The responsibility of healing

“Your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.”

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I saw this phrase shared by a friend a few days ago, and it resonated deeply with me.

I did not realize until I became an adult that my childhood was not normal. Looking from the outside in, I don’t think anyone really noticed anything wrong with me, but that could also have been because I was so isolated from the rest of the world, and although I don’t think this was done by design, it definitely helped the situation seem more normal than it really was.

My first memory of an interaction between my parents was my father throwing my mother against the wall, and her head bleeding from the impact; I believe I was 5 at the time. I don’t ever recall a moment in my childhood where my parents were loving to each other, but I remember all the loud arguments and fights, that more often than not, became physical.

I’d like to think I was a good kid: I always brought home straight As, never got in trouble in school, always came straight home school to work at our family business. Despite that, I was never allowed to go to my friends’ birthday parties, have a sleepover, or even have friends over at the house after school. My “job” from the early age of 11-12, was to be ready to work at the store until closing, after my homework was done.

I have no single pleasant memory of going shopping with my mother for clothes or shoes; in fact, I recall getting tennis shoes that were way too big for my feet so I could grow into them, and not getting new ones until they were so tight that they hurt my feet. In my entire childhood I went to the movie theater one single time; I remember my mother took me to see Batman Returns in 1992 when I was 10. It sticks in my memory because I know my sister was a toddler at the time, and I found out later my mother had tried to kill herself by way of pills after she took me to the theater. That was supposed to be her last goodbye (she is still alive).

During my early teens, when I started looking more like a woman, my father began sexually abusing me. Not that we had a normal father-daughter relationship until that point, but it definitely got even worse as one can imagine. My father ruled the house with an iron fist, and he expressed anger by screaming and hitting; my mother and I were his normal targets. He was a very charming man to others; I don’t think anyone would have ever guessed the fear I lived under.

Nothing I ever did was enough. If I brought home an A, I was asked why I didn’t get an A+. If I ever brought a B home, I’d better get ready for some serious punishment. Apparently I was fat too; my mother had nicknamed me “duck butt” because my ass was apparently too big for my body.

To add to my already low self-esteem, there was the issue of racism and open discrimination. I grew up in Argentina; at the time, people would openly mock Asian people in the streets and call you names like “china sucia (dirty chink),” and yell that you were fat, or ugly, or whatever. It seemed so normal at the time, but looking back… what the hell?

When we moved to the US, I was 17. Because my parents had to both work away from home, I had more freedom to come and go as I pleased. I was able to see that it was not normal for my father to beat me because a boy called the house. It was not normal for a friend to call the house and for him to hang up and say “she’s not here” when I was in the next room. It was not normal for him to chase me out of the apartment with a butcher knife, screaming that he’d kill me and kill himself.

Why I never called the police is beyond me. Having been a cop for almost 13 years, my current brain cannot comprehend how not once the police was called during my entire childhood. But I guess that’s what fear and complete domination does to a child.

During the 9-10 years that followed, I completely suppressed all my childhood memories. I pretended that they didn’t happen, and I even continued to live at my parent’s house, until 2003, when they moved back to Korea. They came back to the US for my first wedding in 2008, and my father even walked me down the aisle. What a sham my life was. Somehow I was holding it all together inside of me, until I finally burst.

One day I just had a realization my life was completely fucked; it just happened out of nowhere. I was in my late 20s. I had never told a soul about what had happened to me growing up, but I told my husband at the time for the first time years after we were married. Then I told my best friend. Then another friend and another. I went into further depression when told my mother the sexual abuse I had gone through, and she told me that she knew all along. I needed therapy and a lot of medication. That is when I started running and working out, because it gave me some resemblance of sanity. I worked a lot of overtime, because if I was busy, my brain was not thinking.

I had a lot of guilt. I wondered if what happened was because I wasn’t strong enough. I wondered if I had been a stronger person, maybe my mother and I would have been able to stand up to my father. Maybe if I had said no more forcefully, my father would not have abused me sexually. Maybe if I had made myself less desirable, he would have left me alone. Bunch of nonsense.

It took me a long time, but I had to accept that what happened was not my fault. But I also realized that instead of boohooing around, I had to take the next steps to be the best I could be. It was my job to fix my life, and be a productive member of society. It was my responsibility to heal myself, and I made a conscious decision to do the following things:

Start valuing myself. I had to stop with the excessive self-criticism, and do things that made me happy, without constantly worrying how it will affect someone else. I had to start treating myself with respect and kindness, and realize that I was worth something, despite the fact I was told time and time again I was not enough. I am enough just the way I am. I had to get my own hobbies, and that is when I discovered running. And despite the fact my ex-husband thought I was “obsessed” with running, I kept it up, because I had to do something for myself, without worrying about how it would affect someone else.

