If you have not read my original blog post Owning It, I suggest you do before you read this because it sets the background for this article. Otherwise, this article might not make complete sense, and this is a 3 part series. Here is the link:
As I previously discussed in my recent and revealing blog post titled Owning It, I spent well over a decade struggling to live my life authentically, and to embrace and accept the real me. As a result, I fell into the extremely common trap of using my workouts and nutrition as a means to control this large part of my life that I felt completely powerless over, and I developed some extremely unhealthy and ineffective habits that lasted for years (from my late teens to late 20’s). I'll cut to the chase right away so I don't waste your time. I am gay. Unfortunately, like many other people who have struggled with this, it took me years to find the courage to live my life authentically, and to embrace and accept the real me, and for an abundance of reasons. I worried about being judged, abandoned, and stereotyped, and even after I overcame this, I worried about potential negative ramifications in my professional life. I used my workouts and eating to control this large part of my life that I felt completely powerless over. My lifestyle was physically and mentally exhausting, and extremely counterproductive. I did not enjoy working out, eating was stressful, and my results were not good. No matter what is causing the feelings of powerlessness or stress, the end result is often the same, hence why this is a relevant topic to talk about.
The recent tragedy in Orlando inspired me to take a big leap of faith and live my life authentically in all areas, including professionally and on social media (which I never planned on doing), so I wrote and shared (after MUCH deliberation) Owning It Part 1 on Facebook. Unlike many people from around the world, I have the absolute freedom to live my life authentically, and the only obstacle that was in the way was me, and this made me feel like a coward. Plus, over the years, especially since I've been in my 30's, I have realized that if people don't accept me for me, so be it, and this includes professionally. If someone doesn't want to work with me because of who I am, it is totally their loss. People seem to appreciate authenticity, and I have received nothing but positive messages and support since I posted my original blog a few weeks back. I wish I had taken this step years before. Until I pressed send and shared my post, I didn't even realize the burden I was still carrying, even if it was significantly less than what I was dealing with when I was at my lowest point.
Address The Cause, Don’t Just Treat The Symptoms
It is so important to note that my unhealthy lifestyle was not the cause of my problems, it was just a symptom of a larger issue, not being true to myself and not living an authentic life. I think this is the case with most people who adopt unhealthy eating and workout patterns. A larger issue or stressor is causing them to use exercise and nutrition in a negative manner to control whatever they are feeling powerless over. Like an injury, unless you address the root cause of the problem, you will never find a permanent solution, and will likely experience one setback after another. I eventually recognized this, and made loving my authentic self and living my life openly a huge priority. After all, doing so was a choice. This is when all aspects of my life changed for the better, including my workouts and nutrition.
In Part 2 of this 3 part series, I will discuss some of the mental and physical approaches I used to find the fortitude to live my life authentically (THE CAUSE), and in Part 3, I will share the mental and physical steps I took that helped me break out of a lifestyle that was extremely destructive, physically and mentally draining, and counterproductive (THE SYMPTOMS), to a one that is highly enjoyable, practical, effective, empowering and sustainable. While these approaches worked for me, of course the effectiveness will vary on an individual basis. I was going to cover everything in one article but realized that it would have been much too long.
Align Your Actions With Your Beliefs And Feelings. Get Tired Of Your Own Bullshit
Up until about 23 or 24, I continued to live my lie and attempted to have relationships with guys, only to feel incredibly empty, lonely, and sad. I used the words ''attempted'' because I was not emotionally or physically invested in any of them, yet I kept trying to convince myself that it was just because I had not met the right guy, even though in my heart I knew this was total bullshit. It had nothing to do with the guys, it was all me. I continued to feel so alone and fragile, and had so many negative and irrational thoughts that absolutely influenced my unhealthy and eating habits. Looking back, and using my psych minor as a reference (half joking), I realize that dating guys made me feel ''normal,’’ and although I felt emotionally bankrupt, these feelings were less scary than the stress of confronting my true feelings. Eventually I got tired of my own bullshit, and my feelings of emotional bankruptcy grew greater than the stress of confronting my feelings. This is what precipitated change, and is when I started admitting to myself that I was in fact gay, and I started reaching out to some closer friends. No matter what obstacle you are dealing with, and no matter what lies you keep telling yourself, until you can no longer tolerate your own bullshit, nothing will change.
