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Resiliency – it might look a little different than we think

Couple intimidation
At the end of my first 100 mile bike ride.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about my struggle with wearing shorts after being touched by a man I was dating in a way I didn’t want to be.

I fluctuated between my old shorts and new, longer shorts. I wasn’t comfortable in either but decided I wanted to wear the new shorts as a way to feel safe and give myself some peace. Part of me questioned my decision. I didn’t want the experience to change me. Our experiences DO change us – but it’s important to note we can also decide how we change.

Let me illustrate with a different example.

When I was 22, my boyfriend of almost two years died in a motorcycle accident. Art was going 20 mph in a wide curve. He was wearing a helmet, leather jacket, leather pants, and boots. His motorcycle went down on its side and Art’s head bumped the concrete. At only 20 mph and with a good helmet on, it was too much for his brain and he died instantly.

Fast forward 15 years and I started cycling (a bike, not a motorcycle). I’d ridden a bike a lot as a kid and in my early twenties. It was something I really enjoyed doing. The first time I rode my bike again, I went through our neighborhood and into the next one where there was a small decline. It wasn’t steep, but it was enough to get my speed up to about 20 mph. I was terrified.

Although I wasn’t there when Art’s motorcycle went down, I knew the harm that could result from a fall at 20 mph. And unlike the gear Art had been wearing, I only had on spandex cycling shorts, a dri-fit jersey, and a cycling helmet (protective, but not nearly as sturdy as a motorcycle helmet). I knew if I fell the asphalt would tear up my skin. I rode my brakes down that small hill and had to stop to collect myself when I got to the bottom.

I wanted to cycle but was scared about going down hills and getting hurt. I tried to think of a route without a hill – but everyone I knew of had at least one hill in it. And without getting some speed going downhill, going uphill would be very difficult. So, if I wanted to ride, I had to learn to ride the hills and get comfortable with them. I did so by watching the road closely for anything that could throw my tires off and repeating to myself I could do it and would be okay.

At first, I still wanted to ride my brakes, but with time it got easier. Then I faced another challenge. My brother-in-law, Kyle, is a leukemia survivor. Shortly after Kyle was in remission, he, members of his family, and mine cycled in America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR) in Lake Tahoe, as part of Team In Training (TNT), a fundraising team of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). At the time my kids were little and training for a long-distance ride wasn’t something I had the time for so I went and cheered and offered SAG support. I told myself it was something I’d do in a few years.

I wanted to honor Kyle, and as my kids got a little older, I joined TNT, cycled, and fundraised for a local event. Part of the team was also going to ride in AMBBR. It wasn’t a trip I could make, but I’d seen the hills. I knew the cyclists often reached speeds of 40+ mph going down a road with a cliff on one side and cars on the other. I didn’t know if I had it in me to overcome my fear of falling on the bike at such a high speed. I focused on the hill I was scared of riding and missed sight of the hundreds of hills I'd ridden while training for the local event.

I haven’t thought about that ride in many years. I work for LLS and part of my job is supporting AMBBR in the months leading up to the event. In a recent conversation, I thought about riding it. It’s known as the pinnacle cycling event for TNT. Part of me wanted to be part of the group of thousands of riders. I thought about the beautiful scenery and felt a pull to fundraise and ride it. Almost twenty years later I was still nervous about the BIG hill and wasn't sure I'd be able to conquer my fear enough to ride it. Part of me still thought I needed to ride it to overcome my fear of that very large hills.

But then I realized, I’ve ridden two century (100 mile) bike rides, ran a marathon, three half marathons, and for 20 weeks in a row, I ran a 10K – all in Kyle’s honor while fundraising for LLS to pay it forward for other families. (I'm not sharing this to say look at me, but because I lost sight of the fact that I had overcome that fear) I trained on many hills. Each of those took hard work. I had to learn to ride long distances, was chased by a dog, was almost hit by a truck, and overcome challenges.  

As I recalled those other events, I remembered that the actual goal was really about fundraising and honoring Kyle and my sister’s journey as he battled cancer (thankfully he’s been in remission for 20+ years). Even if I never prove to myself I can cycle down the steepest hill I know of, my life will go on, be good, and I will accomplish good things. And the truth is I don’t need to go down that hill to overcome a fear that was brought on by losing a loved one. I survived the loss. And by only trying to overcome a fear that manifested in me, I lost sight of the amazing journey that each of those other events has been.

Just like the experience of my fear of hills on the bike and shying away from the hills in Lake Tahoe, opting to wear longer shorts to feel safe felt defeating at times. It felt like I was not okay or that the dating experience changed me. And I didn’t want it to change me. But the truth is it did.

Just like with the bike and the events, there’s a larger picture I miss sight of when I only think of the shorts. The reality is I’m recovering from a harmful relationship. With time and distance from the relationship, I see so much of it differently. I see the ways I was deceived and it’s painful. Processing everything, moving through the stages of grief and healing is hard work. If it helps me to wear shorts that are longer so I feel safe, then that’s what I need to do.

There’s a quote I like, Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.

I believe the same is true of resiliency after a harmful relationship. Resiliency isn't always big steps or hurdles, it's also:

  • Getting out of bed in the morning to get to school or work after crying yourself to sleep the night before.

  • Going for a walk, to the gym, or doing something else good for yourself, when you’d rather binge-watch a show, have a drink, or do both.

  • Talking to a trusted friend or counselor about how you were treated and what you’re going through.

  • If you go to school or work with the person who abused you, you may have to see them at school or work.

  • Reminding yourself it’s over.

  • Reminding yourself, You’re worthy.

When I hit a hard day, I practice the tips shared in last week's blog about healing and remind myself of the Bible verse from Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear for I am with you; do not be displayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Then I visualize God holding my left hand with His mighty, right hand.

We each have different triggers from harmful relationships and will overcome and heal from them differently. The best thing to do is to find what works for you.


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