29: Fighting a Peaceful Heart

This office has decided to terminate your employment, effective immediately.  Sent by email.  At 5:39pm.  On a Friday.  I was already out for early dinner with a friend so I received this about midnight when I got home, drunk.  I just closed the laptop and stumbled to bed.  At some point in the wee hours of the morning my eyes popped open and I sat straight up in bed.  “FUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I shouted.

Although I knew I wanted to go to law school, it took a couple years after I graduated college for the timing to be right.  In the meantime, I decided, to focus on getting a job as a legal assistant.  I had never known any lawyers and, but for the kind of lawyers I saw on crime shows, knew very little about what the possibilities were in the legal field.  I was thrilled when I got a call from a small firm in Virginia.  I was ready for a move, the firm agreed to my meager salary request and even offered to throw in a couple hundred bucks for moving expenses.  I just knew this was it for me.  The turning point I needed.  The start of the rest of my life.

Not so fast.

Looking back, this was absolutely the wrong job for me at any point in my life.  The nature of the work, the culture in the firm, it was just the worst.  I graduated magna cum laude with a double major three and a half years after graduating high school.  Still, during my interview my would-be boss asked me if I’d ever attended school anywhere he might have heard of.  It was only when I mentioned starting college at West Point that he seemed to perk up.  Day 1 of the new job, the boss asks me to come into his office and then tells me there is one rule in this office: when he shouts, I come.  There were five employees in the whole firm, one was his son (who was my age), one was his best friend, and everyone but the son was female.  I was instructed to call everyone Attorney and Ms. and Mr. So-and-So but they all called me and each other by first name.  I once got pulled aside to have a conference about my stapling.  It was just weird.  Worse than weird, my misogynist boss would say borderline, if not fully racist and classist things.  I still regret not having enough self respect to quit, but remember, I didn’t know any lawyers so I just thought this was how it was everywhere.  It just made that stupid quitting time email a bigger slap in the face.

This was a very difficult time in my personal life.  I was a mess to be sure.  I was trying to hold it together but not doing a great job of it.  It was one of those “when it rains it pours” kind of times in life, and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that I saw I was making a lot of choices that perpetuated what I perceived to be bad luck. I never got an explanation for my termination.  During the process of filing for unemployment the investigation revealed a claim of unauthorized use of the internet which was deemed unfounded.  And, of course, at-will employment meant it didn’t matter the reason.  It is entirely possible they just didn’t like me.  As much as I could rationalize how much better off I’d be not working at this place I obsessed about getting fired.  I thought about how I could stick it to my boss and his stuck up, Junior League associate who was his mouthpiece for the dirty work.  Five years later when I won a professional award for being an Up & Coming Lawyer I thought seriously about mailing him a copy of the article.  There was some allure about the satisfaction of revenge.  The image of a giant two-fingered fuck you to this jerk of a man brought a smile to my face.  See, it was a mistake for you to fire me.  This article proves it.

Christmas marks the end of Advent and the end of my four part series reflecting on the weekly principles of Advent.  See my previous posts here:

26: Arrival of Hope

27: Daddy Issues

28: My Obituary

Like the other three principles (hope, love, and joy) it is so easy to use peace superficially.  Think of “Miss Congeniality”:

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When I attended church growing up there was always time in the service to pass the peace.  You would shake hands with the people around you and say “peace be with you.”  It was so awkward.  People seemed to want it over as soon as possible.  No one was really extending heart felt wishes for peace.  It was just going through the motions.  It’s too bad.  Wishing peace for someone may be one of the most compassionate gifts we can give to others.

“Anatomy of Peace” is a book authored by the Arbinger Institute.  I read it after a drug court participant described it as “life changing.”  The storyline is corny but is an effective way to get across the lessons.  The book argues that the way we treat others in conflict whether in day-to-day interactions in our own lives or the way countries treat each other in war is a reflection of ourselves.  Behavior that is destructive comes from thoughts that are destructive and usually the root of the bad thoughts about others is actually negative beliefs about ourself.  We then build walls of justifications around our bad behavior so we can rationalize our beliefs and actions.  “…when I betray myself, others’ faults become immediately inflated in my heart and mind. I begin to ‘horribilize’ others. That is, I begin to make them out to be worse than they really are. And I do this because the worse they are, the more justified I feel.”

Chicken or egg.  Harm done to me or harm I cause myself.  Who knows which is first.  “As painful as it is to receive contempt from another, it is more debilitating by far to be filled with contempt for another.”

