My Name is Alise and I’m a Fear-aholic

I think I’ve lived almost my entire life in fear. Of just about everything. Afraid of people not liking me. Afraid of disappointing them, or making them mad. Afraid of making a mistake. Afraid of not being perfect. Afraid to try, afraid to take a chance, afraid to fail. Afraid of change. Sometimes I feel like I’m paralyzed by fear.

I don’t know why this is so. Perhaps some traumatic event as a child that I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I hate being afraid and how it affects my life.

Being ruled by fear keeps me stuck. It keeps me outside of the flow of my life and from living my purpose. Stagnant – like a body of water that stops flowing. My personal tipoff that fear is running my life is when I find myself uncomfortable, irritated, and angry.

Over the past several years, though, I’ve learned that the times I’ve been able to break free and let go of my fears that only wonderful things happen. The biggest illustration of that was when I quit my job of fifteen years, sold my house in which I’d lived for thirteen, and embarked upon my amazing adventure. Three months of traveling the country with absolutely no fear whatsoever (well, except for that one day at Zion National Park when I was too afraid to climb Angel’s Landing). Three months of real joy, freedom, and happiness.

Or the time I sat in my friend Rachel’s church, in the midst of a severe attack of performance anxiety, almost crippled with fear at the thought of playing a solo in front of the congregation, finally being so overcome with fear that I gave up and thought “I have to give this up to God.” At that moment I felt an incredible sense of peace and relief wash over me…and I played with no fear or nerves at all.

Not once but twice moving to Montana, a city where I knew no one at all, trusting that by following my heart and intuition, I could truly rely on and accomplish something by myself, and wound up writing and publishing a book.

So in spite of all that proof that I don’t have to live in the prison my fear creates, why do i fall off the wagon and back into fear time and time again? Lately I’ve been ruled by the fears brought about with my back injury. I’ve let it consume me for the past eight months. It’s caused me to doubt myself, to feel sorry for myself. I’m in fear that this back injury will never heal. I’m afraid that it will place limits on me that I can never overcome. I’ve been afraid to start working out again, even after being told by my physical therapists and chiropractor to get back into the gym. It’s been so long since I’ve worked out that I’m afraid to go back. Me. The person who never missed a day of working out for years. Afraid to step back in to what used to be my happy place.

Fear is insidious. It slyly creeps into your subconscious almost without you realizing it. Subtle little whispers of doubt that make you hesitate, over and over, until you’re stuck in a place of doubt and fear so deep that seems almost impossible to crawl out of. When that happens, I end up so afraid to do anything that I do nothing at all. Then it seeps into all facets of my life. I become stuck in place, uncomfortable and unhappy.

I don’t want to live in fear anymore.

When I think more about it, I think I’m afraid because I feel alone and I’m afraid to trust that I’m not alone. I feel like a little kid perched at the top of a tall slide with my mom at the bottom, ready to catch me safely in her arms. But I’m just petrified to let go of the railing on the slide. Here’s the thing though…I know that as long as I clutch to that slide, as long as I clutch onto fear, I’ll stay stuck. When I visualize that, I hear a little voice inside of me saying, “I can’t help you if you don’t let go.” And it reminds me of a line in A Course in Miracles, eloquently paraphrased by the late Wayne Dyer. “If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on this path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again.” What if I could just let go of that fear, and let go at the top of the slide, and simply trust that everything will be fine??

I know that my life has a purpose, and I know that it has to do with helping others. With a book, with a class, with a coaching. The question to myself is, am I brave enough to let go and try?

 

A Year of Gratitude

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Dear Universe:

What an incredible year it has been. Thank you for arranging for me to return to Missoula for an entire year.

Thank you for my safe arrival in January, after driving through three days of treacherous winter weather.

Thank you for helping me through those difficult first few weeks after my arrival. I was so scared and full of doubt about my decision to return to Montana and I’m so grateful that you gave me the strength to overcome that.

Thank you for my sweet, cozy apartment with the wonderful radiator heat that kept me warm and toasty.

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Thank you for my landlady Bernice, who took care of any issues quickly and efficiently. Thank you for Beverly, who did such a wonderful job keeping my little condo clean and tidy. Thank you for Robert, George, Petra and everyone else at the Wilma for being so warm and welcoming to me.

Thank you for the most spectacular view I could have ever imagined. Each day I looked out my window with amazement at the beauty in front of me.

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Thank you for the most beautiful sunrises, the snow topped mountains glowing white and the clouds turning pink with the first rays of the sun.

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Thank you for the stunning sunsets and how those sunsets traveled across the sky during the entire year.

