This one shows my little vein a bit better.
Hopefully over the next few months it will come out of hiding a bit more.
#1 – Being a legit MMA Fighter makes you LESS likely to get in fights outside the gym.
Training as a legit MMA fighter takes A LOT of time & physical/mental energy & when you spend that much time getting punched & kicked & thrown around & choked, the LAST thing you feel like doing is spending any energy fighting the idiot who cut you off or stole you weight bench. Being a legit MMA fighter makes you more mellow bc you know that you could most likely kick the shit out of 90% of the people who would try to pick a fight with you & you so develop a silent confidence & therefore let things slide. You have nothing to prove.
On the other side of this coin is the irrational, unpredictable pregnancy irritation that could become a blind rage in .2 seconds. Being pregnant gives you zero tolerance for anyone’s bullshit bc everything you do is an exhausting struggle – be that physical or mental. Being pregnant means at any given time you are 3/4 of the way to telling someone to get the f*ck away from you, to back the f*ck off, or to smarten the f*ck up (you say “f*ck” a lot while pregnant, it’s a fact). Add to this the fact that you are/were a legit MMA fighter: you are now a weapon of mass destruction primed to go off at any moment & to restrain this takes immense energy, focus, will & sugar, which in the end only adds to your irritation.
#2 – Being a legit MMA fighter gets you in wicked shape & so you get to enjoy feeling like a sexy beast.
It takes so many hours of ridiculously hard work to get prepared for a legit MMA fight & the physiological response is usually to drop body fat. The benefit of being in the best shape of your life is that you LOOK like you’re in the best shape of your life & you get to walk around knowing that your bulging muscle & obvious athletic prowess is appealing (even if only to you) but also terrifying. Being in fighting shape is the ultimate Alpha expression & you’ll feel it…even if the rest of the world doesn’t.
In stark contrast we have pregnancy.
As a legit MMA fighter, being pregnant means you’re in the worst shape of your life & most horribly, not bc you chose this (in the sense of quitting exercise/healthy food), but bc mother nature & evolution are sneaky bitches. You cannot outsmart them & you cannot outwork them. Being pregnant means that even if you eat well & workout you will gain weight (as you should). You get slower & bigger & softer & the Alpha feeling gets replaced with the Zeta feeling: a word I made up that means you’re at the end of the alphabet bc you probably feel so hideous & unfamiliar to yourself. And if you weren’t so exhausted from pregnancy induced insomnia you’d work out at 4am so you could avoid having to even see people in such a condition bc their lack of fear is also irritating. Also, bc it helps you avoid getting in fights.
#3 – Being a legit MMA fighter, especially female fighter, means people are afraid to talk to you.
It doesn’t matter how friendly & nice you actually are, if people know that you’re an MMA fighter & you also have the physique of a legit athlete, most people are intimidated by you. My experience has been that muscular women are scary in our society; add to that the fighter bit & you are an outright freak of nature. This can be really annoying, however, you can be assured that people WILL NOT say really stupid/offensive things to you (except about your muscles). They also will NEVER touch you bc they’re already convinced that you might attack them. So this perception of you, no matter how false, helps prevent people from pissing you off and/or offending you, bc they have the common sense to only say such things behind your back.
And then we have pregnancy; the time of your life when EVERYONE has an opinion about EVERYTHING about you. Your body, your weight, your overall size, what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, & worst of all they TOUCH you. Now if you’ve been paying attention you can see that so far along we have a highly irritated, most likely irrational woman that is unbearably uncomfortable with inevitable changes of pregnancy & then someone is going to comment on her changing shape & size & then follow up with trying to touch her growing belly!! It’s a disaster. To go from one extreme to the other is paralyzing bc it is such a strain to not tell people to f*ck off that it hurts your face. Like you haven’t noticed all these changes & the fact that your everything has muffin-top & your everything hurts & your everything is retaining water & your everything doesn’t fit you & everything has suddenly started to feel 20x harder to do (like stairs, putting on your pants, putting on your shoes, breathing, being alive in general etc).
