Picking Up The Weights Where You Left Off

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me now, the fleshy man-sack I’ve become, but I was a total gym rat last year.

Stop laughing. Seriously.

I did the research. I downloaded the fat loss regimens and muscle-building doctrines fitness experts swear by. I subscribed to the low-fat fitness lifestyle – no candy, fried foods, table sugar, white bread, et cetera. And circuit training quickly became my favorite workout routine. I was all about boosting my heart rate, liquidating calories, and eating healthy.

“Captain Cardio reporting for duty”. (Cardiac Athletes)

As testament to my dedication, I even looked into becoming a personal trainer. I was at my gym, offering guidance and tips to others, the whole nine yards. So, why not? I was self-motivated to look and feel better, to get bigger and stronger yet leaner and meaner. And that’s what I did. It was great.

I lost weight, gained strength, and found my confidence. Being shirtless wasn’t the equivalent of watching The Exorcist alone at night anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t morph into Channing Tatum, but I had an athletic look going for the first time in my life. Clothes hung on me different. Jeans were snugger. My posture improved along with my endurance and musculature. So, I was feeling a lot like Mr. Tatum, or rather, what I think it feels like to be Mr. Tatum. (He’s chased by beautiful women everywhere he goes, right?) I sized guys up now. I felt capable of defending myself in hypothetical situations against nearly anyone; typical testosterone-fueled thoughts that put a glide in my step better than Travolta in his prime. I had the Chuck Norris aura.

But, a very untimely M.S. relapse audited my accomplishments. My left hand and leg started to go haywire. That pins and needles sensitivity you get when a limb “falls asleep” seemed stuck on me. It had been progressively worsening, occasional flare ups, but I shrugged it off as a side effect of a sore body after an intense workout. Soon, though, it was preventing me from lifting heavy weight, and later, it made basic movement challenging. Still, in my glorious stupidity, the other side to my testosterone-fueled thoughts, I attempted a bare bones circuit, just burpees and push-ups. The results were heart-breaking. The bottom line was I had no business exercising. I could barely balance myself down a flight of stairs much less perform a total body workout.

Skip ahead three months, the numbness has mostly subsided and I’m left with the collateral damage – a blank drawing board that is my flaccid, muscle-less body.  Gone is the tone and conditioning that once made me frighteningly confident, not to mention that Tatum-esque appearance. I have arrived back at square one and it sucks.

I know I need to quit bitching and just get my ass back in the gym. But, it’s hard to find the inspiration. The YouTube pages and Instagram accounts I follow are predominantly fitness-oriented and push me in the opposite direction. Every video and picture is just an insult, a tease, a bitter reminder of the progress I’ve lost.  I saw the story of a mother of three turning her life around via exercise and just wanted to berate her.

“Where are your kids while you’re busy taking selfies at the gym? Huh? You selfish bitch?!”

Attempts at humor aside, it’s been a disheartening time. Picture completing a novel that took you all year to write. You type it up but before you can save it, the computer suddenly shuts off. You’re left with nothing but the memories. Those damn memories. All you can do after you flip over the table and kick your cat in the ribs is to set up shop again and go back to work. But, the hardest part is that first step. Upon moving forward, you find out exactly how far you’ve fallen and it’s rarely a pleasant experience.

Needless to say, it’s a mandatory experience. It’s all downhill from there. And that’s the good part. Since I’m no longer a mindless rookie, my starting point isn’t as further back as it may seem. Muscle memory will kick in and I’ll be back in shape in a much shorter time frame than it took to initially see results.  See, for every gut punch I self-inflict in my bitterness, I know I wouldn’t be half as upset if I hadn’t actually accomplished something in the first place. Every time I quit on my goals in the past, I wasn’t upset at all. I didn’t achieve much aside from trimming some baby fat. This time I feel I’ve lost so much, retrieving it is too daunting an objective. That means I’m on to something, here.

So, this sucky step I shall take back to the gym, sweating with the meat-heads and staring at myself in the mirror for far too long after my workout. Fair warning, be on the lookout for this future post: “How I Got Back on Track: A Formerly Fat Guy’s Guide to Fitness.”

Dude, it’ll be awesome.

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Family First

My mother’s best friend has HIV. She’s been living with it for as long as I can remember. But, she looks and acts nothing like the image and temperament commonly associated with someone afflicted with a life-long sickness. In fact, she’s boisterous and free-spirited with a penchant for flashing her breasts, which she recently had surgically augmented, at any gathering she attends.