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Thank you for Caras Park and all the events that took place there this past year: Wednesday Out to Lunch, Thursday Downtown Tonight, Brewfest, Symphony in the Park and countless other events.

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Thank you for the beautiful sounding church bell at St. Francis Xavier Church that strikes every hour and half hour. It’s one of the most comforting sounds that I hold in my memory.

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Thank you for the Clark Fork River right outside my building, and for how clear and refreshing it was. Thank you for providing a playground for all the boarders, kayakers, boaters, paddlers, tubers, and fishermen. Thank you for how it sparkled in the sunlight and the moonlight.

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Thank you for my countless hikes up Mount Sentinel, for the magnificent views it provided, for all the spectacular wildflowers that appeared in the spring. For all the deer I’d see on my way up the mountain. Thank you for giving me the health, ability, and strength to climb the hill easily.

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Thank you for every single one of my wonderful hikes in the surrounding Missoula area, next to the pristine rivers and creeks that provided the most stunning postcard views.

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart for leading me to the Good Food Store. Thank you for giving me the courage to apply and thank you for providing me with a way to support myself in a job with great coworkers. Thank you to Dan Berger, who was such a kind, understanding and flexible boss. Thank you to Rebecca Canfield-Perkowski for everything- how incredible to reconnect after so long ago at University of Michigan! I enjoyed working there more than any other job in my whole life.

Thank you for the safe flight back to Louisville in April to visit my VOICES family and attend their concert. And for the safe drive that same week up to Naperville to spend time with my mom.

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Thank you for my dear friend Patti’s visit in May. Thank you for the beautiful weather so that we could really enjoy the beauty of our hikes.

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Thank you for leading me to the Self Publishing School writing program so that I could finish and publish The Trainer’s Big Book of Bootcamps. Thank you for guiding me to my editor, my awesome cover designer, and my exceptional formatter Debbie Lum. Thank you for helping me overcome so much self doubt to create such a beautiful product for which I am very proud.

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Thank you for that beautiful hike up Lolo Peak in June, and to experience snow on the first day of summer!

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Thank you for a glimpse of a moose at the end of my drive along Rock Creek!!!

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Thank you for my DEAR friend Laura Bender and her incredible mindfulness meditation classes and community meditation workshops. I cannot imagine not being a part of her spiritual circle. Her generosity of spirit, knowledge and love was priceless. Her classes provided me with a connection to a wonderful spiritual practice, as well as a connection to some really awesome people. I feel blessed to have shared so many wonderful conversations about life with her before each class. She’s a rockin’ cool woman and I’m so lucky to have her as a friend.

I am so grateful for my friend Rebecca. Her unfailing cheery disposition and optimistic outlook in the face of her past adversity is truly one of the biggest inspirations of my life. I’m so appreciative to have a friend who reminds me of my spiritual principles and practices, especially when I’m down. Thank you Rebecca, for always reminding me when I have needed it the most.

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Thank you for my friend Amanda. Although I didn’t get to spend alot of time with her over the course of this year, I will be ever grateful to her for introducing me to Laura Bender. And I will forever think of her fondly after meeting her for the very first time two years ago in bootcamp wearing a shirt like this:

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Thank you so much for my friend Josie. Not only did she keep my hair looking fashionable and sporty all year, she was a fellow traveler down a similar spiritual path. I’m so grateful to have been able to share my experiences and spiritual ideas and values with such a beautiful soul.

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Thank you for all my colleagues, friends and fellow coaches in my QSCA Life Coaching program: Justine, Rick, Alyssa, Monica, and Catherine. You are some of the most caring people I’ve ever known, and we’ve never met!  The knowledge and tools I have gained through this program are invaluable to me and have helped me navigate so many of my challenges this year.

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Thank you for leading me to the Missoula Community Band and the Missoula Concert Band. Those ensembles gave me the opportunity to pick up and enjoy my horn again, and to practice acceptance and non judgement of my return to musicmaking. I’m grateful for everyone I met in the bands: Gary Gillett, who had me in stitches all summer long, the friendly and welcoming horn section – Steve, Ross, Merrill Lee, Susan, and Jay, and Amanda, who I enjoyed spending time with as we set up the room for each rehearsal. Thank you for the summer band concerts which took place in beautiful bandshell in Bonner Park, with a great view of Mount Sentinel, in perfect weather all summer.  I’m grateful for that evening we played the Star Spangled Banner for the Osprey baseball game and sat in the stands on a perfect summer evening drinking Cold Smoke and listening to Gary Herbig tell corny jokes all night long. After so many years of not playing my horn, I felt like I was coming home again. I actually think I will keep it up from now on.