Now bear in mind this is only my experience & there are plenty of great things about being pregnant (or so they say…just kidding…not really) but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.
I’m sure I’ll add to this list.
This one shows my little vein a bit better.
Hopefully over the next few months it will come out of hiding a bit more.
I did an entire lower body workout this week!
It was pretty chill & involved A LOT of foam rolling & stretching in b/w movements & I made the following day a rest day let everything settle. BUT….
I didn’t get ANY stabbing pain in my hip the next day/evening.
Why is this worth writing to the Internets about? Because in the past 11.5 months I have completed a whopping 2 full lower body workouts & that includes the one from this Tuesday. Shuffling quickly across the street to avoid getting run-over when I jay-walk gives me stabbing pain, so this is pretty exciting stuff for me….which paints a pretty clear picture of the comical, yet tragic, state of my life for the past year.
This whole “rest” & “moderation” thing seems to be working. Who would’ve thought such sorcery & hippie shit would work?!
This is very encouraging because I am going into 2 consecutive pain-free days (not to say free of discomfort, but I’ll take what I can get) & that is FANTASTIC news because that means I am one step closer to NOT becoming an alcoholic or raging lunatic or quitting life all together, gaining 100lbs, growing a mustache & purchasing a Little Rascal Scooter.
My problem, or more accurately, one of my problems is that I believe that I must do the maximum, full tilt, mother load of everything & anything I do.
Gonna go for a walk? Nah, too easy – let’s jog up a hill…oh wait, jogging is for sissies, let’s sprint…that’s a way bigger hill over there…let’s go do multiple sprints up that one…I think I tore my groin…awesome, more pain = more calories burned.
Or how about – Yoga? Don’t mind if I do….what’s the hardest kind…no, harder than that…can I go faster….she’s bending way farther than me…I can do that for sure…oh my god, I think I ripped my vagina….awesome, more pain = more calories burned.
I will race you on the treadmill (when I can actually run). I will race you on the EFX. I will race you to the bathroom. I will pee faster. I will sweat more. No matter what I do – it has to be to the max. And it’s not actually in competition with ‘you’ but the metaphorical ‘you’, so really, it’s me: it’s yesterday’s me or tomorrow’s me or the me when I come down off of pre-workout. Anything less than walking the border of my max capacity has always seemed like a waste of precious time.
It’s really not difficult to see how I wound up so injured; I’m crazy & kinda stupid.
However, I had a small victory last night during my yoga practice. It was time for Wheel aka back bends aka not a good f*cking idea when your SI joint, hip & back have been buggered all week from your last time you did something you shouldn’t have been doing.
But as I was about to push up into my first back bend, I realized that this would not be assisting me in decreasing the pain in my ass region & so the logical aka smart thing to do would be a sissy Wheel.
So I did the sissy Wheel.
One part of me scoffed at how unimpressive this was & the other was relieved that I would not be requiring an ass doughnut at work.
It’s not exactly breaking news to know that most women exist in a love-hate battle with their bodies. Some of us endure more of a hate-hate relationship; resulting in a daily experience of torment.
I lived that experience for a ridiculously long time. I thought being skinny would fix everything, whatever “everything” was.
I became so obsessed with being skinny that I pushed myself to weighing 97lbs. I won’t detail the gruesome schedule required to attain this ridiculous number, but I will tell you that my eating disorder almost cost me most of my vision.
But this isn’t some depressing story of another messed up girl who hates her body & tried to starve her life into submission.
Rather, this is a description of the liberation I found in my sport & the threat I face in having to let go of it as I have come to know it. I’m sure this sounds melodramatic & slightly depressing, but I promise we’ll turn a corner if you stick it out.
My life as an MMA fighter brought me face to face with my physical self. It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that for someone to essentially starve & over-exercise themselves to 97lbs, one must make the decision to tune out the body. In my field of work this is known as “disassociation”; & this was something, healthy or not, that I came to master.
In my opinion, some of my success as an athlete came from the ability to disassociate from physical discomfort. In this way, I did what I knew I needed to do; I shut off, tuned out & did what had to be done. Being an athlete presents an interesting dichotomy; you must tune into your body because your success depends upon it performing properly, & yet a successful athlete needs to ignore the physical & mental pain/discomfort/exhaustion from time to time.
