listening to a recent podcast on one of my (many) long walks, the author of the ever-popular (and whole30-esque in nature) well-fed paleo cookbooks, mel joulwan addressed the topic of comparison as being the thief of joy. it’s a pretty commonplace concept, but it caught my attention when she explained that oftentimes what sets us back isn’t comparing ourselves to others, but rather to former “better” versions of ourselves. (read that again, slowly.) deer-in-headlights epiphany moment, over here y’all. in her words:
“you are going to experience terrible things in your life, and you will find a way to rebound from them and it kind of creates a new normal. and the best way to kind of embrace the new normal is to not compare yourself with the YOU you used to be. fully embrace the YOU you are NOW and be the best version of that person that you can be.”
after enduring a kinda sorta crazy incident nearly one year ago, this just rocked my little world in a very good way. because for so long i would start a sentence with “well, but i used to be able to…” and “i remember when i could…” well, you know what my dear, that was then! and then, you hadn’t gone through half of what you’ve been through now. and in ten years, you won’t be where you are right now. so, are you going to sit here and feel sorry for what you’re not, or just embrace who you are now? (yes, that is me lecturing myself.)
with my “attackiversary” (as i refer to the looming milestone) just next week, here i am. row 18a on an orange county-bound flight, the same trek i took just one year ago. little did i know on that day - december 15th, 2016 to be precise - that upon landing + arriving in sunny socal, my life would take a devastating turn for the worse. it gives me chills to rehash this experience, a story that i've been torn to tell. but for a while now there’s been a tug on my heart to tell it. once upon a time, just one year ago… (brace yourself, it’s wild. deep breaths...)
after ubering to the condo where i stay whilst in the o.c., i made a quick protein shake, texted my team that i would be at the office in 20 + decided to go ahead + change into my fancy holiday attire since i was going straight from work to see “a Christmas Carol” with a friend. after slipping my sequin-studded top on and tugging up my leggings, i heard a loud thud; like a car had hit the building. i ran out of the bedroom before i’d finished dressing, and as i turned the corner, one leg still bare, a large burly man was barreling through the front door with what looked like a 2x4 in-hand. and he was headed straight for me, with the board overhead, ready to strike. (my heart is literally in my stomach as i relive this; my fingers quivering as type.) immediately i leaned down to pull my leggings on – not knowing what was about to happen. i thought “oh, H-to-the-E-to-the-double-L-NO…that is NOT going to happen.”
as i leaned over, he proceeded to pummel me over the back of the neck and shoulders, unrelenting as i collapsed to the ground - where later you could see streaks of my makeup down the wall and sequins strewn about. i was intent on escaping the hallway because i knew that if wanted any chance of getting away, i couldn’t let myself be cornered. screaming at the top of my lungs, “HELP MEEEEE” repeatedly, all i could hope was that like in the movies, some big strong man would come defeat the bad guy and save me. but no one came. after escaping the hallway, i could see the front door, thankfully still propped open, meaning that someone, anyone might hear my blood-curdling cries for help. my goal: get away. but with a 220-lb man as my opponent, the odds weren’t in my favor.
i managed to knock the piece of wood, which ended up being a 3-foot-long piece of the doorframe that had broken off when he busted the door down - yes, he busted through a solid-wood, dead-bolted door. this only angered him more, so stripped of his weapon, he grabbed me by my hair, threw me down, and closed both hands around my throat, attempting to strangle the life out of me. clearly this put a damper on my hopes of someone hearing my desperate pleas for help, as i literally gasped for every sip of air i could get. i very clearly remember thinking in that moment three flashing thoughts: 1) at least i get to see momma – and i know my Maker; 2) a glimpse of my 4-year-old nephew’s face, almost as though God was like, “oh no, you’ve got more to live for;" and 3) my poor father having to find me like this; his bashed + beaten dead daughter.
side note: all throughout my life, my momma would always tell me, “there’s power in the name of Jesus.” this is the same woman who, when told that she had a rare, fatal form of cancer, responded, “i serve a Big God – it is what it is.” she would always tell me, anytime you need anything just whisper “Jesus”. so, when i'm afraid, i just whisper His name under my breath + it gives me a sense of calm. i would do that when i found out my husband of five years had failed to keep our vows of faithfulness; i would repeat His name obsessively as i watched my mother take her last breaths in the hospital.
what happened next is not for dramatic effect; it was conveniently left out of the article in the LA Times, but this is what actually happened.
there i was lying on the ground with this brutal beast of a man strangling me, and out of the corner of my eye, i caught a glimpse of this very large portrait of Jesus that hangs in the entryway of my very devout-Catholic friend’s home. after the sheer terror set in that my life was clearly at risk, starting to feel weak from the ongoing struggle with a guy twice my size, and starting to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen, with all the air that i could summon, i screamed “JESUS, JESUS, JESUS” three times. and what happened next was like something you see in the movies, like a real-life david-and-goliath moment of epic, herculean proportions. something about me yelling “Jesus” either gave me the strength or caught this crazy man off-guard enough for me to push him off of me, sending his body crashing into the dining room table. i'm not sure the reason, but frankly i wasn’t stopping to contemplate the situation – i bolted for the door.
with freedom only yards away, i started to run, realizing instantly that my injured right leg wasn’t following suit, giving him time to get up and come after me again. he grabbed me by my hair yet again, ripping out what would amount to about 1/3 of my curly locks, but that didn’t stop me; it’ll grow back. we would have one more tussle on the outdoor patio where he caught me again, me still screaming; him, not a word. i started think clearly enough that i told him, “you can have anything. do you want money? i have money. take my money!” that would be the only time he let up or paused during the 10-minute struggle, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to stop him as he grabbed me by my hair and bashed my head into the stucco wall.