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Thank you for making it possible for me to sing with my VOICES family at GALA in July. Thank you for a beautiful safe drive to Denver. It was an incredible treat to spend time with my dearest friends. I was thrilled to perform the bourbon song alongside my dear friend Peggy, overjoyed to sing such beautiful music for such an appreciative audience, and so thankful to spend a few days with my sweet Kat.

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Thank you for my trip to the stunningly beautiful National Bison Range, where I saw all sorts of wildlife on the two hour drive thru.

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Thank you for all my challenges with Kat this year… after parting ways last November and struggling to maintain a friendship with her to developing a more honest, trusting and authentic relationship. Thank you for helping me to focus on unconditional love rather than on the possessiveness of my ego. Thank you for those experiences so that we can now have a strong and healthy relationship. Thank you for Kat’s visit in August. It was one of the most wonderful weeks of my life. To have my true love with me in the city that I love more than any other was truly precious and I will cherish that visit forever. Thank you for the great hikes we took up Mount Sentinel, up Rattlesnake Creek and Rock Creek, for the visit to the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, for the safe drive to Glacier National Park and the fantastic yet frosty Red Bus Tour.

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Thank you for TV and cable so that I could watch the Cubs FINALLY win the World Series! Holy Cow!

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Thank you for leading Melissa of FiTOUR to my book and the subsequent interview with her. I was honored to speak with her about the genesis of my book and share our passion for group fitness.

Thank you for making it possible for me to go to the Farmers Market on Saturdays where I enjoyed the best coffee on earth!

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Thank you for leading me to my spur of the moment decision to go to a Griz game and watch them win!

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Thank you for the change in my travel plans Christmas week, which allowed the gathering of Amanda, Stacey, and Whitney, the original MUSTfit 9am club!
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Thank you for the physical challenges I’ve faced this year. Those challenges have given me the opportunity to practice allowance and acceptance. I’m also so grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with Tara, the best physical therapist ever who also became a friend – and she coached a mean spin class!

Thank you for the delayed but safe trip back to my mom’s for the Christmas holiday. I almost thought that I might miss it. After being out West and away from them all for the whole year, it was all the more special to be with my entire family.

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Thank you for leading me down an incredible path of spiritual awakening. For giving me the courage to challenge myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone, taking personal responsibility for everything I do, and trying each day to be better than I was yesterday. Each year since 2014 I continue to uncover and shed the habits and limiting beliefs that caused unhappiness and no longer serve me. I feel like with each year I’m becoming a more magnificent version of myself. I can’t wait for what 2017 has in store!

A Lesson in Detachment

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My family has been planning Christmas Day for well over a month. For the first time in a couple of years, we are all planning to be together at my mom’s – my siblings, in-laws, and my niece and nephews. My plan was to leave Missoula on Sunday and arrive home at my mom’s by Monday or Tuesday. I had meticulously planned the last days before my departure: last day of work Friday, get laundry done and everything packed, load the car on Saturday with all my belongings and my bike, then leave on Sunday morning and take two days, three at the most to arrive in Naperville. I would enjoy the days leading up to Christmas with my mom and spend Christmas Day with my entire family.

But sometimes my plan is not the Universe’s plan.

Last week it started to snow. All day Monday and Tuesday. It kept snowing. Thursday the snow was predicted to end by 11am…but it kept snowing and was then predicted through Friday at 11am…but it kept snowing throughout the day. The temperatures dropped dramatically below zero, and all the snow that had fallen became packed on the roads. Saturday I forged ahead with my plan and packed up my car, but as the day progressed, my anxiety increased as road conditions deteriorated to the point that I-90 shut down in central Montana and a Sunday departure became impossible.

I wasted that day consumed with worry. Worried about when I could leave. Worried about which route home I should take. Worried about the road conditions that would be along the drive.

Totally miserable and at my breaking point, I decided to sit and meditate on why I was worrying and what was at the source of my worry. I worry the most when I feel powerless and a loss of control. Worrying makes me feel like I have some kind of control, as if catastrophizing prepares me or helps me in some way. But it doesn’t. Next I realized that the source of the worry was the attachment I’d placed on getting to my mom’s by a certain day. I had become so attached to that outcome that I’d developed huge expectations. But the reality of the current situation dashed those expectations and caused me incredible disappointment. It’s risky to place so much attachment on a certain outcome, and it’s wiser to practice detachment and surrender instead. Marianne Williamson says in A Return to Love that we surrender more easily those things that aren’t important to us, but things that are REALLY important to us, that we are most attached to, are the most difficult to surrender. The attachment I have to my family and even more so FAMILY AT CHRISTMAS makes surrendering this difficult for me. But I am choosing to place this in the hands of the Universe and have faith that everything is working out for the best (even if it’s difficult to see it in the moment).

