When the Power is in the Resting.
Today I have a very special guest poster, my friend Molly Merson. She is here to talk to you a bit more about her personal experience with the power of rest days (in her case, three weeks of rest days post surgery.) She is wonderful, articulate, and clearly strong as hell. Here is her demonstrating that statement with a 200 lb. backsquat:
If that doesn’t get you pumped up, I don’t know what will. Without further ado, here’s Molly!
On Saturday, I finally hit that PR (personal record, in case you’re not as obsessed with CrossFit as I am) I’d been training for over the last four months: a 200 lb. back squat. It took a while that morning– I cried, I hyperventilated, I felt the familiar butterflies of a panic attack tickle my chest and the bottom of my throat . I knew could do 185 lbs., but 200?? That was insane and huge and I’d never get it. My usual mantra of “just go down, then go up!” didn’t seem to be soothing me anymore.
After pacing in circles and a lot of encouragement from my coach, and figuring that even if I broke my back I was going to be in the hospital on Monday anyway, I went for it. And I made it. It was fucking awesome.
Two days later, at 8:15am, the anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face, and I went under for surgery.
Three hours passed before I woke up one hairy, toothy, ovarian cyst lighter- and was thrilled about my skilled and beautiful doctor having been able to keep both of my ovaries intact. (My back was fine, by the way.) She had warned me a month before the procedure that she might have to remove the ovary, and she might have to incise my abdominal muscles, rendering me unable to lift for six months. The anesthetic process (including the steroids they gave me to wake me) plus the good news—I have my ovary! I can lift again!—made me uncharacteristically ecstatic, even as I was knowingly staring down three weeks of very limited movement.
Leading up to the surgery, I did CrossFit three times a week, and was working on my second Hatch squat program twice a week. I was also offering personal training sessions to help make some extra cash and to help me gain skills and experience in what it was like to train someone. My gym had invited me to participate in their coaching intern program, and I was starting to build a second life out of movement. I considered this to be a “healthy” relationship with exercise, because I had learned to base my identity in part on what my body could do instead of how much it weighed or whether I had a belly pooch (I did) or whether my arms and shoulders could fit inside standard shirtsleeves (they couldn’t). It became ok for my body to just exist as it was, because I knew my pull-up numbers and how much I could power clean. I was using CrossFit as a way to regulate my punitive and disordered eating patterns, and it was fucking beautiful. I’d never been happier and more peaceful in my body.
The cyst was discovered in April, diagnosed as a dermoid (thankfully not cancerous- I have a family history of ovarian cancer, and that’s why I asked for the ultrasound in the first place) in May, and I went in for the surgery the last day of June. I had a month and a half to think about all of this, and what it could do to my life to suddenly not be able to lift heavy weights. That’s when I started realizing that I’ve still been actively dancing with my self-destruction around food and exercise.
Even though I thought we’d broken the relationship off, apparently we’d been Facebook-stalking each other, because here I was right back in the mindset of: “If I don’t work out, everything I eat is going to hurt me and make me feel bad. Other people will see I am bad. I won’t be able to do any of the things I want to do in my life and everyone will see what a shitty, lazy, horrible person I am.” As soon as I could identify that voice in my head, I realized I needed more than what I’d been giving myself. I’d simply assumed that because it was working for me to pay attention to my workouts and my body: taking real rest days where I lazed about in bed and barely even walked the dog; never ever pushing myself into the “red” zone in my workouts, always noticing my heart rate and breathing as a place to come back to mindfully; eating what I wanted when I wanted to (because food is fuel! And delicious! And not a punitive thing anymore!!); focusing more on getting strong than on metcons—all of this made me believe that I was Recovered from my disordered eating and body punishment. But what happens when what I do does not involve remarkable feats of strength? What if what I do is RECOVER from INVASIVE SURGERY? Isn’t that what this all is, anyway? Recovering from invasive and destructive messages about my self-worth, what belongs and what doesn’t belong, who I am and who I’m not?
Staring down three weeks of zero-to-limited movement reminded me that eating disorder and self/body-hatred recovery is a process, one that is very much life-long. While these parts of me may be lying dormant, they’re still very much living parts of me. They are of course here to protect me in their fucked up and toxic ways (for example, this part of me—so young!—still believes that I need to be small and easily overlooked in order to survive). But these messages are hurtful to the part of me that is learning to love myself. And yet, there is information here. When this internalized shame and oppression rears its head and starts to attack me, I know it’s time to dive into the parts of me that are feeling scared, lost, alone, and overwhelmed. Those parts are easy to overlook because they’re uncomfortable, and they can feel so expansive and make me feel so small and powerless. Like the child I used to be—small and powerless. Except that I wasn’t wrong to believe that all the work I’ve been doing—years of therapy, CrossFit, self-love and forgiveness work, and becoming a psychotherapist myself—is actually helping me. It is. It’s just that sometimes the things I used to do aren’t soothing in the same way anymore, and I need to pay a little more attention than usual to loving myself.
While I was in the first week of my surgery recovery, my sweet dog stayed close by my side, showing her fuzzy belly and reminding me to relax. I was surrounded with people who love me and want me to heal. People brought food, stayed overnight with me, cooked me meals and attended to me when I needed my pillows adjusted. They helped me pick things up and put them down again. They became my feats of strength.
I also picked up the book The Artist’s Way. It’s something I’d been meaning to read for years, and never found “the right time” to do it. Sitting on my bum in bed all day long seemed like as good a time as any. I started the practices outlined in the book, and already can feel my intuition and self-love growing. I also continued to process all of my feelings in my own personal therapy. And it hit me, again, this power I have: To touch the part of myself that feels powerless, and remind myself: I’m not alone.
That’s better than any PR, any day of the week: To know even while feeling deep into my fear, my sadness, my anxiety, and my shame: I am right here with me, able and capable of bringing love into the anger, and vulnerability—like my little dog’s belly—into the fire of self-hatred.
Molly Merson, MA, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Berkeley, CA. She provides compassionate and thoughtful psychotherapy for people who are struggling with learning how to love themselves. You can find more about her at www.mollymerson.com. She is also an avid CrossFitter and is learning how to be a CrossFit coach. She loves movement, nature, gardening, walking meditation, her community, her puppy, and writing. She thinks Lacy is the bee’s knees, and that her blog and business provides a much-needed service to the world.