I can remember back as early as 11 years old starting a list of “New Year’s Resolutions.” On that list were things like, “Be nicer to my brothers” and “Do my homework” and “Clean up my room”. Throughout the years, items on those lists have changed — “get my drivers license”, “make honor roll”, “practice my piano more”, and even “have my first kiss” have all appeared on the New Years Resolution. But, for well over 2 decades since my first list, there was always one consistent item.
When I was still going through puberty, I remember identifying and writing actual pounds on there. In the 8th grade, I had changed “lose weight” to “don’t go above 103 lbs.” One hundred three pounds. In the 8th grade, I was already 5’2″. I thought I was fat. I knew I was fat. I was obsessed with the the fear of being fat. People told me I was fat.
There were points in my life when my obsession with my body grew painful. In the 9th grade, there were days when I faked being sick just so that I could stay home from school and exercise. I would wait until my mom and dad left for work, pull on my black and red spandex aerobic outfit (it was the mid-80s after all!), and do hours of exercise in the basement. If my mom called to check on me, I would cough into the phone, muster up my most pathetic “heh-loow?”, and let her know I was doing a little bit better. Then, I’d go back and do crunches, saddened that I had just lost a few minutes of calorie burn.
When I was in high school, I worked in my dad’s office during the summer. One time, his secretary commented on my rock hard abs and asked me how I got them. “Oh, I do, like, 250 sit ups a day.” I lied. I did more like 500 sit ups a day.
In college, I discovered that I really, really, liked to drink. Like with many college students, drinking was my way of escaping social awkwardness. What I lacked in self-confidence, I made up in vodka shots. Beer, wine, liquor, whatever. When my sister Mary visited me one day in college, she was appalled at the amount of alcohol I had so publicly displayed in my small dorm room. For years she would joke about me being an alcoholic. Looking back, she was right. Because I ran with a group that enjoyed drinking as much as I did, it seemed so normal; I had no idea my perspective on drinking and alcohol was completely skewed. For a few months during my junior year in college, I decided not to drink anymore; however my choice was based on the fact that I discovered there were so many calories in alcohol and began to obsess about my body image once again. And, when I felt terrible about my body, I began to drink again. And, living on a an all-female floor, too, taught me short cuts to reducing calories in my body.
I’m so sorry body. I was Unkind.
I reached a point soon after college where alcohol just wasn’t appealing to me anymore. Even today, I rarely touch alcohol (or other drugs, in case you were wondering). But, my battle with my body still haunts me. While my genetic code was set long before my mental relationship with my body began, I can’t help but think of ways in which I could have been nicer. Kinder. More supportive of the very body that did so much for me. I never did practice that whole “My Body= My Temple” idea.
When I decided to embark on the Marathon B4 Mastectomy journey, I promised myself that working out and exercise would be about making me strong, fit, and ready for the surgery. I focused on living life, not losing weight. I focused on strength, not stomach fat. I focused on lungs, not lard.
Now, just 3 weeks before the 1/2 marathon, I realize that my battle with my body isn’t easy to shake. In January 2010, I fantasized about what I would look like at the starting line of the 1/2 marathon in June 2010. I pictured myself strong, determined, ready. I pictured myself with a straight back, head held high, and a smile on my face. I pictured myself surrounded by my friends and family – all of us ready to run 13.1 miles in the June heat.
And, though I’ve tried to fight the urge, over these past few months, I pictured my body. I imagined a size 8 figure. Visible muscles in my arms from 6 months of back-and-forth motion from running. I could see the front of my shirt curve out at my chest and then hug my flat stomach. I could almost feel the indents from the ripples in my thigh muscles as they flexed at the starting line. The thought of the smile on my face, my cheekbones visible, and my collarbone peeking out just past the strap of my sports bra. I imagined profile pictures of myself with an actual jaw line that could be distinguished from my neck. I daydreamed about myself mentally preparing and saying, “Liza, look how far you’ve come. You’re 60 lbs lighter, 13.1 miles faster, and 6 sizes smaller.”
Three weeks from the race, I look nothing like what I imagined.
Though my lungs are stronger and my legs firmer, I’m the same 183 lbs (fighting the urge to delete that public declaration!) since January, no where near the 150 or, heck, 140 I dreamed to be. While I’m significantly thinner than when I gave birth to Evan, I weigh the same amount as when I was 9-months pregnant with my oldest child. The picture of my figure still looks more like a post-pregnant mama than an pre-1/2 marathon racer. My arms jiggle. My butt wiggles. And, my belly fat actually bounces up and down when I giggle. My theme song in my head isn’t “Eye of the Tiger” but rather “Baby Got Back.” Big back.
While I realize that 34 years of cruelty to my body cannot be undone in 6 months of running, I would be dishonest if I didn’t share with you my emotional pitfalls. Many of you have shared such personal reflections on your journey with me. And, while I know that these Mb4M essays display moments of my strength, it also comes with a great deal of emotional working-through. I would be dishonest if I only wrote about the “good” that has come.
I embrace that my mental work is harder than my physical work. I know that, sooner than later now, parts of my body will actually be removed and replaced with pieces that are not genuinely and biologically me. When I started MB4M, I knew that this 6-month journey meant something. Truthfully, I never realized just how much it would represent my life story. Thirty-four years of a life story. Wrapped up in my life journey has been fiction — times when I lied to myself or fooled myself into false truths. Parts of it has been non-fiction — experiences much too painful, and also too joyous, to make up.
Preparing for the 1/2 marathon, and the surgery, has forced me to really look at who I am, who I think I am, and who I strive to be. It has challenged my threshold for quitting and pushing through, my relationship with my own body, and the fine line between real and un-real expectations.
With just a few weeks to go before the race, I am coming to understand that the 1/2 marathon is just that — half-way. The past 6 months have been a condensed journey of my life: courage and self-doubt, patience and perseverance, excitement and boredom, reality and fiction. Uncertainty. I’m not sure how I’ll feel on race day. I’m not sure how I’ll feel on surgery day. I am learning, however, that life isn’t always black and white; with great choices come great fear.
And with great fear comes opportunities to test our own sense of self, heal from the past, and forge a new future.
Peace, love, and learning to love,