Saturday night I allowed myself feel all my emotions and I cried and cried, disappointed that my trip was not going to happen as I planned. But as I cried, I suddenly felt all the resistance melt away, and at once I felt at peace.

Yesterday, I woke with an entirely different mood and mindset. I talked to Kat and she asked me “what can you do to make today great?” So, I made a conscious choice to enjoy the day. I had a couple of cups of coffee at my favorite coffeehouse, I talked to my mom twice, I watched a great Bears game, I started this blog, and I watched BOTH The Sound of Music and Oliver. I kept smiling through the entire day, relieved to feel peace instead of anxiety.

At this point, I’m not sure when road conditions will improve enough for me to head East. Hopefully I’ll make it home by the end of the week. But I have come to a place of acceptance. In fact, I’ve even faced the possibility that I’ll spend Christmas here in Missoula and actually…I’m ok with that!
I’m lucky to be learning that it’s ok to have a plan, but then surrender the results to the Universe. And that, my friends, is the difference between feeling powerFUL, and powerLESS.

Acceptance

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In mid-August I carried a full 5-gallon bucket of mayonnaise at work and tweaked my back. It was sore on and off for two weeks, but I just dismissed it as muscle soreness and assumed it would eventually pass. One day in late August, I got out of bed and my back exploded in pain. Desperately I tried to find a position that offered some relief, with no success. For the rest of the day I could not get comfortable or escape the pain. Thankfully, as the next few days passed, the pain subsided, but as the pain decreased I became aware of numbness spreading down the outside of my leg into the heel of my foot. I also realized that I was unable to raise up on the ball of my foot, which led to an uncomfortable borderline painful limp as I walked. After a visit to the doctor, I started regular physical therapy. Reluctantly I put my gym membership on hold for the month of September, but was optimistic that I’d return to my daily gym routine by the end of the month

September passed, and despite twice weekly physical therapy the symptoms persisted, so I tearfully put my gym membership on hold for another month. October passed with little to no improvement so I set aside my gym membership indefinitely. At the end of October my physical therapist, concerned with the lack of improvement, urged me to request an MRI. The MRI indicated a bulging disc which, albeit small, was situated such that it impinged on the S-1 nerve root, leading to the symptoms I was exhibiting.

Almost 4 months have passed during which I have not been able to work out. I honestly thought that I’d be out one, two months at the most. I haven’t taken more than two weeks off from the gym for the past seven years, and this unintentional break has been one of the biggest lessons in acceptance that I’ve ever faced. Those of you who know me well know how big a part of my life that fitness is. I’ve gone from disappointed to self-pitying to angry to depressed to scared. I have never had an injury that has kept me out of the gym until now. My recovery has been so painfully slow that I’ve been terrified that I won’t get better; that this numbness and decreased muscle strength will persist and keep me from the activities I love.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things I’m really lucky. This is not life-threatening. Fortunately, except for the first couple days of the injury, I’ve had no pain, and my sleep hasn’t been affected at all. I haven’t had to miss even one day of work. I know in my heart that the Universe gives us challenges to learn from and to grow, so I must trust and have faith in Universe’s plan, even if I think that it’s not MY plan. There is a line in the text of A Course in Miracles which has given me great comfort: One of the most difficult temptations to recognize is that to doubt a healing because of the appearance of continuing symptoms is a mistake in the form of a lack of trust.”

Over the past three weeks, the strength has SLOWLY started coming back to my calf muscle and my limp is significantly less pronounced. Last week I saw a spine specialist who was extremely heartened at how well I was doing given the MRI results taken at the beginning of November. My physical therapist has just given me the green light to carefully start working out again: perhaps a spin class, the elliptical, or weight machines. I’m a long way from doing any hill sprints, crossfit or powerlifting activities – perhaps never – but hey, I’ll take it. Up until this event, I’ve taken for granted what my body has been able to do. I know for certain that I will never take it for granted again.

 

 

Hello Old Friend

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Right after I arrived in Missoula in January, I received a facebook message from one of my gym friends. She invited me to go with her to a community meditation being held at a wellness studio just around the corner. I was so excited to see her again and looked forward to the meditation too. I enjoyed the session and really liked Laura, who facilitated the meditation. Two weeks later, I enrolled in a weekly mindfulness meditation class at her studio. At the beginning of the first class of the session, Laura told the class, “Ok, for the first five minutes, we’re going to do power introductions. Spend 30 seconds getting to know the person next to you and then move on! Go!”

