For two years after my daughter died, I drank every night. I hardly had an alcohol free night during that time. I wouldn’t drink bottle after bottle of wine but I did drink at least two glasses, if not more, each night. One day, I decided that all that alcohol was not doing anyone any good; it didn’t make me feel better, it didn’t bring my daughter back and it was simply making me sick and fat.
During that time, I did go to the gym, probably about three times a week. I told people that I went to the gym so that I could still drink alcohol.
Now, I have stopped drinking so much alcohol (of course, I still drink on Friday and Saturday nights) and I have become more focused on the gym. Contrary to what people say, the gym does not make me feel better. It does not make my grief less. It does not make me happy. And no, I do not want to lead a long life.
An instructor at the gym asked me if I had any goals to achieve at the gym, and I said no. She asked why I came to the gym, and I said, I just do; it is something that I do. I do not go to the gym and do the minimum of training. I push myself until I have sweat dripping down my face and until my heart is racing, and then I push myself harder. I box, I cycle, I run, I lift weights and I have a personal trainer. I was not strong enough to save my daughter but I will be more prepared next time.
I read an article by Tanveer Ahmed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 February 2012 called ‘Fitness Fascination Stretches the Truth’ which made me stop and think about why I went to the gym four, sometimes, five times a week. He mentioned that some people “engage in compulsive exercise … to feel more in control of their lives” and I think that is one of the reasons why I go to the gym.
I have learned the hard way that there is little in life that you can control. Although I am not one to wear make-up and pay attention to the way I dress or look, I can understand the control that people get from making themselves look good. By going to the gym, I can control something; I can control my body. It isn’t much to control but it is something that I can control when the rest of my life feels outside the realms of my capacity to cope.
Ahmed also said that obsessive exercise in itself can become a goal and a steady measure of time’s progression. Time moves too slowly for me and going to the gym marks the time off the calendar. I do not exercise to be healthy and live long. I see no point in living a long life especially one that has turned out to be relentlessly disappointing. I’m focusing on a good-looking corpse.
The gym makes my body tired and for an hour or so, it stops my mind. Exercise stops me from thinking. For a short time, I turn off. I focus on being tired and exhausted.
For a short time, the anxiety stops welling up inside me from the depths of my abdomen waiting to erupt through my chest as I count the weeks – 128 weeks today since I kissed my daughter good morning.