But all of that is not the point of this piece. The intention behind this piece is perspective taking of the moment. As I look at this photo, I am reminded of where we were, who we were with and the most prevalent events in my mind that day. AND it also reminds me of an identity I once had, considering this photo was taken two decades ago. This memory is shaped by both the environment that is external - the place, people, and snakes. And the internal dialogue that was chattering on for me that day.
I am distracted. There is the danger and dis-ease at the idea of encountering a snake. There is a longing to return to a gym and work with some of my clients rather than be here while the strong boys sent projects and I tried the problems that were their warm ups. Finally, my life seemed to be making headway. I had finished writing the book and it was in the hands of an editor. In the moments before returning to a climbing road trip, I felt important to the larger climbing community. I felt my ideas mattered. But here with my partner who is spending more time connecting with another climbing partner, I had returned to the feelings if being insignificant. I cannot climb what they climb. I do not even want to try topping out some of these boulders that seem more like roped routes than boulder problems to me. Getting twenty feet off the deck with only a three inch pad beneath me isn't my jam. On this day, despite living out of the back of a truck, I have taken efforts to look fresh and pretty. I coordinated my sport bra and shorts, have refrained from tying my hair into the typical ponytail to hide the dirt and grime of days living in a truck and climbing everyday. My partner is more distracted by the other climbers we are with, all higher profile in the climbing world than me. And of course, he is also distracted by the climbing. Climbing seems to be enough for him. I am not sure it is for me any more.
Even as this image is being taken, I know I am not going to try hard. Not hard enough to do this route. Today I wanted to be more than just a woman who climbs. Or worse, just a person who climbs. I wanted to be his beautiful, strong and intelligent woman who matters.
As I look at this photo twenty years later, I smile. I was worth admiring. I was worth attention. I had just finished the first draft of a book that would be published months later. I was strong and pretty. I had grown, rather, I had outgrown my life being defined by just the grade I climbed. I no longer preferred the escape to the rocks, getting lost in a project. I was now defined by ability to help others achieve their goals, by my wisdom to define and articulate a path to success.
This route reminds me of the recognition of the need I felt to give to others the gift of my understanding. It is the moment when I recognized that need was stronger than my need to climb for myself. It is the moment I recognized I was no longer a climbing bum, rather, I was a coach at heart.
I want you to find an image that sparks in you a sense of positivity and possibility and write about it. Don't worry - you don't need to publish or share what you write, but write as if you had stepped back into that moment. It will tell you more about who you are than you may imagine.
Recently watch a documentary on eating disorders entitled, Light. The message is about the prevalence of eating disorders in the climbing world. I have witnessed eating disorders numerous times in the 25 years of coaching. And from lived experience. The woman above is me, if you had not guessed.
In the documentary, the women interviewed discussed their road to recovery and how hard it was. They are obviously very driven to succeed and therefore were also very successful at their eating disorders. They are still successful but have now accepted that success and the relationship of food, in their particular circumstance, is not the only thing to focus on in life.
I see a parallel in any relationship that is used to feel good. Some folks I know define themselves through work and using work to feel adequate. Some folks use being good at cooking, or their social media success to define themselves.
Bottom line - when we feel inadequate and attempt to control something in a way that becomes unhealthy it is a disorder. Is one recovered when they no longer use the thing? Or when they no longer feel a need to prove or be defined in a particular way?
If you have an eating disorder (ED) and get to healthy behaviours around food, are you recovered? Or just behaving in a healthy way even if the thoughts about needing to be smaller are still running wild through your mind? Or is it based on the homeostatic balance of the body that determines recovery from an eating disorder?
My own experience illustrates that it is not about how you look or whether the body is healthy. It comes down to the mind and how one handles the thoughts that rage through. Being able to restrict, to do a lot of exercise always gave me a sense of control and power. I used food to feel powerful and in control. However when I look back over the number of years when I was lean and strong and climbing hard, I also see how mentally tortured I continued to be. As I flow through photos I can remember how much I weighed at the time or what my body fat percentage was. I remember feeling not enough. I felt a need to be better always. The method to achieve was through restricted diet and lots of exercise.
COVID has led to a 400% increase in the number of people seeking support from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia. Research shows that an increasing number of women going through menopause are now indulging in disordered eating behaviours in an attempt to rid themselves of menopausal weight gain. The numbers of people on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication continues to rise. The number and frequencies of gun violence is on the rise.
Anyone else see a link to a very unhappy population and very destructive behaviours?
I wonder how many people would be in healthy relationships with themselves and others if they did not feel so out of control. To be vulnerable is difficult. To compare oneself to others is to create suffering for oneself.
Maybe then the treatment is to find new management strategies for the things we resist, the things that make us feel threatened. As I see it, the challenge COVID has illustrated is how much - or how little - emotional regulation and resilience people have. We all feel threatened when we are on social media and reading comments we disagree with. We all feel threatened when we are wearing masks in public. We all feel threatened when we cannot get on a plane and travel. This virus makes us all feel out of control of our daily routines.
Last week I listened to the news - only because my car stereo is not connecting to my phone - and I heard 3 stories in my ten minute drive about how people felt they deserved more control. Unfortunately, we have no control over what life will bring. Life is not fair. Control doesn't exist. That is what a lifetime has taught me. It is OUR responsibility to manage, regulate our emotions, and shape our perspective on things. It is not the responsibility of some organization, government or God to ensure we are safe. Life is the ups and downs, the imperfections, the storms and the sunshine.
The thought "if I were 10 pounds lighter" is just a thought that initiates feelings of weakness and powerlessness. These thoughts are initiating feelings of fear. Following fear increases feelings of stress and usually the stress response initiates a behaviour. That behaviour will either be helpful or unhelpful. It may be helpful in the short term and more harmful in the long run. But in any moment YOU and I have the choice what behaviours we choose.
The best teaching I have learned when I am in the storm of negative thoughts... is to ask... Is it true?
This comes from Byron Katie who has many videos, free resources. Just check out The Work.com
Often times the answer is that you cannot absolutely irrevocably know what you are thinking is true. And if you turn the thoughts around, you can often find that the opposite of what you are thinking is also true. This process leads to a less tightly held belief and it is only from that mental/emotional place - from curiosity and openness to thinking differently that change can happen.
In that space of curiosity, of a looser grip, a person with ED can make a more skillful decision. It lightens the pressure of negative provoking thoughts. We can all chose more skillfully if we slow down and take a moment to question our thoughts.
Perhaps true recovery is the ability to disrupt compulsive thoughts and behaviours.
In Buddhism, the middle path is the skillful choice. Buddhism has been around for quite awhile. As have the teachings of Sri Vidya which holds similiar values. Maybe these ancient teachings brought into our lives a little earlier on is really the education we need.
The metaphor in a climbing world example would be for example when you are climbing a tall route and start getting that sense of exposure - all that space behind you making you very aware that you are high off the ground. The elephant wants to get down. The elephant may begin to violently shake the legs, over grip the hand holds. The elephant starts looking down and stalling about moving up. The rider is usually off line. But may come online and begin to calculate how far out from the last bolt you are and what kind of a fall you might be in for. The rider may begin to calculate the odds of getting to the next clip, assess what moves will be required, whether the clipping stance is adequate for the amount of pump you feel.
In this example, what drives both the elephant and the rider is the fear of harm, or more accurately, the desire to avoid harm. In order to get the elephant to move toward the next clip has to be a motivation that is greater than the motivation to avoid the fall.
“Sparks come from emotion, not information.”