Saying Goodbye to the Parasites in Our Lives

This is Plankton. He’s my intestinal parasite.

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…it’s not REALLY Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants, but this is how I picture the recently diagnosed parasitic infection in my digestive system–a tiny little bastard who’s always scheming to pull one over on everybody. He’s a dick, and I’m tired of the way he’s been treating me, but I’m also a little afraid to say goodbye to him.

I’ve hinted at my digestive-problems-of-mysterious origin in a few posts before. I’ve always had some food sensitivities since at least high school, but they got noticeably worse right after Christmas last year. I lost a total of 14 pounds in about 2-3 months, which on my 5’3″ petite frame was a lot. I’ve gained back about 6 pounds, and this is hard to admit…I’m not entirely happy about it.

Plankton’s taking up residence in my body was apparently one last f–k you from 2016, a year I think we can all agree was just awful for everyone. He made me sick, he ruined my appetite (and sometimes my entire day), and he was a constant unpleasant presence in my life.

He was also my enabler. I LOVED losing weight. I LOVED seeing the numbers get lower and lower on the scale every morning. I LOVED that sometimes all I ate for dinner was very carefully counted out Saltines and a little bit of hummus because I was too sick to eat anything else. Plankton tapped into my almost-but-not-quite-yet resolved issues around body image and disordered eating. He knew just what buttons to push to make me want to hang onto him a little longer.

Plankton knew I was having a pretty glum start to 2017 (job instability and a dark bout of loneliness), so he made himself a point of focus that I could cling to. Other parts of my life were unhappy, so if I could control and monitor my weight, at least I had some tiny bit of stability. (Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement) Sometimes even without the symptoms I restricted what I ate to see if I could get the numbers even lower. I wanted someone to notice my weight loss and ask if something was wrong. No one noticed other than my parents, who only see me every few months. I kept my secrets to myself.

So Plankton and I learned to live with each other. I tried to avoid foods that would trigger his wrath, but later in the year I let myself indulge and kind of enjoyed the fact that some “problem” was letting me eat whatever I wanted while keeping the weight off. We were a team, albeit dysfunctional. I waited nine months until seeking help from a doctor.

I knew I had a problem that was beyond just “food sensitivity” for months, but the seriousness of it finally hit me during a brief conversation with my mother. She told me how “drawn” I looked earlier in the year when I was at my lowest weight.

“So you’re saying I looked…thin?” I responded, half-jokingly but secretly, shamefully pleased. But seriously, what if this was worse than just lactose intolerance? What if I had IBS? Hell, what if I had colon cancer? Next thing I knew I was crying in the shower thinking about how as a self-loathing teenager I’d wished for a serious illness that would make me lose weight. It was a relief (and admittedly, kind of cool) to find out my problem was treatable.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to Plankton in the form of antibiotics. My original food sensitivities won’t go away, but if all goes as planned I won’t have the constant issues my clingy friend brought to the table, no pun intended. I’ll kind of miss him. He kept me skinny. He helped me fit into a cute little black skirt that I was going to get rid of because it was at one time too tight. I don’t want to go back to my pre-Christmas weight. What will I do without him?

Do you have parasites in your life you need to get rid of? They could be other people, habits, activities, perhaps even your own thought patterns. We can be in parasitic relationships that we know are making us sick, but we’re having a hard time seeking help. Are your parasites enabling you to stay stuck in a mental or physical place you don’t want to be but fear you can’t leave? Are they telling you that you must accept an unpleasant situation because you don’t deserve better? What is draining your energy and sapping your soul? Who (or what) do you need to let go of for good?

It’s time to let go of what no longer serves us and be brave enough to face the world alone. It’s time to be free.

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So I’m Eating Meat Again: A Cautionary Tale of the Rules We Place on Ourselves

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So I was vegetarian for a while. And for a while it worked…until it didn’t, or rather, I didn’t. This isn’t going to be one of those posts that tries to debunk the value of a vegetarian diet (sorry, carnivores, I know you love to find those stories online). I think they’re great and work quite well. I was the issue, not the tenets of a vegetarian diet.