When I wasn’t in a training camp I trained 5-6 days per week for 1.5-3 hours & the more I progressed in my sport the more frequent my intense training became. I was fuelled as much by the pursuit of progress as I was the fear that anything less wouldn’t be good enough.
And I suppose that fear leads me to where I am today.
Every day, I am limited by physical pain. I used to walk into the gym & do whatever I needed to do without much concern over the potential cost to my body. I hoisted 250lb men in the air for takedowns. I ran at maximum HR for 20 minutes or more. I sparred with people twice my size. I was beat up & beat down & I rose each day to do it again because I knew it made me better.
Today I count myself lucky if I can push a moderate pace on the Ellipitcal machine.
My body is asking for things I haven’t given it in a long time. It’s asking for generosity & patience & kindness & respectful acknowledgement of limitation. And I know without question that it is the right thing to do. My physical pain is a testament to what happens when one chooses not to listen to what the body asks for.
But I find myself at the door to some of my deepest & oldest fears.
I am afraid that taking it easy & scaling everything back will cause me to lose many of the things I love about my life & myself.
I am afraid to lose my strength & power. I am afraid of losing the sense of knowing where I belong in the world. I am afraid of losing my fitness & getting fat.
I am afraid that what I have to give is not enough because it represents a fraction of what I am used to giving: to my sport, to my training, to my goals & to myself. No matter what happened in my life, I always had the consolation that chance could never claim my dedication.
I am in a period of readjustment & those demons in the closet are stirring. My sport brought me assurance because I knew that no matter what I looked like, my body was the result of performance. Regardless of how it looked, I knew it could do amazing things.
But I can’t do many of those amazing things right now & so the balance is unsettled.
But here is where I turn it around.
I’m not going to act like being in pain every day doesn’t suck, because it seriously sucks.
But underneath my frustration & self-pity is the opportunity to listen. And this might sound like some new-age-hippy-bullshit, but the truth is that my life has been consumed with “shoulds” & “could’s” & “have to’s” for as long as I can remember.
I suddenly find myself asking the most preposterous question: “What do I feel like doing?”
It’s not an easy question to answer because it’s been so long since I asked it & it’s a question long answered by fear.
At first it was my fear of ‘fat’ & then it was my fear of missing an opportunity. That’s not to say there wasn’t passion & enjoyment, but what I wanted was never as important as what I thought I needed to do in order to be better.
In life’s ironic way, I find myself unable to not listen to my body because it is relentless in its reminders of what it can & cannot do.
And I find myself amidst a very physical experience & yet like all of life’s big, crazy events, what this is really about, is not what is happening.
It’s about so much more.
It’s easy to life a life full of distraction so the buzz of your doing distracts from the internal buzz of thought & experience. I am not saying that a life filled with activities & hobbies is a negative thing, but I think one can become addicted such things because within stillness echoes the rumblings of our darker side.
Being fully present in our lives is difficult & exhausting. We turn on the T.V. or laptop & tune out our internal world. In many ways this is decompression; it’s how we unwind from a long day of work or school or raising kids. But just as easily, what we do becomes a distraction from experiencing life & ourselves.
Our lives are claimed through sequences of seemingly insignificant moments. Whether you like it or not, you are here now, in this form, for a limited amount of time. I do not know what you could do right now to claim this moment as yours, but I know you have the opportunity to claim it. Whether you need to take a walk & admire the moon, have a glass of wine, or forgive yourself for not being perfect, you have the opportunity to tune in & listen, because not listening catches up with us sooner or later.
And that might sound like some hippy-bullshit…but my name is “River”, after all.
I gave up the pursuit of skinny for the pursuit of power & strength.
This is me moments before my title win.
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….
That’s me after my last fight – winning the 135lb Championship.
I used to write all the time. Mostly journaling. Nothing too fascinating; just the typical musings of an emotionally distraught teenager.
