My boxing career doesn’t have the typical fairy tale ending. I quit after my first and only professional match. I never won a world title or a championship belt in the pros. The crescendo of my story doesn’t end with my arm raised victorious in the ring. My wins came after I left the roped-off square, when I had a chance to contemplate the lessons I learned in the fight game. These lessons, which transcended into epiphanies, are my greatest reward.
Now, into middle age, I know I will never be able to capture or mimic the elation I felt inside the boxing ring, the natural high I felt after a win, the adrenaline that rushed through my veins in a fight, the adoration that fed my ego before and during matches. The only way to grasp these feelings is to box again, but punching someone out doesn’t align with who I am today.
The anger I felt decades ago, the aggression that fueled my fire in battle, is a dull roar. Yes, the anger is still there. But I’ve found other ways to cope—most importantly, the way I view the anger now and what caused my angst to begin with. This process involved taking a hard and honest look at myself, and I realized building this self-awareness is a lifelong effort, so I’m never really done. Challenges, setbacks and disappointments are a part of being human. I’m wiser from the incidents that I thought would break me. The fact is, I’m still here, and looking back, I realize my fight was never in the ring. The battle was with myself, my thoughts, my old paradigm. I had to make an inner shift; otherwise, I would have remained on that battlefield, forever unprotected.
After I quit boxing, it took years for me to find myself again by deciphering my journey in the ring, the serendipitous circumstances that led me there, and, above all, why I exposed myself to a world of hurt. After all the battles survived as a child, I immersed myself in the fight again as an adult, making the deliberate choice to expose myself to pain, once again. Yes, pain in the ring is different because boxing is a sport. But during the entire time I boxed, I knew my presence there ran deep. It was as though I was recreating the pain I endured in childhood through boxing, which gave me a place to express my rage, overpower my opponent, and command the control I never had when I was young. When I walked away from boxing, I had to find ways to transcend my anger, depression and resentment without the fight. I had to find my power in my own ring of life.
Still, boxing was a catalyst for my transformation—a sport filled with metaphors that helped me view my life differently. Boxing wasn’t about fighting in the ring. It was about fighting my self. Pugilism wasn’t about knocking out an opponent. It was about knocking out my inner demons of the past, facing my memories in the eye, and remaining fearless no matter how much they frightened me. The hardest part was learning how to embrace my darkest pain and love the broken parts of myself, and accept that some wounds can never heal. Rather, these wounds callus over, dulling the point of initial contact, serving as a reminder that survival prevailed.
When I was boxing, I believed I had found a cure for my darkness. But when I retired, I became fully aware that the sport was a welcome distraction from what I needed to confront. When I quit the sport, all my emotional pain from the past returned in full force. I no longer had the intensity of boxing to make me forget all I had gone through, and I was back at square one. But I came to a point of enlightenment that helped me establish coping mechanisms. Forgiveness was part of this process; it didn’t make me forget what happened, but I knew if I didn’t forgive, my anger would kill my spirit.
The hurt I transcended didn’t come from healing bruises and injuries I endured through training, sparring and getting punched. Healing on a physical level was easy. Healing my heart, mind, spirit and emotions was hard, and a challenge I continue to overcome to this very day. The difference between then and now is that I embrace this challenge as part of the human condition. I’ve come to realize that being alive means suffering, and this suffering is a beautiful and normal part of being human.
A few years ago, I delved deep into Buddhism, a philosophy that resonates with me, and makes more sense than any religion I experienced in my younger years—even though I continue to be grateful for the Science of Mind teaching my mother introduced me to at age twelve. The Buddhists believe “life is suffering,” and this teaching helps me navigate through life in an honest way. I’m not going to lie and say my enlightenment led to nirvana. I never reached a point of happiness, which I concluded is overrated. What is happiness anyway? Rather, I found a state of grace, which is far more poignant than happiness could ever be. As noted in Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…”
Grace is a state of being able to manage my emotions, feel my internal pain and let it flow until I come through on the other side. My past still creeps up on me from time to time, and knowing the only way out is through helps me cope. I also had to stop trying to push these feelings away, because resisting these feelings made them stronger. This reminds me of a quote by Carl Jung: “What you resist, persists.”
When I’m triggered to remember something painful from my past, I allow myself to feel the hurt in all its glory until it subsides. The memory transforms, like watching pictures on a movie screen that are separated from myself. Sometimes, when I watch these moving pictures in my mind, it feels like those things happened to someone else. And in a way, they did, because I’m no longer that person anymore. It’s almost as though I’ve lived many lifetimes as a different person in each life, all leading up until now. Today, I am the sum of all these parts. I believe there are scars that make us who we are, and without them, we wouldn’t exist. I love the scars that made me, the pain that molded my character, the experiences and circumstances that created who I am. I’ve stopped wishing those things in the past didn’t happen. It’s pointless. I can’t change history. I can only control how I react to the memories through detachment. By trying to push the memories and feelings away, I was denying parts of myself. I have to love the light and the dark, the joy and the pain, especially the pain, because the pain made me who I am.
For more inspiration, join this Saturday's Awakin Call with Alicia Doyle! More details and RSVP info here.