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Fit-tastic Update: Demoting My Inner Tough Guy

I’ve always prided myself on being tough.

When I was in childbirth, the nurses kept asking me where I was on my “pain scale.” I kept saying things like, “That’s a 5 or a 4. Not sure, but not that bad.” Then the active labor hit, and that was the only time I’ve ever thought, “That’s a 10!”

What I didn’t know was that during labor I had pushed so hard while my son was not in the posterior position, which created a perfect storm. I pushed to the point of tearing my own uterus – literally ripping the inside of my own body with my own sheer will and strength. I ended up getting a C-section, which took hours because my insides were so torn up.

Yep, that really hurt. Definitely a 10 on the pain scale.

I’ve broken bones and kept going without medical care. I’ve made it through finals when I was in college with walking pneumonia. I helped my mother raise my sister and myself and learned whatever I needed to to help her. I rarely complained and I just sucked it up. I’m good at sucking it up.

Tough has been my middle name for a long time.

I’m starting to realize that tough isn’t actually as great as I thought it was.

Tough is a way that we disconnect from our true feelings. Tough says, “Keep going, don’t stop and look at what’s hurting, what isn’t working. Don’t question. Just move.”

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Update:

Last week if you read my blog post you know that I “came out.” Or that’s what a friend of mine called it. I talked about the pain that I’ve been working through of growing up with a mentally ill and very unpredictable mother.

I also made raw yogurt, for which I promised an update, and which I screwed up. I started it too late in the day. It was supposed to “cook” for 8 hours, but by the time it was all over it was something like 1 am and I had left it in there for too long. I’d set an alarm, but I missed it somehow. I’ll try to make raw yogurt again next week.

My weight is back up again. I’m at 200 lbs. Not an ideal weight for me. I often feel my knees starting to say ouch when I get to the 200 lb. marker. So far my knees are good, but I know I need to be careful not to gain more weight or it’s going to hurt me.

I’ve been eating a lot recently. Feeling really hungry and snacky. Not sure why. Maybe it’s emotional. Maybe it’s all the exercise I’ve been doing. Exercise most definitely makes me hungry. Maybe it’s everything.

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Tough Lies

Tough says, “That pain in your foot? Ignore it.” So you do, until the agony is too much.

I keep thinking of the analogy of a splinter in the foot. The tough guy will often ignore the splinter altogether and just keep walking only to make the situation worse.

The reason for this analogy has to do with my undiagnosed Celiac disease. I think if I hadn’t been such a tough guy, I would have been diagnosed years earlier. I think most people would have been asking, “Why am I so tired? Why do I feel like I’m being poisoned?”

I thought, “I’m tough. Carry on as usual.”

I have even been speculating that I did have some very, very low grade stomach issues pre-diagnosis, but I’m so used to ignoring pain that I just ignored it or minimized it.

My pain level was barely a 2, so why worry?

Yes, that’s right. Even though I started to feel towards the end that I was being poisoned, most of the time my discomfort level with undiagnosed Celiac disease was a 2. Pretty low. Pretty much not a big deal in my former tough guy world. At the very end, before I was tested for the disease, I started feeling like my life blood was sapped out of me, but it was just a 2 on the pain scale.

Can you hear how crazy that sounds? My own self reporter, my ability to judge how I was feeling – totally broken.

Toughness V.S. Awareness

This is why I’m working on not being tough, but instead being aware. Another way of saying this is I’m allowing for vulnerability.

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As usual I have no make up or hair styling going on in any of these pictures. Trying to keep it real.

I run a few times a week and whenever I feel pain, I stop running. I ask myself, “where is the pain originating?” Most of the time, if it’s in my knee or something, if I really focus on the pain I can tell that it’s starting somewhere else. Maybe I’m rolling my foot and then my knee starts to hurt. I am beginning to be able to play detective with my body in a way that my former tough guy couldn’t do. The tough guy wasn’t clued into my body.