Then I turned 20 and they became the musings of a girl caught up in the battle between life & an eating disorder.
But that’s neither here nor there. I could get into a historical overview for you but I think it’s best that such things unravel in a more organic manner.
I had a blog or log or journal or whatever back when I was part of an online fitness community (O2). Over-exercising and not-eating had consumed my life up to joining this community. I had a lot of knowledge but it was significantly twisted by my own neurosis. My #1 consuming thought back then was THIN. BE THIN. MUST STAY THIN. DO NOT GET FAT.
I slowly healed from 7 years of pure hell: Anorexia Nervosa. Heavy on the Nervosa.
The Cinderella part of the story is that I went from a 97lb bag of hypothermic bones to a 145lb fighting machine over the course of about 10 years. That sounds like FOREVER but it came in chunks of time that we could group accordingly:
Life Pre-Chunks of time: I’m going to exercise every day for hours and go months without a day off and only eat 2-3 times per week. It’s going to be great. I can’t wait until sleeping hurts my bones.
Chunk 1: I’m going to become a Yogi – hey, maybe I’m not focused, maybe I have an eating disorder. Fuck.
Chunk 2: I think I might be killing myself – I should probably start eating once a day. But I think exercising for 90-120 minutes is still cool. Fuck.
Chunk 3: I think living off Diet Coke & Cigarettes is maybe not the best daily diet plan. Let’s try an apple & protein bar once a day. Fuck.
Chunk 4: Eating is difficult. Let’s read about why I’m so fucked up. Fuck.
Chunk 5: Let’s learn about nutrition and get fat because I destroyed my metabolism with 7 years of complete insanity. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Chunk 6: Let’s work with some specialists and read more and more and more and more and more and more and more. Why was I so fucked? Fuck.
Chunk 7: Let’s start doing things properly ie: quit exercising like it’s actually the zombie apocalypse. No one is coming to kill you. Except maybe you. Fuck.
Chunk 8: Hey look – you’re good at punching people in the face and throwing them around. Let’s try this MMA Fighter thing out. Shit ya.
Chunk 9: You’re a legit athlete now. You’re ranked #2 in the world at your weight as an amateur – how did that happen. Train, train, train, train, eat, sleep a bit, train, train, train, train. Look you’ve been offered an Invicta contract. Shit ya.
Chunk 10: Devastating injury. You have to quit competing. Identity crisis. Depressed. How are you going to workout? Hello chronic pain for 1 year and counting. Resist urge to become alcoholic…or chocoholic….anything with ‘olic’ at the end.
And here we are today. 2 weeks out from being forced into ‘retiring’ from my sport aka driving force behind my whole life (MMA). Still in pain everyday. Still wondering what the fuck is going on in my life. Still feeling sorry for myself.
Where am I going with this?
Well, I don’t want to flood my facebook with boo-hoo, emo ramblings about pain and struggle and loss and mourning and re-birth and purpose and all the other shit that I seem to be wading through because I HATE those facebook posts. All I want on facebook is a few laughs, cute pictures, etc. If you’re posting your problems on facebook, I’ve probably blocked you.
I also realize people don’t want to necessarily wade through all my tumblr nonsense, which is mostly images. Of me. Crying into a box of dry cereal. Listening to, “All By Myself” by Celine Dion. *kidding* *or am I*
This blog will be focused primarily on my journey through this injury: I’m facing more intense rehab that will hopefully progress faster since I won’t be setting myself back with MMA training.
Being an MMA fighter has been a significant part of my identity. It became a large part of who I am, how I see myself, who I am in the community, how people see me, how I see myself, & the purpose in my life. Now that I’m not training to compete, there is a significant hole left in my life and, as Oprah as this sounds, in myself.
I’m facing a lot of tough questions. A lot of difficult feelings.
So that’s where we’re going.
There will also be a lot of ranting. Philosophizing. Some whining. Some inspiring. A little bit of everything….or a whole lot of nothing. Depends on your interpretation, I suppose.
So read or don’t. Comment or don’t. I just need a place to share and I lack the patience to write in a journal…my hand cramps.