I turned to a young woman next to me and asked her how she came about to taking the class. She motioned towards Laura and said “I know Laura because we both play flute in the Community Band.” I exclaimed “Omigosh, there’s a Community Band in Missoula?! When do they rehearse?”  She replied, “Yes! They rehearse on Monday evenings, and rehearsals start this month.”

Here was an opportunity to get back in music and to get to know people. And was it a coincidence – I just happened to have brought my horn with me to Missoula. The following Monday, I drove to Sentinel High School and walked into the band room. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, the music for this concert was very enjoyable, and the conductor was fun and energetic. But after the initial excitement of the first couple of rehearsals, I wasn’t enjoying myself. What in the world was going on?

I started playing horn in 4th grade. It came very naturally to me and I loved it. I had found something that I was really good at and threw myself into it 100% – my mom never had to tell me to practice! In high school I started taking private lessons and by junior year I knew I wanted to major in music. After my undergraduate degree, I went to the University of Michigan to get my master’s degree. Those were the pinnacle of my horn playing years. I was surrounded in school with some of the most talented musicians in the country, I was playing tons of gigs, and just completely loving my life.

After graduating with my master’s, I stayed in Ann Arbor and took on a large studio of private students to go along with my orchestra gigs. That Fall, the principal hornist in the Ann Arbor symphony was unavailable for the first concert of the season, so between the rest of the section we shared the principal parts. I was assigned to play principal on a little Milhaud piece. It had a easy little slurry solo, nothing technical at all and in a very easy range. When we started rehearsals and got to that piece, I thought, nothing to it – a piece of cake.  But….something was just not right. I struggled with this simple little solo. I couldn’t explain it or put my finger on it, but I just couldn’t do it. My playing just wasn’t easy and natural like it always had been. All I could think was that I wasn’t practicing enough since I was teaching lessons all day long. So I practiced more and more, thinking it would fix itself, but it didn’t get any better – in fact, it got increasingly worse. I started to become a little frantic. For the first time in my life, I started losing my nerve. Those nerves manifested in a quiver in my lips as I tried to play. Like a total loss of control. I tried with all my might to control it.  The harder I tried to control it the worse it got. I didn’t confide in anyone and tried to hide my increasing discomfort and declining performance. 

One of my gigs at that time was Assistant Principal in the Flint Symphony Orchestra.  We were performing Brahms Symphony #3 and I was offered the chance to play 3rd horn. I jumped at the opportunity to play my own part. The third horn part in that symphony is beautiful, with a multitude of solos, most of them high, soft and completely exposed.  But as the rehearsals commenced, the pressure I put on myself in the wake of my declining performance started to take its toll. I was surrounded by colleagues with whom I’d played for years at the University of Michigan, and who had known me as one of the strongest horn players in the studio. I felt like I had such a high standard to live up to, and the harder I tried to regain any semblance of my past level of playing, the worse it got. My performance and confidence deteriorated over the span of the rehearsals and not surprisingly culminated in an awful performance. My mind was racing in overdrive with fear through the entire symphony.  I was petrified of and dreading each solo as it approached. Completely overwhelmed with nerves, feeling totally naked, alone and exposed, my whole body shaking along with my lips, I obliterated each solo. It was the worst, most humiliating and embarrassing experience of my life.  I felt like I let myself down, I let the conductor down, I let the audience down, I let all my friends and colleagues in the orchestra down.  I was completely devastated. It was like a betrayal. The one thing in my life that I had always depended on to make me feel good had deserted me.

My struggles continued over the next several years as I desperately tried everything I could think of to turn things around. I took lessons from several teachers around the area, hoping that someone might be able to help, to find out what was wrong and why my lips were quivering. I took several months off, hoping that when I picked my horn back up that the problem had gone away. Finally I decided to go back to school for my doctorate, hoping that I might right the ship. I went to the University of Iowa, and once I was back in school, I was able to manage my nerves and the discomfort. I started to gain back confidence in myself. After receiving my doctorate, I was hired at the University of Louisville as the Assistant Professor of Horn. But the pressure I continued to put on myself to perform to a certain standard – now in a full-time professional job situation – brought about a decline in confidence and along with that, a rapid decline in my performance.  After my short two-year stint at U of L, I was not rehired. I gradually stopped applying for other teaching jobs, and soon gave up playing my horn for a career.  I played and taught less and less as each year passed. Finally, three years ago I gave up teaching and playing altogether as it just became way more struggle than fun. I gave away my huge library of music, put my horn in the closet and closed that chapter in my life.

