I came home from a particular workout this week, and my mind was buzzing. No doubt about it, I’m stronger than I used to be. Probably stronger than I’ve ever been before. It was a tough workout, and I set my weight hard. An ascending rep schedule meant that each round was harder than the one before. And every time I felt the weight of the bar land in my front rack position, I felt tempted to drop weight. Afterall, no one would judge me. No one would even notice. My arms and legs were shaking a bit and that’s not normal for me. It seemed perfectly justifiable to lift less. But I didn’t. And I made it through.
On my way home, hands still shaking, I wondered to myself just when a person actually gets stronger. I mean, when do the actual muscle strands enlarge and develop the ability for heavier and heavier loads. Progress is so painfully slow and mundane and sometimes it feels like months in between little glimpses of it. And the actual work of it is grueling. There isn’t a workout when I’m really pushing myself that I don’t hate every single second of it. That I don’t ask myself “why in God’s green earth am I doing this?”
Does it happen every time? Every time I show up? Did it happen today? Was more mental toughness forged today when I said “no” to peeling a plate off each side of my bar? Will that mental toughness translate to a new PR in the future? Will this one workout have really made a difference? Or do they all just bleed together and somehow or other, one day, we just find that we are stronger than before. Or is it because I had a good breakfast today.
I felt proud and happy and almost high about it. A small, incredibly private victory for me myself to enjoy. Just like the roundedness of my arms and legs and back that I’ve never experienced before. I mean, I’ve had muscles before, but different ones. Ones that were straight and thin-lined and not very bulgey. The ones I’m getting now are circular and thick and more like ropes than thin strands. And because earning them has been so ridiculously hard for me, I appreciate them for much more than the aesthetics of it. They are my medal for a hard fought battle.
I thought about it more as the evening went on. It’s a combination of a lot of things. Developing strength, I mean. It’s being persistent. It’s technique. It’s not quitting even during the bruising stage when I just could not figure out how to front rack without turning my collarbones into what looked like a severe case of domestic violence. It’s exploding harder than I did last time. It’s drawing deep and fighting for one or two more reps as the last 10 seconds of the clock run out. It’s fighting the urge to vomit or quit or just not show up in the first place. It’s tossing and turning at night with a body aching and throbbing. Aching and throbbing because the muscle growth is happening right then and there. Right in those sleeping moments. Repair and regeneration. Proteins filling in the gaps of microtears. Developing. Becoming.
Later that night, we had a few people over for dinner. People that have spent a few years on my “list”, so to speak. People that are in my life and worth the effort of good relationship. But the efforts have been hard and bloody. And for me personally, they’ve felt quite expensive.
So after we ate, we sat in the living room and I laid on the floor because my body was still on fire from the workout I just mentioned. We laughed and talked and had a great time. My body had cooled down in my own sweat as it does when I don’t have time for a shower immediately after a workout. Sweat dried in my hair and left it curly. I was a disaster. But I was there with these two having real relationship. I felt no judgement for my appearance as I have so many times over the years. I felt no hate and no jealousy from them.
My questions from my car ride home from the gym returned to me but with a twist. When did it happen? When did my tolerance of these two change to true enjoyment of them? When did forgiveness find its way all the way through to the micro-torn strands of my heart? When did love come in like a protein and repair me? Regenerate me?
It was the same as before. It was all of it. It was each silent victory won in the dark and quiet places of my heart. It was each time I rehearsed words of forgiveness rather than drinking in the sweet nectar of the remembrances of wrongdoing. It was each time I chose to act in a way that didn’t fit how I felt… I felt angry and hard and cold, but I forced myself through the emotional workout of setting my feelings aside and actually behaving in the way I should if I wanted to make progress. And progress I made. And here I was, seeing the living proof of it.
Much greater than the victory of any lift, this one was a victory that much emotional blood has been spilled for. And what a sweet victory it was.
It’s not the first time this has happened to me. The thing that happened the next day. In fact, a part of me wants to think that all the forces of hell simply cannot abide with the triumph of a human spirit and so, when some such victory is attained, like an angry unearthly beast being taunted, the head lowers and the pupils narrow and the blood thirst drips from hungry fangs. Suddenly, this is the sole intent. To steal the victory. To return the victor to a heap of pain and defeat on the ground where he belongs. An all-out pursuit of destruction. All aimed at one who would dare to live right.
