It’s time to throw that stick away: Recognizing your self-destructive talk

“Oil the saw, sharpen axes,
Learn the names of all the peaks you see and which is highest-
there are hundreds-
Learn by heart the drainages between
Go find a shallow pool of snowmelt on a good day, bathe in the lukewarm water.”
― Gary Snyder, American poet

I often turn to books for beauty when I am stuck in other areas of my life. Recently, I have turned to poetry. I was introduced to the writing of the US poet Gary Synder by my late father. I’ve been thinking of my father lately. He was the kind of guy who’d go out and learn something new just because he wanted to. Why not, he’d say. He had a ‘stick with it’ mojo and stubborn nature that I am channeling as I get closer to race day.

A 25 km trail race? Why not.

With four training months to go before the Broken Goat race, my brain says “whah!” often. When I am sitting in my truck after a group or solo run, I think up some really stellar self-deprecating thoughts like these ones:

  • Holy fuck!
  • Wha!! The fuck!!
  • Oh shit! I’m not ready for this!
  • Four months to go (this in my head like 99 bottles of beer)
  • What the hell did I do? Why did I sign up for this?

And so on. Self-deprecating thoughts are like that. They are Gremlins on acid. Scratch that, self-deprecating thoughts are like Gremlins on acid plus speed. At first, the self-deprecating thoughts sound funny and cute and then you say them out loud and you think – as I did this week – oh shit. I sound like a teenage girl in a gym in my 1990s high school. I am referring to that moment where one girl says: I’m so fat! And then the next girl says: No, you’re perfect! What are you talking about? I’m so fat!

This goes on and on (kind of like that 99 bottles of beer song) until all the teenage girls in the gym have had a turn at beating themselves with the same stick.

The stick. You know it. It changes how it looks over time. Sometimes, we even take the stick and beat other women with it. You know what I mean. Passive aggressive bullshit where we say nice things but we don’t mean them. Or, we say mean things blanketed around nice things.

I’m tired of the stick. I’m tired of beating myself with the stick. I’m tired of beating other women with the stick and watching other women beat other women. You get the idea (98 bottles of self-hate on the wall…).

This past month, a good friend who works as a coach asked me about my values. What do I hold true? And so, I wrote and wrote. And wrote some more. I came up with three things, three core values. Creativity, commitment, and adventure. And then, she asked me to define those areas and give examples, and to explain why I do these activities that are associated with each value. When I wrote long enough I got to this simple line: these activities make me happy.

And, when I was listing the items I did that made me happy, I thought about the stick. I want to publish a short story collection – and then poof! The stick – who I am to write a collection (it’s mostly written from my school MFA thesis) and it’s old stories and I’m not as good at revision as XYZ (insert other person’s name here who I think is better than me). I want a career, a job that pays me above the usual minimum wage. I want to run Broken Goat because I love trails – the stick beats me with my recent poor running numbers. I want to travel more – the stick beats me with my current low employment status. The stick really sucks sometimes.

And, then the phone rang tonight. It was a good friend who is in the pack with us training for the Broken Goat. She said that she wanted to call and thank me.

“I’ve been coming home from work and running.” And, she said, it felt good. She felt good. She mentioned other things but I wasn’t really listening that well. You see, I was preparing to get the stick ready for myself. I was almost about to say: Oh, that’s awesome that you’re running four days a week! I’m barely running two days a week. You’re so awesome!

And, then, I said this (not out loud): nope. No more. I put the stick down. And I said this: That’s fucking awesome. I’m glad you’re having great runs!

When I put the stick done and stopped looking for ways to beat myself, I saw the good in me. I did this. I created a community of women (and one man) in our Turtle Pack (that’s what we call ourselves). I send out posts on the Facebook group to remind each other that we’re not alone. We’re here for each other.

I ran with another Turtle Pack member earlier this week and she said something that I had forgotten until tonight. She noted that she was running and that she felt like a better parent. (My inner voice at the time: Me too, darling. Me too.)

Tonight, during the phone call — when I almost started beating myself for not running enough — I thought of the early week run.

I parked the truck, locking the doors. I looked down the side road to see a woman walking toward me with bright run tights on. I love bright colours! I loved this woman already. We hadn’t met in person before today, only via online FB notes. She and I shook hands, looked at our watches and turned left down the main road. We ran, talked about work, kids, life, running. I waved at cars and trucks that passed by us. (It’s that friendly wave runners give: thanks for slowly down and not killing me with your vehicle!) We ran until we reached a halfway time and turned around. We were running on her lunch hour and had to get back. As we neared the end of the run, I asked if she minded if we ended with a “kicker.” I love finishing off runs with a sprint. A kicker is my equivalent to a nice F-U to your body (as in: Hey body, look what I can still do even at the end of this run!). The kicker was great except I started too soon. I thought the truck was closer. I kept sprinting and sprinting until finally I lurched to a low-grade crawl. And, I turned to the fellow Turtle and laughed at myself. “I thought my truck was here,” I said. I kept running with her until we got to the truck. We hugged as sweaty runners do and parted.

Writing tonight, I think of that kicker. My laugh. I didn’t take out the stick and beat myself for starting a sprint too soon and not being able to hold it. I love running (more days than not) and I don’t have pockets big enough to fit the stick.

I don’t want the stick. So, I am throwing it out. I’m good with honesty, ground truths (calling things out for what they are), and kindness. I’m not up for beating myself with a stick on any more training runs or during the 25km Broken Goat.

I meant to write this week’s blog about self-care and yoga. But, I think the ground truth around “the stick” and loving-kindness is as badass as any self-care blog could be.

Training for the Broken Goat 25km race in July, Carey has been posting about her honest experiences. Not a professional racer or “hard core” athlete, Carey is, amongst other titles and labels we apply to people: a mom to human and fur babies, writer, runner, farmer, and, of course, friend.

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