Breaking Up is Hard To Do

I should be laying supinely on the sofa in baggy sweats, spoon-feeding myself pint after pint of gooey Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, legs draped precariously over the edge of the armrest.

My eyes should be rimmed with tears, almost swollen shut due to continuously crying for minutes, no, hours on end.

It is a grand cliche, but oh so true:  my heart should feel like it is broken in two, split apart, and ripped from my chest.

We just broke up.

We are no longer.

The relationship is over.

Now before you start hyperventilating at the thought of Misha and Shogun being without a mother and father, let me assure you that my husband and I are still happily together. Last night, in fact, we all sat down around our tiny wood table, ate dinner together amidst conversation of the day’s events, and then ended the night curled up watching Nickelodeon (“Full House” is on every weekday at 7pm on that channel, just in case you were wondering).

No, it is not my marriage that has disintegrated–it is actually my relationship with Olympic weightlifting that has taken a substantial hit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still go to the gym, and I still place a barbell on my back and squat, or lie on a bench and press it with all the strength I can muster.  I still love scrolling through Mattie Roger’s picture perfect videos on IG and fan girl over Morghan King and her monumentally powerful lifts.  But the lure of stepping onto a platform, hearing the resounding STOMP of my Adidas shoes on the wood, dipping and driving under a loaded bar to complete a magnificent jerk–that compulsion, that obsession has vanished.

Within the last few months, my love for Olympic lifting took a turn from fun pastime to addictive activity that took up the majority of my brain power and physical energy.  What caused this switch?  What propelled me to obsess over the fundamentals of the clean and jerk and the intricacies of the snatch so much so, that I woke up thinking about the platform and went to bed dreaming of one day competing as a Master’s athlete?

I could say that it was the people I was surrounded with, and that their enthusiasm for the sport led me to also develop an obsession for weightlifting that (sadly) rivaled the same excitement I had for teaching, reading, and writing.  I could say that the constant barrage of Hookgrip pictures and slow-motion videos of Olympians hefting massive barbells overhead led to this turn (social media at its’ finest!).  But in reality, obsession is in my personality.  Moderation is not in my vocabulary.  I am a black or white, hot or cold, all or nothing type of person, and whether it is with sports, family, friends, or work, it is incredibly challenging for me to live in the “grey” area.  I cannot merely jog a few miles a few times a week–I must train to qualify for Boston.  I cannot take a yoga class every so often–I must do two a day to practice for an asana competition.  It’s black or white.  No grey.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), individuals with eating disorders seem to have very addictive, OCD-type personalities.  They fixate on one idea, and then the tunnel vision effect takes over.  Before these people know it, they are so deep into their obsession that what was once normal and healthy (going to the gym three times a week, incorporating fruits and veggies into 3 meals) becomes circumvented to an all-encompassing, mind-numbing addiction.  Hence why anorexics can refuse eating food in a society filled with fast food commercials, convenience store snacks, and soda ads–they are so overwhelmed with needing to consume only XXX amount of calories, that no amount of propaganda will push them towards breaking their rigid good/bad food diet.

When I started Olympic weightlifting, it was actually because I wanted to get better at CrossFit.  After having my daughter, I realized how much muscular strength I didn’t have, and took to circuit-type training to build some mass.  After failing 65 pound cleans and being unable to snatch to save my life, I decided to work with a coach on those skills.  I would get easily frustrated that I couldn’t keep my hips down in the initial pull or that my elbows weren’t whipping forward fast enough in the clean.  As a few months passed, my technique got a bit better–and then I became pregnant with my son.  I stopped stomping on the platform during those nine months, and when Shogun turned four months old I made my shaky return to my trusty Adidas shoes.  For the next year and a half, my interest in Olympic lifting went from, “Wow, this is cool that I’m getting stronger.  Nice.” to “I want to compete as a Master’s athlete.  Soon.”  My “white” view of Olympic lifting switched to a “black” one.  I bypassed the “grey” and soon found myself entrenched in an addictive relationship with the sport.  Given that I have two young children, a full-time job, and husband to tend to, I wound up training in the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing sleep to “get it done.”  To any other gym goer, I was a dedicated lifter.  In my heart, however, I knew that a sport that once made me smile was slowly becoming a chore, something that I HAD to do.  On my drive to the gym I’d hem and haw over that day’s programming, debating whether or not I’d be able to make the percentages and lifts prescribed, and if not, that would be two hours of my life in the gym wasted.  Reading through these thoughts that ran through my head, my heart sinks.  How stressful, how debilitating, how sad I felt, yet on the outside all people saw was the dedicated athlete spending hours trying to perfect her skills.