My problem wasn’t that I suddenly became anemic or suddenly found myself spending inordinate amounts of time in my city’s hipster neighborhood. Rather, putting myself on a vegetarian diet triggered me back into restrictive/disordered eating patterns that I’ve had off and on since my teens. I’ve hinted at disordered eating and body image problems in other blog posts. I understand why those behaviors manifested in that way, I’m satisfied with my self-analysis, and I choose not to share it here.  Maybe in my book. 😉

Anyway, once I cut out meat, it was just too tempting to see where I could cut back further if not food types then at least the overall amount of food I was eating. I’d already lost a few pounds at the beginning of this year, mostly due to some still-unexplained gastrointestinal problems (Yes, I’m finally seeking treatment, which makes my mom happy). I was also struggling with some personal situations, and I chose to cope with that by restriction and controlling my weight.

O my brothers, you have no idea how the dopamine coursed through my little brain when I saw the numbers drop with the flattening of my waist and the growing looseness of my trousers. (I pretended not to notice the loss of muscle tone). Why, this was working even better than I imagined! I used my newly found vegetarianism to restrict even further. I’d found the perfect cover. Besides, I’ve never looked like someone with an eating disorder. No one would ever know.

This wasn’t a case of orthorexia, though. I wasn’t focused on “eating clean” or raw or only fresh produce or whatever. I just liked rules around eating. I’m a very organized person, which has served me quite well in the workplace, but rules and restriction and control taken to an extreme can be damaging. And since I made the rules I could carry them out in any way I saw fit.

By the end of my vegetarian experiment I was subsisting on junk food and very carefully counted out Saltines, which the latter, in my defense, were the only things my irritable stomach could tolerate sometimes. (In fact, today I had to settle on Saltines and plain Ramen noodles for dinner because my stomach decided once again to ruin my day.) My weight dropped to 110 pounds and occasionally below, which delighted that still lingering ED part of my brain, but the rational part figured I needed to nip that problem in the bud and go back to letting me eat pretty much whatever I wanted.

I realized I had a problem around April when I noticed that I was perfectly fine eating mashed potatoes and cake served at a commemorative banquet, but I sanctimoniously pawned off the steak and salmon that was also served. Granted, I would have axed the salmon anyway because I don’t eat fish at all (GROSS!!), but was I doing myself any favors by gobbling up potatoes and cake? It wasn’t even the nutritional deficiency or even the hypocrisy of my choice that got to me. It was my realization that I had very easily fallen prey to old patterns of control, frantic rationalization of unhealthy choices, and destructive self-consciousness that pushed me to release the rules I had placed on myself.

What rules and restrictions are keeping you in an unhealthy state of mind or body? Let’s step away from food for a moment. These rules could manifest in thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, or actions and may be your first line of defense against whatever is troubling you. You may place them upon any area of your life or in any relationship. Are you trying to be “perfect” so your partner will love you? (As if their love hinged on that). Are these rules created so you can live up to the expectations you created and projected onto someone else? Is it working?….you sure about that?

But are those rules ultimately serving you in the long term? Are you waiting for that magical person, situation, or thing to happen and only then allow yourself to be happy? Are you coping with a problem by punishing or controlling yourself? Do the rules soothe you in some way? Can you perhaps find that comfort in something else? Can you love and be gentle with yourself the way you are with other people you care about…would you at least consider it?

In late spring I started eating meat again along with a number of other foods. I let myself indulge. I gained a few pounds, but I attribute that more to dining out with friends and slacking off at the gym than adding meat back into my diet. I still think factory farming is horrible, and I do try to make mindful purchases of meat products. I just know I did the right thing for what my mind and body needed.

The thing about not restricting is that I don’t want to pig out on really…anything. Many people who restrict food or diet are afraid that giving up their rules means giving up hope of giving their bodies what they truly need. That hasn’t been the case. That Whataburger meal I promised myself over Labor Day weekend was awesome, and I don’t feel like having another one for a while. I also made a pork roast with homemade gnocchi and marinara sauce over that same holiday weekend. I put a lot of love and effort into the meal, an homage to my Italian heritage, and I was satisfied with a small amount (plus my body doesn’t like digesting pork so that’s an occasional thing anyway). I made the meal because I wanted to introduce a friend to my family’s traditions, not to “reward” myself for a workout or promise myself I’d eat carbs just this one time as a “cheat day.”

