Excited … and apprehensive! I still can’t quite take in that i’ll be cycling 600km this Saturday and Sunday. The event is the Bryan Chapman Memorial, an epic annual event that begins at Chepstow in South Wales and ends back there after passing through all of Wales to the North West Corner (and back again!). Now, the idea of 300km was my limit until i rode a ride that length 1 month ago. But 2 of these, back to back … with a 40hr time limit to do them both?
Now, i have athletic abilities – easily enough to ride 600km in the 40hr time limit set for this event this weekend. But i also suffer from muscle spasms that wrench bones and pinch nerves, that cripple me physiologically, emotionally and mentally. My body seems to have its own way of saying it has had enough of the habits that stem from bullying, that stem from dealing with distress, low self-esteem, shame … or from trying to DISprove that i am NOT enough. These are the demons i live with, whom i push myself to reach beyond.
Pushing my physical boundaries is something i began in Wales many years ago. Not far from Chepstow is Monmouth, where i found myself being sent to school. The shame of the expulsion wore heavily upon me (and that’s both the why and how i found myself at Monmouth). Its also where i turned to rowing as a means to redeem myself.
I wasn’t a natural athlete by any means. In the years before i turned to rowing for salvation, i was doing everything i could NOT to do any sports (including injuring myself on purpose). I was a chubby kid and a vegetarian who was picked on by other kids because of my size, and forced to eat foods that made me throw up by teachers. NOT doing sports was my rebellion, my way out of a system that didn’t nurture or accept me, as was starving myself to lose weight.
From being bullied up to age 13 to learning how to fit in aged 14
At Monmouth though, i threw myself quite literally into sport. It was my way of exorcising the distress and shame i felt about myself. It was during this time that i tapped into abilities to push myself further and further physically. And this gained the attention of the rowing coach who put me in a team.
My training then had a focus and direction: teamwork and unleashing my athletic potential. To push myself further, i would cajole and encourage myself in my grueling personal training. This cajoling then turned to bullying – the introjection of what others had said to me in my past. This ignited powerful emotions inside me: rage at the injustice of this bullying coupled with a focus on proving these critics and bullies wrong. In other words i was focused on being more, better.
In the process, I got used to and addicted to the adrenal surges self-abuse would give me, and cognitively i reasoned that I was beating the bullies by abusing myself in greater possible ways that they could … and i was transforming myself into an athlete. I was rowing in the school’s top rowing team, and inadvertently becoming one the school’s top cross country runners. But there was a cost …
The cost of bullying
That cost was being able to rest within my skin. It was feeling nourished emotionally: feeling happy, fulfilled. Nothing i did was ever enough – the goal was always beyond my grasp. And i was being run down emotionally by this to a flat-line chequered by periods of frustration and depression. Physically meanwhile, i was fatigued … the whole time. My body ached, my muscles sore from pushing myself in my training. I was, after all, over-training. And i wasn’t nurturing myself emotionally. Instead i would push myself with a perverse goal of extinguishing myself in glory: passing out on the finish line. I was bullying myself.
So i ride this ride with hope – hope that these habits can transform, hope that i can bring awareness to what bullying can cause, hope that children of today and tomorrow can be empowered … empowered to have access to resources to help them both heal from bullying and prevent it from continuing.
Please take what i have shared here and learn from it – learn how to avoid my mistakes, learn how to nourish yourself and your children. Learn how to love others who have lived with fear and shame all their lives and may act … strangely. And above all, please, please – do not repeat some of the extreme measures i used to lose weight (starvation) and boost my athletic ability (bullying myself).
I ride with an eye to the future where instead of continually being triggered and turning away from people because i perceive they do not love me, i myself can be with people, be comfortable in my own skin, in my own body. And i wish this for you, for your children … that we all find a way to ditch the labels we put on each other, on ourselves, and live … with love … everyday.