26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
Miles 21 & 22- To all my Communities…the People that Believed in me, even before I could Believe in Myself
Several months ago, right after I had learned that I had gotten into the NYC marathon through the lottery, I was sitting in the lobby of my yoga studio in Brooklyn lacing up my shoes and getting ready to head out after a sweaty 90 minute morning class. Another yogi who I had known for years had heard a rumor, and when she saw me, she shouted out joyously to confirm, “Cat, is it true, are you running the marathon?!” I smiled sheepishly as I began to feel some sort of pressure–the more people who knew I got in meant I might really have to do this thing. “Yes,” I answered with a shrug, “it looks like I am going to make an attempt to run the marathon.”
Immediately the 5’5 fiery Italian man in tiny shorts to my left jumped in, “Enough of this bullshit “attempt” crap, you’re running the goddamn marathon and that’s all there is to it.” This mouth was no stranger, it was my favorite yoga teacher, Vincent, whom I affectionately call “Vin” and “Vin Vin”, and who’s been sort of an uncle figure and sounding board for me for the past eight years or so.
I looked over at him after his outburst and immediately knew I couldn’t protest. He looked straight back and said, “enough,” and I knew he was right. When I told Vin I had gotten into the marathon I knew that he took my news at face value: I was a runner. I had gotten into the marathon. I was going to run it. There were no doubts in his mind; instead his head seemed to be swirling to consider everything I would need to prepare and stay healthy, and get across that finish line. Having run several marathons himself in the past, he began doling out every bit of advice he thought I could possibly need–he would never take credit for any of my success but has also never cease to try to contribute to it.
Throughout this training, people like Vin have been at the forefront of my mind. As I have clumsily stumbled into adulthood, I have been lucky enough to fall into a few communities that have held me up, encouraged me, and taught me how to at least try to walk through life with a little bit of grace. My innate tendency is towards isolation; if I can do something alone, I typically do. I’ve been fortunate though that the universe has seemed to have devised other plans for my life that are more inclusive of other people. It’s placed obstacles along my path to ensure that I’ve had no choice but to take other directions, and as a result encounter the people who might help guide me to my happy destiny.
I see potential in people all the time. Sometimes in yoga class, there is someone who’s unbelievably frustrated with themselves because they aren’t able to kick out and extend their opposite leg in a posture. With just casual glances, I am often able to remember how months before, their standing leg was so shaky and unbalanced, they couldn’t even hold themselves in the beginning part of the posture. Now that leg was strong, like a lamppost, you couldn’t knock them down off of their foundation if you tried. While they see failure, I am able to see growth.
In recovery, you come across a lot of different types of people who are trying to get clean and sober. In my experience, the ones who have the best shot are the ones who are able to be honest about how hard the process is, who can admit how much pain they are in. Even if a person is relapsing, if they can get honest about their struggles, they could very well be on their way to the other side of the disease. Whenever someone is super happy in early sobriety, I always wish them good luck in my mind–cause the outlook is often less optimistic. The real work that it takes to get sober is not fun–it’s opening a deep wound and exposing it to the elements for however long it takes to heal. The people who are actually doing that are usually in some pain and discomfort. While they often feel like this means they are failing–I know from experience that it means they are healing. I can see their potential so clearly, while they are blinded by all their own muck.
Out in the blogoshpere, I see self-doubt running rampant all the time. It’s actually something I love about bloggers because I think it’s something you don’t really get on most forms of social media. On Facebook and Instagram, everyone is determined to showcase their best looking life–whether it’s a true reflection of the life they are living or not. I tire of the short form “I struggled, but now look how strong and confident I am” story. It’s bullshit. It’s demeaned mental health, substance abuse, and weight issues down to quick fix problems–no one wants to show the struggle, only the brighter, shinier, “after” photo and story. I’ve read posts where the writer makes themselves completely vulnerable, and admits that they don’t necessarily know the answers or know where they are going, or how they are going to get there. While they may look at their lives and their work and see uncertainty, I see a level of self awareness that when mirrored back at others, has the potential to change the world.
I would love to be this totally self-reliant woman who is completely confident in her abilities and always certain in her potential. But the truth is, I need these communities, just like they need me. For years, while I’ve been blinded by all of my own muck, the superheroes in these communities have been able to see me clearly, and they’ve never hesitated to share what they believe I am capable of.
Years ago, when my understanding of what a yoga practice was, was a lot more black and white, I thought that maybe my body was just not made to be flexible. I would continue to work and go to classes, but it was hard for me to see any improvement in myself. Then the owner of the studio at the time, and a beloved teacher, asked me if I wanted to join the advanced class on Tuesday mornings. It was just teachers and a few other students and it was much more relaxed than a normal class. It lasted several hours and it was more about helping each other and working on specific postures we wanted to improve on. I learned very quickly from this teacher and the others that being invited to this class wasn’t about how “good” I was at the yoga–it was about my desire to learn and grow–and according to them, I had that in spades. It was in these advanced classes that I first began to understand that yoga is as much about strength and balance as it is flexibility, and I began to learn that I had already begun cultivating much of what I needed to be a solid practitioner.
“We will love you until you can learn to love yourself.” When I first heard this in recovery, I thought it was so lame. Now I know that it was an essential part of me getting sober. It’s not easy to love yourself and even like yourself when you’re admitting to and owning all of the wreckage of your past. Every time I peeled back another layer, I felt like I found something else I hated about myself. I couldn’t imagine there could be anything worth saving underneath; it was a pretty big commitment to keep digging. All this time, I was surrounded by women who demanded that while I cleared out the garbage, I also needed to identify my positive attributes; I had to make an asset list and they insisted it couldn’t be blank. As I stuck around and got healthier, both mentally and physically, they called on me to add to the list, and helped me realize that there was a decent person underneath all that pain–one that wanted to, and eventually would, contribute to the world in a positive way.
There are two things I’ve been desperate to be my whole life: a writer, and an athlete. Whether I am sharing about travel or running this marathon, or about a social issue I care about, my aim is always be as transparent as I can and to show my authentic self–whether that self that day is shiny and bright, or more unpolished. This year, I have put myself out there, and the blogoshpere has responded: You are exactly what you have shown us you are: You are a writer, you are an athlete. This community has shown me that I don’t need a byline or a finish line to prove what I am or who I am. You all have made me see that if I do the work–the accolades are irrelevant.
Thanks to blogging, I do believe I will end 2017 more in love with writing and running, than I ever have been. So you’ll understand why I had to give a couple of the most clutch miles to the blogosphere, and to the other unbelievable communities that I am so lucky to be a part of. I have a feeling I will be drawing upon many of your words and faces all throughout the race. Thank you for including me. Thank you for catching me.
Thank you for seeing me.
If you want to read more about Vin–and believe me, you’ll want to, check out this piece I did on him a while back. It’s actually one of my highest read posts–this guy is one of the most fascinating characters you’ll ever meet and the impact he’s had on so many people’s lives is considerable. I swear you can go all over Brooklyn and they know who Vin is–he’s special to a lot of people and I hope you’ll check this out and get a glimpse into why.
If you enjoyed this piece, I hope you might like to continue with the series… please consider following me through WordPress or through email by using the links on this page. You can also follow me on facebook ~all support is appreciated. thank you. x
header image: nina strehl