If you need more examples, how about these: I had a bag of Cheetos in a basket on top of my fridge that I completely forgot about, and I was annoyed that I still had a box of Pop-Tarts to finish after several weeks of seeing them on my kitchen counter. I would have been obsessing over those silly trigger foods back in my worst disordered eating days. The fact that I didn’t is a small but distinct point of progress for me.

Now I don’t think about food as much, and adding meat back into my diet helped kick-start a more balanced approach to how I chose to nourish myself. If I wanted to eat crappy food, I did, and I learned how to listen to what my body wanted. My body still gets mad and reacts unpleasantly to certain foods, and hopefully with the help of a doctor I can figure out what to avoid. My body likes fries and chocolate, but guess what? It also more often than not likes fresh fruit and vegetables, no guilt tripping necessary. I just wasn’t listening.

I’m still not where I thought I was at the end of last year, although I’m in a much better place than I was many years ago. I don’t know how long it will take me to break old habits or if I’ll ever be able to entirely, and I’m okay with that. I like being a few pounds lighter than I was a year ago. I like that a skirt that used to be too tight now fits just right.  I’m not getting rid of my digital scale that I step on just about every morning. I’m going to continue exercising because I like it, not to punish myself for imagined sins. Swimming, ballet barre, and taekwondo are fun! Moving my body has always been a joy rather than a chore for me, and lately my body is telling me it wants more so I’m listening.

I also know what will ultimately serve me best is a shift in focus away from judging myself by how I look (and how I foolishly assume other people are judging me by that) and how I choose to nourish myself. I look forward to the time when I give little to no judgement to what I’m eating. Being that self-centered all the time is exhausting.

It’s time to break some rules.

I Am My Own Nemesis Part 2: The Comeback Tour

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Gotcha!!

A funny thing happens when I get what I want and am in a happy place in life. Having not yet mastered the practice of true detachment, any success or gain I have comes with a fear of loss. It’s a package deal. I thought I had gotten past that feeling, the one where I get what I think I want but am still unsatisfied and continue to chase that elusive momentary high. I thought I had progressed. I’ve done SO much work on myself in the past six years. As I leave my thirties I’m proud to say I’m a much different person than I was when I entered them, but it looks like I have more work to do.

I’m in a good place in life. No, scratch that, I’m in a VERY good place in life. I’ve made some gains that I would have NEVER thought would happen for me. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is all real. I had a good day today. Like, an Ice Cube song-worthy good day. I woke up feeling relaxed, ran some errands, and chilled out at home for a while. And then….there it was. BAM! Anxiety and sadness rushed in and grabbed me in a bear hug.

My mind wasn’t necessarily racing with erratic thoughts (it was still pretty focused on one or two things), but I know I was freaked out because my physical symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety manifested: my neck felt hot, I had visible tremors, my breathing was shallow, and I felt the telltale sign of when I’m really in it deep: a squeezing sensation in my chest. The telltale heart, so to speak. The pressure around my heart is a rare symptom and only happens when I’m feeling extreme stress, even if I’m denying that feeling to myself.

“I don’t want to feel this feeling again,” I said to myself as I nervously pawed through laundry. It wasn’t the anxiety that bothered me. It was the attachment that got my attention. That pesky act and thought of attachment has messed up my life in more than a few ways. It has caused me to sabotage my life with foolish actions based on foolish thoughts. Nope, I had worked too hard on myself. I was not going to let this happen again.

I tried to go about my afternoon but I burst into tears when I was chopping vegetables, and I hadn’t even tackled the onion yet. I don’t let myself cry in front of people anymore. I can talk to a trusted few people about things that are bothering me, but there are certain things that I have to work through alone. Processing it, mostly through journaling, helps me take an objective look at the situation and offers both some possible reasons and solutions. Sometimes I’m able to resolve my problem without seeking outside help. It has helped me avoid many unnecessary confessions and more importantly, unnecessary confrontations. I have a pretty good system going. It’s a lonely process, but it works.

Or maybe at least I think I have to do this alone. Maybe I’m making it too difficult for myself. I don’t want to share certain thoughts because I feel it will cloud someone’s vision of me and ultimately condemn me. I’ve been wrong on many occasions, but old habits die hard. I hate being vulnerable, and I’m afraid of being rejected and hurt. I’ve weakened my capacity to trust and have faith in either a person or a process.

