The Old and The New

Some people I know consider themselves vastly different individuals from the people they were five or ten years ago. Some people I know are happier than they once were, some people are sadder, some people think they are happier, and some are just trying to get to the next level of GTA 5. I don’t know if Grand Theft Auto 5 has levels, actually. I looked it up and I wasn’t entirely sure, but I’m going to go with it anyway.

I have both qualitative and quantitative evidence that I have undergone major shifts since, say, 2006. Why pick the year I was 20? Several reasons: 20 is a nice whole number, 20 is a year in which my anorexia still had a choking grip around my body and mind, and 20 is the year I attempted to correct a semi-failure at college. I was stumbling through the beginning of adulthood with about as much grace as I can pull off when I dance–which is absolutely none. I didn’t know myself enough to have goals, I didn’t value myself enough to attempt self-knowledge.

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The top photo is me just after turning 20. That’s not my real hair color, but that is evidence I’m capable of tanning. It’s a small picture, but the complete muscular atrophy in my upper body is readily visible here. The lower photo is me, last week. I’m posting these pictures for a few reasons: one, shock value. I enjoy/have a sick fascination with how others’ bodies change over time, particularly if those bodies have been exposed to the stimulus of lifting at some point. If you’re like me, this is my gift to you. If you’re not, you think it’s really weird that I just termed these pictures a “gift.” Two, they’re the quantitative evidence of change. In my quest towards self-knowledge and growth, the physical changes through which I have gone have become symbolic markers of inward change.

It is not my intent to post yet another blog post about how I was a sick little girl and I got all better because I lifted and everything was amazing. It is never my intent to suggest that everything–or most things–are amazing when I write about my own life. Getting from 20 to 24 involved some really ugly years of self-hatred, self-punishment, and an emotionally abusive relationship that impeded my efforts at escaping the eating disorder cycle. I do, however, find that engaging with myself through the process of lifting has given me one of the clearest lenses through which I am able to consider my own maturation.

I sometimes go weeks without posting anything in this blog because I feel guilty for writing about myself in it–the self-critic says I should be posting about mobility, about approaches to strength training, about technique refinement, about recovery, about nutrition–about anything other than my psychological and emotional life in relation to lifting. I suppose that internal voice believes that I need to validate myself as an athlete by writing how-to discussions of strength training, that I need to attempt to fit into some suit of authority that’s far too big for me to have any business fitting into it. I am a year and roughly a half into training for powerlifting, and I am no expert. I spend a considerable amount of time reading and ingesting strength-related media, but I’m not interested in regurgitating it.

I’m not sure how much you do or don’t think about where you were seven years ago, five years ago, one year ago. If you lift, you know that you can measure time in gained strength–or strength stalling through injury, or a gradual shift in goals and training approach. You can measure time through the slow fluctuations of the mass that makes up your physique. What’s harder to measure is the process of gaining experience, of putting that experience to work, of maturing because you put it to work, and how much outside forces impeded that process.

Having arrived at 27, I find that the more I try to map out this process, the more I can put the present into perspective and react positively to obstacles. I went from being so weak I probably couldn’t have squatted a bar with proper form to squatting 200 for a double. I have to remember that if I want to get over the current mental hurdles I’ve placed in my path towards squatting with confidence. It helps.