I had a big rowing competition this weekend and WOW, I won a gold medal! I have to say, it felt pretty great and for the first time my team and I bonded. Suddenly there were Facebook friend requests flying around, people from across our larger team were actually talking to me (strange how a gold medal around your neck can make a difference…hmm…) and some of us finally had some great talks and got to know each other better while we sat on the beach and watched our fellow teammates row in their races.
But I think I’m going to leave rowing now. At least as the consuming ambition it’s been.
There are several reasons, and at the end of the day, they all point back to how rowing makes me feel about myself. There are certainly pros and cons.
- I love being on the water. There are times when I just look at the sky and the clouds and the reflection of the city off the lake as the sun is setting and I just sit in the moment in gratitude. I breathe a few deep breaths and try to be absolutely present. It’s really awesome.
- It’s cool. I think so and other people think so. I can admit that. I LOVE when other people are impressed or excited by the fact that I row (HELLO EGO! Jeez.)
- I am proud of myself that it can be really hard, but I have stuck with it. I stuck with it in the middle of winter when it was dark and raining and 38 degrees, and I was out there. I was out there when I had to get up at 4am to be there for 5am “hands on” days. I was out there when my hands were blistered and calloused, or the oars ripped whole pieces of skin off fingers and palms or made me bleed…I stuck to it. This is a big deal to me. Rarely in my life have I felt like I’m doing something that so many people admire or are impressed by and that I stuck to and skipped things for and got up early for and all of it. It feels pretty good (but I’m finding it comes at a cost. More on that below).
- I love the workout. The training. A really hard workout can be a lot of fun — and obviously, is great exercise! And even when the weather is sheit and I’m out there, I can come back in not being able to feel my frozen feet :), but I also feel like a badass for having gone out in the first place. I loved that.
- I love being part of something. Part of the community. Being able to call myself a rower and have a jacket with the logo on it and be extremely remotely associated with the guys who rowed in “Boys in the Boat.” (Pretty much everyone asks me, “Did you read “Boys in the Boat”? Answer: I bought it, and started to read it, but got bored and haven’t picked it up again – yet.)
- But that’s the thing. The community. The community I’ve experienced is very cliquey. When I joined this competitive boat to race with, very few of the women were nice to me. It got better over time as I got to know a few of them, but there is still a woman — in a boat of eight women and we just won a gold medal together — who has still never said hello to me. The woman who sits in the seat directly behind me barely spoke to me. And it’s like that across the boathouse. It has been a very rare thing that someone I didn’t know was friendly. I made it a point to always make the first move, but it started to wear me down how unfriendly so many people were. Unless they knew you already. And sometimes even then.
- When I row, as awesome as it can be, I often feel bad about myself while I’m rowing. The coxswain is (what feels like constantly) pointing out what I am doing wrong, could be doing better. (It’s the only way I’m going to get better, but there is a limit to what a person can take during a single workout…) The other women in the boat are rarely friendly. The coxswains aren’t friendly or supportive. Or the coach snaps at me for something that wasn’t my fault. Or I feel big/heavy. I just don’t feel good enough or welcome when I’m there, and it has been well over a year. It may be all in my head, but is it that hard to be nice? (there are some nice people, but they are the exception, and oddly they are rarely among the good rowers.)
- It’s a LOT of time. I train on the water three days a week, and the expectation with the competitive team is at least another two days on the ergs (rowing machines) or three additional hours a week cardio. And where it used to be fun to push to get better and people understood sometimes life happens too, now you are expected to be there to train and other things (life) are expected to take a back seat. I started thinking about all the things I want to get done in my life, and how little time I have with a full-time job and a dog to take care of, and there’s not much time left in the week. I have to be selective.
So, what REALLY matters here?
My life coach said it and I think she’s right: I should NOT be doing anything right now — for my self-care but especially in early sobriety — that makes me feel like I’m not good enough. Even though sports are about mental toughness and getting better, and I am relatively new at this, I think she’s right. I’m beginning to see that the culture of this sport in particular leaves me constantly feeling like I’m not quite good enough.
I should be spending my very limited time doing things that are nurturing and aren’t triggering. Following my curiosity and doing things that are in line with my goals of making an impact and finding richness and strength. Challenging is good. Doing hard things…good. Swinging for the rafters and pushing myself beyond my limits…all good! But anything that isn’t supportive or, like I said, makes me feel less than, NOT GOOD.
I’m a sensitive person. I think drinkers often are. Empathic. A feeler. I’m not overly competitive and I certainly need to feel supported and encouraged when I’m doing something scary and really hard. Especially when I’m putting myself out there, exposed. There really was very very little of that, nurturing, support, and it was only getting worse as I was moving up the ranks to the competitive team. I’m a tall, strong woman. The “perfect” body type for this sport. But I’m beginning to think I’m not the perfect personality type for it. At least not at this boathouse.
Maybe someone needs to tell them that we would be a much stronger team if we supported one another and made each other feel appreciated and safe.
Alright, I realize I am sitting inside a made-for-TV movie right now. Back to real life.
So, there it is. I went to my first regatta this weekend, won a gold medal, and I think I may be done competing. I’m going out on top! 🙂 And as hard (and confusing) as this decision might be right now (think of all my new Facebook friends! 🙂 what about my intense FOMO?), my gut says, this may be the best decision overall for me. As hard as it is to feel like I’m “quitting” or worse, “giving up,” I was overcome with the view from the rafters that my time is a precious thing and every moment I can choose, I choose to move forward.
Pride aside. Admiration from others aside. Cool factor and gold medals aside. I need to take care of my heart, and I need to stay sober.
Tara Brach said during one of her podcast lessons a couple of weeks ago, “What if you knew you only had a year to live? How would you spend your time? A month? A day?”
Rowing is a very cool thing. But I have things to do with my life. An impact to make in this world.
And so…here I am at Day 8. Don’t think it was easy not drinking this weekend after the first really hard day at the regatta! I was tired, stressed, had been under the sun all day, was scared for the race the next day, feeling alone and unsupported…and instead of drinking, I went to the bookstore and brought a book back to my motel for the night.
I’m really working on soothing myself in better ways, and that includes preventative care as well.
And now, sleep.