So there I was, crying in my kitchen, and then…I laughed. I had caught myself red-handed. I hadn’t defeated my nemesis but I’d found that bastard hiding in the shadows.

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post called I Am My Own Nemesis. I discussed some of the ways doubt and self-sabotage can creep up on us. This line caught my eye:

“Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.” The very first post on this blog is about fear.

And that’s what I’m feeling: good old fashioned fear. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of giving more than I’m receiving (or conversely, taking too much), fear of offering love that evaporates against a brick wall, fear of losing my material comforts, fear of once again having to trudge through all this shit alone. Ha! Here I go again…

The good thing about all the work that I’ve done on myself is that I’m self-aware enough to catch myself when this happens. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. It has worked too many times for me in my favor not to be real, especially the seemingly serendipitous steps of my (so far) successful career. It’s also worked against me. Like attracts like, and I know damn well if I dwell in anxiety, fear of loss, and fear of rejection I’m going to attract what I dread the most. I have ruined more than a few relationships with actions based on my (sometimes) unfounded fear. And with that fear comes attachment and dependency on something or someone else to make me happy. And with all that, I make choices that cause me to feel more fear and anxiety and pain.

I only allow myself conditional happiness, and that’s the problem. I really want to be in that constant state of contentment and more importantly confidence. I’m getting there one day at a time. When I’m on the other side and have finally overpowered my ultimate nemesis I’ll let you know.

You ARE Something (Other People Believe It, So It’s About Time You Did)

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I’ve recently changed job locations within the company where I’ve been employed for the last nearly 13 years. It’s a bit of a homecoming since I returned to the hospital where I first began my career with the company. After a six year stint at our corporate office in an adjacent city, it was time for me to come home. A few weeks in I got a life lesson in how our perceptions of ourselves, who we are, and what we deserved can at times be flawed at worst, underestimated at best.

Last Monday the director of the department (I don’t report to her but we work together, and she manages the department where I’m now located) offered me a bigger office that had just recently been vacated. My initial reaction was to say no—(1) I was pretty sick from an upper respiratory infection and was out of it when she asked (2) I was being too impulsively sentimental and attached to my first “real” little office, and most importantly (3) I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by looking like the new kid who breezed in and took one of the biggest offices. We’d all gone through a difficult work situation that left many people feeling sensitive and vulnerable. I didn’t want to contribute to that…which is ironically a bit arrogant of me to make the assumption that I was responsible for everyone’s feelings and moods. I worry too much about what other people think under the guise of wanting to take care of everyone. All that’s done is cause unnecessary stress and heartache.

The next morning I changed my mind, took her up on her offer, and by the afternoon I was all moved in. I love my new space. It’s huge. I can even practice a form in there (slightly modified but still) if I wanted to. It turns out my assumptions about my adopted work team were unfounded. They’d wanted me to have that big office from the beginning and were very happy that it was finally mine. Several of them even stopped by and said so. Due to the nature of my job I have a lot of meetings, and many of them are very private coaching meetings. I needed a larger space so my guests and I could be comfortable.

The afternoon that I moved in to my big office I hosted a meeting with one of my coworkers and a mutual friend, a hospital leader whom we’d both worked with on different occasions. My coworker mentioned a recent disappointment she’d had on the job. She was feeling pretty down when one day she was contacted out of the blue by a recruiter. She ultimately didn’t take the offer, having decided to stay where she was, but she was flattered by the attention.

“It just felt good to know that I AM something to someone,” she said. The other woman and I nodded and smiled in understanding. I thought about how important it is to feel that, and it often takes an outside perspective to remind us of what we were too blind, self-conscious, distracted, or even self-centered to see in ourselves.

“I think you underestimated the support you were going to get when you came here,” the department administrative assistant told me the next day when was helping me set up my phone. Maybe, but I think it was more of a case of underestimating myself. I didn’t think I deserved the big office. I didn’t think that the work I did was important enough or that what I did mattered to other people. It took other people pushing me into a new space (literally) for me to see that hey, I do make a difference after all. I AM something.