The shit hit the fan and pieces flew everywhere. Half-truths and bold lies. Vile emails and massive boundary invasions. By evening, I was so angry, I could barely contain myself. I read one last new email at bedtime and literally felt my body shake from head to toe with the sheer volume of rage coursing through my veins. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a visceral response before. It was near violent. I wanted to scream or throw or punch a hole in something. So personal; so “below the belt”; so intentional.
Yesterday was a whirlwind of trying to regain a semblance of governing over myself. Over my own spirit. A forceful, moment-by-moment effort to tame the beast in me that had suddenly been woken and made to want blood again. I looked over at the metaphorical bits of forgiveness that had tenderly been woven in my secret places as they lay in a blood heap in the corner. Almost like a sweet little creature that had been allowed refuge in my heart but then was violently evicted the day before. If the thing had eyes, I’m sure it would look at me wondering why on earth it’s place of gentle repose had gone away so quickly and so abruptly. And so immediately after the reflections of peace and gratitude for long battles that brought about so much healing.
In our gym, we do an annual workout that is meant to be a bit of the queen mother of all bad workouts. It’s the sort of thing that, when you first analyze the details, you think, “Hmm, why the fuss? I can do that.” But it doesn’t take long into this delicious blend of agony for a person to realize that they must summon every.thing.they.have to simply not quit. I’ve done this particular workout twice and the second time was so intense that it left my sleep patterns interrupted for almost a month, presumabily because of the toll it took on my adrenals to push through.
The abrupt shattering of so much peace and forgiveness in my soul felt much like dragging my body across the last few feet of Murph only to find out that that one didn’t count. That it was a warm-up or something. With my whole body shaking from the effort just exerted and the pulse of my veins still pounding hard in my brain and the inability of my lungs to keep up with the demand my heart was putting out. In that moment of all-out-obliteration, to find out that I needed to go back and do it again. Now. Today. Oh, and this time, we’re going to make you wear the weighted vest that you couldn’t manage on your first time through. This time we’re going to add a new cocktail of added insults and lies and distortions for you to fight through as you struggle to help your little creature in the corner find a heartbeat again.
I don’t want to do the Murph again. Oh God, I do not want to do the Murph again. I want to lay down in green pastures and all that crazy shit that is now completely gone. I do not want to fight again. I do not want to work that hard again. I do not want to bleed emotional tears again. I do not want to have to press up against my humanity that hard again. I do not want to feel the mental and emotional depletion of the moment by moment struggle to forgive.
What a slippery thing forgiveness is. What a slimy fish. Can’t hang onto it. Just when you think you’ve got the thing, and you might make a mosaic and hang it in your kitchen window to tell the story of how you fought so hard and won, the beast sees the art and says, “Oh hell no. Not on my watch. I’ll shatter that, you wait and see.”
My mind is busy with decimating these asinine emails. Word by word, line by line, I have responses. Oh I have responses. I have logic and critical thought to lay the whole crappy thing to rest. But it’s all for naught. There is no winning in this fight.
What am I to do? On this day when I find out that all those workouts didn’t count. When I suddenly can’t figure out how to front rack again and catch that bar in the safe, strong parts of the meat of my shoulders rather than on the tender places of my collarbones. What am I to do when I forgot how to explode? Forgot how to move heavy weight from the floor to over my head with simply the right amount of explosion mixed with the right amount of technique mixed with the right amount of a heart that just really wants it? How am I to summon the desire again? The defeat was so vicious and so nasty that I just don’t even want the thing anymore. To hell with a good clean and jerk. I couldn’t care less.
But these two. They aren’t an efficient lift in the gym. They are flesh and blood. They are people I must fight for. People I will fight for. People that cause such a powerful cellular response in me that the urge to throw in the towel and say, “You know what, jump off a bridge” is so loud and so powerful, but it simply must not be allowed to abide. It’s a poison seed that must not be allowed to take root.
A truth rings in my heart this morning. A truth about silent wars. Private battles. The type we fight and no one sees and applauds and appreciates. It’s the same fiber of heart that kept me from sliding plates off both sides of the bar on my 45th C&J, and it will lead me back to that place where I am physically able to stoop down and nurse my forgiveness back to life. Back to health.
You see, it’s the hidden things that matter. It’s the unseen that makes the seen. No one gets a pass on this. No one gets to sidestep it. If you want to be a beautiful person, you better be ready to do the work of developing some inner beauty. All the hair extensions and make up in the world won’t make up for the lack of that hidden thing. If you want fortitude and power and real strength, strap on the weighted vest and dig deep.
“Every action of the common day makes or unmakes character. Therefore, what one has done in the secret chamber will one day be cried aloud from the housetops.”
I refuse to be unmade.
I am becoming.