Discover more from Led by Stories. | Tarzan Kay
how I manifested my dream body
on healthy belonging
“One of the big reasons that so many of us cling to false belonging is that braving into a more genuine life requires a terrifying initial descent.”
~ Toko-pa Turner
After falling in the cold canal water for the eleventh time in less than twenty minutes, I stopped counting.
I just hauled my cold, bruised body back onto the dock and stepped right back into my canoe, the narrow boat threatening to tip as I set my front foot atop three strips of grip tape at the bow, then wedged the lower half of my back leg between the foam knee pad and the foot brace in the stern.
I pressed my back toes into the floorboard, rooting around for balance.
“You may as well put your swimsuit on,” Coach had said to me, probably hoping I would back down about this whole canoe thing. “Let me put it this way. If you’re out on the water for twenty minutes, you’re going to fall in fifteen times.”
That would turn out to be a generous estimate.
“This is my ‘getting wet’ outfit,” I’d replied, pointing to my barely there nude halter top and the tiniest pair of low-rise running shorts I own. “I have dry clothes in my car.”
I hardly know who this new Tarzan is, this woman whose legs are black and blue from thigh to toe from falling out of the boat so many times, whose ankles are dripping in blood while she laughs and shakes her legs out on the dock, ready to try again. “Just give me five minutes. I am going to make this canoe my bitch,” I said to my spotter. But it is definitively the other way around.
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Sports are a new thing for me.
Just like I didn’t know I was skinny, I also didn’t know I was athletic. I didn’t know anything about sports or bodies or how to exist in the world in a physical way without accidentally committing some sin I never even knew about.
We weren’t a sports family. I never saw my parents run, play sports, go to a gym, or talk about personal fitness. People like us don’t do things like that.
We didn’t talk about sex. We didn't talk about exercise. We didn’t talk about periods. We didn’t talk about digestion. We didn’t talk about fitness. My ex-husband thought it was weird that I didn’t like talking about farting and pooping, but we didn’t talk about that either.
I’m not sure if sports were bad, or if the problem was pursuing excellence. That was definitely sinful. I am certain of this because we also never talked about careers or getting a college education. I did not need to be told that ambition was a sin that equalled an eternal sentence in hell.
When one of my brothers wanted to play hockey, he paid for it with his own money. No one went to his games.
We did other things, I can hear my mother reminding me. I can play the piano. I am a very gifted singer. I know the difference between Chopin and Mozart.
But I do not have a sweet fucking clue about bodies.
I have watched my siblings fumble as they learn how to care for their own inconvenient bodies, waffling between way too much or not at all.
Like many other cult survivors I’ve met, I have only known how to manage my body in ways that were destructive and dysfunctional. Name any cult, and I will tell you all of the ways that its members are routinely taught to cut themselves off from their bodies.
Personal development cults do it with overexercise, calorie restriction and sleep deprivation. Christian cults do it by teaching sexual shame and policing all forms of pleasure. Other cults use drumming, chanting, lectures that go on for hours, or spinning around in circles. Take your pick. Tony Robbins just turns the air conditioning up really high.
People who are out of touch with their bodies are a lot easier to control.
I have spent my life cut off from my body. For the first time in my life I am figuring out how to manage my body in a healthy way. That’s what makes my kayak team so special. Officially our league is called Masters but I’m pretty sure that’s just a synonym for “too old to to compete in real competitions.” The median age is something like 65. I am the only one who canoes, but every one of my teammates is excited and supportive. They treat me like I am the club’s Olympic champion even though have never made it more than 30ft from the dock.
This is one of my first experiences of healthy belonging. I didn’t even have a word for that until I looked around at my teammates patting each other on the back after a particularly rough evening paddling a 16-person canoe, their faces glowing with pride.
“There it is,” I thought to myself. “Healthy belonging. So that’s what that looks like.”
I belong here not because I have the right beliefs, not because I am the right size, making a lot of money, wear the right clothes or use the right words. We are not bonded because we all interpret the bible the same way or because we all agree that COVID is fake and vaccination is bad. (I promise I am going to talk about that one day soon. I don’t know how yet, and also, I’m scared.)
We are just a bunch of people who love being on the water.
I have not had to exile a single part of myself in order to belong here, which is more than I can say for many of my closest relationships, including my immediate family.
For the last few weeks I’ve been paddling with Carl, who paddles near the dock where I am busy falling out of my boat and climbing back in. He paddles around me on one of the big flat-top kayaks while Coach’s daughters call out to him, “PADDLE ON YOUR LEFT, CARL!” or “Back up, Carl! Back up!”
Carl counts how many strokes I do before falling out of the boat. So far my record is four but honestly I think Carl may have miscounted. I’ve never had a friend with Down’s Syndrome before, and this experience has made me feel really lucky.
I look at the bruises on my legs and I feel really lucky.
I tape up the backs of my ankles and wrap a tensor bandage around my left thigh for padding and I feel like pinching myself.
Who is this woman with the will of steel and the glutes to match? Where on earth did she come from?
I must’ve manifested her. 😉