I began taking care of my body; I started running and lifting weights, eating better and getting more sleep. There was a time in my life when I ate absolute crap all the time, worked two full time jobs and went to school full time. Granted, part of that was because of necessity, but I was overweight and my health was not a priority. I also realized that a balanced diet and exercise regimen do wonders for one’s depression and anxiety.

I surrounded myself with good people, and reached out for help and support.  I ditched the toxic people in my life and decided that I’d stop wasting time and effort on people that didn’t put the same effort into the relationship as I did; instead, I began spending more time nourishing those relationships that were important. I wanted to surround myself with people that make me happy, make me laugh and help me when I am in need. People who genuinely care. I realized I’d rather have 10 close friends than a large group of acquaintances, because those people are just passing through your life.

I turned my wounds into wisdom. I didn’t want to become X “because of my wounds.” I wanted to become X “despite my wounds.” I never want to use my past as a crutch on how I walk the rest of my life. Yes, there are times I am little difficult, and don’t respond as an “emotionally normal” person would react to certain things, and my poor husband knows all about those moments. But he is kind, and understands (most times) that my brain is wired a tiny bit differently.

I am who I am, and I am definitely a product of what has transpired in my life until this point. But I am taking responsibility for my healing, and I am working toward being an emotionally healthy human being.

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The Comeback Kid

21764755_10207670153551109_1154690252672064916_nI started “running” when I was in the police academy in 2006. At the time, I was what you’d call a fitness novice, someone who dabbed at the gym mainly to lose weight, but did not have a clue about strength training or running; I was just an elliptical queen. Not only did not consider myself a runner, I HATED running. I could not run more than a quarter of a mile without having to stop, and I ran slow. I knew nothing about proper shoes, gait, average paces, or the importance of cadence; all those words were foreign language to me. As a typical type A person, I decided that since I tried running once and I was not “good” at it, it simply was not the sport for me. Move on, next!

Running in the academy was a chore; I hated every minute of it, and my distaste for it was reflected in my performance. I did just enough to make it acceptable, and I was in the slowest running platoon. Don’t get me wrong, I did improve by graduation 6 months later, when we were running an average of 3-4 miles few times a week, and I was no longer taking walking breaks by then, but my speed was not what I’d call desirable. Most importantly, I was doing it because I had to, not because I was enjoying it. I knew that as soon as I graduated, I was no longer going to continue running.

After I became a cop, I realized that I needed to keep myself in good shape, because now I had to take care of not only myself, but the public as well. I knew people depended on me for their safety, so I began visiting the gym more often, and I educated myself on proper strength training. I still hated running, but I knew it was a necessary evil to keep my endurance up, so I kept running; nothing more than 3-4 miles, but I kept at it.

Fast forward to 2010. My personal life was in shambles, and I really never wanted to be home. Being at work or the gym was a means to be away from the negative distractions, so I began frequenting it more and more. Funny thing, once I started running more, the easier it got, and the more I began enjoying it. Weird, right? Not only that, but it gave me time to just THINK. Think about anything and everything; the thoughts that come to your head when you are running can be pretty interesting. You could solve some big world problems during a two hour run… maybe politicians should pick up running? Hmmm.

By the end of 2012, my home life had not improved, but my running had. I was running close to 30-40 miles a week, and I was training for my first Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon. I had the mileage under my belt, but none of them were quality miles. I was so focused on power lifting 4-5 times a week and running, that I was constantly tired, living on pre-workout shakes and coffee, and the miles I accumulated were not done smartly; there would be days I’d run 10 miles and go lift (heavy) for 2 hours before my 12 hour night shift on patrol. I was the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life, but mentally I was not healthy.

That October, I completed my first marathon in 5 hours, 37 minutes and 3 seconds. It was ugly. My training had not been solid, and it showed in the final result. I walked a big portion of the course, and if had not been for my best friend Lindsay running by my side encouraging me, I’d have probably walked even more. Of course I was very proud of finishing and being able to call myself a marathoner, but I was psychologically defeated.

