What got you into this stuff anyway?

In a previous blog I shared my first encounter with a female bodybuilder. When I saw her, it occurred to me for the first time, contrary to what I had believed, girls can be muscular. Somehow, at 8 or 9 years old I knew that correlated into girls can be strong too. I also knew that if I was strong and muscular, I could better protect myself. What did I need “protection” from? My family and old belief systems that they had learned and been teaching me.

What I learned prior to my epiphany that girls could be strong:

I was an unwanted accident

Girls are weak

Girls are not as important as boys

My opinion doesn’t count

My rights as a human don’t count

It’s acceptable to be physically abused

It’s acceptable to be mentally abused

It’s acceptable to be verbally abused

It’s acceptable to be ignored

It’s acceptable to be sexually molested by friends and family

I matter the least

I should be quiet

Being a good fighter is very important

Never lose a fistfight

Never tell on anyone

I don’t have the right to protest anything I don’t like

Being an adult will be fun because I can drink

Drinking is fun

Drinking is cool

Adults drink a lot

Drinking and driving is normal

Drinking first thing in the morning is normal and acceptable

Giving babies a little whiskey is ok if they cry

Adults drink and gamble and it’s fun

It’s normal for family members to fistfight

Physically attacking someone is ok if they make you mad

It’s normal for family members to put you down

It’s normal for family members not to like you

It’s normal for family members to be sexual with you

My comfort and safety are not important

Being a bully is cool

People will like you if they are afraid of you

No other kids can play with me because my family and I are “trouble.”

It’s good to intimidate people

Yelling is a good way to get what you want

Violence is a way of life

Throwing and slamming things is a good way to control people

Beating people up is a way to get people to like you

Intimidating people is power

Having people afraid of you makes you strong

Animals are disposable

Money isn’t important

Sports for females isn’t important

I am weak

I am small

I am stupid

I can’t learn

I shouldn’t have been born

It’s normal to come home to an empty house after school

It’s ok to smoke cigarettes

I’m sure there are more negative lessons I learned prior to the age of 8. I was already very familiar with alcohol, smoking and sex. I was a bully to other kids my age, especially boys because that’s what I was learning to do at home. Now, there were some good times too and I do remember them but in recovery, we must dredge up everything to get to the root of the cause of our dependency.

We had family vacations. We owned timeshares in Hilton Head.  I had aunts and uncles that owned beach houses at the Jersey shore and got to have a lot of fun. I had bikes, video games, toys. I never worried about money, our home, food or anything like that. We were upper middle class and white. It would seem like we had a great life. My parents didn't divorce. We went to private schools. We were Catholic. Irish/Italian mixed. Full of dysfunction and addiction that we all inherited and impacted us in one way or another.

In order to survive though, I knew I needed to fight. I was too small to defend myself, so my pursuit of muscle and strength began. First, I began training on my brother's home gym equipment. I also talked my neighbor into signing me up for soccer and I would ride my bike around the block till my legs couldn’t go anymore or the pedals came off. Of course, I could never share any of this with anyone because of how unusual it was for a girl to want these things. This was where my isolation began. People had failed me. The weights were giving me the power I craved so badly.

I began watching soccer on tv to try to get better at my skills. I would see all males in every sport on ESPN. So, that’s who I compared myself to. I tried going to girls' summer camps but they were boring to me. So, I went to boys’ soccer camps. At least the kids there were able to keep up with me and that was more fun. I could beat most of them up and they knew I would, so I didn’t get picked on. Then I saw Corey Everson’s weightlifting show. I would videotape every episode and copy everything she did. I had the weights. But never did get the cool outfit. At 12 I had my first gym membership, which I kept for 28 years. At 14, I was bench pressing 135lbs and weighed 90lbs. Kids were accusing me of using anabolics. “What are anabolics?” I would ask. It took me another 13 years to find them.

In those 13 years, I continued to train. Even though in High School, I had begun using drugs, I still found time to lift weights. I wanted to go to boot camp in the military because of how hard I had heard it was. I went to the Marine recruiter next to the hair salon I was working when I was 16. They giggled and told me to go to the Army. By the time I had gotten to the army I was already partying every night and was hanging out with some of the “bad” crowd. Some of those guys were older and before long I had a crush on one of them and he beat and raped me. I didn’t know I was pregnant until I was halfway through. I didn’t show and I never had had a regular menstrual cycle due to my active nature. This is a story in itself but this person took me away from my family to another state where I was watched 24/7 and a block had been put on the phone so I couldn’t call home. Eventually, I got a hold of a friend of mine and she got me out. I was already pregnant and only 18. Another friend took me to a Women’s Shelter, where they helped me get away from my abuser. This was another reason for me to push even harder to get strong and muscular. “Nobody will ever do this to me again.”

In the gym, I would work hard but I just never paid much attention to the people around me, unless they were bigger and stronger than I was. If that was the case, I usually didn’t encounter any issues. Those I was stronger than would just walk away from where I was training. I had to have other people point it out in order to even notice. My friends would notice people staring and making comments. At first, it crushed me. Why wouldn’t anybody like me the way I am? Not my family, not strangers, I isolated a lot, so I didn’t have many friends. Lifting was all I had a lot of the time.

