The Gift of: Your (Beautiful) Body Story

I wrote this blog post about 6 months ago. I thought it would be worth sharing again, especially for newbies to the blog:

A wise person once said: You Don’t Have a Body. You Are a Body.

In light of my occupation as a personal trainer and bodybuilder, I started to take a second look at the entire fitness industry in light of this statement.

I think too often we focus on the negatives of our bodies. “We hate our own bodiliness,” was something a wise person once said recently (actually it’s the same wise person I just mentioned. I can’t help it, I love wise people.)

I tend to agree that there is an almost universal negative attitude towards our bodies.

I’ve spoken to people on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to what to do with “this body.” I’ve noticed 2 types of people:

The Hater

We hate our body and we do everything possible to hide it, to lie about it, to use it, and abuse it in an effort to make it appear acceptable, perhaps even attractive according to outside influences or societal standards. This becomes an obsession to the point that we become envious of anyone who has the body that we desire so much. This also could lead to despair as we try over and over to attain this “perfect body” with little to show for it. We devalue our bodies and think ourselves unworthy.

The Lover

We love our body so much that we become vain to the point of over exposure. We boast and brag and show off, becoming completely obsessed with maintaining this “perfect” physique. A narcissistic attitude takes over. We believe our body is something to be worshiped by those who hate their own bodies (and we know there are plenty of those).  We also become very frustrated by anyone who isn’t like us. We don’t understand how they just don’t “get with it” and aren’t in love with fitness and health like we are.

But there’s some good news, kind of.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority are those in the middle:

The Love/Haters

These folks have a love/hate relationship with their body. They struggle just like everyone else with maintaining their weight but they don’t obsess over it. They “watch” their diet but they don’t write down what they eat and they most certainly don’t count calories. They like what they see in the mirror but they don’t love it. There’s always room for improvement but they probably only get to the gym once or twice a month.

If there’s one thing all of these people have in common, it’s that they see their bodies as Objects. Things. Possessions.

But what if you looked at your body as a way to tell a story. That certainly changes things doesn’t it?

You can either tell a good, honest story, or a story of lies and deception.

Some examples, since this is a difficult concept:

I’m a smoker and I go to my doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells me that I’m showing all the signs of lung cancer and that I had better cut back or quit on the smoking if I want to live longer. Meanwhile, I’ve seen this same doctor light up a cigarette outside the office and I see a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. That doctor is lying with his body.

Or:

I go to a used car salesmen to try and find a good deal. He sells me this great looking car, I take it for a test drive, the price is right and I drive off the lot but not before he shakes my hand and tells me I made a great decision. Meanwhile, he goes back to his desk and laughs to himself because he knows he just sold me a lemon. By shaking my hand and sincerely telling me I made a great purchase, he lied with is body, as well as his words.

Or:

In the gym, let’s say I take some video demonstrating an exercise or I take a few pictures to put up on my website. When someone asks me how I manage to be so strong or in such great shape, I tell them “Hard work!” but in the meantime, I’m taking some performance enhancing drugs or steroids. I would be lying with my body.


 

So how do we use our body to tell the truth, specifically with regards to health and fitness?

 

It starts with honesty with ourselves. It’s EASY to lie to others. “Oh yeah, I’ve been sticking with my diet and my training. I’ll be ready for that 5k in a few weeks, no problem!”

Meanwhile, you know you’ve cheated on your diet, eaten ll the wrong things, splurged on junk food, and haven’t gotten a run in because you still haven’t bought a good pair of running shoes (or whatever the case may be).  But no one else knows that! So there’s no one to tell the truth to, except yourself.

If we can be honest with ourselves, by speaking the truth, by admitting our faults and our screw-ups, even if it’s in a journal or out loud to ourselves, it’s one step towards telling the truth with our bodies.

It starts when we stop thinking of our bodies as these “things” you have to deal with and work at and drag around. What a sad way to view ourselves. And we wonder why people are SO interested in the quick-fix diet schemes?


 

We need to re-frame our thinking to understand that our body is exactly who we are. It’s not something to be mocked, abused, degraded and devalued at the expense of others or in the name of vanity and pride. And certainly not the in the name of fitness.