Back in Missoula, I wondered why I was struggling when this should be FUN? There was nothing on the line. There was certainly no pressure in this community band.  I sat in a quiet meditation one morning searching for clarity, and I realized that the discomfort I was feeling in rehearsals was because I was worried that people would hear my lips quiver. That they would judge me for that. That I would let everyone down again. But – no one was expecting anything from me.  The expectation was coming from myself. From still not accepting myself and that my lips quiver and I don’t play like I used to.

I wasn’t ready to give up again. Even though it was uncomfortable for me to hear myself, I started to play every day, just a little bit. I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, and gradually increased until I was practicing 30-45 minutes a day, just to get my muscles used to playing again. Because of that, I had a bit more endurance during rehearsals and it helped me relax and by the dress rehearsal, I felt more comfortable and confident than I had in a long time.

The night of the concert arrived. As the concert started, the nerves reappeared in full force and my lips started quivering almost uncontrollably. I sat there and thought to myself, there is no threat here. I am under no external pressure whatsoever. I was hoping that realization would allow me to relax, but years of conditioning cannot be overcome with one thought. All I could do was to accept how I was playing at that moment and do the best I could. I came home after the concert with mixed emotions, but I looked in the mirror and told myself “Good for you Alise. Good for you for getting out of that closet and putting yourself and your fear out there.” I realized that I couldn’t expect DECADES of my expectation for perfection to disappear after just my first playing experience in years.

The pressure that musicians put upon themselves to be perfect can be overwhelming. We judge ourselves and judge others on missed notes or other imperfections. Gigs and jobs are based on competitive auditions in which missed notes are the difference between employment or unemployment.  I was easily able to handle that pressure up until a certain point in my career, but once I had playing challenges, I completely crumbled under that pressure. And allowed it to take away a real source of happiness and fulfillment in my life. Years ago I remember talking to an old colleague from the University of Michigan. She had also given up playing and said she felt overwhelming relief. She said that the pressure to play at a certain level felt like an albatross around her neck. A ball and chain that she carried around on a daily basis. I instantly related to that. What a shame that the joy that we originally had from playing our instrument turned into such pain.

I have said for the past three years that I will no longer let my fears rule my life. And playing my horn has been one of my biggest fears. But I’m keeping my horn out of the closet. I’m going to play in the Summer Band here in Missoula and continue to play in the Community Band. This is a great opportunity for me – can I love and accept myself  despite having what I’ve believed to be a huge flaw? It’s been part of me for over 30 years and I’ve been fearing and fighting it. I’ve been rejecting myself that whole time. Can I let go of the belief, created over decades, that something is wrong with me? If I’m trying to love myself unconditionally, I must accept that it is just part of me and part of my journey, and it’s ok. What if I embrace it and make friends with it instead? I just might allow myself to recapture the old joy – I know it’s right there waiting for me to come back.

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The year was 2009. I belonged to JCC and participated in several group fitness classes, including spin and bootcamp. My favorite instructor was Susan, a no-nonsense trainer who led very challenging classes. Her Sunday morning spin class was my favorite. Through time we became friends and soon she started a Meetup group that she named FitChicks. She set up outings in which we’d share fitness and nutrition goals over a healthy meal, and coordinated group outings to various fitness programs around town including hot yoga, zumba, bodypump and jazzercise. One day in December she informed us she had set up a visit to a local crossfit gym. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait for that day to arrive.

The day finally arrived – Thursday, February 18 at 6:30pm at Derby City Crossfit on Market street. When I walked in my senses were overwhelmed – loud music, big metal rigs with heavy metal weights clanking loudly,  big men with weightlifting belts, people swinging kettlebells and lifting barbells. Slowly our group of Fitchicks gathered and was greeted by a tall, good looking bearded man who gruffly introduced himself as Ben, the owner of DCCF. With him was his girlfriend, a slender and gregarious girl who introduced herself as Kat. Ben explained what the evening was going to hold for us – we’d be given a brief description of what crossfit was all about, followed by some stretching and mobility, skill work, and then a “WOD” which stood for Workout of the Day. The skill work involved pullups and although most of us fitchicks couldn’t perform an unassisted pullup, we worked on scaled versions using resistence bands. I felt like I was entering some new secret and wonderful world of fitness. So many varied exercises! Once we were done with the skill, we had a little routine with some incomprehensible name of  “AMRAP.” All I remember was that it was comprised of assisted pullups, pushups, and airsquats.  When the routine was over, I told Kat that I was relieved to get through the WOD. To my chagrin Kat laughed and said, no that was just a little warmup! The actual WOD that we were going to perform that night was comprised of dumbbell snatches and burpees. I was excited and scared at the same time, I had no idea what a dumbbell snatch was but I loved burpees!  Ben and Kat went through the movements with us – showing us the proper technique of the single armed snatch, first with no weight and then using dumbbells. Finally the WOD began and I absolutely loved it! I even remember the Motley Crue song blaring in the background, Girls Girls Girls. I was instantly hooked, and Susan, another girl and I signed up for memberships on the spot.

