beauty product infomercials that claim to have the one secret, key ingredient that will dissolve my wrinkles and bring back my youthful glow.  Save your money!  I can tell you, there is no secret ingredient!

As I approach the birthday that will qualify me to become a resident in an “adult only” community, I can’t help but have a few thoughts on this aging dilemma that I face.  I remember my 30th birthday.  That was the hard one for me and now I have to laugh at myself over that.  Turning thirty was a piece of cake in comparison to what I’m looking at now.  I can’t even bring myself to let the new number slip from my lips.  It’s amazing to me how my definition of what I consider “old” has become older the older that I get.  In my thirties, I considered where I’m at now to be classed as “old”.  Now that I’m here, old is more like when you’re in your nineties, right!

It’s not fair that we don’t have a choice, but have to succumb to the aging process!  But then, just when did life decide to play fair?

It’s just not right for an 18 year old to start getting gray hair.  It wasn’t just a few hairs here and there.  It was one spot on the front left side of my head.  I was a brunette then and had this gray streak that wasn’t a pretty highlight that I paid big bucks for.  When I was in my twenties, someone who didn’t know my name, described me as the “woman with the spider in her hair”.  I bought my first bottle of hair color soon after that.

It’s not fair that I went into menopause at age 40, ten years earlier than the average women does.  Of course, we’ve already established the fact that “I’m Not Average” in an earlier blog post.  I did find some advantages in early menopause though.  Hot flashes weren’t one of them!

What a shock it was when I got contacts for the first time.  I had only been wearing glasses to read, so I never had them on when I was in front of a mirror.  My first trip to the bathroom with the contacts was a literal eye opener.  Where did all those wrinkles come from all of a sudden?  I looked so much younger before I got contacts…  So of course, the contacts had to go!

I learned by trial and error, never let anyone see your face if you have to bend over in public.  I was in my late 40’s and happened to see myself in the mirror as I bent over to brush my hair.  It was a horror show!  Skin just hanging off my cheek bones!  How and when did that happen?

In my Physical Therapy sessions now, there is an exercise that I have to do that really makes me swallow my pride.  It’s called “Inch worms”.  I have to walk on my hands and feet on the floor and my butt in the air.  I’ve said what my face looks like upside down, but to have to see the skin hanging from my arms and around my knees and knowing everyone else that can see that too is torture!  I’ve begged the Physical Therapist to not make me do this exercise, but to no avail…

It’s not fair that body parts succumb to gravity and head south!  The word “perky” is no longer in the description of any body part.  “Tube socks with golf balls in the toe”, is a more fitting description and the rounded hips, well…  the cheek and thigh tend to meld into one continuous mass.  Enough with the disgusting word pictures!

I took up running to try to slow down the aging process, maybe even reclaim some of my lost youth.  Running has improved the appearance of some body parts and I am much healthier than I was a year and a half ago.  I probably am healthier and more fit than I’ve been since my early twenties, but in spite of that, my body still betrays me.  I still spend more time with medical professionals than I would like.  It’s so not fair!

In a previous job, I spent a lot of time working in retirement communities and with clients who I considered to be “old” compared to my stage of life at the time.  It was quite sad actually.  Some were very healthy, but they had let themselves become “old” in their minds.  They saw themselves as “old”; therefore, they were justified in living the stereotypical, “old” lifestyle.  They let their age determine their level of activity and there are just certain things that they just couldn’t do because of it.  The reality was that there was much they could do if they applied a little effort.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but I found that the general mindset was that they were now retired, so for many that meant the end to “accomplishment”.  They would no longer be expected to accomplish anything and any unfulfilled dreams could be let go of.  They no longer nourished those dreams and their dreams were allowed to die.  The reality was that they now had the freedom and more time to realize their dreams.

Life for many had become a waiting game.  They were waiting for the end of life, when the reality was that they still could have many years ahead of them to live.

As I now find myself in this new place, regardless of how old I live to be, I always want to be useful, to have a purpose.  I want to always be doing something to better myself and to help others.  I still want to work toward those unfulfilled dreams.  I’m choosing to not become “old” in my mind; therefore, I think I have found the fountain of youth.  You’ve heard it said, “You’re only as old as you think you are”.  It doesn’t matter how old my outer shell gets.  (Ok, so I admit it’s still kind of hard to say that last sentence.)  I’m young in my mind.  Life isn’t fair and even though my body may betray me, I’m determined to make the best of this aging process.  Like fine wine, I too, will become better with age, so I raise my glass and say, “Cheers!” and “Happy Birthday to me!”

I choose to die living, not live dying.  Who wants to celebrate with me?

 

The Dark Room… The Final Chapter

Streams of sunlight were beginning to glimmer through the sheer curtains hanging over the open window.  The cool breeze caressed the bare skin of the Princess causing her to awaken enough to pull up the blankets, snuggling them around her neck.  She really did not want to wake up this early, yet so many thoughts flooded her mind, that trying to sleep any longer would be futile.  She had been anticipating this day.  Her plans would include another journey back to her little playhouse in the forgotten forest.

