My therapist said I should do something physical to deal with my traumas and my ruminating. "Exercise is the best drug. It's better than alcohol," she said. I used to use both — drugs, alcohol — to disappear my fears and sadness. Intoxicated, I'd stop caring or I'd be so out of it, I'd simply not remember. But the haze of oblivion would lift after a while, and then I'd have to deal with everything all over again: the sadness, the feelings. Plus, there was also my body, unhappy and in physical pain from the wrong kind of overindulgence.
The therapist suggested yoga.
"It's active, meditative, and you can really get a break from your thoughts."
So I tried yoga.
It was stupid.
It was too relaxing; it was like trying to get bubble gum off the bottom of my socked feet, and no, it wasn't the kind of transformative experience that all my yoga-loving friends said it would be. Up and down and twist and turn and down, the gum keeping me stuck … the lulling voice, the gentle encouragements that made me think of a soft guy giving you unwanted hugs as you pass his cubicle.
I was an energetic, aggressive child with a loud, racing mind, and I am an energetic, determined grown-up with a loud, racing mind. Despite the fact that the movements of yoga were continuous and somewhat strenuous, it was all too quiet for me. It did nothing for my loud, racing mind. I needed something to shut it up. I needed something with more punch.
* * * * *
After the punishing warm-up, I wrap my hands in a soft, long strip of cloth, in complicated crisscrossing twists. The wraps protect my hands and wrists from the impact of the punch, and they go round and round my fingers and my thumb, keeping them all tight, together, in place.
The first time after I wrapped my hands, I immediately heard "Mama Said Knock You Out," by LL Cool J, in my head. I used to play that song whenever I'd get a rejection for a novel I'd submitted. I am also the kind of a person who has the word "perseverance" tattooed on her body. My life has been about getting knocked out and getting up, which is why corny inspirational tattoos and songs happen.
Unfortunately, for the past few months, it's been hard to get back up. There's an extraordinary cluster of fucks I have to give that keep me down: divorce, finding a lump in my breast, possibly losing my home, missed deadlines, unemployment, my sweet grandmother dying …
There's nothing I can do about all those external circumstances. But there are things I can do to distract myself. Besides yoga, in the past, I've tried running and swimming, and both were too monotonous to shut up the talky brain. Too smooth, too smoothly going. I tried napping, too; I broke records sleeping through my days: two, three naps a day, like a baby. But similar to drinking, that was just putting a veil over the pile of shit I still had to learn how to manage. I knew I needed something where my entire body and mind would be occupied, where I would be so out of breath that I had to think of only breathing and nothing else. I needed something that would help me get some of my sadness and aggression out but in a way that's not self-destructive. Which is why I signed up for boxing: it aligned better with my fighter personality.
* * * * *
In the documentary about boxing Champs, this line stands out to me: "Boxing, as we imagine it, is driven by a desire to annihilate the opponent. The focus is on the external. Looking at what boxers themselves say is that it's about the internal, it's about the discipline, it's about the craft. That it's not about the opponent, it's not about the external, but it's about the internal; it's about self."
Once I have the wraps on, I shadowbox, meaning I punch air. I shadowbox in front of the mirror and I look at myself: tall, too-slim-thanks-to-stress. I'm more of a ballerina than a boxer. My hair is in braids as if I were in a dance recital.