catching my breath while running

I’ve been a runner on and off since I was twelve years old. I started running when I was in sixth grade, I would join my mom for short trail runs. She stopped running because of her knees a few years later. I got back into it my senior year of high school a little. When I went to college started to run a lot more. I loved running along Lake Michigan and through the city of Chicago.

I’ve never been fast. In fact, I’ve only got slower. I take a lot of walk breaks to catch my breath. But I’ve learned to love it more throughout the years. And I’ve learned to improve my form, which makes running easier, but also connects me with my body in a way that I think only mindful movement can.

I love yoga and used to really enjoy barre. But right now, I can’t seem to be okay with the stillness. I would rather run, lose my breath, walk, repeat. I walk until I catch my breath. But I noticed that the longer the walk break, the harder the running intervals became. I started to limit my walks to thirty seconds, which does not give me enough time to catch my breath. I had to learn to catch my breath while running.

This felt foreign and awkward. It went against everything I believed and practiced about running. I thought I needed to stop to catch my breath. I needed to stop when I felt pain. But now I was catching my breath while running.

The danger of not owning your story, is that others write it for you. Because I was assaulted as a child, I didn’t have the language to explain what happened to me. When I was older, I had to develop a new economy of language. The simpler the better. Instead of saying “I was molested when I was a child”, I started to simply refer to myself as a “survivor”. I had to go through my memories and reword them, dropping the language my parents had fed me. I had to write my own story.

Uncovering and sharing my story of being sexually assaulted has been a decade long, slow run. It took a long time to learn that I needed to. It took years to write it. It took a very long time to be comfortable in sharing it.

I have been running this whole time but stopping to take breaths when I need to. If it was ever too much, I stopped to take a break.

When I shared my story initially, I did it for myself and for every woman who has been harassed, violated, assaulted, so that they would know they are not alone. But there are other people who are impacted by the story. One reaches out to me to tell me how proud she is of me. She understands how difficult it was for me to do it.  She thinks what I did was brave. I know that she is upset by what she read but I know that she is not distraught. She was not in my life then. But she is supportive and helpful. But other times, my story has caused other people pain. There are people hurt. People I care about. They are sad, angry, confused. Because of my story.

What no one tells you about being a survivor of sexual assault and sharing your story, you are constantly catching your breath while running as fast as you can. 

I first described this as carrying the weight of others’ guilt on my back. But I now know, it is far more difficult than carrying extra weight. It’s a skill that requires two things at once.

I send him the first draft of my essay. I have edited it but it is unfiltered. There are graphic details of the assaults but also details of the fallout. I text him an hour after I sent. Then again after two. He surely has finished this 3,000 word essay by now. He was expecting it. When he finally calls me, he explains why it took him so long. “I had to take a lot of breaks. You couldn’t think that that was easy for me to read, did you?”

He continues. He wished he’d known at the time. He wished he could have done something. I interrupt him to assure him not to worry. I tell him there is nothing he could have done. I am assuming he is saying all the things he thinks he needs to say when you’re loved one shares a story like this. I tell him it’s okay because I am okay.

I am embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me that it would be so painful to read that he would have to stop reading it to recuperate. The truth is, I have been replaying these scenes in my head for over two decades. The images were so clear and imprinted in my mind for so long. I did not think it would be a fun read for him but I thought it would be sad – in a good way. I thought we would focus on how beautiful the writing was. How strong I was for doing this. But it wasn’t. It was incredibly difficult for him to read every word in graphic detail of how I was assaulted, not once, but twice.

Now I know he was talking about himself. He was trying to tell me that he was in pain reading this story. Not that he didn’t want me to post it. Only that he was one of the people he was talking about. Someone in pain.

He needed to process. It never occurred to me that he would need to process it. But I now know that loved ones of trauma survivor need to process their own pain. Because when you love someone with every cell in your body, unconditionally, and would do anything for them, your body aches when you know that they have been afflicted by pain. When they have been violated. When they have experienced anything less than the joy and love you know they deserve. I know this now because this is how I feel now that I know how much pain he was in after reading this.

Weeks after I’ve posted it, we are talking. He tells me how hard the last four months have been. We talk about the post. How difficult it was for him to read it. He was processing all that while dealing with his own life.

There was the pressure he was feeling at work and from family. How his friend took his own life. How he couldn’t talk to me about this stuff because he feared putting more shit on me while dealing with my fallout after losing my job. He did not have someone to process any of it with. And while that was his choice and I can’t do anything about the fact that he chose not to share those other parts of his life with me, I did take away his option to process my story of sexual assault. He had been trying to process it with me and I told him not to worry about him because I was thinking about myself.

I realize now, how much pain he was in. I have been running since I was seven years old. And I ran faster when I was thirteen. I was used to the exhaustion. My muscles aching. My lungs filled to the point of collapse. And I could walk sometimes. Block it all out. This was my life for two decades. I could do this. I have to live with my trauma every day, which does not mean I am suffering each day, but it does mean that I have to navigate the world carrying my trauma with me on a daily basis.

Now that I’ve shared my story, I can’t stop running whenever I choose. I have others involved. I had to learn to catch my breath at the same time. And sometimes that means I have to feel my own pain, while feeling their grief. That’s what makes it a weird feeling. Simply, because it makes it harder for me does not make it wrong. If I believed that, the same logic could be used against me – i.e. sharing my story caused them pain, making it bad.

We like to our emotions to be neatly categorized. Right and wrong. Good and bad. But what we experience and feel on a daily basis so rarely fits neatly anywhere. When we are presented with a cacophony of emotions, we often turn to anger. We’re angry we are sad and in pain. But mostly, we’re angry because we don’t know what category to choose. The emotions we experience after trauma will never be easily explained or identified. But what if we didn’t have to categorize our emotions as bad or good?

It’s not as simple as carrying their load on my back. Because that would imply that their load is negative. But it’s not. It is not born of hatred or jealousy of me. It is forged in the fires of love. They are in pain because they love me. It’s a side effect of unconditional love.

It feels good to learn this new skill. But it’s not the end of the story. Not even close. I still have to come to terms with the fact that one of my parents largely ignores this part of my past. The other does not believe the event happened. Neither of them responded to my messages letting them know I would be posting my story of sexual assault on my blog. That’s how they process it.

It’s painful to know that I cannot talk to my parents about this. It’s the most challenging part of my run. I can’t catch my breath while I’m running. I can’t stop running. Because when I am reminded of this, I can’t breathe. Every ounce of energy I have in my body is sent to my pain and my body forgets to breathe.

I try to be gentle with my body. She’s already been through hell. So, I just remind myself that one day I will think of this and remember to breathe. I can’t do anything else. It will never be easy. Even when breathing comes naturally. Because trauma will never be a linear process. There’s no finish line.

 

Stephanie DeLacy unapologetically shares what it’s like to navigate the world as 20-something white girl, with humor, profanity, and raw vulnerability. Stephanie recounts stories of her travel, mental health, and the journey to loving her body. Her descriptions of dating are bawdy but incredibly relatable. She courageously describes her dysfunctional childhood, healing from trauma, and how she’s evolved as a survivor of sexual assault. At times, heart wrenching, her stories will evoke raw emotion and connect to you on the most guttural level. She hopes to inspire authentic living and human connection.  Stephanie lives in Cleveland with her dog and two cats.