Seeking support will make all the difference in the world. This was probably the most instrumental step that gave me the courage to acknowledge and listen to my feelings, and to accept the real me. Your support can come from family members, friends, co-workers, or even a therapist. One of the biggest lessons I have taken from my years of struggles, is that I was anything but alone. Thinking I was alone was just my irrationally negative mindset taking over. When I confided in people (mainly my friends) and got support and acceptance, my life dramatically improved for the better, and quite rapidly. For quite a few years, I did not speak of my struggles to a single person. As I said before, I was living in my internal Alcatraz and it felt like it would be a life sentence and without the chance of parole. I started opening up to some closer friends and teammates when I was about 23. I remember when I first started confiding in them, it was incredibly scary. How would they feel? Would they judge me? Would they question my motives during our friendship? Would they still be my friend after? I felt exactly the same way when I told a few of my longer term clients.
Looking back, my fears were totally overblown, but it did not seem like it at the time. Reaching out and seeking support will make all the difference in the world. It will give you the mental resolve to take ownership of your life, and it will help you change your overall mindset to one that is more upbeat, rational, and conducive to positive changes. When you keep your feelings bottled up, as I did for years, and your thoughts continuously become more negative and irrational, it becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to stop. You are not alone. I wish I had realized this much sooner. Lesson learned.
Pull The Bandaid Off Quickly. Stop Procrastinating
When you are struggling with anything, it is very easy to procrastinate and not take action, as remaining idle and complacent usually seems like an easier alternative at the time. It is not. The more I would delay, the more depressed, anxious and hopeless I would feel, and the more second guessing I would do. What really worked for me, was just pulling off the bandaid, and quickly. Otherwise, I probably would have talked myself out of taking action. After all, I felt stuck for years. Speaking from my experience, in most instances, pulling off the bandaid meant confiding in people, and in this recent instance, essentially revealing the real me to everyone on my Facebook. Prior to sharing Owning It, I reread it more times than I care to admit (even though I still missed a few major typos:)) and kept second guessing myself, but I decided to jump and take action. Sometimes it is good to just act and not overthink (at least not too much). Overthinking can be your biggest hurdle to taking action, and I know it was for me.
Change Your Mindset: Ditch The Victim Mentality And Take Ownership Of Your Life
I'm the first to admit that this is so much easier said than done. When you feel like you are drowning in quicksand, when negative thoughts are swirling through your head and have been for years, and your mind has become conditioned to automatically jump to negative conclusions, it seems like you will never get out of the huge abyss that you are in. I allowed myself to feel like a victim, and I took no ownership of my life, and I allowed this to fester for years. While it didn't feel like it at the time, this was my choice. Do not allow yourself adopt the victim mentality. Take ownership of your life and make a step by step plan that will help you overcome your obstacle(s) in a healthy way. Until you do this, nothing will change for the better, including your workout and eating patterns.
After many years of feeling like a victim, I took ownership of my life in several ways:
1) I forced myself to confide in people, mainly close friends. I say ''forced,’’ because when I told the first handful of people (over the course of a few years), it was brutally tough. When I told one of my closest friends and teammates, I was so nervous I nearly threw up because I was worried that she would question my motives during our friendship. Of course this was all in my head. The more people I told, the more empowered I felt, and the easier it became to open up. I no longer felt like a victim, I felt like I was in charge of my life and was in control, but in a healthy way. Eventually I would tell more friends, some family members (especially my mom who is my biggest supporter and was so relieved when I finally told her as she had known for years), and a good number of clients.
2) As for my 5+ year long body dysfunction saga, which coincided with my struggles to live authentically, after about year two of countless doctors, treatments, and thousands of dollars spent with no solution in sight, I started to let go of the patient/victim mentality, and became an active person in my recovery. I did a tremendous amount of research, asked a lot of questions, and was incredibly diligent in my recovery. I began to see exercise as a tool that would allow me to feel better and thrive in all parts of my life, not as a means to control it. I set many short term goals, just in terms of reducing my many symptoms, and doing so allowed me to achieve a healthy sense of control. Over the course of my recovery, the more health-related goals I achieved and the better my body felt, the more my life felt like it was coming together, and this gave me a lot of motivation, confidence, and empowerment. Another huge positive was that because I was incredibly determined to fix myself so I could enjoy living again, I spent a tremendous amount of time reading, learning, researching, and networking with likeminded people. This has been an absolute godsend for my career, and I have met many incredible people along the way.
