Going the Distance: Boxing and PTSD

There’s an interesting thing that happens during boxing training sessions.
Invariably, I’ll reach the point where my arm muscles say very clearly “Nope. Can’t move.” They feel utterly weak, as though I couldn’t possibly even lift my arms in the 12-14 oz. gloves, let alone hit a target with speed and accuracy.

When I’m working the bags alone, this is often when I stop. “Okay, I sweated, my muscles won’t move any more, I got a good workout, time to stop.”

When I’m with my trainer, I push through.  I take that one minute break and push on to another round.

Then another round.

I find that my arms WILL lift. They will lift by force of will alone, then from my feet to my hips to my core, they’ll hit hard.

Then, magically, the weakness disappears.  The muscle exhaustion and soreness is gone, like it never existed. A feeling rushes in that I could go another hour. I could go another 30 rounds if I had to. I could “go the distance.” I could get through every round, and do it with strength and speed.  I am unstoppable.

It’s an incredible feeling. sparwbrandon

This PTSD battle has been challenging in ways I could never have imagined. It’s been fascinating, too, when I remember to turn on the “observer” and distance from it.

So much is unfolding, it’s taking a strength of will very similar to that required in boxing in order to simply get through the day, some days.

For those reading this who also struggle with PTSD,

here are a few things I have learned.

It is actually not good for us to do things like guided meditations. It seems like it would be a great thing, yeah? For many people, it is. But for PTSD, closing the eyes, telling one’s self to “relax,” these actually can be harmful practices and cause deep triggers in the subconscious. It can also strengthen a component of PTSD: dissociating.**

So here’s a helpful and good practice:  grounding.

There are three types of grounding: Physical, Emotional (or Mental), and Safety.

Physical grounding is simply looking around one’s environment, naming very specific details, noticing them, feeling them. My fingers are on the keyboard. It feels smooth and a little warm. My forearms are resting on the desk. They’re in soft, warm sleeves. My feet are on the floor…

Name each thing. feel it. Get very specific. What colors do you see? Name them. It may feel elementary, but try it a few times – it has the effect of immediately bringing one back into the present moment, this place and time. It is *impossible* to be triggered and grounded at the same time.

There – that’s it – The antidote.  How to turn the kryptonite into a superpower! This may seem very elementary, but the practice of staying present every moment is a very challenging one. Our minds are like puppies- they love to run off and play with butterflies. When you have PTSD, it’s an added challenge, as our minds leap to anxiety, or ruminating over the past in order to try to “protect” us from it happening again.  The mind continually wants to “warn” us. The mind will also dissociate, or completely detach from the present moment in, again, another effort to protect.

If you’ve ever tried to train a puppy, you’ll know that chastising really doesn’t work. praise does. Gentleness and patience are required. It’s the same with the brain. When it wanders off chasing butterflies, even if it’s been a whole DAY of dissociating, notice. Whenever you finally notice, notice. Then name your present surroundings. Name what you are doing.

If you’re deep in dissociation, maybe set an alarm – every hour, if need be. When the alarm goes off, just check in. Where am I, What are my surroundings, what have I been doing?  Notice, don’t beat yourself up – save your strength for the real fight…

other types of grounding:

Emotional (or “mental”) grounding.  What am I feeling? Does the feeling have a place it’s living in my body? does it have a shape or a color? (note: VERY important – do NOT ask “why” you are feeling something. The rational mind would like to label and understand every feeling, but with ptsd it is vital simply to allow the emotional mind to be heard and recognized without needing to rationalize it. This is how the emotional mind will heal – and this is how ptsd will eventually understand that it is safe now, it doesn’t need to “warn” or “protect” us any more!)

Scan the body during emotional/ mental grounding. Name how you feel inside. If it feels safe, close eyes.

And the last technique: “safety” grounding.  This is coming a little closer to dissociation, so use with caution and keep checking in to make sure you’re in the present moment, in the room, in your body.

Safety grounding: What is my favorite color? really picture it. What is my favorite animal – is there a specific pet?  Who is my favorite person? What is my favorite place, and what is it like? Imagine details.

This is a great way to feel safe again, but do make sure to stay present.

There have been times during the day when I will say “Ok, enough. I want to bury this again; I lived with it for years, I know how to hide and bury it. I don’t want to walk this ‘warriors’ path’ of fire any more. I don’t want to heal this.”

But I look into the eyes of my friends, loved ones, parents, and I know I have to keep going – because if I don’t heal this, I’ll cruise along just fine and then there will be another storm. An argument I can’t handle, that makes me want to abandon everyone; a fear-attack that leaves me shaking and crying, inexplicable onset of worry and lack of safety…

yes, it would be easier to put down my gloves and stop battling to stay present every day and to ride out the painful attacks that are coming because I am actively treating and curing ptsd.

Yes, it would be easier for me.

But I’ve got to push through one more round. Because of the people I love – because they deserve to know me without this creature who is inhabiting my bones right now, who tells me to fear.
gloves
Also, beyond and underneath that, because I deserve it. I deserve every second of life I get to have – and I deserve it without shaking hands, without heart-stopping fear, without insomnia, without anxiety, and without self-sabotaging, hiding, isolating, dissociating or “checking out” so I’m not really experiencing my own life. I deserve to experience my own life and to really be here for it!  We all do.

i deserve to relish this life. Every day, I live in the gratitude that the moments of reveling are stretching to hours, that beautiful adventures have come my way the moment I chose to step into the ring, put on my gloves and fight this monster –

You can do it. Go one more round. Just one more.  Ground yourself in the moment, revel in the present moment, in the feeling and complete certainty that you are safe. In this moment, you are safe.

