Achilles' Heel

Which is the true measure of my strength: that I cry when I choke (and did I choke on Sunday!), or that I get back on the strip even after humiliating myself in front of all of my friends and try again?

Growing up, it was regularly borne upon me that crying was the worst of failings, the greatest of sins, the true marker of my character.  "Why do you get so upset?  It's only [fill in the blank]."  "Don't upset Rachel, she can't take it." My siblings knew that I could always be counted upon to burst into tears of rage and frustration if they pushed me hard enough, at which the adults would sit round shaking their heads and saying, "Why can't she learn to control her temper?" and trying desperately to distance themselves from the storm.

It was humiliating.  Every time it happened, after the storm passed, I simply wanted to die, run away, get as far away from the things that had made me so panicky.  In my humiliation, all I could see was failure: failure to "control my temper," failure to grow up, failure not to cry.  Because Big Girls Don't Cry--right?  I would vow never to do so again, never to let my feelings get the better of me, to be strong and not give into the floods.  But I never could keep myself from crying, not indefinitely.

I hadn't broken down at a tournament like I did this past week in years.  I thought I was fixed.  I thought that I had finally put enough habits and thoughts in place that I would be able to lose gracefully if it came to that and that even if I felt like crying, I could hold it until I got out of the venue and back to my hotel room.  I didn't even make it to the side of the pod before it hit.  I ran--oh, did I run!--to get out of there on Sunday, but I couldn't run fast enough.  I couldn't run away from the feelings that were crashing in upon me, and I couldn't keep from showing them to the world.

But, then, of course, I shouldn't have had all those feelings in the first place, right?  That's what the voices from my childhood are telling me, have been telling me all these years.  It is wrong to cry because it is wrong to be upset in the first place.  It's just a game, after all.  No big deal.  Nothing to get so upset about.  The voices do have a point: it is just a game--and I know that.  Nothing in my life hangs on whether I can get the last touch.  Nothing will change if I don't get up on the podium, for good or ill.  It's just a sport.  It isn't really important at all.

So why does it hurt so much when I fail?  If it isn't important, why can't I just shake it off?  Well, clearly because it doesn't feel like it's not important.  What it feels like is I want to be able to do something that I can't and I can't figure out what it is that I am doing wrong.  I hate being wrong.  I hate not being able to do things.  I hate feeling clumsy and unskilled.  But I also hate not feeling like I can trust myself not to get upset.  And I hate the fact that I cry.

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