A few weeks ago I was watching an interview with Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, a.k.a. Superman. In talking about her life and her journey since her husband's death this past October, she said it had been a time of great pain and grief, "And so," she said, "we're grieving."
If you've lived any significant amount of time, chances are pretty good that loss has dropped in and spent some time with you. Some losses, such as death, are clearly defined, like a buzzer at the end of a game. There's no going back, even if you want badly to do so. My awesome dog also died in October and while I experienced resistance to the dying process, even wishing it could somehow not happen, once she died, I was thrust fully into active grieving. My grief was very deep, and flowed hard and strong for a few days, but then it dissipated. Looking back, I can see that even though I didn't want to have to feel it, I eventually did and then it was behind me.
Other losses we don't experience so fully because we resist the grief that accompanies them. We bury it in a busy day, over exercising, too much alcohol, overeating, sugar binges or shopping to name a few common escapes.
Maybe something has happened in your life and the pain seems absolutely unbearable. So giant, in fact, that when you think about the magnitude of the hurt, you imagine it might actually engulf you, that there'll be no bottom or end to the feelings. They'll keep coming and coming until you're so miserable, you might die. So instead, you push the painful feelings away, choosing not to realize them. I call this being on the periphery of the pain. You believe you are not feeling it, but the truth is; it's like an every day drain on your energy and soul.
I've had at least one such loss, ran my first marathon from its energy and others since. By never touching the bottom of that pain, though, it lingered for 10 years! How is this possible? If you're like me (human), deep pain is something you're inclined to avoid or deny. This is especially true if you experience a loss with ambiguous edges such as the end of a relationship (as opposed to a death), your mind can be very quick to soften the blow in thoughts, and you can readily pre-occupy yourself in deed. But repressing pain can keep a hurt unhealed and toxic, even for a lifetime. In the short term it seems as though it feels better not to face up and experience a giant loss, but the irony is that facing up and grieving the grief is how we in fact 'move on'. Maybe you've heard it said: The only way out?is through.
What's all this got to do with fitness? Emotional fitness goes a long way toward physical fitness. In my last column when I spoke about doing the WORK of weight loss, this is the stuff I was talking about. I think of us all as works in progress toward being healthy in mind, body and spirit, fellow travelers on the road of life. And fitness can sometimes present a false veneer of power, control and happiness, but the great equalizer is our shared humanity. We ALL have Work to do, and that's the whole point: No pain, no gain.