So take that opportunity. Take what is being offered to you on a platter. Take the big office. Enroll in a college course. Apply for that job. Sign up for your first taekwondo class. Tell that person you love them. What is scarier? Acting on what you want or continuing to live in doubt, controlled by fear and anxiety? Say yes. Take it. You are worth it. You deserve it.

You ARE something.

My Favorite Posts From 2016

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2016 is almost over, much to the relief of just about everyone. Thank you all for reading and commenting on my blog. It’s been a busy writing year for me. I posted to the blog every month, am in heavy editing mode of my book, and most notably I started writing guest posts for the website BookMartialArts.com. You can read them by clicking here.

In other exciting news, I got my “Instructor” patch, so now I have to act like I know what I’m doing, at least when I’m wearing the particular uniform I sewed the patch on. I cut my coaching/refereeing teeth at two black belt tests and several tournaments. Some things remain the same: I still can’t get through self-defense and hapkido practice without giggling, I still can’t do a decent spin kick, I’m still going to physical therapy, and I’m still rank and disgusting after sparring class. At least I’m consistent.

Now I’d like to share with you my favorite posts from 2016:

1.A Black Belt Goes to Barre Class – I started taking a ballet barre class at my gym in February, loved it, and have kept it up ever since. My core and legs, on the other hand, are furious with me.

2. Love is Like Grape Soda – In my Valentine’s Day post I revel in the fact that for the first time in my life being single is (1) a choice and (2) a non-issue.

3. When You Know You’ve Found Your Tribe – A sub-par art museum event showed me the importance of sticking with my true community.

4. Why Do I Still Dread Sparring Class? – I still feel this way. Every. Single. Wednesday.

5. Getting Fat Shamed as a Size Four – One of my most popular posts and one that helped me get a very hurtful and embarrassing moment off my shoulders.

6. What I’ve Learned From Coaching Children and Business Leaders – There are more similarities than you’d think!

7. You Can Rest on Your Laurels, But Don’t Stay There Too Long  – Some insight from my musician brother showed me the importance of balancing the enjoyment of our past accomplishments with the challenges and possibilities of the future.

8. How the Olympics Rekindled My Love for My Sport…But Not the One You Think – Aw, I miss the summer Olympics, don’t you?

9. Black Belt: A Year in Review – I celebrated my one year anniversary as a first degree black belt, and I learned several things along the way.

10. Dealing With Uncertainty Like a Black Belt – Since change seems to be the constant in the workplace, you might as well put on your sparring gear and brave the fight.

11. Are You Driven by the Process or the Project? – What motivates you – the end or the means?

12. The Case for Getting Your Ass Kicked – We all need challenges.

13. Teaching Means You’re Learning for Two – Teaching, learning, and leading all go hand-in-hand.

14. How Eating a Bunch of Carbs Helped Me Stop Hating My Body – I finally had a body image breakthrough over the Thanksgiving weekend, of all times. I also sneak in my recipe for gnocchi.

 

 

 

I Am My Own Nemesis

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When I received my new black belt uniform a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed wasn’t the bright white fabric, colorful patches, or black lapels. I noticed this phrase on the packaging:

“I Am My Own Nemesis.”

This stopped me in my tracks. We usually see cheerful phrases like “Just Do It” (Nike) or “Impossible is Nothing” (Adidas) on our athletic gear. Yeah, I can do anything, especially now that I’m wearing this $50 dry fit running shirt! The company that packaged and sold my uniform may have the same motivation to pump up their customers, but their motto came with a warning and a dose of reality.

It was a stark reminder that I have a long road ahead of me. No matter how fast or forceful I am as a black belt, my deadliest opponent is lying in wait squarely between my ears. Mental discipline is a tenet of all martial arts, and can be more difficult to master than the physical demands. It’s fairly easy to hit a kicking bag (or another person) with a solid roundhouse kick, but trampling down our own doubts and fears can take years if not a lifetime to master.

The enemy nestled in our minds can attack us in many ways and in many incarnations. It can begin to drive us insane as we begin to doubt more and more our abilities to overcome adversity or accomplish goals. It often appears in these forms:

Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.

Self-Doubt: Doubt in our capabilities, intellect, choices, and many more. The more we doubt ourselves the more our sense of self begins to crumble. Doubt is like scraping a big eraser across a drawing of yourself; your essence begins to disappear. Doubt yourself enough and you will be frozen in indecision and fear. Self-doubt can lead to self-hatred, which is a very dangerous downward spiral.