3) I will go into this in greater depth in Part 3 of this series, but I started to push myself more in the gym and got back into doing proper strength training and mobility (both dramatically improved physical health, especially once a physio determined the cause of my many issues), and a few years later, I decided to play soccer again after having to take a three-year hiatus to fix my body. Both of these steps were incredibly terrifying for me, because for years, I felt so emotionally and physically fragile, and something as pedestrian as sneezing, or sitting the wrong way, would set my body into a chain reaction of dysfunction. I never thought I'd be able to play soccer again, and I had to force myself to believe that I would be OK. Fortunately, I was right.
Change Your Internal Dialogue
You might not even be aware of it, but what you say to yourself can make or break your success, or in my case, acknowledging my feelings, and being real. When you are feeling down and defeated, it's highly probable that your internal dialogue is extremely negative and counterproductive. In the earlier stages, I would tell myself that I should not confide in any friends because they might question my motives during our friendship and that I might lose them, or I would tell myself not to let any clients find out because if they did they would definitely stop working with me, and at the time I needed the money. I would also tell myself that I would probably have to live a lie for the rest of my life because nobody would understand or accept me, and that they would be so disappointed in me. All of these worries were just due to the hurricane of negative and irrational thoughts that were swirling through my head, and had been for years. The more you let the fire grow, the harder it will become to extinguish.
While I had to make a conscious effort to do so, especially in the initial phases, I tried to retrain my brain to think positively. I would tell myself that my clients would accept me for me as I am good at what I do, and if not, it was their loss and I would just have to find some new clients. I would also tell myself that I am better than good enough, and that I deserve to be happy. One other key phrase that I heard somewhere, and it stuck with me for years, to the point where I eventually went and got a tattoo with the saying, is ''this too shall pass.’’ I kept telling myself this too shall pass again and again, but that I needed to make it happen myself. While it took years, I actually started to believe the positive dialogue that I was force feeding into my mind, and I erased many of the negative thoughts that had been affecting me for years. Eventually, I began to jump to positive conclusions, rather than the negative ones I had become so accustomed to.
When you are living in your internal purgatory, it is incredibly tough to be grateful. However, put your life in perspective. Do you have your health? Do you have your whole life (or a large part of it) ahead of you to make the necessary changes to live your life authentically, and to do what it takes to be happy? If you answered yes, the ball is in your court. First of all, I realized that I had all the power in the world to take control of my destiny, to live my life authentically, and to be happy. Unfortunately, in many places around the world, including parts of the United States, many people do not have this liberty. Many people are disowned by their families, or in some parts of the world, are thrown in jail, or killed, and this makes me sick to my stomach. Because I have the full freedom to live my life the way I choose (even though for the record, being gay is not a choice), I need to be grateful, and I definitely am. I am loving and embracing my authentic self more than ever.
Find Positive Role Models
Unfortunately, when I was growing up, I had very few gay role models, both female or male. Back in the day, being gay was much more taboo, and it was definitely not talked about very openly. I know that if I had more gay female athletes to look up to, or people in the fitness industry, I would not have felt so stigmatized or alone. And no, Jillian Michaels and Jackie Warner do not count because I absolutely do not agree with their exercise, coaching, or nutritional philosophies, but that's a topic for another day:). No matter what you are dealing with, find some role models who align with your goals and beliefs, and use them to give you some additional strength and courage to be bold and to be you, and to conquer whatever obstacle you are trying to overcome.
''Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.’’ – Brene Brown
Struggling to live authentically can be due to a countless number of reasons. Mine was just one of many. Other stressors that are completely unrelated to authenticity, perhaps an being in an unhappy relationship and feeling trapped, having a bad or low paying job or a career you don't like, dealing with family turmoil, being in debt, suffering from an illness or injury, or many other reasons, can often result in constant stress, negative internal dialogue, a victim mentality, and hopelessness, and can lead a person down a path to developing disordered eating or exercise regimens, or at least an extremely unhealthy and incredibly physically and soul zapping lifestyle like the one I lived for close to a decade. This is largely why I wrote this series because I know that many people will be able to relate, regardless of the stressor. Stay tuned for part 3, which I hope to release in another week or so. Thanks for reading. This was much longer than I had anticipated.