Start telling your story with honesty. If we start there, it might become easier to view OTHERS in a more respectful way, not just ourselves.

If you are telling a story every minute of the day with your body…

What kind of story are you telling and what would you want people to remember about it?

Mom Comes Home

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My mom passed away one year ago today and ever since, I have been adding a little bit here and there to this blog post, knowing I’d want to publish something on the anniversary of her death.

At first I was going to write about her life.  And maybe someday I will.  But now right now.  Today I want tell you the journey she took to her final resting place.

She was diagnosed in August of 2009 with a rare type of T-cell lymphoma.  She had already been displaying strange symptoms since March of that year but it took months of tests to finally diagnose her.  After 6 rounds of chemotherapy, she was declared to be in remission by her oncologist.  We celebrated that Thanksgiving.  It seemed it was a miracle, although we were warned this type of cancer could come back in a few years and chemo might not work.

That news did not deter my Mom from living her life as “wild” as a 62year old could.  She spent as much time doing things she enjoyed and said YES a lot more than she said NO.  She would babysit my nephews more often.  She would attend my nephews baseball games and come with us to Cedar Point and went to every wedding and graduation party she was invited to.  Lots of lunches and dinners with friends and family as often as possible.

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In June of 2012, she started having symptoms again.  This time, all the tests came back negative for lymphoma.  But it was obvious to all of us, and her, that something wasn’t right.  This time instead of a cough and a rash, it was stomach pain.  And back pain.  And loss of her voice.  Although her voice never completely went away, it was probably one of the worst things to happen to her.  See, she was quite the gabber.  She talked to my sister every morning over the phone for years!  She’d chat with friends over lunch, she’d chat with her customers at the bridal store she worked at.  That was all gone once she lost her voice.  Not to mention the pain she was in was heartbreaking to witness.

Now, I’d come downstairs to see her in the recliner, sleeping, or trying to sleep, and in pain.  The worst was the feeling of hopelessness as you watch someone in pain and there’s nothing you can say or do to help.  Too sick to go to work.  Too tired to go anywhere.  Too weak to even move off the recliner.  This went on for most of the summer until August when removal of her lymph node confirmed that her cancer was back.  It had been a frustrating time since every other test did not show the cancer.  But her oncologist said it was the type that hides.  Well, it stayed hidden for months.

The chemo this time around was changed slightly to treat the cancer.  And after a few treatments it seemed to be working.  As anyone who knows someone or is on chemo will tell you, it’s like a rollercoaster.  She had her good weeks when she was able to have enough energy to shop and visit with friends and she had bad weeks when it took many days to recover from the chemo.

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By the time Christmas came around, it seems as though she took a turn for the worse.  It became harder for her to breathe and she seemed weak.  She didn’t want to sleep for fear of not waking up.  She slept downstairs in the recliner and there was always someone with her at all times.  A few days before Christmas she went into the hospital and it didn’t look good.  We weren’t sure she would be home for Christmas at all.  But she was determined.  She knew the situation wasn’t good but she also knew she didn’t want to die in a hospital.  She insisted to her doctor that she was going to go home.  I believe his initial reaction was, “We’ll see.”  But my Mom was quite stubborn.  There was no way she was going to miss Christmas.

The situation was so grim, that she actually sat with me in the hospital and told me her final wishes.  It wasn’t really a conversation.  It was definitely one-sided as she spoke and I cried.  She told me the dreams she had for me, she told me how she knew everyone would be okay but that we should look after each other.  She did say something quite funny actually:  “Michelle, oh you don’t need any man in your life so you’ll be okay.”  🙂  Thanks Mom, ha!

But she also said some sad things like “I don’t think Sean will remember me.”

“I don’t have any regrets in my life…but I do feel like I’m being cheated a little bit.   I really wanted to watch Matthew play baseball one more time.”

“I’ve never been afraid of dying and I’ve always been a faithful person…but I’m wondering where is my faith right now?”

“I know this last round of chemo won’t save me.  But if I could just have a few more months…”

Well, God heard her prayers, all of our prayers.  Because the next day she got the all clear to come home.