With fearful resolve, she got up and dressed, as she knew what she just had to do.  It was time to come face to face with a teddy bear, a teddy bear which represented a moment in her past that had been hidden in the darkest depths of her mind.  She did not feel like putting on any of the silky flowing gowns that were typically part of the princesses’ wardrobe.  After all, the playhouse was so dusty from years of neglect and today, she just did not feel like a princess.  Maybe the plain black cotton servants dress would do, for this day felt more like a day for mourning.

Grabbing a quick bite to eat, the Princess scurried out into the castle courtyard and down the garden path to the edge of the forest.  She did not stop to enjoy the beauty surrounding her.  She could not be distracted or worse yet, allow her thoughts to cause her to wait until a better day.  It was too easy for her to procrastinate on this one.  This she knew, because she had already put her plans on hold for many days.

Her pace slowed as she neared the edge of the forest.  She hesitated for a moment, finding that she had to force herself to take each step.  Yet there seemed to be something else coming from the inside of her.  She felt a somewhat comforting sense of strength, something that made her feel that everything was going to be okay.  Even though this journey today would be painful, she had a strange knowing that it would end well.

The path before her was clear this time.  She knew exactly how to get back to the place that she had accidently stumbled upon weeks before.  Just a little farther ahead, the Princess could see her old playhouse.  Once again, the fearful anticipation crept over her, but she forced herself to keep going.  She knew she needed to make herself to remember and relive the moment that had changed her life so dramatically.  She stepped over the rotted wooden step onto the porch and pushed open the squeaky door.  Tip toeing as she had done as a child, so as not to disturb her sleeping baby doll in the opposite corner of the room, she approached her old play kitchen set.  There was the prized teddy bear, exactly where she had left it just weeks ago and where it had fallen so many years ago.  She did not pick it up today, but chose to sit on the dirty floor beside it.

The Princess closed her eyes as she reached to hold onto her fuzzy teddies soft paw.  Hot tears began to stream down her cheeks once again as she allowed herself to adventure back to that day so long ago.  She was just a very young teenager then.  She had stopped coming to her little playhouse as often, but still found herself attracted to the peacefulness of the forest.  She would still occasionally sit and rock her baby doll, not seeming to want to let go of the special parts of her childhood.  More so now, she found herself contemplating her future dreams of being the best wife and mother in the whole world.

It was one of these occasions that the Princess had been admiring her treasured teddy bear and thinking of one day passing on this treasure to her own daughter.  She was startled by the sound of footsteps on the porch.  She had never seen another person in the forest before, and only those friends whom had been invited had ever been inside her little playhouse.  The playhouse door was suddenly thrown open.  In walked a man, only familiar to her, as she had seen him before on her trips into town.  She remembered him because it made her feel uncomfortable when he looked at her.  He seemed to stare at her and he was often at the same places that she would visit.

A wave of terror instantly swept over the Princess, even before her eyes fell to the large silver knife that was in the stranger’s hand.  Frozen with fear, the Princess was unable to move. The stranger grabbed her arm and threw her to the ground.  He clasp his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.  She felt the cold blade of the knife against her side as the assault began.  She remembered the hot tears that had fallen that day, too.  She could not look at this persons face.  He was a horrible monster!

She was having a difficult time grasping what was being done to her.  Her thoughts ran wildly as she attempted to comprehend what was happening.  Why would someone do this?  How could someone be so horrible to another person?  What would people think of her if they found out?  Surely somehow she had caused this.  Had she smiled at this man when she saw him in town?  She was always smiling at people, in spite of being warned that not everyone was a nice person.  She should have never gone into the forest alone.  This day, she was supposed to be working, not day dreaming in her playhouse.

The assault felt like it came to an end as abruptly as it had started.  The monster almost seemed to become afraid of something himself.  As he left the little playhouse, he told the Princess that no one must ever know of this.  He threatened that if she told anyone, he would find her and next time he would really hurt her.  She would be very sorry if she ever told a soul.  The man disappeared into the forest as the Princess sat and cried.  She could not tell anyone what happened that day.  It was a horrible thing.  She felt dirty and sickened by the tragic event that had just occurred.  She knew she had lost some thing that day.  Innocence, worth and value had been robbed from her.  She knew she would never be the same because of this.  She would not realize until years later, how life altering this one event would be for her.  The man was right, no one must ever know.

The Princess sat for a long time in the old playhouse that day as she relived her victimization.  She allowed herself to grieve and thought about the years that had transpired since that day.  She could now clearly see how this one event had caused her to lose so much more than a moment of time and childhood innocence.  Being able to see clearly into the past, brings light to the present and healing to move forward into the future.  Another day, the Princess was sure she would spend more time here.  But for this day, she was done.  She knew that she had taken an important step.  She had faced her past and would tell her story now.  Maybe it would help another to venture into their own hidden memories and allow light to fill that dark room they’ve been unable to enter.

It was time to go back to the castle and put on her beautiful “princess” garments once again. She must never allow fear or the past to keep her from being who she was.   Once a princess, always a princess!  And yes, even when bad things happen, a princess can live happily ever after and that she did!