There are a few things in my life that are a pure testament to my family history; gems passed down from my parents: my afro, thick legs, & inability to let shit go.
I have never been good at letting things go & now find myself in the biggest test of this ability (or lack thereof): letting go of my role as a competitive athlete.
I don’t do the letting go thing because it’s like the nicer, slightly more attractive twin brother of “quitting.” Which, of course, it isn’t, but to an over-achieving, type-A, perfectionist, quitting & letting go feel quite similar.
I’ve been contending with this injury since January 2013. I have fought it as hard as I have fought my opponents in the cage/ring. I ignored it & when I couldn’t ignore it any longer I tried to deny it. Then, after it became something I couldn’t deny, I agreed to acknowledge it but tried to tell it how it was going to be. I lost that argument. In my defense, neither my doctors nor I had any clue that this injury was as severe as it turned out to be. Had I known, maybe things would have been different. But maybe not.
I do have a have a point in all this: letting go is A LOT different than having something ripped out of your hands.
There is an element of choice that is lost in this & what follows is a sense of powerlessness. An overwhelming sense. It’s actually not even a “sense” so much as an unrelenting, thundering wave of grief, regret, disappointment, pain, & sorrow.
My choice to be an MMA fighter was the guiding compass in my life. Being an athlete requires one to structure their life around the sport. I am sure there are other ways to do things but I chose to take my life as an athlete seriously & I was rewarded with a successful ‘career’. I started at the gym not even knowing what MMA was & in about 6-7 years I worked my way into the #2 spot at my weight as an amateur. I held an undefeated record. I morphed my body into a powerful machine. I fought some of the best amateur fighters in North America & was victorious every time.
Being a fighter was incorporated into who I was. To myself, to my community, to my training partners, to my friends & family. I enthusiastically sacrificed so much because my life as a fighter nourished me to my core. My life was infused with purpose & direction & structure & goals & results. I had a sense of purpose & position in the world, as small as it may have been.
And then, in what feels like the blink of an eye – it’s all gone.
It’s not only difficult to lose the ability to compete in my sport, but what is washed away with this is the sense of purpose I enjoyed. Everyday I knew what I had to do & I did it without complaint (usually) or question. Days were identified by what I had to work on: wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, muay thai, strength & conditioning, etc. It probably sounds quite boring, but I loved it. Even when I hated it, I loved it. I craved it & I came to depend on it.
And now I cannot physically continue. Since January 2012 I have worked around this unrelenting pain. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on rehab. I’ve wanted to quit. I’ve pushed through pain. I’ve ignored pain. I’ve surrendered to it & cried in my car after training; terrified that everything I’d worked for was slipping away. I’ve laid on the gym mats, alone in the dark, with tears streaming down my face, after showing up to train & being incapable of doing so.
Bit by bit my ability to perform certain skills became limited. Through physical pain leaked insidious thoughts: you’re not healing, the pain is getting worse, what are you going to do if you can’t train….you’re losing this battle.
But I fought. I followed doctor’s orders. I tried to avoid making it worse. I accepted that I would be in pain every day. I kept my eye on the prize (Invicta) & I worked to the best of my ability. I never knew what that ability might be, but I held out hope that one day I would be okay. I refused to quit. This would HAVE to be ripped away from me. I would not let it go without a fight.
And so it was ripped away.
I sit in pain now as I type this. It was my choice to push to the end; so I do not pity myself for the physical pain. But I am exhausted from it & the effort it took to push through it.
I sit here uncertain of where I fit into the world. As melodramatic as that might sound; I feel lost. I feel reileved of the internal struggle between what I knew was right for my body & what was best for my ‘career’.
The hard part is also that I am quite limited in all my activity & activity is how I cope. So I’m going through one of the toughest experiences in my life & I feel trapped because I cannot process what I’m feeling in the gym.
Of course I know that things will be okay. I know that I’ll move forward & that when one door closes, another opens. I know all that Oprah bullshit. But I don’t feel it. Not yet.
We all face significant life changes; monumental events that send our lives spiraling in another direction. And it feels like the more we fight against this force, the more out of control we feel.
But at some point the whirlwind will stop & I’ll find myself in a position of joy & contentment & purpose.
But until then all I can do is hold on…or is it letting go….I’ve never been very good at distinguishing this….