It is with the greatest vulnerability that I write something so personal. One thing I’ve learned about tragedy and grief in these past few years is that it can be expressed privately within the corners of our subconscious, or you can truly open yourself up to experience it. Share it. Live it. Say it out loud. I never thought I would possess words of wisdom or lend support to others, but I’ve learned to not be afraid to say the unsayable. I have created a forum on Instagram, which has surprisingly been a great outlet for me to voice my thoughts, fears, emotions and share my personal journey to a new life. This is yet another collection of words that share with you who I am.
It was a Monday. February 23, 2015. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to be said. In an effort to express my level of commitment through a letter, I went out and bought the most exquisite, ethereal looking notebook I could find. As if the romantic notion of the pages could outwardly express the deep and passionate emotional bonds that tethered our souls to one another. I was anxious to deliver this four-page love letter, a confession of my undying devotion. Seemingly confident it would be the glue that would give my husband the strength to get through the next trying thirty days and hold our life firmly together.
The scene which I happened upon next has forever changed who I am. It was as if my mind wanted me to be aware of every bit of my surroundings. I often describe the situation like it had played out in slow motion. My mind trying to catch up to the visions that didn’t add up and happened to be all wrong; like a dramatic film, the main character unknowingly entering into a life altering event. The frames begin to slow, the dramatic music score builds as I make my way closer.
The first thought was that of any normal person, “Hmmm…. a rather large amount of police cars. What’s going on here?” I briefly pause as my eyes scan a black van that read, “Crime Scene Investigation”. A police vehicle I had never witnessed in person, I almost chuckled to myself that it was even real and not just part of a nightly television line up. My curiosity began to grow as I swung open the door to the facility. The familiar buzzer rang, informing the counselors a patron was walking up the stairs, just as it had the countless other times I visited.
It is a climb I will never be able to forget, permanently seared into the depths of my core. The exact feelings, emotions, stares…it never leaves me.
Each step I took, my heart raced knowing I would soon be wrapping my arms around my husband, giving him a rightful hug and the letter full of the things I wish I would have said hours earlier, but were lost upon a sea of emotions during a painful goodbye. As I turned the corner of the stairs I could immediately feel everyone’s eyes ricocheting towards me. I had all of a sudden become an intruder in the very familiar place. I slowed my pace as I began to hear faint whispers. My eyes darting upwards searching for his friendly face. As I took the final step, I hear; “that’s his wife” snuck under someone’s breath. My mind began to race trying to rationalize why numerous people were gathered in the main hallways and stairwell.
It was in that moment on that very last step…. I realized every person in there…had their eyes solely fixated on me. It felt invasive, almost hostile, “Why? Why were they all staring at me?” The thousands of thoughts, questions and answers that flew through my mind in those split seconds.
I already knew.
There are very few expressions a human being makes that can hide such devastation and empathy all in one look. I remember crying to someone later on, about how traumatizing it felt to have everyone stare at me, staring at me knowing my world was about to come crashing down. Staring at me knowing that I will never be able to unsee this moment. Staring at me as if they all held a big secret that was kept, just from me.
I’m not even sure how I moved my legs as they ushered me into a private counseling room. I can remember how tightly, almost violently I gripped the program director; screaming at him to tell me where my husband was.
I already knew.
He couldn’t even bring himself to say the words. I did. I said them. I said them over and over until he painstakingly shook his head in agreement. It was in that moment of confirmation that I felt the air be sucked out of the room. It’s an out of body experience. You see the light rush in and darkness sweep it out all in the blink of an eye, a swift motion. You forget the existence of everything, if only for a moment…in a freefall…and then…BAM.
I remember my words sounding like echoes. I demanded the police officers to go retrieve Brittany. The anger I felt pulsate through me when they couldn’t figure out who she was or where she lived. Even after I kept methodically pointing in the direction that she lived in, “She is right there. Just go fucking get her.” I yelled, unaware of my hysterical state. I can’t forget the feeling of my heart being ripped to shreds as they brought me his wedding band and a pen. Items that were on him at the time of death. I remember saying something obscenely morbid in reply to the exchange.
I’m not sure how long this whole event went on. It felt like hours. I had to recount every step we had taken the weekend prior and hours preceding. I kept forgetting where I was, what I was talking about…I would pause, look up at the unfamiliar faces and say, “what are we doing?” Even though I had already been in full on “story time” as I had called it later on.
It was a year ago today and I can feel every fiber of the day as if it was yesterday. The scene plays in my head as if it’s on repeat. I envy those that have never had to experience a life event like this. Living within this kind of moment, it traps you in a level of darkness. The thoughts never leave you as you project feelings onto what that person must have been thinking or felt in those final minutes of despair.
It was a life that was taken from me against my will. An irreversible outcome, that was thought would “protect” me, yet has only inflicted three hundred and sixty-five days of what ifs and taken a piece of me that is forever gone. My heart is now a mosaic of shattered pieces I have so carefully put back together. I have spent the year trying to find my way into the light. I have strategically made choices to live to my full capacity. It has not been easy. For as many good days there have been, I have had numerous bad days. Knowing it was time to give myself an emotional purge, I decided to share these thoughts and emotions.
At first, I watched the curser endlessly blink on the empty page. My mind questioning the words I should write. It has been hard for me to comprehend what exactly I was feeling. A valued strength of mine; being able to push past emotional turmoil, pain, travel through the motions of life with a sense of realism and numbness. I’m an expert really.
