“Do you want to be a champion?” He shouted louder this time.
I laughed as I attempted another shitty push-up. “Oh yessir I really do. As you can clearly tell from my fat belly, gangly limbs and the lingering stench of old whiskey – I am well on my way to being a real-life champion…” He watched me struggle (on my knees) to complete another would-be push up and then finally let me relax.
Session 4 done, last one of the trip, and I can’t wait to get drunk.
He looked me over and said, “I know you think I’m joking, but I’m not – keep training because I think you’ll surprise yourself, you’ve got something special in there.”
I looked away, embarrassed, and he shrugs, “Have a good trip home, Lorna.”
Shit. I was too shy to take a compliment, and too fucked up to admit that I appreciated the help. He walked out of the gym and I just sat there in a pool of my own whiskey-sweat and told myself that he’s an idiot. I couldn’t wait to get drunk.
That afternoon my friends and I went to the pub for one last blowout before my departure. Fuck that 6am flight, if I get hammered early enough I’ll be able to sleep it off. We set a timer for “the last drink” based on some idiotic calculations about alcohol metabolism and, naturally, blew straight past it. By 12am we were stumbling around the kitchen talking about sex and the horrors therein when Jeremy found a frog in someone’s shoe. Fuck its midnight.
I’m going to bed.
Three hours passed in a literal blink of my drunken eyelids and I bumbled myself out to my car at 3am. This is not my proudest moment (none of them ever were). It required every ounce of my being to stay awake and focused on the highway; as the sun rose, the whiskey in my blood became more poisonous and my head pounded. Jesus Christ… what the fuck was I thinking?
As I pulled into the airport parking lot, the trainer’s words popped back into my head, “I think you’ll surprise yourself”. I certainly did. I spewed one last time next to my car and the nihilistic drunk inside my brain laughed at the stupidity of it all because she’s a horrible person. I hated the world because I hated myself and I was so unbearably lonely for something that mattered. That was 3 years ago; despite some drastic changes to my life, the murky shadows of this character still appear because I’m not sure I’ve really gotten to the root of why she existed in the first place.
That self-hatred had been growing for a long time; I know that I am solely responsible for creating my own meaning and purpose in life but I was (and still often am) terrified of that responsibility. Little seeds of doubt about my own ability to do anything, collected over many years, developed into a core personality trait: “I AM a piece of shit”.
Eventually, I just stopped trying things; this confirmed my doubt that I was incapable of everything, and the hopelessness became concrete. Naturally, I then just went to extreme efforts to escape my own consciousness as much as possible.
The story of that period is definitely entertaining, but it’s not the subject of this essay, and it’s the same story you’ve all heard before. There’s nothing like a charming bout of Chlamydia (come on, I’m not the only one) and a short-lived meth habit to fill up pages, but we’re all better than that… And you can read about it someday anyway in my book that’s still pending completion underneath a pile of my other abandoned dreams.
The subject of this little post is that DOUBT – the true unsung hero of my debaucherous past, and the unwanted guest of my present. Why do I doubt my ability to do anything? Why am I afraid to try/to learn? What is my REAL motivation to do or not do anything?
I didn’t want to be a champion then, because the idea of “being a champion” seemed brainless, temporary and meaningless. And it still does, if I’m completely honest. My whole life, I’ve been the shithead on the sidelines making fun of the champion out of an odd blend of envy and apathy. I for sure wanted that validation, but simultaneously knew it was meaningless. This left me with a terrible ache of dissatisfaction and hopelessness that has fueled every bad decision I’ve ever made.
What is the point of doing anything hard if we all just die and the world moves on regardless?
This creeping doubt is at the core of me, in everything that I do, and in a recent fight I discovered what happens when I allow that doubt to take control of me. Apathy might look cool when you’re smoking weed at the front of a punk show, but it certainly doesn’t look cool in a Muay Thai fight and the inevitable result is getting your face kicked in, hard…
Time slows down on fight day; my perception of the world narrows during the course of the day like a camera lens zooming in to focus. Anything that isn’t directly related to the fight falls away outside of my awareness, while the sensations of my body and my mind become clear and sharp.
As I walked out to the ring that day, I saw the passing nods of friends and spectators, but they can never reach me in there – my brain can only process the simple mechanics of moving forward, up the stairs and over the ropes, and on that day something was wrong; my body was numb. All I could think was get through this.
When my opponent stared at me across the ring, it felt like she was looking straight into me. My eyes were gaping channels that allowed her complete access to an empty pit in my skull. She wanted to be a champion and I wanted to lay down and cry.
I’m not good enough and I never have been. This is hard and I’m tired. I don’t want to do this.
She smashed my nose at the end of round one with a sharp front kick. My first thought was “oh good, I’ve broken my nose, now I actually have an excuse to stop fighting. I’ll just let my trainers know as soon as I can.”
But I didn’t – I don’t know why or how, but I didn’t stop at the end of that round, or the next one, and I luckily won the fight. This wasn’t a conscious decision, I just didn’t stop and still don’t know why. It wasn’t my best fight; I was slow and apathetic – it was like each instruction from my trainers (KICK!) got filtered through a cloud of doubt in my head before it could reach my body.
After the fight, I was a slobbery, sobbing (bleeding) mess; showering apologies, tears and blood on anyone who’d listen. I was disappointed that I gave up on myself in the ring, and no matter what my trainers said, I was intent on feeling miserable. Iggy has an amazing way of clearly explaining how I’m in my own way, but all I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself and I spent that entire night coming up with every reason why I should pull out of the final the next day.
Thankfully, at about 2 am, Iggy’s words finally reached my brain. “AHA! I let my doubt take charge, this was a CHOICE not an accident.” I had already committed to the fight, so why did I resist it once I was there? It was as if I had just merged onto the freeway at 100ks an hour in my car and then jumped in the back seat to read a book.
With that simple realisation, I felt a powerful calm come back into my body. I slept, weighed-in, and then that next afternoon I won a National Championship in under 2 minutes.
We tend to spend our lives slipping in and out of illusions created by doubt and fear; I’ve read enough psychology and internet to know that that’s true, but it’s all been an idea until now. I’ve never had such a clear and tangible experience of contrast between how it feels to let the doubt drive, and how it feels when I take control.
I do want to be a champion, I guess, but more than that, I want to be the best version of me possible while I exist. I can only be that person if I accept every opportunity to figure out what my best is, and then for god’s sake help myself once I’ve accepted the task.
It’s hard to quantify just how much Muay Thai has saved me from myself – whether it’s through the family it’s given me, the skills I’ve learned, or the confidence I’ve developed to finally build a meaningful life for myself through the many silly things I do inside and outside of the gym.
It’s a slow progress, and I wake up most days going “FAAAAK do I have to?” But it seems that my meaning in life comes from accepting personal responsibility by periodically pushing myself to do hard things and learning from the way I respond. So I ignore that voice and do it anyway.
We are in charge of what we do, how much we will do, and how much we want to do but no one else will do it for us.
That might feel lonely at first, but trust me, there’s nothing lonelier than being left for dead by your own head.