She’s a former gang member and widow who contracted the disease from her children’s deceased father, an intravenous heroin user. Her history is one of violence and abuse. I’ve been privy to tales of her orchestrating vicious beatings to her children from my sister’s perspective(she’s their aunt).  It’s all for entertainments sake and her daughters reminisce and laugh at one another for being foolish enough to piss her off in the first place, detailing particular whacks and howls to brighten the image. Brooms, bread loaves,  slippers, belts. You name it, she could weaponize it – Jason Bourne style – according to them. She humiliated and berated the kids in public, little provocation necessary. Even in more present times she remains a firecracker. Whenever I have visited her home, which is quite rare, she’s offered way too much information into her personal life, usually alarming sex stories that always left me more confused than amused. Should she engage in casual sex in her condition? At her age? Is it dangerous?

Nevertheless, horror stories and gross sexual escapades notwithstanding, the single most prevalent image I hold of her still, is that of a unifying matriarch, a mother-figure who ceaselessly kept her family together above everything else. Holidays, as my family barely remembers to text one another, she’s in photographs with all her children – currently grown and raising their own families – celebrating, toasting to life and good company. Her daughters have multiple offspring and even her grandchildren have children. Yet, they’re all interlocked, lives purposely designed to intersect, each an active participant in all the other’s affairs, supportive and caring. They revolve around her like the planets orbit the Sun, a symbiotic relationship, giving her purpose and enriching their own lives in the process.  It’s beautiful.

And it’s in moments like these – observing her family’s parsimony through Instagram pictures and Facebook statuses – that I recognize what matters most when quantifying a person’s overall character: their relationship with their loved one’s. For all her flaws and bewildering behavior, she unequivocally succeeded at raising her family into a nourishing and complementary community. So many different personalities, all successful to a significant degree in their respective careers, never losing touch, never forgetting the unbreakable bond that weaves itself through the lineage, present when it counts. This New Year’s Eve marked the umpteenth time my family – parents, siblings, and cousins – were scattered about like ashes in a flowing breeze while my mother’s best friend spent time with everyone who mattered foremost in her life. The joy on their faces was apparent as their arms wrapped over one another’s shoulders posing for the camera and in more candid moments of conversation and tomfoolery, another warm gathering for another delightful memory.

A sharp pain suddenly snapped into place. The cold truth and its frosted clutches were gripping at me, telling me my family was no longer any competition. If we wished to compete, we would have a lot of work to do. I wonder if they’re up for the task.

A Message to the Sad Bachelor

Single people,

I know social media makes it hard on you. There’s no escape. Your friends post a Facebook status every dinner date, Instagram every romantic gift, tweet every inside joke and funny occurrence. It feels like they do it on purpose sometimes, the especially solitary moments, to gloat, to humiliate. The unbearable loneliness, a moment you long to escape from via any vehicle you can find; text, chat, phone call, a night out, something to cancel the noise vibrating from those four walls that scream at you in their silence, laugh at your boredom, the fact that your cell hasn’t rang and your door bell might as well not exist. If you’re not connecting, networking, staying in company, feeling remembered, important, relevant, you’re fading away. All hobbies consequently seem mundane, worthless, and insignificant. What’s the point if no one else notices? What’s the point if it doesn’t bring you any closer to someone else?

But, don’t fall for the steady stream of misrepresentation ushered in by the omnipresent technology at our finger tips. It’s a shallow smile on a face with as many wrinkles and dark marks as the one reflected in the mirror. It’s too raw a subject to share the same way they do everything else. It’s that inside look into their lives that equalizes them, makes them human, god forbid. They don’t want you to know they’re insecure with their partners. But, they are, and too often the reason they’re tied at the hip with their partners is more about surveillance than love, that false sense of security. It’s not all endearing and comfortable as those pictures portray. You’d notice if you opened your eyes past your own pity, the self-imposed prison you’ve constructed because your life varies greatly from those on your laptop screen. It’s a lie. Even the healthy relationships require a great deal of work; compromise, patience, tolerance, and acceptance – things much harder to capture on camera, things you’ll never see from the surface.

So, that means you’re chasing the imaginary, friend. Your journey has been all too fantastical this entire time because you’re aiming for the ephemeral. That ends now. You’re in the light. The bullshit no longer overshadows your vision. It’s a chance to see your time alone as an opportunity to further your self-knowledge, strengthen your inner spirit, and sharpen your outward gaze. The silence that frightened you, made you feel unpopular and antiquated, manifests as a respite from unnecessary drama, a calm that resonates strength and independence.

When this state becomes easy, you’ll never feel in need or defensive around couples. It means your relationship with yourself is fully developed. You’re capable of a partnership, but not desperate, and that’s more than many “taken” people can claim. Ergo, get better at being alone. It doesn’t equate loneliness or inadequacy. It means you’re not done crafting yourself into the person you will become.