Sunday, February 15, 2015

I'm an explorer!


That's me on the left and my sis on the right. I was maybe 8 or 9. Skinny! 

I grew up loving exercise.

Okay wait. That is wrong. Let me rephrase that.

I grew up loving to explore.

I can remember being very young, may be 9 or 10? and I would get up at 6am on Saturday, make myself a bullseye (egg in a window, bird in a nest - you know, a piece of bread with an egg fried in the center), and watch the morning cartoons on the tv:  Electrawoman and DynagirlThundercats, Voltron (my favorite was when the spaceships were cats),  Superfriends (with the Wonder Twins of course)... the list could go on, but after cartoon time, I would put on my tennis shoes or my sandals, or my boots, sometimes I'd kiss my mom (who would be up by then with her cigarette and coke) on the cheek and go on a 'walk'. My mother never asked where I was going and knew I wouldn't be home for four or five or even six hours. I was going off to explore. I don't know how she did it - my mother worried about everything. But I guess we lived in a small town and my family lived in a very close community, and she felt safe that nothing would happen to me. As I walked out the playroom door, I would hear her say, "Be home for dinner!" and off I would go.

My walks took hours. I never knew where I was going. Sometimes I'd go behind the community clubhouse and see where that led me, or I'd take the path behind the Cooper's house and go into the woods. I would walk and look at trees and rocks and streams. Sometimes, I'd go to the abandoned tree house in the woods, or sometimes I'd go to the pond down the road. One time, just for the heck of it, I walked all the way into town! Then I called my dad to bring the truck and come and pick me up. Granville, the way I walked, was about six miles from my house. It doesn't seem like much now, but then it was really far away! Sometimes, I would walk in the other direction. Just to explore. Just to see what I could find. I would call my dad from the craziest places, and he would get in the truck and come and pick me up. No cell phones, so I'd have to find a pay phone or ask a stranger if I could use their phone to call my mom. Sometimes I'd have to call collect. Worst case, I'd have to walk home, although I'd try to find a shorter route! Almost always, my mom would answer the phone, I'd tell her where I was and she'd locate my dad and twenty or thirty minutes later he'd pick me up. We'd talk in the truck all the way home. He was never once angry or upset. Sometimes he'd ask how I ended up where I ended up, but since he was the one that had first taken me on long walks at seven or eight years old, he never scolded me for exploring. Some of my best memories are my long walks with my dad.

For me, growing up, Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons were times to explore. It didn't really matter the weather, I was out there finding that abandoned building, sneaking into locked houses that were for sale (I have this weird thing where sometimes doors just open for me. Wasted talent!), watching frogs in the pond, finding rocks or cool leaves. The world was my treasure and I just wanted to find out everything I could about it. I explored my world like that until I was 13 or 14, I think.

I don't remember why I stopped exploring. School got harder. I went from not caring that I didn't have a lot of friends, to really wishing I had a lot of friends. I gained a tremendous amount of weight when I turned 15. I was put on a bunch of hormones and steroids which didn't help the situation any. But somewhere in my mid-teens exploring shifted to exercise. To regimented movement. And it didn't take long for me to realize I hated exercise. Maybe the switch happened when I tried out for the track team, someone made fun of my slow running and I quit. Or in gym class when I was afraid to embarrass myself and the gym teacher told me if I wasn't so fat I wouldn't be embarrassed. I don't know. Maybe it was the neighbor boys' endless teasing. Maybe it was the chaos at home, but the net result was that I quit exploring.

And maybe that is the crux of it. I started to see exercise as harmful, not as fun or adventurous. Gym class was an opportunity for others to tease and for me to demonstrate just how uncoordinated I truly was. No one said, "Hey, exercise doesn't mean you have to be able to hit a ball perfectly! Go love what you love! Go swim! Go explore! That is exercise!" I just gave up on moving. And for 30 years I have seen exercise as torture.

Until recently. Until last summer. Until I started running. I didn't love running. But I loved moving. I started to remember how I enjoyed being outside. How I enjoyed exploring. Don't get me wrong, those first months of running were exercise and they were not an adventure! But as I moved, I think I woke up my muscle memory. I started to think about moving not as torture, but as fun. Part of it was seeing my daughter play lacrosse as well. Seeing the girls on the field move in such grace reminded me of the things that made me feel graceful. Swimming, exploring. I think that is why I kept running even when I knew something was wrong with my knee. I was terrified if I stopped running, this fire I was developing for movement would go out. That once my knee started to heal, I wouldn't have the motivation to go back to moving.

Turns out I was wrong. Maybe it was the walk with my friend Lori when I realized I could go much farther than I thought I could. That no one was going to tease or be mean. For 30 years I had held on in my head to what kids in school had said about me - I was fat, ugly, not good at sports, etc. and used it as an excuse to abstain from exercising. Those old recordings in my head faded. I started to hear new ones - or maybe in my case, older ones. The ones that said movement was adventure!

It helped that I had motivation. I took on being a full-time mom. The relationship I thought would last, ended. Somewhere in that mix, I started to get to know my Self again. I unlocked my heart and found that I missed exploring. Not just exercising, but exploring everything about me! Looking in to see what was there. Turns out, exploring showed me that I hadn't always hated my body. In fact, there was a time when I was comfortable in my own body. There was a time when my body didn't feel like my enemy. And I started to embrace my own joy.

That translated into coming to see exercise not as torture, but release! I don't get to explore much right now, seeing as I'm not really allowed yet to go for long walks or bike rides. But going to the YMCA 4 or 5 times a week, putting on my headphones, escaping into my workout mix, singing along in my head, closing my eyes...  I could care LESS if anyone thinks I am weird on my machine sweating until I can barely open my eyes for the salt, exercise has become fun! When I close my eyes I think about all the things I want to do. I think about the people I love. I think about places I want to explore: Africa, or Greece, or Mexico, or Hawaii, or a thousand places! Or even exploring my own back yard. No longer is exercise torture. It is hard work, but I have tapped into that part of myself that remembers how much I love to explore.

I'm remembering what passion feels like. What being alive feels like. What loving myself and the world feels like. In the process of making friends with my body and loving my body and remembering that I am a woman who likes to explore, things have changed.

Exploring my true self and embracing her has made all the difference.