Children raised in households with alcoholics often live in a hypervigilent  state and have profound fight or flight instincts.  One article gives the top ten commonalities found in adults raised in households where alcoholism was present:

  1. They are more concerned with others than themselves.
  2. They have difficulty following a project through.
  3. They exhibit black and white thinking.
  4. They have difficulty having fun.
  5. They judge themselves harshly.
  6. They constantly seek approval.
  7. They feel different from others.
  8. They ‘love’ those who need rescuing.
  9. They feel guilty standing up for themselves.
  10. They are extremely loyal.

The majority of these characteristics describe my default personality, some I’ve overcome more than others.  These defaults are ever-present for me.  When criticism and judgement, extremely high standards, and overall rigidity gets directed at others it becomes a huge barrier to interpersonal relationships.  But it’s not so easy to just flip a switch and change it. Everything I’ve ever achieved in life has been the result of fight, fight, fight.

In yoga and in Shambhala instructors often talk about softening.  The idea of physically letting go of tension in our bodies that holds us back.  Emptying the mind of distracting thoughts, coming back to the simplicity and nowness of our breath helps to relax the muscles, slow the heart rate, and ease tension.  Softening is a foreign concept to me.  The most difficult yoga poses for me are the heart openers.  Relaxing the shoulders, opening up the arms, letting go of the stomach, pressing the heart out and up.  I want to keep working at this.  Softening the body.  Softening the mind.  Remembering that peace with others begins with peace in me.  Sometimes the fight just isn’t worth it.

For years my New Years goals have included some form of chilling out.  Peace, acceptance, letting go, softening.  It’s the hardest because in addition to self-love, cultivating joy from within, allowing oneself to dream and be hopeful…all of the lofty ideals that conscientious people spend a lifetime striving for… it also encompasses all the things you’re not proud of.  Failure, falling short, letting people down, not reaching that goal, not being the person you thought you were.  It can be the thing you fight with your whole life. What this year has shown me is that my default characteristics aren’t just a barrier to interpersonal relationships, but my intrapersonal relationship.  The projection outward is the reflection of the lingering internal tension.  So, there is still work to do.

When we were in Washington D.C. this Fall, we walked around the National Mall at night to see the monuments.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s was very impactful.  Standing in the darkness staring at the carved granite, I could see and touch the words that become anchors for who I want to be.  Justice.  Dignity.  Humanity. And…

Peace.

It’s time to find that within so that in every interaction with others I can truly pass the peace.

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Food Sunday: Snow

Look, I’m not some kind of winter freak.  Quite the opposite.  Despite living in Wisconsin driving in the snow still makes me nervous and I hate being cold.  “Winter” makes me think of leaky boots and cold toes.  Shoveling my car out of a street parking spot and getting a push from a neighbor.  Sliding through intersections praying no one is coming the other direction.  It’s also the only season that can be described as magical.  Or enchanting.  Winter Wonderland isn’t just a polite alliteration, it’s really true.  White fluffy snow covering everything around you.  Watching puffy white flakes fall dreamily in front of the street lights.  The silence of winter interrupted only by the scrunch of snow under your feet.  The diamond sparkle of snow in the sunlight.  The feeling of that cool blast on your hot skin as you woosh down a mountain on skis.  The fluffy featherlight feel of the snow all around as you move your arms and legs wildly out and in to make a snow angel.  The grace of a single perfect patterned snowflake perched on your friend’s eyelash. The perfect heat of the mug of hot chocolate that warms pink chilly hands.  But snow covered trees are maybe my favorite.  We drove through the mountains of Oregon this weekend.  The scenery, everyone’s old fashioned big-bulbed rainbow Christmas lights, the cozy diners there like an old friend, the wool and the fuzzy hats.  All the reasons that snow is warming my soul this week.

 

18: Me Too

I started it.  I left my phone number for him at the front desk of the gym where I taught and where he worked out.  The past year with the #metoo movement has been interesting.  I have found myself feeling conflicted.  I have never considered myself the victim of anything, let alone sexual assault.  But the Me Too movement has more people sharing their stories in the media, books like John Krakauer’s “Missoula”, and in my friend groups privately than ever before.   It’s clear that I am not unique in having an experience that has never sat right.  That experience for me was with a man I met when I lived in Virginia.

