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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Venuta

My Journey To The Gym…

If you saw me at the gym preparing for this trip, you would not realize the journey I have taken to take to get to this point.

To improve my cardio, and my strength I am now visiting the gym three times a week for two hours. I go Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. I do 30 minutes of intense (for me) cardio on the recumbent bike (I am having issues with plantar fasciitis so am being mindful of putting too much strain on my foot). My heart rate is up and I’m sweating like crazy, then I do a cool down, stretch, then work on some core stuff, then hit the weight machines to strengthen my legs, and back, then another 30 minutes of fairly intense cardio on the recumbent bike again, then stretch.

When I now walk into the gym at my local recreation center, I am fairly confident and only a little intimidated, I remember when I was totally intimidated and felt overwhelmed.

Just over two years ago I had signed up for a seniors circuit training class. I figured as I'm aging, it would probably be a good idea to become stronger and keep what I can while I age. I lasted two classes.

It’s not that I couldn't do what they were showing us, and I found myself making excuses or finding reasons not to go. There was an internal battle going on and I didn't really understand it. I knew I was safe, I knew I was in the present etc. And of course there was the negative dialogue how “ everyone else can do it”, “you just need to focus”, “you could really do this if you wanted to” etc. But, as much as I wanted, I could not do it.

In time, and working in therapy it occurred to me that pushing weights, was a trigger, and the trigger was not what you might think. It was not what you were seeing on the surface- someone at the gym on machines, it was at a much deeper level.

I came to realize that the trigger was the fact that I was using the same large muscles groups to push the weights, the same muscles I would have used as a kid to try to escape from my surroundings- running/bolting away from my environment when shit hit the fan, and also the same muscles were used when trying to physically escape my abusers. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it did not as I was a child, they were much older and stronger than me.

So, needless to say, this would spike my anxiety, it became physically and psychologically uncomfortable, so I would come up with reasons why I couldn't go to the class. While some may think this as a negative, the good point is that I listened to my body when something didn't feel right- even if I didn't understand it. In the past I would have dissociated or checked out and unknowingly re traumatized myself.

Once I realized all of this, I made an appointment with the instructor to let her know what had happened and I wanted to hire her as a personal trainer doing a few sessions of one on one, so I could become more comfortable. The meeting went well, she totally understood, and I met her for the first session and we went through stuff and the machines and she set up a plan for me. By this time, it is now February 2018, and I was about to go on my Epic Irish Odyssey in a few months. My friend was going to join me later on that trip and were taking part in the Sligo Camino, a 36 km, one day trek to raise funds to help a community get a permanent community center.

So for a few weeks I worked on the plan, then met with the trainer once again to tweak it a bit, and carry on. Life got busy with me receiving the Coast Mental Health Courage to Comeback Award, and I was avoiding going to the gym, which is too bad because I could have really used it to help ease the anxiety/excitement I was feeling about the award and upcoming trip.

Now, just over a year later, I find life giving me another gift of this trip- and this is serious trekking. So I have to once again think seriously about getting into shape. But, once again I find myself triggered, this time the trigger is being short of breath.

Back in 2013 I was on an Outward Bound Women of Courage course, this time in the Rocky Mountains. I had trained, but on the first day I found myself out of breath and I lost it. My instructor noticed the look of panic on my face and asked me if I was ok? I wasn't and even though I had stopped to catch my breath, the tears came and the shaking started. Even though I knew I was safe in the present,my body and nervous system where back in the past reliving something I had no conscious knowledge of. My instructor was very supportive and sat with me and supported me through this, and because of this support, the process took less than 5 minutes and I was able to move on and continue. It was later that afternoon that unconscious memory of the abuse was able to move forward into my consciousness, a huge gift and great personal growth. I was able to realize why being short of breath was a trigger.

So, here we are back in the present, in 2019 and training, and I knew why being short of breath was a trigger, but I also realized that I needed to really push myself, to be short of breath a lot to train, and even though I understood why this was a trigger, there was still a wall there and I kept hitting it. I had to figure out a way to work through it to become fitter.

Last month, I was part of the Outward Bound Alumni hiking weekend. Myself, along with 9 other amazing alumni- ( I will speak more of this trip in my next blog post)- great instructors, we spent a magical weekend together. The Outward Bound magic happened and I once again experienced great personal growth. This was also the very first co-ed Outward Bound trip I had been on.

I got home, got back at the gym and noticed the panic when I was short of breath and could not push through it, until the 3rd visit to the gym, post Outward Bound.

I was at the gym on a Friday, on the recumbent bike, bringing my heart rate up and working on holding it there for a while...it was there I noticed an interesting thing. Once I had the heart rate up- I was fine..it was getting it there, the transition from lower to higher that the feeling of panic would set in.

And, I guess this would make sense to my nervous system...it would be the transition of heart rate that would happen before crap/abuse happened etc. As a kid my heart rate would increase before I could escape from my surroundings, or the perpetrator. If I could not escape the perpetrator I would go into the fight, flight, freeze stages. If those didn't work I would then go into the submit and collapse- which means no longer fight because it would be worse - think of a mouse in a cats mouth ( Or go to the radio interview under “other adventures on my web page) And, when all of those would not work I would dissociate and check out.

Realizing that it was the transition of heartbeat rate and shortness of breath and what it was doing to my nervous system was the trigger, was a huge epiphany!!!

The next day on Saturday, I went hiking with my hiking buddies, the “Triple F Hiking Club “-( more in another blog)- and during the times that the incline was increasing and my heartbeat would increase and I became short of breath etc, I kept telling myself, "it's a transition" and this greatly reduced the anxiety around it. It was a much more pleasant hike, I actually enjoyed it more than I normally do, I was much more relaxed. Now, when I’m at the gym I also remind myself of the transition stage and this also had relieved the stress and trigger greatly.

Sometimes you just have to work through it to get past it. Im very greatful I have been able to do this, and for the support of those folks who have helped me with this.

Avoiding it would have been a lot easier, but I I knew in my bones I had to work through this so I can be the fittest that I can be for this trip. I know I will struggle, and I will be short of breath, will likely be the least fittest of the group, but hopefully the work I am doing now- both physically and emotionally, will allow me to have a better quality of trip- to be able to stay in the moment- even when I am “Sucking pond water” and allow me to savor, enjoy and be at awe with what I am doing, and in the surroundings I will be doing that in.

As I have said many times,often,for me anyways, my Outward Bound Journey starts before I even put my boots on, and this is a good example of that. No wonder I’m so tired.

I think back to my very first Outward Bound Women of Courage course, paddling in Algonquin Park in 2005. I came back a better and stronger person. I could never imagine I would be doing what I am doing and preparing for this amazing adventure. Now that I have some of these triggers figured out, I am actually getting moments of excitement.

Those are my thoughts for today. Whatever journey you are on, be gentle with yourself, listen to your bones and know its ok to ask for help. You are worth it.

Thanks again for coming along on this journey with me, may we have many more discoveries and understanding of ourselves, and others.

Cheers and be well


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