"Discipline" bench - Trophy Point at the United States Military Academy at West Point
Photo by Dave Lowe / Unsplash

A researcher asked me about how my discipline helped me deal and heal. It's quite the tale. Here are some stories along the way.

Dear Saga Readers: I was recently sent an interview question of the HARO site (Help a Reporter Out). The researcher was looking for a story around how I have dealt with my migraines (which can be up to thirty a month, not joking) and the various medical issues I've juggled. This is what I wrote her. For those of you not familiar with my background, this is one way to understand why I do what I do and what motivates me)

First, some context. I left home at sixteen to escape my incestuous brother and an alcoholic father. I was already self-sufficient and making my own way with a job and an apartment. I'd hitched across the country from my visit to Colorado at 18, and had sufferd a terrible accident as well caught my father's smoking Jones.

When I was 19, I smoked five packs a day. I also had a severed Achilles' tendon. When I went to my doctor in Florida to take the cast off, Dr. Steele, a lifelong smoker, said two things: You will always walk with a limp and you will never quit smoking. The next day I was out at my middle school, forcing myself to speed-gimp around the track, gasping in pain and coughing my lungs out. I never smoked again, and after a few weeks, I never limped, either.

When I was 23, a senior officer in the Army asked me out on a date. I didn't know that I was the party favor at a sex party in some remote, dark Denver neighborhood. There were no cell phones in 1976 and no Uber or Lyft. I had no way out and nowhere to report it. I was raped and abused by twelve different people, both sexes. While drugged and strapped to a gurney for surgery later that year I was wheeled into a side room and assaulted by a doctor.

That year I was raped repeatedly by the very psychiatrist to whom I was assigned for treatment for the abuses. I bit down hard on my tongue, turned myself into a fine soldier and soldiered on. I paid for that with decades of eating disorders which cost me my natural teeth, a heart attack and likely much more.

In 1987 I weighed 205 lbs. I was living in Australia. I was a runner (I put the cracks in the sidewalk). I looked in the mirror and said, Women over thirty just get fat. Suffice it to say I was FURIOUS with that. That same weekend my local triathlete came by my house. Saturday, we ran eight miles. Sunday, he taught me to ride my twelve-speed bike. One year later I was down 85 lbs and never looked back.

I still had a compulsive eating disorder but by this time, at least what I swallowed was healthy. This year I celebrate 35 years, albeit I am carrying my quarantine ten. That's very different from 85.

In 2010 I used that discipline to write and publish a book in nine months.

In 2011, after battling those disorders for years, I was on my first big trip to Thailand. At a motel, waiting for a trip out to sea, I bought scads of my favorite cookies. Then, two days before my 58rth birthday, I wrote: I can be doing this at 95 or stop right now.  I got up, gathered up my cookies, and delivered them to the staff. Never looked back.

The eating disorders were gone forever.

In 2011, I had an injury from cross training. I had knee surgery, and my doctor of osteopathy told me that I should be happy with 85%. Eighteen months later I sent him a photo of myself standing on top of Kilimanjaro, with the caption, "this is what 85% looks like." Within six months I'd gone on to do Macchu Picchu and Everest Base Camp. I completely redirected my life at 60. I sent him photos of those trips, too. At 65 I climbed Mt. Kenya. To do that you have to train and train and TRAIN. Natch, I had simply redirected my energy to training.

I've had migraines since 1973. These days I have severe CMC arthritis in both hands, arthritis beginning on the tops of both feet (from damage done on a hike in Canada).  I hurt all the time. What I do is every single thing I can to stay in the game. I keep on working out. I wear splints or use hooks to do weight work when I can't grasp with my left hand. I've had life-threatening injuries in Kazakhstan and Iceland whereupon I got up despite a broken back and a smashed pelvis, got myself to safety, then worked like a banshee to rehab. In both cases I was back on a horse in six weeks.

Three years ago I began the process of choosing a new place to live. I packed up and stored five bedrooms' worth of goods by myself, then moved them into storage until the house sold and and the rest into my own basement. Then as the house went on the market, I moved all those same boxes and all the furniture back upstairs for staging. Then into a moving van. Then out of the moving van into a storage facility. Then en route from Denver to Eugene I flipped my car at 65 mph (kidney stone). I had one arm down and a foot down.

Still, one-handed, I loaded all those boxes into my car trip by trip to my new house, then schlepped them upstairs to unpack. By myself, but for furniture bigger than I was. One-handed, with a foot down.

When the forest folks unloaded a cord of wood into my driveway, I schlepped all three thousand pounds of it, one-handed, with one foot down, up the hill to stack it behind my house.And twice more since then even as my hands have been crippled with arthritis.

You could legitimately argue that I suffer from OCDs. You'd be right. They developed when my big brother began molesting me as a child. I've had to learn how to redirect that energy into positive outlets. The voices in the head can really be deafening to a girl child, and when you turn into a strong woman, they get far louder.

I do not have family. No husband, kids, cousins, uncles aunts. Nobody. If I don't do it, in many cases, it doesn't get done. So I train, focus, train and focus. I have learned how to ask for help when I need it, and when to train for work where the value of having the strength and discipline outweigh the value of the assistance. There is a very important line. I'm not always good about requesting help, especially from men, as that road has led to emotional perdition.

Now, to my readers on Saga. As I read your comments and input, I am also balancing those aspects of my life which have skewed sideways at times, and which I am sometimes frustrated that I cannot lean into as I used to. At least right now. As each of you has asked about weight loss, maintenance and strength training as we age, that is also my journey as I settle in here and remake myself going forward.

Some days that legendary discipline fails me completely. In the completely normal, messy muddle of a late-in-life move, Covid, and multiple injuries, I am battling finding my way back to the great clarity that has been my mainstay. It's normal, given the level of upheaval, for those things we count on to either crumble entirely or need to be rebuilt. Sometimes what served us our entire lives ends up not serving us.

Can I find it again? I suspect what I may well find is some version of it, for I most certainly need it going forward, albeit perhaps not as rigid. As Nalini wrote about recently, her ability to heal herself after a stroke in the High Sierras may well have been a product of her martial arts and Tibetan Monk training. So for me, there are those throughlines we can count on, even though there are moments, even long moments, when they feel cut off completely.

My legendary discipline didn't leave me forever. It is on hiatus for a while, as I settle into a new life, which takes time, and let go of so many things that didn't work, and look at rebuidling for a future that isn't clear yet. It may never be. However what is clear is that when I need it, that discipline will surface again.  I already use it to produce many, many articles, and when I am ready, will need to dip my spoon into it to prep for Kilimanjaro in earnest.

I will also need to tap into it to be patient with my process, rather than vilify myself for the inevitable side trips, temptations (that chocolate!) and the sometimes frustrating recovery process post-surgery, two of which are coming, one in June.

Discipline, when used with love, leads to resilience. We can bend with the winds, rather than break ourselves in their teeth. It is just as much discipline to learn to be patient and in process as it is to bull through when life requires it. Part of my journey is to know when to do either. And that is most certainly Goddess work.

Photo by Fransiskus Filbert Mangundap / Unsplash