The Chipper of Life

“My talent for leadership, I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the utmost assurance.”

Today at my book study we began Bill’s Story.  What popped out for me was that in addition to alcoholism, Bill and I share a propensity for grandiosity.   I graduated Cum Laude even though my major could have been 2-for-1 Thursdays, and I came out of college much dumber than when I went in.  I was always able to cram at 3am, regurgitate the information on a test at 9am and get an A.  I was born that way.  Within the structure of school this made me feel really gifted, superior and entitled.  I’ve always been told I was so smart, and somewhere along the line I came to believe that a lucrative career and glamorous life would probably fall into my lap just because I was so amazing.

Let’s be honest, I’ve never worked very hard for anything.  I’ve thought that every job I’ve ever had was beneath me and I treated them that way.  I somehow thought I could successfully coast through life.  This approach stopped working once I graduated college.  I struggled to get a job and once I got a job, I just couldn’t figure out how to advance.  I mean, didn’t anyone notice how smart and awesome I am?  The truth is that I had a crappy work ethic, bad attitude and was a little socially awkward.  These three qualities basically spell ruin in the entertainment industry where I’m pretty sure the recipe for success is endless hours, relentless positivity and the ability to pretend like you actually give a shit about other people.

My attitude and drinking deteriorated side by side, and I decided to give up on the job thing.  It just wasn’t working out.  With the blessing of my husband I quit my job and got pregnant a few months later without the blessing of my husband.  Kidding… sort of.  Anyway, motherhood conveniently solved my career problem for the time being, except that I carried my beliefs and attitudes with me.

My most dreaded WOD’s (workout of the day) in CrossFit are chippers.  Chippers contain high reps of many different exercises.  The other day we did one they called “Dirty 30” because it was someone’s 30th birthday.

30 Box Jumps

30 Pull-ups

30 Wall Balls

30 Kettle Bell Swings

30 Knees-to-elbows

30 Ab Mat Sit-ups

30 Walking Lunges

30 Double-unders

30 Burpees

I didn’t like it.  I like a 7 minute WOD.  I like lifting a very heavy weight once or twice.  I was the last in the class to finish this WOD, partially because of my fitness and partially because my mind really gets in the way.  It says, “Look how many more you have to do.  You’ll never make it.  This is too hard.  It hurts.  What’s the point anyway?  CrossFit is stupid.  Fuck these people.”  They are called chippers because you chip away at them, one rep at a time.  You don’t have to worry about 30 burpees, you just have to worry about your next movement.  One foot in front of the other, just keep going.  I fought myself the whole way, but I did eventually finish.  Each little rep added up to one killer WOD.

I’ve really never experienced this before.  I’m always going for the big bang.  I’ve never been interested in making a small, consistent effort at something until this last year.  AA has taught me the value of trudging and that has been solidly reinforced by CrossFit.  And what amazing results I’ve gotten on both fronts.  Not because I’m the best or because I’m perfect, but just because I show up and keep going.

And I have faith that this is beginning to spill into my everyday life.  Trying hard at things I’m not naturally gifted at (like cleaning or playing Power Rangers) is a pain in the ass.  A lot of times I get really overwhelmed just by the amount of stuff that there is to do in a day.  The laundry, dishes, organizing, shopping, cooking, bathing, bedtime, etc.  It’s endless and relentless.  I don’t like it, so I spend a lot of time avoiding it by waiting for my Facebook feed to refresh or playing Candy Crush.

The other day I was getting particularly overwhelmed and petulant.  I was standing in the kitchen and suddenly I had this thought/voice come into my head as clear as day.  Out of nowhere I heard, “What could you do right now to make tomorrow easier?”  And just like that I stopped pouting and did the dishes.

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I Work Out

On Halloween of 2011 I went to my first ever Crossfit class.  I was 3 months post-partum and a week into a 30 day break from drinking due to the fact that I had shredded my stomach lining with wine and Motrin.  A picture of health!  I arrived at the “Beginner Level” class and was dismayed to find about 30 extremely fit “beginners” milling about waiting for class to start. By the time I overheard some bro with his shirt off tell his friend that this was his 8th day working out in a row, my stomach was in my feet. I didn’t belong here.  The coaches sent us on a run, there was a combat crawl and some other impossible movements.  I thought I might be dying.  Then they said it was time to start the workout.  Fuck.

I tried to pep-talk myself through (“Start where you are!”) and swallowed down the rising lump as I realized I was going to be the only person who didn’t finish the WOD (workout of the day).  The coaches started calling out for everyone to announce their finish times.  I realized my failure, my fatness was going to be called out in front of everyone.  I ran before they could see.

My goal for my life was not to be an overweight, suburban mother with a drinking problem who leaves an exercise class crying, but there I was.  I don’t want to be dramatic because it is just Crossfit, but this was a defining moment for me.  I disappointed myself by allowing my fear and shame to send me running, but at the same time a fire was lit.  I was a little bit angry… at myself, at the world in general.  Anger isn’t an emotion I’m comfortable with.  And maybe this is the cosmos aligning for me because if I hadn’t been on a medically necessary dry spell, you can bet your ass I would have drank over this.  I’d stuff it down, shut it away and say a big, “Fuck you!” to Crossfit.  But I couldn’t drink over it, so I stewed about it for a month and somewhere inside me I decided that someday I would come back and kick Crossfit’s ass.

If I hadn’t gotten sober, this would have just been tacked onto the end of my “Shit I’ll Never Do” list.   I conceded my alcoholism about three months later and around 90 days sober the opportunity to have another go with Crossfit manifested in a God-shot sort of way.  I’ll spare you the story cause it’s not that interesting and this post is getting long, but I decided to try again in a different environment.  It was still physically very uncomfortable.  I felt all of my insecurities were on display, but I applied the tools I learned in AA to Crossfit.  I could feel that fire that had been lit 6 months prior, so I surrendered to it.  I made the commitment to just show up, no matter what I was thinking or feeling.  Exactly like I did when I started attending meetings.  Just show up and do the work.  I pushed past the voice that said I’m too fat, too slow, too weak, too tired, too sore and put one foot in front of the other.

I got into action, and I didn’t stop.  I didn’t stop until I didn’t want to stop anymore.  Just like dieting, I was never able to stick with exercise.  Exercising was always the thing I should do because I’m fat and unhealthy, and that is the absolute least inspiring reason to do something.  From that perspective, exercise is a punishment.  I’ve done bootcamps, stroller workouts, spinning, yoga, Zumba.  I’ve tried it all.  I have an idea about why Crossfit works for me, but I think that deserves a post of it’s own.  What is important is that my WOD’s are a reward not a punishment.  Even when it feels like I’m pushing myself to the physical brink, it’s one of the only times in my day where I’m not thinking about my kids, what’s for dinner, what I should do with my life, etc.  All I’m thinking about is how the fuck I’m going to lift this 110 lb barbell over my head.  Then I do it and am in awe of myself.  And all I had to do was keep coming back.