When the fear comes, keep going. Go one more round, and you will be unstoppable.ring

**information in this article is from the (work)book Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits

The Distance

The Distance

My ancestor was named “Gentleman Jim” because not only was he one of the first to wear gloves, he was one of the first to box in a new form that had something called “the distance.”

The distance: a specified number of rounds. A stopping point, even if no one had fallen. To “go the distance” meant you had boxed all the rounds and you were still standing.

It’s my hardest lesson right now. When to stop boxing. I’ve hammered it into my very bones – my guard is up, that glove next to my cheekbone so familiar I don’t think about it now – my body knows what to do – and I love it. My gloves are a part of me. They feel like home. I feel strong; I feel ready.

But the distance is a new, scary, unfamiliar lesson… and it’s a hard one. I was not prepared for my next challenge to be… stopping.

To take the gloves off and leave the fight… go the distance, and then stop – that’s going to be the toughest fight yet.

Put down the gloves. Let down my guard. I’ve forged a soul of steel and now
softness is the scariest thing imaginable.

love – it is the only match I fear – he will still come in past my guard patiently, though my glove has stung him a few times. I don’t know how to do this anymore; I was never going to allow this again- So I slip. Feint. Even pull out the “Ali Shuffle,” then jab with a slip so I can load my uppercut, just outside his view …

but this is not how to win this kind of match.

Pause…and learn something new: perhaps this man is different. There is a good man out there, who doesn’t deserve to stand in the ring, to fight a battle and take the blows meant for a far lesser man. It’s time to stop that fight – that creep is long gone, banished with a hundred thousand hits over the course of a year, when I watched my sweat form pools drop by drop on the floor and knew it was my body’s way of weeping – knew I was washing him away in a tide of salt- I could see his weakness, his lies, his toxicity leaving me with every drop. I forgave myself for allowing him into my life- I learned to trust myself again, to trust that I would never again allow someone to treat me badly.

It’s exciting, really – it’s the one thing we can say “never” about; I will never allow someone else to treat me badly. I will never again experience that particular kind of life-wrecking pain.

As I became stronger, he became…utterly ridiculous.

Eventually, after 20lbs had been sweated away and my boxing gloves had faded, were worn and cracked with use, his face no longer swam in front of my glove as a target on the heavy bag. If he came into my mind at all, it was with surprise, and “what on earth was I thinking?”

Every time I wrapped my hands in preparation for another bout, binding my hands and arms like tefillin, I told myself I was binding my heart to my own power and locking that loser OUT. Then twenty pounds shed turned into thirty pounds; I dropped the weight of him I was carrying like a rancid crucifix across my back – left it behind in drops of sweat on the floor measured over the course of a year. Shed the way he had aged me, found joy again and youth again in new companions and new life — I stopped being a victim.

Every painful fight was a triumphant step forward.

Waiting for a good man to walk into my life, I met a few who made me realize that I had forgotten how to put down the gloves and open my arms. That I can fight may still be a good thing, however – there IS a time to fight – to ensure I will never be treated badly again…

But even so, I believe that not all men are untrustworthy. That not all men seek to control; that not all men will try to chip away at me until I am small enough for them to feel bigger – I still believe there are men out there who deserve all the love a woman can give, though I have yet to meet him, and though it’s scary, so scary, to open this heart –

I’d best accept it. Go the distance. Leave the ring. Learn what true courage is and be vulnerable sometimes, be open again; only this time, with a power that nothing can shake. This time, there is a difference. I bring more of myself when I love that self for the first time in my life – and no one can take that from me.
What I have to give I can give freely now, knowing that there is a solid core of strength in me that no one can diminish.

I don’t need to fight because I am now a warrior. It’s a paradox that comes when you’ve fought your way out the other side – the deepest strength is required for not fighting. The biggest fight any of us will ever face is : no fight at all.

My ancestor did it. He wore gloves in a world of bare-knuckle boxers; he went the distance in a world of “fight until someone is down,” though it was a new thing and I bet he came under much criticism. Perhaps his nickname “Gentleman” began as a mockery, schoolyard bullies giving him a title to wear through the ages – he turned it into fame. His courageous blood lives in my veins. I can do this.

Boxing Fueled by Veggies Experiment day 10

it’s only day 10 of following a vegetable-based diet.
No meat, no dairy, extremely minimal processed foods– a diet consisting mainly of home-juiced green veggie juices (with a limit of one fruit), power foods smoothies (chia seeds,maca,cacao,berries,wheatgrass, chlorella…)
vegetable stir fries, miso soup, nuts & fruit as snacks, and some tofu, some rice & some oatmeal…
having a history of anemia, thinking I *needed* animal protein, I was scared to do this…I thought I would feel weak and tired – especially when boxing. I had tried to follow a vegan diet before, but had become so exhausted & ill, I was reluctant to do this again – until I listened to some IIN lectures and realized that I’d been working for a lawyer at the time and I’d been so rushed, I had relied mainly on processed foods. Not Good.
Could my exhaustion have been from processed foods & not enough leafy green vegetables? I decided to find out.

Day 10: after an hour of impact (including focus mitts), drenched with sweat, I felt like I had just had the warmup. I needed another hour of class. I jumped rope after class & still felt like…when’s class going to start?
I’m going to continue this experiment with my eyes open for changes, but I’m thinking that there is plenty of protein to be found in vegetables, especially kale & broccoli…mushrooms are a powerhouse…”protein complimenting” is not necessary (ie. eating beans w/rice to make a “complete protein”–I have not been eating beans.) it’s just important to stay away from processed foods and eat lots of greens, and actually pay attention to chewing your food well–during the chewing a lot of important sh*t happens, yo!

veggie-fueled boxing!  I’m excited.