“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”Brené Brown
Imagine, a 41-year-old woman walking into the doctor’s office for her yearly physical. Her hands are clammy and her stomach is tied in knots. She’s anxious about what the doctor might say. Her internal monologue sounds something like this:
I wonder if the doctor is going to say anything about my weight. I’m a few pounds heavier than last year and my BMI has me bordering on obesity. I don’t think I’m eating horribly. I only had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a protein shake for lunch. Well, but I did have chips the other day and some ice cream the other night. I hope my kidney disease hasn’t gotten worse. I can’t believe this was caused by all the ibuprofen I took when I was younger. This is all my fault. I hate my body. The sport I loved has completely messed me up.
I want to share a piece of my story that I’ve kept hidden for most of my life. It feels vulnerable and risky. But it also feels hopeful. You see, that 41-year-old woman…is me.
Guilt and Shame
For so long, I’ve been riddled with guilt and shame because my experience with gymnastics was unlike that of my friends and teammates…at least that is my perception. I’ve feared hurting people’s feelings and offending them. As a result, I came to believe that I have been making my pain out to be more than it was.
My desire is not to bash the sport of gymnastics. My desire is to honor my story. To heal. To get to a place where this pain no longer has power over me. I want to learn to love my body and also have grace for my body. To get to that place, I’m giving myself permission to name it. Speak it. And shine light on it. Because where there is light, there can be no darkness.
I started gymnastics at the age of 3 and it became my life. It became my identity for the next 17 years. From the outside looking in, it looked good. I was strong and successful. Recognized by my peers. I got to travel and compete at a high level. I qualified for the Junior Olympic National Team and earned a college scholarship. I’ll say it again, from the outside looking in, it looked really good.
While I am grateful for what gymnastics provided me and for the joy it brought me over the years, the theory that the good outweighs the bad has become unhealthy and toxic for me. The result over time has been my making an agreement that the “hard” (more appropriately, “abuse”) was not a big deal.
At the age of 6, I was practicing 4 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Over time, the pounding my body endured brought me to a place of needing 3-4 ibuprofen before EVERY practice, just to make it through.
I remember the feeling of run-by after run-by after run-by until I was hunched over wheezing, gasping for air while my vaulting coach is yelling, ‘Again! Again! Again!’
Around the age of 7, I was placed on a scale for the first time. This is where I learned that my image mattered and my value was found in the number I project on a scale.
I remember the statements…some word-for-word…spoken over my teammates and me by our coaches and doctors. The immense amount of shame and guilt ushered in when our practices or performances were not perfect and our weight didn’t fit into a chart was overwhelming.
Honoring My Story
As I type, I’m fighting against the voice of the enemy whispering to me to minimize my pain. To say it wasn’t a big deal. To compare myself with those I trained and competed with who aren’t whining or complaining about the “abuse”. But I say NO. The impact of the choices and actions of those individuals who had influence and authority over me created long-term effects in me.
My hope in sharing this piece of my story is that it might encourage others to stop hiding theirs. When we make the choice to compare our story with a story that is spectacularly hard, we are minimizing the reality of the pain we’ve endured. And that’s just not kind. Your story matters. My story matters. Let’s honor our hearts by honoring our stories.