I am the typical forty-year-old overweight woman with an ordinary American life. Married, two kids, nice neighborhood and divorced parents, I have it all. Or so it seems.
The journey to wake up, to find myself again has been long. I won’t tell you the whole story. Trust me, I could write a book. However, to understand the essence of this tale, it is important to know I was a strong-willed teen. My aspirations were great, as they so often are with young people. I was accepted into a college in Great Britain. The plan was to become a pilot and fly the world. I was an independent spirit. I worked hard during the school year and even harder during the summers.
Senior year things began to fall apart. I fell in love. Six months after graduation, I found myself married. The marriage was not healthy. After four years we parted ways. The damage from mental abuse was considerable. I didn’t recognize myself. My inner strength had taken a harsh blow. Anxiety and minor panic attacks were par for the course. All that remained was a shell, the ghost of the independent teenager who fell in love. At least that is what it felt like.
Fast forward nineteen years through a divorce, a happy second marriage, two beautiful children and going back to college.
While my life ended up pretty good, there were still some dark echoes from my previous marriage. I don’t think I ever fully forgiven myself for abandoning my life plans to marrying the person I did. Upon reflection, my weight was a good indicator of how I felt about myself. I knew something had to change.
A year and a half ago I joined a Taijutsu Dojo. My husband and small son were already members. In the months that followed, I worked my way through the white belt material. The time came to test into yellow belt. Dread crept into my mind. I knew what was coming, the smack down. I had seen other students go through it. During the test, in front of the whole dojo, I had to demonstrate all the techniques learned up to that point and then survive a randori (the smack down). I was intimidated, having never been in a physical “fight” before. Two minutes of defending one’s self from five padded attackers is not an easy feat for anyone, let alone a 270 lb woman. However, I made it through and earned my yellow belt.
After the test, I was exhausted. Physically I was fine. There was not one bruise to mark my achievement. Mentally I felt destroyed. It was traumatizing. That night I sobbed for hours into my pillow. Defending myself during the randori had opened a deeply hidden door to emotions locked away years ago. Burning anger coated in tears bubbled to the surface. The feelings were dark and disquieting, to say the least. My mental outlook had dimmed. I felt angry and disgusted with the world. Normally, I characterize myself as a realist with optimistic tendencies. The new tenebrosity inside was not me. Or was it?
Another month passed. I faced testing again. Now that I had my yellow belt, I would have to survive another randori. The smack downs would continue each month until I reached the next belt color. How was I going to handle another randori? I feared it would mentally destroy me once again. I sat there on the mats, my back to the wall, coated in fear waiting for my turn. The wait was long. In our dojo, the lowest ranks test last. They do this to inspire white and yellow belts. “See what you will be able to do with hard work and perseverance!” Personally, I think it is to torture us, to make us sweat.
At last, it was my turn. My heart raced as I walked to the center of the mat; a chant beat through my mind. Keep your hands up. Keep your hands up. We bowed in respect. My heart opted to quit beating and climbed into my throat as six burly dudes came at me. It was a blur. Only one moment stood out. I made a uke double over. Then, out of instinct I chopped him on the back of the neck and pushed him away. I was horrified. It is never my goal to hurt anyone in the dojo. Control is my objective. I kept going, executing move after move until I heard the ding of the bell and “time” was shouted by our Sensei. The cheers were deafening. As walked back to my spot on the mats an incredible realization came over me. I didn’t feel mentally destroyed, but highly energized.
It was in that moment I found myself, again.
I realized all the anger coated with tears was directed at myself. I wasn’t mad at the world. It was my self-defeating behavior that was the heavy burden. I had not lost myself all those years ago during my first marriage. I was my own worst enemy and I had kept that enemy close. Enough was enough. I needed to let the enemy go and replace her with a new-found best friend.
We all have our own darkness to fight, to conquer and to forgive. The question to ask yourself is, “Am I going to be my best friend or my worst enemy?”
Thank you for reading.
J. R. Lowe
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