My time in Virginia marks a real low point in my life.  I was a hot mess.  That was aptly reflected in my dating habits.  I was dating a lot, dating people who weren’t good for me, being extremely needy.  Truly, I feel a lot of shame about who and what I was during that time period.  My self esteem was at an all time low.  I was not good at identifying what I wanted or how to communicate that to others.  I felt like the universe was taking a big dump on me, just not giving me one single break, when now I know that I was putting myself in situations that perpetuated the negative things happening in my life.  This was the back drop for meeting Kevin.  

I taught fitness classes at a number of gyms in the Hampton Roads area.  The one I most looked forward to was an evening class at a gym frequented by a very handsome man.  After we’d made eye contact a number of times, I left a note at the front desk with his keys with my name and phone number.  He called.  We decided to go on a date.  He took me to Bonefish Grill.  Conversation was fine but not great.  He was sort of boring, definitely not very bright.  None of this mattered.  I was wearing a new top from Forever 21 and just so excited to be on a date with the most attractive man who ever asked me out.  

We hung out on and off the next couple weeks.  Being newly divorced and after getting burned by some previous dating situations, I remember being pretty clear (and, yes, pretty crazy) in an email about our relationship status. I told him I did not want to have sex unless or until we were in a relationship.  Within a week or so, we went out again.  We went someplace I can’t remember and hung out with his friends. We both drank a lot. I don’t remember leaving the bar.  I hardly remember the 20+ minute drive home except being aware that he was driving and probably shouldn’t be.  And then I remember being in my bed and realizing that he was having sex with me without a condom.  I don’t remember the next day or how we left it.  I’m sure pretty normal.   

At the time, and for many years after, I excused the weird feeling I had that night for all sorts of reasons.  I was drunk.  He was drunk.  I was really into him.  It’s not like I wasn’t up for doing some stuff.  I hooked up with him again after this.  If it were really ok how come it always felt so NOT ok?  Why did this always feel like something that was in a different category?  The answer I now know is because it really was not ok.  

The Baby Buddhist blog is not a political platform.  While I am fascinated by all the facets of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing I’m not going to make it one today.  I also don’t believe the accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford are a political issue.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are tons of purely political questions surrounding the accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford.  Despite any of my personal beliefs, I actually have not formed an opinion about whether these accusations, if true, should disqualify Judge Kavanaugh from a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.  My job, personal experiences, and general cynicism of putting people with high profile jobs on a moral pedestal keep me questioning how to appropriately hold people accountable people for past sins.  This isn’t about whether he gets the job.  In modern times, a vote for a Supreme Court justice on either side of the aisle comes down almost entirely to some assurance that this nominee is on board with your political ideology.  That’s just a fact.  What’s not a fact is the messaging surrounding this accusation of sexual assault that occurred completely outside a professional context.  

Call me crazy but there is something utterly offensive about saying that a woman isn’t lying about being sexually assaulted, she’s just mistaken about who raped her.  The absurdity of this public position by many Republican politicians, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh himself, has me cringing every time I hear it.  Deny the allegations, fine.  Call her a liar, fine.  But don’t say you’re praying for her poor soul because she must be so confused.  Don’t patronize her with an apology from your hired-help prosecutor with a vagina.  And certainly, do not pretend that her credibility is just about her tone of voice or the details of what she says when even her goddamn suit already has articles dedicated to why she should or shouldn’t be believed.  

I wrote Kevin an email this week.  At the same email address I had for him over 10 years ago.  I don’t know if it will ever find him.  I don’t really care.  I don’t want or need anything from him. I am not angry.  I haven’t needed years of therapy to work through this incident.  This hasn’t affected my relationships with other men.  I am lucky that this was not not the trauma that it is for so many women.  What inspired me to write that email and write this blog is that there’s a pretty good chance Kevin literally never thought about this again.  It wasn’t even on the radar as something that was not acceptable. That he, as a man, screwed up his obligation to communicate, get consent, and generally just be respectful of another human being.  I don’t know if that makes me a “victim” or just a reminder that perhaps the one thing we can all do in this lifetime to make the world just a little bit better is to do as little harm as possible. That “code” among us should extend to every single aspect of our lives, but especially those that leave others the most vulnerable. 

“Me too” is about drawing attention to the prevalence of sexual violence and harassment in this country.  The fact that almost every woman I know has a #metoo story, even though many don’t ever want to share that story, be labeled a victim, or have any repercussions come to the perpetrator, cannot be ignored.  It is not acceptable.  And it is not acceptable that society is telling us that because we were drunk, or promiscuous, or dressed provocatively, or just quiet instead of screaming NO that what happened to us means nothing.   We are not “confused.”  We know exactly what happened to us. And we will tell those stories and keep telling those stories until they mean something.

