IMG_0984We all have bad habits and quirks. We all have qualities that would be politely classified as “spirited” or “eccentric”. We can all be neurotic or flawed. These days it seems acceptable to have a diagnosis or a label. Everyone has something; we are defined by letters…ADD, OCD, BDD, PMDD and we accept easy solutions. We throw our hands up in the air and decide that this is who we are because someone said so. Prescriptions are written, pills swallowed and band-aids are used to treat broken hearts and troubled thoughts. It’s like we would rather find excuses for our choices than take responsibility. It’s as if we seek permission to live half of a life because it’s easier than doing the work to feel whole. We gorge ourselves on excuses and crutches. We live with secrets and kill ourselves slowly rather than come clean and embrace life’s journey with all of it’s unpredictable twists and turns.

We all have baggage and demons and unresolved conflicts that we can’t purge from our lives. Something that happened in childhood, or adolescence, or maybe even last year. An injustice. Bullying. Abuse. Death of a loved one. No infraction against your soul is too small. I have walked around for twenty years with an emotional cancer that eats away at me and I have chosen many unhealthy ways to fill that black abyss. I have tried and failed to do the right thing as well. I am a habitual therapy drop out. I have been handed several diagnosis — all of which, or none of which may be true. And when I haven’t been in therapy, I have been on a mission to figure myself out and find a resolution to all of my issues. In some healthy ways, some not so healthy ways.

I struggle with what I call “filling the void”. At some point in my life I was made to believe that I wasn’t good enough and despite every moment before or since then that has been filled with love, support and success, my mind’s default setting is to dwell on this fear and insecurity. I wish that I could crumple up all of those negative words anIMG_0994d throw them away. I wish that I could stuff all of those restless feelings into a bottle and toss it out to sea. I wish that I could break the chains that bind me to this life sentence of self-sabotage, depression and unrealistic drive for perfection, but I know all too well that those words and feelings and chains are a part of who I am.  I walk around with them day in and day out and all of those days have added up to create the woman I am right now. I am the product of all that I have lived and have learned. Both good and bad.

I have chased the high that filling the void brings. I have filled my void with shoes. With clothing. With alcohol and with food. I have filled my void with make-up, plastic surgery, and expensive skin care. I have filled my void with many things and as a result, I have the most kick-ass wardrobe, perfectly proportioned   sized c breasts, collection of tweezers and many booze-filled black outs to show for it. After the birth of my three children, my void seemed to be filled briefly because it was the most vulnerable time of my life. I felt purposeful and lovely and cherished. Every piece of who I was, both physically and emotionally was primal and I was bound to nourish and love my babies. I was a mother. I was the warm fleshy body that my children depended on in every way, and as exhausted as I was, it was probably the happiest time of my life.

IMG_0991As the boys grew from toddlers to school age, and a bit more independent I felt my purpose slipping away and the gaping hole that already lived inside of me grew larger. For several years I was eager to reclaim my independence and now that it presented itself to me, I no longer knew who I was. I didn’t have a career and the novelty of emptying the dishwasher and folding tiny clothes was wearing off. I filled my void with projects and distractions and shoes, always shoes. I no longer had a child nursing or clinging to me and quite suddenly my boys were wanting the affection and attention of their father more so than me, and I was left with a deafening silence that allowed my thoughts to run wild. My restlessness creeped back in and I felt lost. On top of this, friendships forged through the convenience of our children and little else in common otherwise left me running in circles with women I felt I needed to keep up with, women I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable around. I was teetering on the brink of a mid-life crisis and this is when my bad behavior went into overdrive. Some people have sophisticated coping skills, I am not one of those people. The spending and the drinking and the disconnect from my family took off at an alarming pace. As my husband stood by helplessly, he didn’t dare rock the boat of a woman who was filled with excuses and imagined entitlement. Two years of hedonistic, selfish behavior and the void still was not filled — and I was wrecked.

Most often it takes consequences to make change. And yes, eventually it took something bad to happen for me to stop with the bullshit and become an accountable human being. I made decisions to improve my life — not change who I am, but enhance who I am. I wanted to become an improved version of Carrie. Finding a fitness program and community like CrossFit Mt. Lebanon was the beginning of a healthier version of me. I can’t explain how integral being a part of something outside of my home, in a structured setting among loving people, each with their own bag of shit helped bring me back to life. I was able for the first time in a long time to be raw and exposed and real. There was no room for ego and no room to be anything other than what I really was. I felt that I was stripped down and forced to bare all of myself.  I couldn’t hide behind make-up or cute clothes (although I will admit my workout clothes are still pretty darn cute) or mediocre workouts, and my strengths and weaknesses were exposed. What happened next was profound. I found that the beauty was not in the perfection of people, but in the struggle. It wasn’t how well someone presented an image, but how they lived their lives with integrity and truth. It was the overweight woman who has battled a food addiction and shows up every day to slay that dragon who gives me hope and strength. It’s the young man, a motherless child, who sees the world as a playground who drives me to appreciate the little things. It’s the countless others with eating disorders and suicide attempts and broken marriages and terminal illnesses that allow me to recognize that in order to rise, we must first fall. Life is messy – proper mental health begins once we are ready to own up to that and make the decision to carry on despite it. Inspiration and authenticity are contaIMG_1142gious. I found that by telling my own story and owning up to my own faults not only set me free of others expectations of me, but inspired people. Inspiration and authenticity are contagious. Spread that stuff around and you will find a higher purpose.

And let me be clear, I am not suggesting that mental illness is an excuse or a fable in someone’s mind. I am also not suggesting that exercise cures all. I suffer from depression and it has taken years for me to be able to admit that out loud. Despite logic and knowing that there will always be others who have endured far worse than me, it doesn’t change the very real feelings that I walk around with on a daily basis. And I know that telling someone with depression or anxiety to “just get over it” is like telling a quadriplegic to get up out of a wheel chair and walk. Putting one foot in front of the other is simply an impossibility for some. But what I havelearned about myself recently is that for whatever reason, I have a void that lives inside of me – a darkness, a rage, a fire. There are negative aspects to that, but it also is a gift. I will never be content with an average self-image, and rather than seeing that as a detriment, I now view it as a valuable quality. I will not settle. I will not back down. I will not quit. I am going to push hard. I more than likely will fail and fall down, but I have proven that I can get back up and try again. I will always be chasing the high. It’s what keeps my life interesting and has proven to be an invaluable teaching tool. My high however is now confined to a “box” and my drugs of choice are lifting heavy and going full throttle. CrossFit has not only made me a stronger more confident person in the gym, it has made me a stronger and more confident person in life.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has reasons why they behave the way they do. You don’t need some traumatic event or emotional novel to lead you to fitness and health, but interestingly enough, I have found that most people who choose this type of workout do have compelling reasons for doing so. If you have a void to fill, I beckon you to stop taking the easy way out. Stop with the excuses and get to work.

*Note: Not everyone who goes to our gym is crazy! It’s not a prerequisite. Some people just like the workouts! Ha! ☺