I’ve realized that in the last year, my greatest accomplishment may lie within the last two months. For I have been quite absorbed in fighting an internal battle not many were aware of. It has felt like a twisted balance of repeating past mistakes, all while trying to repel a looming depression, hell bent on bringing destruction to the new life I have been creating. I was beginning to feel like I had to be what everyone had made up in their minds of who I was. A soldier. This wonder of a woman with unbreakable strength who could overcome anything. As I found my way to the bottom of several cookie jars and cereal boxes, I couldn’t help but think…” boy are all these people wrong about me”.
There was never any of the answers I was looking for in the emotional binge eating. The only thing I would be left with was an over extended sick to my stomach feeling, regret that it was not worth it and I would have to be held accountable for what I did. It was a cycle I began to repeat endlessly, almost expecting a different result each time. Torturing my body with breakfast foods was never going to solve any problems or make unidentified emotions disappear. It no longer served as the comforting coping mechanism that once had hold over my life. The problem was, I had seen the light. I did know better. I had been truly living terms like; Keep going, Don’t stop, Never Fail, Goal getter. I definitely knew better now. As much as I thought my “hyper focused” mindset was failing me…I never let go of my newfound goals. I’ve fought hard to experience true happiness again. Even though I was feeling pressure from my own ideals of perfection…I needed to remind myself, I am a fighter. I am a wonder of a woman with unbreakable strength. That IS who I am. I have created a new reality for myself and watched the shackles of a past life fall to the way side. It’s like they say; A Phoenix rising from the ashes. Lighting fires to fuel new beginnings. I’ve dared to dream up new dreams and have soldiered forward with a reaching grasp towards a different life. For as many times I have stumbled in the last few months, I have always gotten back up. I have always tried again. My desire to not be what has happened to me…has never wavered.
I’ve been asked over and over how I have accomplished a major weight loss feat while in the midst of grieving personal tragedies. The answer is simple. I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to live my life confined to a body and lifestyle that served me no other purpose than depression. Everything I felt I was, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker, hairstylist…it was all stripped away.
It doesn’t all happen at once. I am almost scared to say…it happens by accident. I didn’t set out to be some magical, weight loss warrior. I never realized what I was doing would end up having such an impact on others. I just knew if I laid another day in my bed, grieving in darkness, that I would soon be dead myself. I wanted to breathe new life into me. There was no prayer or magic wand that did it for me. I did it. I had to do the work and make the changes.
On April 1st, I chose to go to the gym and climbed up on that elliptical. I don’t even know how my 300lb frame stayed on that cardio machine for 60 minutes. But what I can tell you is the small glimmer of excitement I felt as I begrudgingly took a picture and sent it to my best friend. After all, the whole intention of that first gym session was to prove a point to her. I was proud. I was proud that I did something that I had convinced myself I could not do.
It wasn’t always easy. There were days my body was inflamed and I felt I could not walk. If I could not walk…I’d swim. All I knew was…Don’t Stop. If I couldn’t put physical effort into my daily schedule, I would have to make it up in the kitchen. There were a lot of salads in those early days. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just doing… something. I enjoyed having “something” to control, to be my very own.
I have learned quite a powerful message in these twelve months. As human beings, we are limitless. Everything we think we can or cannot do starts within the boundaries we set for ourselves. I did not want to be who I was becoming. I truly wanted to change my life. I revoked my excuses, realizing that the future pages to my story were blank. I am the author of this book. I seek no attention, validation or acceptance from anyone but myself. I have invested in self-love and have learned to be the leader of my own bandwagon. My self-confidence did not arise from weight loss. It came from the battles that plagued me every day. It came from the choices I made to stand against them. I do this thing 90% of the time when I stand up, it’s kind of silly. When I stand, I engage my core and brace my leg muscles so I can feel my body/strength rise as I shift my weight into an upward motion. I don’t ever take that feeling for granted. Three years ago, I was crippled with two herniated lumbar discs. The smallest of tasks were beyond excruciating to complete. Fast forward to now, I feel strong. I feel myself stand against everything that is thrown at me. I feel capable of anything. Matching my inner and outer strength has been more than just rewarding, it has been a game changer. I love the feeling of being able to rise.
I have accomplished life goals that I could have never imagined being goals to begin with. I’ve lived a bucket list. I traveled to tropical destinations and jumped off waterfalls. I have climbed cliffs far beyond my comfort zone and stood on the edge of fear. I have explored new countries solo and searched for my place in the world. The biggest surprise was the new lifelong friendships and connections I have made. I could have never dreamt up certain people who have walked into my life this last year. Once strangers and now some of my closest allies, all because I made the choice to put myself out there and explore the fitness world. You never know what life will bring. Laying in a dark room crying to myself…wondering how I could make it through 2015…I never imagined this.
The greatest choice I have ever made…to be limitless. A phrase I had used over and over, “You couldn’t pay me millions to go sky diving. Fuck. That.”
Standing at the edge of that plane…and letting go. Letting go of everything that I thought I was. Letting go of all the things that had happened to me. Letting go of every fear and worry I had. We are only held back by our own limitations. Anything is possible…you just have to take the first step.
This is my story, my journey, my life….and I CHOOSE TO LIVE IT.