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The first thing she insisted on doing when we got her home was to finish wrapping the Christmas gifts.  She could barely lift the scissors and the tape but she insisted.  She was adamant about celebrating Christmas.  It was always her favorite holiday, especially to see the look on my nephews faces as they opened up their gifts.  And us too.

As we celebrated Christmas that year, it was clear this was going to be her last.  You didn’t want to think about it, you didn’t want to believe it.  But you knew.  And you knew that she knew.

January and February of 2013 were pretty good.  We actually had hope for a little bit.  The best was when her voice came back.  I came down the stairs to the sound of my Mom on the phone with my Aunt.  I said, “Your voice Mom!!! It’s back!”  She was glowing, she was so excited.  It was the first REAL evidence that there was some hope here.

But, most of the time, you could tell she didn’t want to get her hopes up too high.  None of us did.  I always prayed for her to be healed.  To be cured.  I couldn’t help but think, “Are my prayers just being ignored?  What gives?”

Mom had one more GREAT day.  She got to spend it with my aunt at the casino downtown and eating Paczki on Fat Tuesday.  She said to my Aunt,  “This was the best time I’ve had.”  She took this picture of her in the car, with her paczki of course.

Fat Tuesday with a Paczki!
Fat Tuesday with a Paczki!

It was literally a week or two later that she was fine one day and bad the next.  You always hear about how that happens and you always think, “Oh I’m sure they’re exaggerating.”  No really, she was really okay one day and the next day she couldn’t breathe.  She went in to get the fluid drained from around her lungs and her heart and while she was there she sent all of us a text that said: “Hospice worker coming at one. Can you come?”

Well that pretty much knocked the wind out of me.  It was one thing for one of US to think about hospice.  But when SHE is initiating it…that changes the ball game.

Ironically, when we all walked in around the same time, my Mom looked better than ever.  She looked like she never had cancer.  It was the strangest sight.  The hospice worker even looked at her like, “Ummm…are you sure you need hospice?”

But that was our Mom’s gift to us.  She knew none of us would ever recommend or even say the word hospice unless she said it first.  It had to be her decision.

It was clear from talking to hospice that Mom wasn’t quite there yet and she had options.

She came home the next day though and we thought, “Okay maybe she has more time than we thought.  Maybe this isn’t so bad.”

About a week later, she was back in the hospital again.  This time she couldn’t breathe again, and needed to be drained, again.  But as soon as they drained her, shortly thereafter, the fluid was back.  It was getting to be too much and they couldn’t keep up with the drainage.

She needed to be put into a wheelchair to get back into the car.  And when she came home we needed to help her into the house.  That’s when she changed right in front of my eyes.

Her voice became tiny and high pitched, and she said her legs felt “weird” and she said she was ashamed and embarrassed that she needed a wheelchair to get into her own house.  We told her not to worry about it but you could tell the life that was inside her was diminishing.  I looked at her for the first time and she looked like she aged 20 years in that minute.

Two days later she asked for hospice.  She sat there with me and told me “This is no way to live.  Call hospice, it’s time.”  I didn’t argue with her.  I don’t think I even cried.  I was more just in shock  that this was happening.

I stopped praying for healing or a cure.  I knew it wasn’t because God wasn’t answering my prayer, He was trying to tell me I was praying for the wrong thing.  This time, I prayed for her to go home.

3 days later, she took her last breath with my Dad at her side.  Those three days were quite possibly the most beautiful moments as well as the most awful three days of my life.  No one should have to see a loved one dying in front of them.  But there were moments from that weekend I will never forget and some day I will write a nice long post about it.

Until then, I take comfort in the memories I have of my beautiful mother.  The notes she left us that we found at Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The pictures of her around this huge empty house.  The sound of her voice and her laugh that I still have on saved voicemails and videos.  And of course, the look on people’s faces when they speak about her.  I have given up trying to tell people how amazing she was.  They simply will never know her and as much as it hurts and pains me to know that YOU will never know who she was, it’s okay now.  She lives on in me and my sister and my brother and my nephews.  So if you ever want to get to know her, just ask me.

I could talk about her forever.

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