An escape, 46 years in the making
There’s a lot of things I’ve not done in my life. I’ve never won a jackpot, never wore snakeskin pants or run a marathon. Not yet published a full novel, jumped out of an airplane nor eaten worms. But the one that was on my mind as my latest birthday rolled around this year was this: I have never been actually away, on a trip, by myself. Sure I’ve been on trips to meet up with girlfriends or visit family and traveled there and back alone. But have never gone away alone where the purpose was to be ... alone. Three kids, an aging parent, two dogs, one cat, one husband will do that to you, sure, but mostly I think I did that to myself.
Up until last week, I didn’t have the energy, maybe some desire, but not the get-up-and-go to say – Timeout! – my turn. So my husband, sane and sweet man that he is, made that decision for me. Off I went to an exclusive retreat-like setting in the hills near San Diego. I won’t mention it by name because according to the fine print in their contract and the posted signs at every 15 yards at the facility – discretion is expected, no, demanded. What happens at This Place stays at This Place. Otherwise they might have to kill me. Especially if some celebrity ended up on another client’s Facebook page. That happened apparently, but you didn’t hear it from me.
Anyway, I had no idea what to expect and that was probably my first newly-learned data point: Just stop with the expectations –they either cause you to be disappointed or stress you out as you try to fulfill them. Trying to enjoy something too much can be a real buzz killer. I just kept an open mind – and a stash of MilkDuds in my purse in case they didn’t feed me.
Before this trip I had been working really hard to figure out why I’ve been working really hard at getting fit and healthy but not actually getting there. A week at This Place would help me drop some bad habits, retool my thinking about myself and maybe kick start a new healthier lifestyle. I reasoned that going to someplace where I could be as active as I wanted to or relax as much as I wanted to would be just what’s needed. This Place is known as a place of transition, celebration, renewal and longevity.
I’ve never been to a clinical, working spa where medical exercise and the health of your pores is taken as seriously as physical therapy would be for someone rehabilitating from a major surgery. Everything was based on longevity of life, not a quick fix on weight loss, or a fad skin care regime. I thought I’d come to work on my “core” so that I could be stronger for my kids who -- at 11, 9 and 8 – still expect me to pick them up and throw them over my head when we playing chicken in the swimming pool.
My kids don’t see what my “fitness guide” sees – me, a woman that despite being the picture of health – good posture, the right weight and body mass index, good form when doing strength training and already eating a pretty diverse and healthy diet and no scary diagnoses in her past – was heading for some lifelong issues with my back, hip, shoulder, neck and ankle.
I learned that I have about another two months of working on my body alignment before I can even begin to see lower abs again. That little area between my bellybutton and my pubic bone (what my fitness guide called the “meno-pot” – an area that served me well in bearing three children and then hung around waiting for me to bear three more .. as if) first needs to have a reawakening of tiny, unused muscles from some pretty interesting and not so hard exercises before I can see lower ab action.
She saw that my right ankle that prevents me from returning to my adult ballet class due to pain is really more of an issue with my right hip being out of alignment...and that hip’s dominant muscle development is contributing significantly to my left shoulder blade pain which I attributed to carrying children and heavy handbags. After just a week of core alignment exercises I no longer have pain in my ankle, and my shoulder and neck pain has eased. I have poked those meno-pot muscles back into life again. Lastly, a private Pilates session (which I had never done before) presented me with such a dose of honesty from the instructor that I am her new biggest fan.
She took one look at me and said, “Pamela, this (pointing to the part of the neck that we 40-something women often stretch out as the skin begins to puddle ever so slightly into layers like the Michelin man from the TV commercial) is something that can be simply corrected in a day (she did that little slicing motion with her fingertip - a little gesture meant to silently refer to plastic surgery).
She continued, "However, this (she now reffered to my slight Forward Head Posture) will be a 50-year mistake that will leave you in pain forever if you don’t become aware of it now.” Well, OK then. She next asked, “I assume you want to hear this? After all you’re here and who else will tell you this?” She then went on to tell me I had great skin and would only need a little eye tuck until I’m well past 60. Well, that’s a relief. I guess.
While getting a good education, I was also getting very regular. You know a funny thing happens when you take sodium out of your diet. You pee every hour. 24/7. I actually did not sleep well because of this until the 3rd day. Water retention, it turns out, is a bitch.
The clean food I was fed – very little dairy, no red meat, lots of seasonings but no salt, mostly plant-based, with some fish and a little chicken – turns you into a very efficient processor of nutrients and I’ll let it go at that. Now I realize this is not brain surgery, but for someone like me who never reads the manual to anything much less her own body these little “Ahas!” were adding up for me.
Another self-discovery, was that I don’t really need more sleep, just better sleep. I was up every day at 5:15 a.m. for a 5 ½ mile hike straight up the mountain and back, then breakfast and onto the first heavy cardio class by 8 a.m. I never went to bed before 10 p.m. and when I woke up the next day ... I wasn’t tired. Sore maybe, but not tired. Energy came from my mobility instead of my “relaxing”. That, and the luxury of not having to ever put on makeup or fix my hair ... I’m not even sure how many times I actually showered. It didn’t matter. There were only 20 other women all of whom had scary hair and debatable hygiene that week as well. I was quite smitten with this new way of moving and feeling and thinking ...
....And then the MilkDuds ran out. It wasn’t a big stash in my purse, just a theater size box., OK it was HUGE. But I rationed well. Two after a hike; another one just to fill that little spot where my “clean” lunch didn’t cut it. On the penultimate day, I polished off the last little morsel from civilization. I felt like that time I was in India and sustained myself for a few days eating only M&Ms. It was a real bummer when the M&Ms ran out and I was forced to eat street food from a vendor whose cart straddled an open sewer. But I exaggerate – not about India, but about my dependence on the MilkDuds. I just felt like it was my secret weapon while I was there. My daughter sucks her thumb. I nurse off of MilkDuds. Don’t judge.
I’m now back to reality but with a much healthier outlook on my lifestyle. I met some incredible women: some just like me, some nothing like me at all. Some — all I know about them is that they ordered double portions at dinner; others — I know more about them now from 25 miles of hiking than I do about many of my own relatives. That kind of connection is priceless – well actually it had a big price tag but I try not to think about it. But hey, I walked a labrynth in a yukata while scenes in my head flashed me back to my childhood days of watching Kung Fu — that doesn't come cheap.
I am so grateful to be able to do this at a time in my life that I can actually appreciate it, learn from it and not regret that I didn’t do it sooner. I would have just worked on the computer through all my free time if I did such a trip in my 30s. Lately, I don’t have days where I feel like I’m filling time in between meals. My head is clearer, my skin, too. My daily mobility has picked up tremendously...ah but that family of mine and carpools and volunteer obligations and the house and everything keeps battling me for every last minute of free time. My children really missed me and my husband kept them all alive for me until I got back and so what more could I ask? Maybe two weeks next year.
This is an original post by Pamela Weiss for the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.