i remember that i fought, but i honestly couldn’t even tell you how i ultimately escaped or what happened to him next, but i got away. i limped my way down the stairs as quickly as i could, praying i didn’t fall, thinking at the time that my leg was broken, not knowing if he was following me. as i ran out into the parking lot, i saw a woman in her car and could hear that she had 9-1-1 on speaker as she yelled, “she’s coming out – i see her!!” i begged for her to let me in, which God bless her; i mean would you let a bloody mess of a woman in your car?! she had no idea if this was domestic violence or if he was armed or anything. but all that matters is that she did. from there, the pain set in. but still, i’d never felt such gratitude for life in all my 36 years. the cops went in armed after the intruder.
one thing i would learn in the months that followed, which amused me greatly: when he was arrested, they had to take him out on a stretcher. boom, don’t mess with me; i’m small, but i’m scrappy! i fought back and survived by the grace of God. and that punk is now facing potential life in prison for attempted murder.
i went on with life – because that’s what i do, but it would be a lie to say that the recovery this past year hasn’t had its share of ups and downs. ups in that i know for whatever reason, God saved me that day. in fact, leading up to the “incident,” i had just finished my friend nicole wilkins’ 30-day fitness challenge + had just started a 35-day holiday program focused on lifting that had me proudly benching 95# for the first time in years. i would often post about my workouts on social media and my sweet grandmother would comment, “honey, just be careful lifting too much weight – you don’t want to get bulky!” oh, sweet grams. post-attack talking with her and poppa on the phone, i said something to her about being glad that i was so strong to escape and her all-too-adorable response: “the Lord had you in training, my little angel.”
but i've had my down days as well, to be quite honest. while still in the hospital, i would find out that my sweet 11-year-old fur baby mylo ironically went into urgent care with a heart condition the day after the attack. rushing back to colorado to be with him, i remember watching him in the oxygen chamber just praying that he make it through - we needed each other more than ever; the pain in my heart was far greater than any bump or bruise. gratefully, we would be reunited, me with remnants of black eyes + he with a plethora of heart meds, but joyfully recovering together right before Christmas.
aside from the emotional effects, since then it’s been a year of physical therapy, chiropractic care, and dealing with the psychological effects of the trauma (like legit, do not sneak up on me or knock on my door without forewarning or y’all might just get pummeled). couple that with the one phrase that will immediately give me elevated levels of anxiety and annoyance when i mention that i'm dealing with the pain: “still???” yes, still. STILL. now, just to clarify, i am not a pansy. i don’t wince or whimper or cry poor-me. but y’all, can we just talk about the fact that literally fighting for your life against a man twice your size can do some pretty funky damage? without boring you with the details (because i've clearly rambled on long enough), it’s a menagerie of microfilament tears, torn ligaments, soft-tissue damage, torsion and twisting, misplaced vertebrae, and countless other fancy words that basically can be summed up in one word: “ouch.”
my purpose for telling this seriously insane tale – that oftentimes still just feels like a bad nightmare – is to share how it’s changed me, for the good. no, the pain is no bueno. but the newfound appreciation i have for my body? like, had i been a scrawny little 103 pounds (aka, the weight i was when i started this biz 10 years ago), i do not believe i would’ve fared so well. this little powerhouse of a bod that i've judged + shamed + valued only for what it looks like for far too long; that i examine in the mirror as a reflection of my worth. that for many years has just been there to serve me in the form of serious sweat sessions. until it couldn’t anymore. most of you have walked through the past year with me as i shared that my “injuries” slowed me to a walking halt, albeit a gangsta-limp-like gait for quite a few months. this once 6-pack-rockin’, 6-days-a-week worker-outer was stopped in her tracks. and when you can’t serve the workout gods anymore – you finally realize that maybe this incident was serving a far greater purpose. i had idolized my fitness for far too long. to be clear, God didn’t do this; but His promise is clear: He will use all things for good.
so as i sit here on the plane, ready to begin our descent into orange county, yes – i could focus on the still (yes, STILL) throbbing pain in my leg; or the ever-present ache in my lower-back, or the ever-so-often sudden panic attacks, common when you’ve survived trauma. but what would that accomplish? i choose today (and most, but not all) to focus on the fact that i'm here. given the circumstances, i'm well. and while there’s probably 15-ish pounds (i refuse to weigh) more of me to love, is it crazy to admit that i've probably never been happier in my life? don’t think for a moment that this is just some overnight realization that i'm lucky (it’s not luck) to be alive. this has been a year of reflection on just how fragile life is; a gratitude for those people in your life who show up even when they don’t have to; a realization that our earthly bodies are not to be taken for granted; but most of all, a peace in knowing that i am here for a reason.
no, i am not a 103-lb, bright-eyed, blindly-blissfully married, up-and-coming entrepreneur with the world on a string. but that sweet young girl hadn’t lived half the life that i have now. and not only have i survived, but amidst the chaos of life, i choose to thrive where God’s planted me. yes, some terrible things have happened – but you know what? i'm here. and i'm going to go to my company Christmas party this year sans black eyes + fat lip; i'm going to see “a Christmas Carol” with that same sweet friend and her daughter; i'll meet up for coffee with the same nicole wilkins who had me in prime fighting shape – and get to proudly tell her i'm back to benching my 95#; and i'll cheers a glass of wine with friends who have walked with me through every valley and victory. but what won’t happen is that for one moment i allow this or any other setback steal the JOY that this life has to offer. i may not be where i want to be, but i thank God that i'm not where i used to be.
comparison just makes you bitter; it doesn’t make you better. it’s true that comparison truly is a dirty rotten thief. satan’s aim is to steal, (literally) kill + destroy (joy). spoiler alert: he doesn’t win.
your small-but-mighty (and very grateful) chief fitlosopher,