I walked away (actually crawled away because my feet and legs were dead) from that race vowing that I’d never run another marathon again. In fact, although it had not been my intention, I did not run for the following 2+ years. I did however continue to go to the gym, and got a few Personal Training certifications to do some PT sessions on the side. I hit some major milestones and big lift PRs (285Lbs deadlift, what?!), and most importantly, I met my husband there, who charmed me with his 135Lbs dumbell rows, and of course, I had to say something cheesy like “damn, you could pick me up and use me instead of the dumbells, that’s how much I weigh.” Ha. I have no flirting skills.

Few years ago, I began getting that itch for running again. It caught me by surprise, because I thought I had lost that fire in me. I slowly began increasing my mileage and signed up for a 10 miler and a half marathon in 2016. I was having a decent training cycle by the time I ran the Reston 10 miler, but shortly after, I got injured and I tanked at the Loudoun Half. After I recovered from the injury, I could not string 3 miles together, like someone who had never run in her life; it was like starting all over again, and it was really messing with my head.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided I’d sign up for a race so I could have a goal in mind to fuel my training; I picked the Shamrock Half Marathon set for March 2017. My two previous half marathons had been 2:18 and 2:25 in 2009 and 2016 respectively, so my goal was a PR, no specific time in mind.

During the three training months that preceded the race, a profound change occurred within me. It was not a sudden change that happened without me knowing, but more a conscious mindset change that I worked extremely hard to make it a reality. To this day, I struggle to be true to myself and honor the promises I made to myself during these three months, but I am convinced that this was a hallelujah moment that made me the runner I am today. These are the promises I made to myself:

  1. You are good enough the way you are now
  2. You can be competitive, but being slower than someone else doesn’t mean you are not fast enough.
  3. You only need to compete with yourself; be better than you were yesterday, last week, last month, last year. No need to compete with someone whom you perceive as better than you.
  4. Be thankful for the healthy body and legs that let you run as many miles as you want.
  5. Find joy in running, don’t make it a chore. Nobody has a gun to your head telling you that you have to run.
  6. If you are tired one day and the training schedule says you have to run… take a day off! In other words, run smart.
  7. Find and connect with friends who have the same love of running

 

Every time I had a hard run or a run that did not go as well as I wanted to, I kept telling myself these things, and eventually they became reality. As you can see, these rules don’t only apply to running, but… you guessed it, your self esteem. Running has made me the most confident version of myself I’ve ever been. Running has also gifted me with an outlet for whenever I am down, sad, angry, preoccupied, worried, whatever. There has not been much I can’t sort out in my head while hitting the pavement, listening to my thoughts in my head, while getting breaths of fresh air through my lungs.

March 2017 came, and I finished the Shamrock Half Marathon with a PR of 2:14:48. The weather conditions for the race were torturous: 30 degrees with 40mph wind gusts, hail, rain and snow at different times of the race. My body was miserable, but my soul was happy; I knew if I could run a PR in those conditions, I could do big things.

While riding the high from the PR, I signed up for a few more races. In fact, in 2017, I ran a marathon, 3 half marathons, a 10 miler and 2 Ragnar Relays. I set PRs in all those races, and I finished the year with my biggest running accomplishment, finishing a marathon in 4:14:05 at Richmond. Not only did I finish my second marathon an hour and 30 minutes faster than my first one, but remember how I said I could not walk after MCM? Well, after Richmond, I showered, changed, and went back out to hang out with the hubby and friends around Richmond. A good example of how much better I had trained this time around.

I have big goals for 2018, and some of those are going sub-4:00 for my March marathon and sub-3:50 for my fall marathon, and running my first ever ultra race in April for my 36th birthday. There was a time in my life when I thought qualifying for Boston was reserved for elite athletes, but dare I say, I am determined to make it a reality. I am ready to put in the hard work to be able to BQ by fall of 2019; there, I said it out loud in public!

People tell me all the time, “running is not for me, I am not good at it.” Well, I am here to tell you, I was no track star either. I don’t possess any natural talent, and every second I take off my time requires a lot of work. But whatever I lack in talent, I make up with soul, heart and effort; I know nobody can say I don’t work hard enough towards my goals.

So, give it a go! Go out there and go for a stroll. You never know, you may grow fond of it and next thing you know, you are going through 4 pairs of running shoes a year like I do 🙂  Don’t ever give up on your dreams, hard things are possible! The biggest lesson running has taught me is that if I believe in myself, pretty much anything is possible. Happy Running!

 

Much love,

 

KK.