I’m able to feel what’s happening and correct it, sometimes. I’m still new at this and it’s not natural for me, but I’m not waiting until I can no longer walk to deal with the splinter anymore. I’m trying to be aware enough to feel it when it happens and then identify and correct it.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I think toughness is not that different in many ways from weakness. Both of these types of mindset can prevent us from reacting within reason or appropriately to a situation. A weak person might run away from a scary or painful thing, sort of collapsing from the pressure of the situation.  A tough one does the painful or scary thing all day until s/he collapses, not admitting his/her discomfort. Both DO until they break and can no longer take the discomfort – the weak one having a lower pain threshold. Both have to recover from the situation before they can continue, because they are so depleted. Both are denying the truth of the situation – one numbing and one reacting so extremely.

How is this beneficial?

I’m feeling more and more that toughness is a coping skill that works in finite ways. Going back to the splinter analogy, if you are running a race and you have a few steps left, it might be a good idea to have the tough guy finish the race for you. Ignoring the pain for a few more minutes might be the best thing in that situation.

The tough guy is good for acute or traumatic situations, and for very short term problems, but then he’s really not that effective after that. After the crisis is over, it’s no longer a particularly useful strategy. It can actually become a mode of self-destruction, or at the very least a way of denying your real feelings and disconnecting from your own truth.

Demoting the Tough Guy

After all of this thought, I feel like my inner tough guy needs a demotion. He was the right guy for the job for a while, but not anymore. I appreciate how far he’s brought me, but I’m putting awareness in the CEO position now.

I’m allowing and accepting vulnerability as part of me. It’s hard to be a tough guy and be vulnerable at the same time.

I’m not pushing through pain anymore. I’m not denying my feelings. I’m not minimizing discomfort.

I’m feeling it. I’m identifying where its root source is. I’m preventing further damage. I’m healing.

Ironically, something I’ve been realizing is that the tough guy actually avoids feeling pain with ninja mind tricks. He leans away from the vulnerable truth of the situation. Maybe the tough guy isn’t as tough as he thinks he is. Awareness is the guy who actually feels the situation as it truly is, accepting the vulnerability. Awareness actually feels the pain as it’s happening.

Who’s tough now, tough guy?

So maybe by becoming more aware, by being honest with yourself about how you truly feel, you can, in application, become stronger than the tough guy. 

I’m giving up tough for truth and authentic strength.

If I need the tough guy, I know where he lives. I have his phone number and I can call upon him. He’s always ready to white-knuckle his way through any situation, but these days my ride is awareness. If the car starts making a strange noise, I’m going to pull over and look under the hood. I’ll stop the car until I can fix the problem. I won’t ignore it and push through the pain.

I’ll be more truthful, vulnerable and 10x as courageous as a result.

Brene Brown talks about this in this Ted Talk. I think it pretty much perfectly explains what I’m feeling. Vulnerability and awareness are really some of the most courageous and powerful places you can come from, but it requires not being tough to get there. It requires the opposite – and then you find a much deeper inner strength.

Something people say to me from time to time is that they see me as a really loving person. One person recently said love defines me (I know, I know. Cue the gagging sounds. It’s a little too much to handle). I don’t know if love defines me, but I think people are picking up what I’m trying to lay down. If I’m doing my job right, people will feel loved in my presence. They will feel accepted and understood, because this is what I’m looking for and so it’s what I have to offer. Now I’m adding awareness to the feathers in my cap too.

Awareness and love are my operating instructions these day, which keeps it simple. These are points on my compass that help me find my way when I get lost.

I’m happy and safe enough to just be me. Seeing it all as it really, truly is.

 What about you?  Could greater awareness serve you better in your life? Are there pains within you that you’re not paying attention to?  Could you stand to demote your inner tough guy? Is he really serving you?

 PS. Just for the record, I will still be glaring and scowling in photos even though the tough guy has been demoted, because it makes me happy to make weird faces. I know I look mad or angry, but I’m not at all. I’m giggling on the inside. Making badass bitch-faces cracks me up. There’s no explaining it, but it’s true.

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