Not until after my second child was 2 years old did I begin to compete in bodybuilding. I was a vegetarian and gained 20lbs for my first show, which I did naturally. I weighed 123lbs. I remember drinking coffee in the morning to try to “drop water.” I came in 2/3 place and was determined to win my next show. Which I did and then continued down a 16-year road to finally earning my IFBB Pro status. And continued drinking alcohol throughout the entire time (except when I was pregnant and nursing my babies).

It wasn’t until I worked with John Meadows in 2012 that I learned that I am not only strong for a girl. I am strong! All this time I hadn’t realized. I was always comparing myself physically to males. This was the beginning of would be my Powerlifting career. But I was still drinking and didn’t want to do powerlifting till I earned my IFBB Pro card. I worked against myself so hard for another 4 years while my alcohol use increased exponentially. I cut out my carbs and drank instead. But the toxins from the alcohol prevented me from coming in my best. And I just wasn’t good enough. Not till I cut it out, completely.

Most of my family is alcoholic. To my knowledge, only one of us is drug (heroin) addicted. All sides. Many are on the “wagon” now. Most are not in recovery. Some still drink openly. Some try to hide it. Not drinking and being removed from my family has provided me the availability to see things for how they are and not take any of these things personally. I am even able to feel empathy for the members of my family who have hurt me in the past because they were hurt and may still be sick and suffering. In recovery, I am able to love them from afar. To no surprise, heart disease, stroke, and cancer all run in my family as well. On my Dad’s side, the longest living relative died at 82. All my Dad’s siblings had fatal heart attacks. My bother has had two strokes. I’m determined to beat those odds and I have the best chance if I abstain.

I share with my children, “the purpose of being an adult is to undo all of the fucked up shit that your parents did or didn’t do for you. Now, have at it.” I learned all of these things and didn’t learn how to be undependent until I was in my early 40’s. I’m still learning. I hope I always will. But now I need to pass on what I’ve learned in order to break the family cycle and continue onto a path of light and love. That’s the path we are all truly meant for.

For me, I found 12 step programs to be very helpful. I’d like to share the 12 steps of Codependency with you. I chose codependency because this is the root of all addiction and personality disorders, not to be confused with mental disorders. The two are comparable, but not the same and mental disorders are more severe and can require professional help, where personality disorders may or may not.

Here are the 12 steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other co-dependents, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.

Here’s another way to look at them:

1.)  Powerlessness over a person, place, thing or substance. This is the only step that must be done perfectly and 100%

2.)  Hope that we can be restored to sanity. We can and will if we do the work.

3.)  Surrender yourself to a power greater than you. You are not the end all be all. God is. Pick whatever “God” or spirituality you want.

4.)  Inventory. Make lists of all people and institutions who have harmed us and who we have harmed. This is a fearless and honest activity that will teach you more about yourself than any other activity you’ve probably ever done.

5.)  Confession. To another trusted human being. This is where we find out the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.)  Readiness. That was really hard work. We are now ready to have these defects of character removed from our being.

7.)  Asked, or in my situation, begged God to help us remove these defects and to help us to live out HIS will, not our own because our will is no damn good.

8.)  Make a list. From step 4, take the list of those you have harmed.

9.)  Make amends. Unless there is a restraining order or you’re just trying to manipulate yourself back into a codependent relationship.

10.) Continue Inventory. Every night. “Was what I said necessary, true or hurtful? Was there anything I could have done better?” This one we do every day, for the rest of our lives. We may need to make amends again. Do so as soon as possible.

11.) Contact with God, the universe or your higher power through prayer or meditation

12.) PASS IT ON. Here’s where Dave Tate and I realized we are in tune with one another. After having a spiritual awakening, we get an understanding of what we’ve experienced (live), the steps to recovery (learn), and shared these experiences with others to help them recover too (pass on).

Prior to learning and doing these steps, I didn’t know how to live. I took a lot of things personally. I was an asshole because I had been neglected, abused and love-starved. I didn’t know anything about loving myself. I was never good enough. What the hell was there to love? These steps have saved my life. They have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, possibly millions by now. Anybody who adheres to these steps and uses them in all their affairs will have better lives. Here’s a shortlist of gifts I’ve received in sobriety:

60 days sober: I purchased the car of my dreams

75 days sober: Competed in my first IFBB Pro show

90 days sober: I earned two IFBB Pro cards by winning Over 35 and Over 40 Heavyweight and Overall Female Bodybuilding

120 days sober: my son re-entered my life

6 months sober: Became a personal trainer in South Florida

7 months sober: Went to Elitefts Summit and trained at S5

8 months sober: Started an online training business

12 months sober: Bought a house with a pool

15 months sober: Broke state, national and world records in my first Powerlifting meet

16 months sober: Got engaged

18 months: started fixing my credit score.

The gifts have not stopped coming. I have not stopped appreciating each one. I am on borrowed time. I shouldn’t be alive. But I am and I need to find out why. Hopefully, my story gives you hope or enlightenment. It really doesn’t matter where you came from. You can change your life. It is up to you. Twelve-step programs have helped me. It might be worth looking into for yourself as well. Thank you for following along!