 

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(Katie Bricco circa 2007)

16: Ironman, Two Years Later

Ironman was going to change my life.  It did.  Sort of.  The sight of that finish chute, the lights, the people, the carpet with all the Ironman logos…it’s all burned in my mind and it’s in slow motion like a movie.  I got that moment.  I got the medal.  I got the tattoo.  That race was epic.  The video that my sister put together still makes me cry every time because I can feel exactly what I felt that day.

Two years ago I wrote and posted this on Facebook the night before the race:

I’ve had an unusual break in the past nine months. Instead of “how can you defend those people?” the most frequently asked question of me is “why in the hell would you ever want to do an Ironman?” On the eve of the most difficult feat I have ever undertaken, I will attempt to answer this question and talk about what it has taken for me to get to this point.
For those who just want stats, here they are:
  • $2,400: let me tell you what, I don’t see how you spend less than this. I used equipment I already owned, had the benefit of free training rides, and someone to keep my bike in tip top shape. IM is not cheap. The race fee alone is $750. I did invest in a coach so I had one (reliable) place to get a training plan and nutrition advice.
  • Hours: 195.75 hours training (that does not include all the time spent in the car getting to the training)
  • Miles: 2,027.55 training miles between the three events. Almost 1,800 of those were on the bike including 7 rides over 70 miles.
  • Injuries: a muscle strain in my back that had me resting for two days. I also saw a chiropractor every 2-3 weeks to avoid pain while cycling.
For the full story read on:
2014 and 2015 were two of the most difficult years of my life. Everything I thought about the way my life was headed changed, and not because it’s what I wanted. I questioned absolutely everything about myself and the most prevalent byproduct was to return to my default insecurity: am I good enough? I have struggled with that question as long as I can remember. Most of the achievement in my life has motivated in some shape or form by the desire to be good enough for the people I cared most about. 2014 and 2015, and a really good therapist, showed me that life would continue to be exhausting if I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that the person I most needed to be good enough for was myself.
So, I reevaluated a lot of what I was doing in my life. I recommitted to physical, mental, and spiritual health. I tried out this whole vulnerability thing with the people I was closest with. I spent a lot of time being very sad and longing for the life I thought would be mine. Most of the time, it felt like was just going through the motions at best and faking my way through life at worst. I struggled with feeling so much of what I wanted was out of my control.
As Spring 2015 arrived, I was faced with a question I didn’t know the answer to: would I be able to return to triathlons? Triathlons were “our” thing in so many ways. His family inspired me to race, he planned our training, we trained and raced together. Could triathlon really be just “my” thing? Motivated partly from anger and partly from the intense desire to stave off depression, I decided I would run a marathon in May and do better than I had when “we” ran together the previous year. I broke four hours, shaved about 40 minutes off my time, and proved to myself that maybe I could do things, just me.
I found other ways to prepare for triathlon season. I joined Tri Wisconsin and utilized group workouts almost every day of the week so that I could remain motivated and consistent enough to be ready for my summer races. I PRed every race I competed in over the summer and truly felt in the best physical shape of my life. By the time my birthday and Labor Day rolled around, my TriWisconsin teammates were buzzing with final preparation in the weeks before Ironman Wisconsin. They were excited and completely motivated to take on this challenge. As I talked with them, they assured me that ANYONE could do an Ironman.
The day after Ironman Wisconsin 2015, I am sitting on the couch surfing the Internet, watching bad reality TV….and I did it. I signed up. As I got the confirmation, I closed my computer and screamed in my apartment. “What the fuck did I just do?!?” It took about three months for me to get past the total feeling of regret. And in January, I began training.
Nine months later, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours spent, training culminates tomorrow in this one (very long) race. I am eternally grateful for the friends and family who may have thought I was crazy, but never said a bad word to my face. People who accommodated my training schedule and who offered to ride or run or swim with me for part of long workouts. This is the hardest thing I have ever done…
