Five Minutes

Five minutes is a recurring theme when I try to make changes in my life. I know myself well  and I know that if I try to make wholesale, black and white changes it does not work for me. When I decided to quit smoking my intention was to ‘try’ and not really commit to never smoking again. In fact, I carried cigarettes around with me for 2 weeks and told myself if the craving was still this bad in five minutes I could have one. Well, the craving was never that bad in five minutes and to this day I have never had a drag of a cigarette. The day that I had my last cigarette was April 21, 1991. It has been a very long stretch of ‘five minutes.’ I don’t have urges to smoke anymore. I am no longer addicted to nicotine and I can’t stand the smell of it as it gives me a headache now. The weird thing is that I smoke in my dreams. At least once a week I have a dream where I am smoking. It is hard to fathom how powerful an addiction smoking is for some people.

I am going to meander a bit but I need to do that in order to get to the place I want to go. When we were children my mother married a man who liked to hike and cross-country ski. We had never been active as kids except that it was the seventies and everyone played outside all day and all evening. We rode bikes, I had a pogo stick and we played a lot of hide and seek. Enter my step-father. At first he would just take my mother backpacking. They would be gone for long stretches of time and we kids had to stay with my grandmother (I will leave this hell for another post…). Then they decided that we should come backpacking with them. I was horrified. We had always camped and gone fishing but we were in a trailer. I knew that I hated the sun, got sick in it and I was paranoid about stinging insects.

Our first trip was to a place called ‘Egypt Lakes.’ It is in behind the Sunshine mountain ski resort. So, the first thing we had to do was climb the ski hill. It was raining and at 8 years old I was carrying 35 pounds. My step-father decided how much each of us would carry based on our weight and I was heavy. My sister only carried 15 pounds. I was not a happy camper to say the least. I was also pigeon-toed as a kid and the hiking boots I was in did not have the corrective soles on the bottom. This trip was 8 miles of up and down hills and over mountain passes – 2 of them to be exact. The rain was torrential and I hated every fucking minute of it. To me it was hell. As I got progressively tired my feet got in my way and I spent most of the last 2 miles going 1, 2, 3 splat as I tripped myself. Instead of getting encouragement I got told to get up. After a while I was told that if I fell one more time I would be spanked. I knew he meant it. So I cried. What other coping skills does an 8 year old have?

These backpacking trips carried on for years. We walked about 200 miles a summer. Part of the goal was that they would put me on a diet and force me to walk all summer with increasing amounts of weight on my back. In the heat. While everybody else got M&Ms and cashews for energy, I got water because, according to my stepdad, I was packing around enough energy already. He would say these things in front of other adults. Sometimes the people with us would give me a look that let me know they were horrified by his treatment of me. Then there were the times I fell behind. I could not keep up with everyone and there were times I was scared out of my wits because there would be a fork in the path and no one would wait to tell me where to go. These trips were all done in the backcountry where there were wild animals and I was afraid I had been abandoned. Invariably, he would come back for me with a willow switch in his hand and hit the backs of my legs all the way up the trail. I did the only thing I knew how to do – which was to cry. I would have heat stroke, I would be exhausted and I would be hypervigilant for stinging insects. Oh and I hated to get dirty.

One particular trip stands out for being especially horrible. We were doing the Contintental Divide that started in Jaspar. We spent a lot of time in the open under the beating sun at quite high altitudes. We were going along and I stepped into what I thought was a mud puddle. It wasn’t a puddle it was a sinkhole and I had to be pulled out. I was wearing heavy duty canvas pants and they were caked with mud. He made me rinse them out (I was in my underwear) and he strapped them to the back of my pack so they would dry. We didn’t stop though – I had to walk in my underwear. I was completely humiliated.

So where is this all going you ask? Well I have given all of this background information as a way to explain why I hate to walk. I hate to hike. I hate the heat. I have not been able to get past this in over 30 years. I think these experiences were truly traumatizing. I always suffer in the summer because I am hot and I think it takes me back to those days. My anxiety is way out of whack again and I need to find a solution.

I have known for a long time that I needed to do something about getting some exercise. I have chronic pain and anxiety and physical activity or at least improving my level of physical fitness is imperative. I am not prepared to restrict food as I already have so many restrictions on what I can eat due to the gastroplasty I had in 1997 and now my colitis. Some foods don’t go down and others make me very sick.  After thinking about my options I decided to get a treadmill. It is something I can use indoors and not have to worry about getting overheated because I can put the air conditioner on.

Here is where five minutes comes into play. I know that I can do just about anything for 5 minutes. My commitment to myself is to try and do 5 minutes everyday. I know that there are going to be days where I just can’t bear to do it. Yesterday was one of those days. I was exhausted and over-heated and probably I would have been sick today if I had forced it. But I managed to do it every day for 7 days and I have done it for today. I have already noticed some benefits in my daily life.

After writing this I can see now where a lot of the issues I have with anxiety, abandonment and control have come from. Being forced to do something I detested as a child has made me very stubborn and a need to have control in my life. My fear of abandonment knows no bounds – it is constantly there. Summer and the heat brings up a lot of this for me and I don’t think I have ever realized before how much those summer backpacking and hiking trips had affected me. Oh and then there are the cross-country skiing trips…another day.

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Published in: on July 18, 2009 at 11:45 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Shit. Wow.

    I’m pretty speechless and that doesn’t happen to me much.

    I will just say that I’m glad you’ve come to a place of awareness around this trauma and how it affects you today.

    The five minute thing is an excellent strategy. Often, setting the loftier goals only lead to disappointment. It’s all about setting reasonable goals and going from there once you’ve attained a sense of accomplishment.

  2. I agree that the 5 minute strategy is brilliant. I think a lot of people do try to go way too fast when they make changes in their life and they are just setting themselves to not be able to sustain it.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experiences as a child. It sounds truly awful. Like WC said, I’m glad that you have come to a place of awareness of this – I think that awareness is a necessary piece of coming to peace with our experiences.

  3. Chris’ mother is still living (her stepfather died several years ago) and although the physical abuse has ended, the emotional abuse has not. I’m always very proud of Chris when she finds a new way to cope with the mental and physical anguish she lives with on a daily basis. It’s not easy, my mother-in-law is the most narcissistic person I know. It kills me that she treats Chris so badly, and I blame a great many of Chris’ issues on this never ending cycle of abuse.

    Chris does what she says she’s going to do. It’s one of the things I admire most about her (and there is a lot to admire, she’s an awesome woman). She means what she says and says what she means. 5 minutes at a time is a perfect strategy, and it’s working. Yay Chris!

  4. I think many of us who are overweight suffered humiliation at the hands of others in exercise-related areas such as gym class or the softball field, and consequently avoid those activities like the plague, but what your stepfather put you through goes far beyond humiliation.

    I hate structured exercise like sports or aerobics or pilates – no way on earth am I going to stick to those types of programs. But, unlike you, I was raised to love the outdoors, to love backpacking and hiking, by parents and youth leaders who encouraged me and chose hikes suited to my ability. So even though I struggle with my weight (I was also raised to love high fat, high carb foods!), I’m still able to find a way to get a workout.

    In other areas of my life, though, a variation of that five-minute-recipe has proven very helpful. I call it the 20-20. When I have to do housework (which I hate) I set the timer for 20 minutes – twenty minutes housework, twenty minutes doing whatever I please, twenty minutes houseowrk, twenty minutes doing whatever I please……. And slowly but surely the work gets done.

    I’m glad you found a strategy that works for you. Next I want to see a picture of you with all nine dogs trotting along on the treadmill together! LOL


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