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 After that, my days at JCC were over as I threw myself wholeheartedly into Derby City Crossfit. Every weekday, I’d eagerly wake in the wee hours of the morning to attend the 5:30am class, thrilled with all the different challenges that crossfit presented and the camaraderie cultivated among my classmates. Crossfit wasn’t for everyone, it seemed, and new members came and went. One day, as Kat took a group of beginners through a workout, I noticed a tall, dark haired girl throwing herself into the workout with an incredible amount of enthusiasm. I remarked to Kat “She really gets it!”

That girl was Erin, who ended being one of my best friends and the best workout buddy I could ever ask for. Throughout the next several years, Erin became one of my biggest sources of support, inspiration, and motivation, always cheering me on to do more than I could on my own. She had an unfailing faith in the abilities of everyone at the gym, a determination and drive to improve her own life and the lives of everyone with whom she surrounded herself, and an energy and optimism that was without comparison. We worked out together in the 5am class, lifted together in Darkside Ladies (a powerlifting program), cooked together, trying out new recipes to fuel our bodies (she is an amazing cook!), and generally just encouraged and supported each other in everything we did, in and out of the gym.

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Another dear friend who joined the gym later, coached classes, and also worked out alongside us was Lauren. An on-off but beloved member of DCCF was Erin’s best friend Jess. I firmly believe one of the biggest elements to succeed in achieving your goals in the gym is to have motivating workout partners. I enjoyed many fun-filled workouts in the gym and raucous antics outside of the gym with my girls.

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Erin was an inspiration not only to me, but to our 5am class and the entire DCCF community as well. She took the initiative at any opportunity to have fun. Not a holiday went by without Erin coordinating appropriately themed costumes. If you dared to show up without one, invariably she’d pull a spare or two out of her duffle bag and hand it over. Our 5am crew became a tight-knit group, in the gym and outside the gym as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of folks with whom to work out.

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Erin loved any excuse for a party with our class members. She coordinated paleo meal nights, a memorable NON PALEO cereal eating contest (in which she demolished everyone, including some pretty strong men), and a cherished summer weekend trip to her lakehouse with several gym girlfriends.

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Crossfit and everything that went along with it became such an important aspect of my life that throughout the next several years, I became Level 1 certified and also achieved crossfit certifications in powerlifting, mobility, and Olympic lifting. For a few months in 2012 and 2013, I focused on powerlifting and participated in Laura Phelps-Sweatt’s women’s meets in Cincinnati, surrounded by some of the strongest and most talented female powerlifters in the country.  Later in 2013, inspired by Erin’s lead, I went totally outside of my comfort zone and prepared for and participated in a figure competition, and in June of 2014 participated in my first crossfit competition, Four Barrel Crossfit’s Beginners Competition.

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The evolution of Derby City Crossfit itself has undergone much change since those early days on Market Street. In the spring of 2011, the gym moved to its present location in St. Matthews. Just a few months after that, Ben and Kat parted ways and ventured out on their own, leaving the gym under the leadership of a quintet of men. One afternoon in the Fall of 2011, I received a text from Sean, one of the founding owners. Some folks had gathered drinks at Drakes and he asked me to stop by for a drink. A loud and most likely tipsy group including the other owners, Slater, Shark, Sean and his soon to be wife Kellie, and Ryan sat around the table. To my astonishment, they asked me to coach some classes at the gym. Humbled and honored beyond words, I accepted, and was lucky enough over the next three years to coach some of the most dedicated, talented and strong athletes I’ve ever known. I was so thankful for the opportunity to bring to light my passion to inspire and motivate others to do more than they think they can.

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When I started back up at the gym after returning from Montana this past June, much had changed. Shark and Slater were the only remaining owners and ran the gym full-time. A new rig and shiny new equipment was in place.  Most of the “old guard” in the 5am class had moved on. Erin had taken a position at another gym after working as a loved and respected coach at DCCF and I felt a bit out of place. But 5am is always a special group, and for the past 6 months I was blessed with other wonderful workout buddies (love you Tyler and Nathan) and two very special coaches, Kara and Robbie. I will always remember their kindness, encouragement, and love.

I am so grateful to everyone at DCCF – every single coach I’ve ever had, every single classmate with whom I’ve worked alongside, and every single member I’ve had the honor to coach. To be a part of such a unique (yes, you Clinton and Leslie), loving, and inspirational gym community is something I will cherish forever. I love you all and miss you!