Yes, you read that right.  My time on the platform transformed from an hour-long session to 2-3 hours each time, sweating under the harsh lights.  And my body felt the effects of my compulsivity and addiction.  My right shoulder would ache when I lifted it, my left trap was significantly (and perpetually) higher than my right, my left IT band yelled in irritation whenever I walked, and my right butt cheek shot daggers of pain when I’d sit.  To any normal person, these physical ailments would signal a day, a week, maybe even a month of rest.  But my obsessive, eating disordered brain wouldn’t have it.  A day off meant weakness.  A day off meant I’d be losing gains.  A day off meant I was not a serious athlete.

It wasn’t until one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, an hour before I was to go to a training session, that I curled up next to my husband and two kids who were laying on the bed watching cartoons, and just laid there next to them.

I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to go.

The words echoed in my head, and it was at that moment I realized how my obsession with Olympic lifting had blinded me to what were the real priorities in my life:  my family, my relationships with others, my health, my joy.  Spending so much time in the gym prevented me from being fully present when my children wanted to ride bikes outside or when my husband wanted to sit and chat.  All I could think about was saving my body for the next training session (can’t run around with the kids too much, it’ll tire out the legs), or that I needed to sleep early to prepare to hit the platform early the next day.

My life revolved around Olympic lifting.  And that obsession not only translated to lost time and energy, but also a loss in weight.  Caloric restriction plus insane caloric output does not equal great health.  It equals “Lauren-is-in-need-of-putting-on-some-much-needed-pounds-because-a-relapse-is-happening.” I wanted to be known as a great athlete.  I wanted to achieve some kind of weightlifting status that I thought obsessive practice could attain, yet my goals were not God’s.  I was trying to rationalize my addictive actions, but to no avail.  In Matthew 6:33, the author states, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Putting the platform before Jesus was definitely not something God intended for my life, and an indication of that was the obsession to train and my ailing body.  Why would He fill my head with anxious and compulsive thoughts about weightlifting when His word clearly states that we should “cast all our anxieties onto Him”?  When I delight in the Lord and seek Him, I feel internally free, and He fills me with what I need:  faith, freedom, and joy.  If I know that to be true, why remain locked into an obsessive pattern of cleaning, jerking, and pulling that was deteriorating my body?

And so on that Saturday morning, I decided that a break up needed to happen.  A splitting of ways was necessary, a departure from a relationship that was once wonderful and lovely but had morphed to an unhealthy addiction was imperative.  I notified my coach that I was no longer going to pursue Olympic lifting, and immediately after that was verbalized, I felt, oddly, lighter.  Not lighter pound-wise, but lighter in my spirit.  That freeing faith, the joyful possibility that I could do anything, that the road of opportunity was waiting for me, was awakened in my soul.

And so we broke-up.  Me and the Olympic lifting barbell.  Me and the obsession with clean and jerks and snatches.  Me and the addiction to analyzing the movements, the addiction to push harder and more until my body be on the verge of collapse.

It was an unhealthy relationship, and just like any person will do after a romantic break-up, I had to distance myself.  I haven’t clean and jerked or snatched since that Saturday, and truthfully, I don’t miss it.  Yes, I still squat, deadlift, and do other powerlifting-type movements, but without the obsession, without the quilt, without the fear.  I do these lifts according to how I feel, and even test that I’m NOT becoming addicted by stopping a workout prematurely and limiting the amount of time I spend with the weights.  I’m cautious about entering a new relationship with a new sport, as I need some time to heal from the past one.  But I know that wherever the Lord will lead me, whatever relationship is on the horizon, I will have to be aware to not let it digress to one of obsession and addiction.  This last break-up was a doozy, but thankfully I have a tub of Ben and Jerry’s to help heal those wounds.

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