Anger: Our inner enemy likes to be combative and paranoid, and it will convince you that the world is out to get you. Anger can often stem from a feeling of vulnerability and a deep fear of being hurt. When mired in anger we start to see conflict everywhere and begin to take every encounter as a confrontation. I have known people who created many enemies in their life simply because they began to assume the worst about everyone they encountered.

If there’s a silver lining about being your own nemesis is that you know the enemy better than you’ll ever know your other opponents. One way you can battle this Self Nemesis is by observation, which is a useful tool my fellow martial artists and I use in sparring. We don’t just rush into a fight with fists and feet flailing. We study our opponent and look for their strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to help us plan our attack and defense.

Are you beginning to feel overwhelmed by doubt, anger, or fear? Stop. Observe, and more importantly, observe without judgment. Don’t berate yourself for your feelings. Simply acknowledge them. You’re afraid? Well, that’s okay. What is it you’re afraid of? What’s the very worst that can happen? Are you 100% sure that what you fear will happen? Are you really and truly 100% helpless, or is there something you can do? Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is true or if you’re telling yourself lies. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Taekwondo has been my saving grace for overcoming low self-esteem and crushing anxiety. Sometimes when faced with a challenge at work or in my personal life (or most recently, trying to climb up onto a Bosu ball at physical therapy) I think, “Chin up, you can do it! You’re a black belt!”

There are real dangers and opponents out there, but sometimes the great nemesis is all in our heads. I’d love to see in the comments below your tactics for overcoming your self-doubt and fear. What do you do when you realize you are your own nemesis?

Five Things I Lost While Training for My Black Belt (Besides Five Pounds)

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I don’t want to even look at cake right now.

Training for my October black belt test did more than get me in good physical shape and help me hone the skills I needed to demonstrate to earn my new rank. It also helped me rid myself of some particularly damaging (and sticky) habits.

1. I lost my sweet tooth.
Remember how I was going on about craving Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies in the last few posts before my black belt test? I finally bought a box, eagerly ripped open the plastic packaging of the coveted treat, and….meh. They’re a lot smaller than I remember them being, and they don’t have that wonderful greasy mouthfeel they used to. Maybe all the trans fats and yummy stuff were removed. I won’t be buying another box.

Along with the sweet tooth I also seemed to have lost my tolerance for junk food in general. The week following my test I gave myself a pass to indulge and polish off the goodies I had when my family visited for the test: leftover pizza, chips, soda, sliced turkey and Swiss cheese, Halloween candy, and….meh. I had carb face and a processed food headache. I did make it to Whataburger, so thankfully I didn’t have to revoke my Native Texan card. When I finally ate an apple after eating all that crap I felt like I’d bitten into a juicy atomic bomb. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my boring staples of oatmeal, brown rice, roasted vegetables, fruit, and boiled eggs again.

2. I lost my taste for alcohol.
I’m sure a few of my oenophile friends are thinking, “WHYYYY?” I gave it up for seven months primarily due to some health problems I was having at the beginning of the year, and I decided to just keep going until I completed my black belt test. It was much easier to quit than I expected, and I didn’t miss it at all. I enjoyed the champagne and red wine I drank with my family after my test, and I do see a bottle of Single Barrel Jack in my future, but…meh. I don’t dislike alcohol now. I just don’t NEED it anymore, and THAT is a very good thing.

3. I lost my need for validation or approval from other people.
I’m still eager to please and like to put smiles on people’s faces, and of course, duh, I care about what my taekwondo instructors think of me (and yeah, my boss too since he helps me pay for those taekwondo classes), but I don’t care anymore whether people “like” me or not. I enjoy and appreciate compliments, but they’re icing on a cake that I’m not craving that much anymore. (That’s my metaphorical sweet tooth). I still strive to do better, but I don’t worry about how I look, how I sound, or how people perceive me.