No Turning Back

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My drive to Missoula last week was not as easy as it was last year when I made the same journey. Although I’d scouted the weather reports for two weeks and determined that my desired window of travel looked like clear sailing, Mother Nature is often unpredictable and she threw me a bit of a curve ball. I left my mom’s house and almost immediately drove into some light snow flurries. As I headed north into Wisconsin the snow increased in intensity until I crossed the Mississippi into Minnesota. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that for the first time ever I had my bike mounted to a rack on the back of my car. After 8+ hours of driving, I arrived in Sioux Falls, SD quite tired but certain that the snow was behind me.

I was wrong. The next day, as I drove across the interminable expanse of South Dakota, snow squalls interspersed with very short breaks followed me almost all the way into Wyoming. With nothing in that area of the state to break the howling gusts of wind, the snow blew and drifted and froze across the interstate, leaving only one lane moderately clear and limiting visibility considerably. Numerous cars slid off into the median as I crawled along, determined to make it to Sheridan and my waiting hotel room no matter how long it took. 10 1/2 hours later I arrived as the skies finally cleared and the sun shone brightly before setting around 4:30 behind the mountains. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a bourbon toast over the phone with good friends while watching Louisville in their Bowl game. Exhausted by the long stressful drive, I fell sleep around 9.

I woke early on the final day of my trip, eager to arrive in Missoula and be done with driving. I checked the road reports and the weather, both predicted to be fairly clear. After grabbing some coffee in the hotel lobby, I departed at 5:15. The stretch of I-90 between Sheridan and Montana was eerily void of any other traffic in the wee hours of New Years Day, and I felt increasingly alone as I drove along the dark and icy interstate. I felt pangs of longing to be back home with my mom, or back in Louisville with Kat and among my friends. I took the opportunity to ask myself why I was feeling the loneliness so intensely. The answer came quickly that I was looking for comfort and reassurance from others rather than from within myself.

As the sun rose that morning, it lit up the most amazing and sparkling hoarfrost coating the outside every tree along the way. I arrived in Missoula around 1pm and began settling into the same little condo where I’d been so happy last winter. As I unpacked my car and brought my belongings upstairs, I took the tv remote to turn on some New Years Day football, only to find out that the cable wasn’t functioning. Mildly disappointed, I continued unpacking. Throughout the rest of the weekend, as I continued to organize my little condo, the full impact of my decision to move and the resulting consequences hit me full on. I had moved away, not temporarily this time, from all that was comfortable and safe to me. The city in which I’ve lived for 18 years. My best friends. My gym and my buddies there. VOICES, the most supportive part of my life in Louisville. I felt the most loss from the breakup with Kat and the separation from her and the kids, as I realized how much my life centered around them. I even felt the absence of the comfort of the TV in the background in my condo, and it hit me again just how much I searched for external means to love, comfort, and validate me.

This is my real lesson, to be able to be for myself what I’ve always tried to get from others. This was exactly what I had asked for and intended to do – to take away all my safety nets so that I could not fall back on them, to force me to learn to rely on myself for love and approval. It’s easy to say – but I didn’t realize until right now how difficult it really is.

I’m a huge fan of Mike Dooley and his book The Top Ten Things Dead People Want To Tell You. He describes setting the intention of your life just like you program a destination into the GPS system of your car. You put in the address, and you put your car in gear. You know without a doubt that the GPS is going to take you to your destination. You don’t question it when the route looks unfamiliar, you don’t stop and turn around, thinking that it has failed to do what it’s programmed to do. The Universe works the same with your life dream, Dooley writes. You set your intention with the Universe, you put your car in gear by taking inspired action, and you sit back, enjoy the trip and trust that the Universe will take you to your destination. It makes perfect sense to me.

I’ve thought of that analogy over the past several days since arriving here in Missoula. This journey that I am on now is so unfamiliar, so scary and unknown, that I want to turn the car of my life around and return back to my starting point. To run back to the comfort and familiarity of the life I had in Louisville. But that is unfortunately in the wrong direction and will not help me get stronger.  I’m so scared and have felt so lonesome since I’ve arrived, second guessing and desperately doubting my decision and my inner strength. But at one point over the weekend I looked out my window, at the expanse of mountains surrounding this city, and a calmness washed over me. I thought to myself, “I will let life lead me.” I remember my own inner GPS destination and the intent that I have set with the Universe, and I trust that I am on the route which will take me there, no matter how scary it looks along the way. Having faith that everything is going to work out is the best comfort I can give myself.