In 1999, my mom took me to my very first bodybuilding show. Of course, I had seen them on t.v. but never in person. We went to support one of the trainers at our gym. We watched her dramatic transformation and had been cheering her on and wanted to see her through to the stage.

Since I had started weight lifting and playing soccer when I was nine, I was already in good shape when we went to see our friend at Joe Dodd's Mr & Ms. Trenton Bodybuilding Championship. At this time, the two female divisions were Female Bodybuilding and Fitness. None of the other divisions had been born yet. My mom turned to me and said, "you could do this." Mom had been referring to the Fitness girls. "I could have done this. But you wouldn't let me take gymnastics lessons." "I didn't want to have to sit and wait with the other Mom's, I worked all day." In my head, I knew part of what she said was true. I definitely could do this. Not fitness, because the routines had mandatory gymnastics moves back then.

Our friend came in second place to another girl who dwarfed her. Now, that was something I wanted. When I saw the other girl's muscles and definition, it felt as if electricity struck me and energized me. "That's a big bitch." I am going to be a big bitch too. But, I weighed maybe 100lbs at the time. I was also a vegetarian, part-time aerobics instructor, hairstylist, full-time student, and single mom. I had been lifting weights for a good 15 years already. I started drinking raw eggs when I was 12 years old.

I walked into the weight room at the gym. I walked up to two very muscularly built men who were talking. Both of them were cops, one retired. I went on the bench and started adding weight that was way beyond my capabilities. "Pop," who I am still friends with today, gave me my first spot.  Not too many girls ventured into the weight room back then. These were good guys and they looked out for me when I was in the weight room. It became quickly obvious that I wasn't playing around. I came to "chew gum and kick-ass" and I was "all out of gum." Within a year I had gained 23 pounds and was ready to do my first show, which was, in fact, the following year's Mr. & Ms. Trenton Championship.

There were no "coaches" back then. Just meatheads. I had found my way into Trenton to Joe Dodd's Man's World gym. This was June and it was hot out. Joe was an eccentric. The gym was dark, had no air, was smelly and rusty. There were huge, muscular men and women working and sweating. I absolutely loved it! Joe was a bit of a junk collector so you would also see odd things around the gym, like a suit of armor and Lord knows what else. He was sweet and loved everything about training and bodybuilding. Always eager to help anyone out to get on stage. He lost so much money renting huge venues to host his Trenton restricted show. I could sense a deep empathy and good nature underneath his huge muscular build. I related to him, but I didn't have the muscles yet.

I came in second place to a girl who had clearly known what she was doing. She had been training at Man's World for a long time and was in "the know." I began hanging around there more and visiting other gyms that were known for being "hardcore." Remember, there was no internet. No "coaches." Just us meatheads. We had to rely on one another. I attended every show I could. I test judged so I could sit among the judges to learn exactly what they were looking for. I bought every VHS of every Mr & Ms. Olympia I could get my hands on and watched each one till I had every posing routine memorized. I went to the only Pro show that was close to me which was the Night of Champions (now known as the New York Pro).

Two years and 65 pounds later, I prepped for my second and third shows that I would win both the heavyweight and Overall in. You can imagine at this point how fluffed my ego was becoming. I'm getting to know people, people are getting to know me. I was now training at Diamond Gym in Irvington, NJ and being trained by John Kemper (my first actual "coach"/bodybuilding dad). I was on the judge's panel. Then the NJNPC Athlete's rep and was winning overall's at local shows. "I'm going to do the USA's and turn pro within three years." Yep. Sure. How bout, nope? My ego had created expectations in my mind. In my mind, I had already "earned" my pro card. It should be given to me. I am entitled to it. Have you felt this way about anything in your life? If so, I'm here to tell you that you aren't entitled to shit. Nothing. Nada. Get that nonsense out of your head now. After a near-death experience from a diuretic overdose, I landed a whopping 13th place as a middleweight at my first (of sixteen) Pro qualifiers.

My first dose of humble pie sure didn't taste too good but it was the best medicine I could possibly receive. It was at this point I began working with my first official coach, Justin Harris. I had been grossly under-eating and doing way too much cardio. Sometimes, we need to work smarter, not harder. Pain is something I am very familiar with. I thought if I wasn't in pain from overtraining and over dieting, I wasn't trying hard enough. This is why I strongly suggest hiring a coach. The catch to hiring a coach is that you need to listen. I followed everything Justin said, except abstaining from alcohol. I'm pretty sure I didn't mention it. This way I could pretend I wasn't drinking.

The following year my placings at Jr.Nationals and the USA Championship shot up to 4th in both shows. There went my expectations again. Also, my complacency and sense of entitlement increased. One Pro qualifier after the next, I would move up, place top five and then fall down the ladder again. I did this for the next several years. Drinking through every offseason and prep. More and more. "I should already be a Pro. I deserve it." I didn't "deserve" shit. I hadn't earned it. I made the sacrifices I was comfortable making. I didn't make the sacrifices I NEEDED to.

My sense of entitlement leads me to more drinking. When you think you deserve something and don't get it, that can lead to a lot of confusing emotional pain. I self-medicated with booze. I hid from reality. I continued to expect things from people and organizations, which led me to a life of pain and intolerance. Not until I learned to accept situations that I could not control, and to be proactive in changing the things I was able to control, I could not find happiness. Nor could I turn Pro.

From page 417 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

I'll never forget the first time I read this. We can be personally responsible for many of our outcomes. We can change our own behaviors and outlook on life. When we do this our life changes. Things start happening, for the better. We become able to let go of people, places and things that are no longer serving us. Our relationships become more meaningful. We live our truth and stop taking on the burdens of others. Consequentially, we stop being resentful for the things we do and don't want to.

I turned Pro on my 90th day sober. This is no coincidence. I have a timeline of life long bucket list items that I have achieved just by accepting life on life's terms, which was only 3.5 years ago. That entire time, all I needed to do was be honest with myself. Unfortunately, I had to hit a few rock bottoms before I could do this. I found myself in a Twelve Step Program, where I learned a simple way of life. I learned acceptance. I let go of resentments. I take ownership of my behavior. At the end of every day, I ask myself, what were my motives today? Were the things I said true, necessary or kind? I check in with myself. In the morning, I pray for wisdom to know how to help my fellow man. I do my best to do the next right thing and above all else, I do NOT drink.

If you can find acceptance, let go of resentments and take personal responsibility, you too will see there are things that you are capable of that are beyond your WILDEST imagination. I hope that you are able to. I hope that you can learn to let go of old, tired, unproductive thoughts and behaviors that are holding you down. I believe you can. If I can, I know you can. I believe in you. I'm just waiting for YOU to believe in you.