I know that I’m a good person, and I accept myself for who I am, both in my personality and my physical looks. I know I can kick ass in a business meeting just as much as I can in the dojang. During my actual black belt test I had no worries or fear. I wasn’t second guessing myself or apologizing, and I nailed it. I was so calm I wondered if part of my brain had melted, but maybe it meant that I’m finally, FINALLY exercising that fabled confidence martial arts is known for bringing out in its practitioners. Less than a week after my black belt test, during a meeting with some tough business clients, I tapped into my newfound strength and wooed our tough clients into going with the plan that my boss and I were proposing. Whether I’m in heels and a suit or a black belt and bare feet I am strong, confident, and capable. I would’t have been able to say that before I began taekwondo.

4. I lost my total and utter feeling of disconnect with other human beings…well, some of the time.
I know I’m not a sociopath because I have a very present and very vocal conscience, but I’m not exactly Mother Theresa either. I can go a whole week not speaking a word to anyone and not caring at all. (Actually it would be nice to have a week like that, where I don’t speak to ANYONE).  One of the reasons why I got back into taekwondo was to get out of my house and more importantly, get out of my churning, depressed, self-loathing head. Taekwondo is a contact sport in many ways—obviously in the physical sense, but very much in the emotional and social sense. We’re a tribe, a family, a community. We rely on each other to learn and improve. I simply can’t get lost in a train of worrisome thoughts if I’m having to chase a nine-year-old across the mat with a kicking pad or help a teenager with tricky parts of their form.

Through my instructor’s encouragement, I have gained a lot of experience teaching and coaching, and that will be an even higher expectation now that I am a black belt. Turns out, I’m good at it, and more importantly, I enjoy it. It’s brought out the loving, giving, attentive parts of my personality that to this point in my life I’ve only been able to share with my family. I’m the doting, compassionate mother that I will forever refuse to be elsewhere, the leader I don’t strive to be professionally, and the funny, outgoing, loyal friend that I am unable to be in other parts of my life.

It still takes an extra effort for me to interact with people, but I’m doing it more frequently. Taekwondo forces me to actively and intensely engage with people six hours out of the week, which is more than I’ve done in the past. One of these days perhaps my “real” persona will bleed out of the dojang and into other parts of my life, but for now it’s nice to know that at least with some people I don’t feel the need to wear a mask.

5. I lost my need to be in a relationship to be “happy.”
This might be the most important loss (or gain?) of all. My partner of two years and I split up in early April, exactly a week after I successfully tested for bo dan, leaving me to travel the path to black belt alone. The relationship was already on thin ice, but we’d both held onto hopes that we could continue, until we simply couldn’t. For my entire adult life I thought that I needed a man’s love, or at the very least his attention, to be happy. I don’t believe in soul mates and hate the “you complete me” crap, but I still wrapped up a lot of my self-worth in what some dude thought of me. That was another reason why I re-entered the world of taekwondo: I had one dating disaster after another, and I was miserable. I needed to get away from myself before I messed up my life even further.

I don’t regret my most recent relationship at all. My partner and I loved each other very much and both agreed that we were able to be our true selves more with each other than either of us had been able to with previous partners. I think we both needed each other as support systems until we were able to function independently on our own. It was nice to have someone who loved me at most of my belt tests, especially the first one when I jumped from white to green, but by the time we split I figured out that I was able to continue the journey by myself.

I was heartbroken when it ended, but I wasn’t at a total loss of what to do, and more importantly, I didn’t blame/hate myself for the break up. I bounced back more quickly after what was my most serious relationship to-date than I had from one- or two-month flings. I didn’t have time to let a breakup crush me; I was training for my black belt! At first I thought the timing was terrible since I would be training for my black belt test “alone,” but in hindsight the timing was perfect. I learned  that I could rely entirely and singularly on myself to succeed.  I doubt I would have had that eerie sense of calm the day of the test if I were still subconsciously searching over and over for the validation that someone loved me, approved of me, and accepted me.

So will I start dating again now that I have my black belt? NOPE. SOOOO not interested, and SOOOO don’t care. One, it’s only been seven months, and I am simply not ready to consider anyone else as boyfriend material; it’s too weird and too soon. Two, and the more important reason, I haven’t been able to enjoy just being myself in…well…ever, so I’m going to bask in that for a while. I’m having way too much fun on my own. The way I feel about dating is the way I feel about sweets and alcohol and relying on other people to boost my self–esteem…nice, but….meh. Besides, whatever joker I finally decide to spend time with might as well start coming to taekwondo class with me or move along, because that’s where my heart really is.