I have been humbled in every way possible. From the first training ride on the Ironman course where I was the absolute last rider, completely unprepared equipment-wise, and clueless as to how to navigate those hills; literally the only scrap of dignity I maintained was not crying on that course. I spent about 12 hours feeling utterly defeated before deciding that I could let this travesty of a ride permanently intimidate me or I could use it as motivation to get better. Let me tell you some dirty details about training, and I’ll remind you that when I met my coach so she could devise a training plan, I told her that training for Ironman wasn’t going to be my life. I want to finish the race, not win it. I wanted life to be as normal as it could be which meant efficient workouts were key. Still, it took all-day Saturday workouts for the entire summer, two-a-day weeks, and missing out on (or being late for) a lot of stuff I would have loved to do with friends and family. It meant being tired…a lot, not drinking for the past three months, thinking of food as fuel so sticking with healthy whole foods every day except long training days. Even the taper has been crazy. I reached a whole new level of tired where suddenly and definitely hitting a wall was just the norm. In the last week, my face broke out for the first time in years. A couple other training truths – working out hasn’t been fun for months: it’s work, straight up work and to my surprise and dismay, despite burning 3,500+ calories in a Saturday work out, I am not the skinniest I’ve ever been. I am, however, the fittest I’ve ever been. My body has proven that it’s in autopilot: it knows what to do. Tomorrow is about getting the motor started and keeping it fueled well enough to just keep it running steady until it’s time to stop.
The decision to take on an Ironman wasn’t the smartest I’ve ever made. The journey hasn’t been fun, but this isn’t about fun. It’s not even about the medal or the tattoo, although I will display both with great pride. This is about doing whatever it takes to prove to myself that I am good enough. It’s about taking on a challenge bigger than what I think I can handle and conquering it. I’ve learned so much on this journey about what I’m capable of and how hard work and perseverance will pay off. I’ve seen the power of positive self talk. I’ve learned the difference between a ride and a race and the value in doing something just to finish, not to compare yourself to others. I guess what it takes for me to get these messages is just a lot more extreme than what it takes for other people. So tomorrow as I see the loving and smiling faces of the people who I could not be here without, crossing that finish line and hearing “Katie Bricco, you are an Ironman!” will be all mine. One unforgettable moment, the culmination of so much work, to remember in those yet-to-come moments when I think it’s just too hard. This process has taught me that it might be slow and it might be ugly but it IS possible, I WILL finish, and I think that will make it all worth it.
It reminds me of the work it took to be ready for this race and why it felt so satisfying to complete it. It was worth it. It was worth it to have a goal that seemed like it might be impossible and then prove it was possible.  It was worth it to see what my body is capable of.  It was worth it to have an experience that the majority of people will never have.
As much as things change, things also stay the same.  I look back at what was behind this decision: a need to regain control and prove myself.  I look back at the coping mechanism: intense physical challenges.  Two years later, I am struggling with the same insecurities and the same coping mechanism is what I want to fall back on.  Except there’s one big change.  My “dream team” is encouraging me NOT to engage in the same kind of intense physical exercise that I’ve done all my life.  There have been tantrums about this [“I (sniffle) just (sniffle) want to run…”] and some pleading [“what if I promise to keep my heart rate lower?”] and plenty of outright rebellion [“swimming IS good for you after all”].  It has legitimately thrown me for a loop and I’m still trying to figure out the compromise that works for me and works for them.
What do roller derby, marathons, triathlons, distance skiing, Lake Michigan (cold!) open water swimming, Crossfit all have in common besides the fact that I have done and love them all? They exhaust you.  They consume you.  You have no choice but to put aside the cares and anxieties for the day because you have no available energy for it.  One hundred percent of your physical and mental energy is on completing this task.  A morning walk or a yoga class, as lovely as they can be, just don’t require that same expenditure so all those thoughts and whatever you’re feeling just keep running through your head.
This is really the aspect of mindfulness and meditation that seem to appealing to me.  The idea of having the strength and skill to direct your mind to what you choose is pretty incredible.  The folks in my Buddhist groups are all talking about the same concepts; that practicing this kind of work requires a gentleness.  It is about accepting the reality of what is right now and not judging it.  It’s about a trajectory, not a destination.  None of these qualities are intuitive for me so there is a lot of work to be done.  As the last weeks of summer continue to fade away and the fall and winter more easily lend themselves to introspection, this year I’d like to really dive into spiritual practice as a means for this outlet.  I don’t want to eliminate exercise from my life, but I’d like to find that it’s not the only and best means for relief.  I’d like to find greater balance and integration between the physical and spiritual.  I’m going to try some things, things that have me even more out of my comfort zone than I’ve already gotten with this spirituality stuff, and we’ll see where it leads.  Probably not to a medal.  Hopefully I’ll learn to deal.
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