OK I KNOW I NEED TO LIGHTEN UP – BUT HOW?

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept it, and light a match.

I know the moment I truly started on my self-improvement journey. I Googled ‘How to stop hating yourself’ in 2016, which led me to a book called Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself  that changed my life. You probably know the rest if you’ve read the post.

Recently, after a difficult but loving conversation with a dear friend about how our relationship was feeling heavy, I Googled ‘how to lighten up’ and found nothing useful. Not one single article or listicle I could relate to.

What the shit!!! It had worked once when I needed a solution. But this time I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the same.

If you’ve ever read my Instagram captions or my blog – it’s not a stretch to say I’m a heavy person. I’m introspective and tend to get myself elbow deep into the piles of shit most people want to avoid at all costs. It’s the reason this blog exists after all…but it also means I can also come off as intense and a little dark at times.

We all have dominant traits that make us who we are, but when they get out of control they can mess things up in all areas of our lives. We all find ways to manage the internal see-saw. 

View this post on Instagram

The part of me that hates myself screams “who the do you think you are trying to write a book? Trying to become boxing instructor? Who gives a shit. And moreover, what do you know about any of this?” The part of me that hates myself believes that my urges to numb out every emotion with a grocery list of unhelpful techniques will never change for good. The part of me that hates myself tells me that I am a burden to my friends and family. That I have too many thoughts and feelings. The part of me that hates myself uses shame and fear to motivate me. The part of me that hates myself uses “why even bother” as an excuse to avoid vulnerability. This isn’t about proving other people wrong. It’s never been about proving other people wrong. Besides, I learned a long time ago people’s conclusions about you are less about you, and more about them. I’m trying to prove that part of myself wrong. I am, in fact, becoming the person I also hoped, dreamed and fought to be. Sometimes that part of me just needs a little proof and a lot of love. Sometimes I need to force that part of me to stop yelling and start listening. This isn’t some Bell Let’s Talk shit that exists only one day a year. As much as I can write this caption, I can’t write a clean beginning middle and end to this. This is just what goes on in my head and my work is fighting back against it. Sometimes I have the strength to win that fight, and sometimes I don’t have it in me. And that’s when I reach out for help. 💭🤝 #wholeheartedliving

A post shared by Raegan (@raegjules) on

I used alcohol to manage as an adult. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I wasn’t an alcoholic before I stopped drinking almost 8 months ago. However, I showed signs of being a problem or grey area drinker. I would deal with negative feelings by drinking or eating them down so I could continue being the life of the party. I was still bitter and aggressive but at least after booze it was in a softened, silly half-cut kind of way. With alcohol, I could take myself from being in a mood where I wanted to cry from stress, to slurring sassy comments and texting people I shouldn’t be texting to generate some fun in the moment.

Alcohol was the easy lever I could pull anytime I needed to lighten up. 

When I first got sober, I lightened up immediately. I felt like I had found the ultimate life hack. All of the ease with none of booze-adjacent struggles. I was saving money! I was making better decisions! I didn’t have the booze blues anymore!!!

Then, inevitably, I dug into the work of recovery and shit got REAL. Sobriety and recovery are not the same, which is a fun fact that hit me like a brick to the face about three months in.

Believe me, I know I was a bummer to be around. I was groping around in the dark in an attempt to figure out how everyone else dealt with bad days on top of having, what felt like, a complete shit show of an existential crisis. I was doing my best, but I truly felt like I couldn’t lighten up.

So I tried all the normal stuff: yoga, meditation, therapy (the counsellor I had when I was in early recovery wasn’t a good fit for me unfortunately), journaling, and mostly texting and talking to my friends when I was feeling shitty. Which was a lot. I also revisited eating and Netflix as coping mechanisms.

View this post on Instagram

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, writing, reflecting and questioning lately. I guess when I think about it, the other three all feed into my writing. I’ve changed a lot and done a lot since finishing my degree and getting an “adult” job. My opinions are different, my hair is different, my mindset is different. I am older. I am more educated on the ways of the world. I now need special cream for my face (goddam eczema). But there is one thing that steadfastly has not changed, and I hope never will: I love writing. It is a warm blanket after being out in the cold for too long. It is a way of making sense of the world. It is a way of bearing witness. It is a messy mud puddle that you can’t wait to jump in. It is an unruly teenager that sneaks out in the middle of the night but makes you proud at the end of the day. It is trying to herd a bunch of hyenas on acid. Here’s a pic of my writing happy place with a new backdrop. I definitely wrote this while feeling a writer’s running high. Let’s be realistic: It’s not always sunshine and rainbows and sometimes I gotta rip the words right out of me, but it’s meant to be. It’s still love even when it’s hard. #instarealtalk #truth #vulnerabilityisstrength #mentalhealth #bravingthewilderness #writersofinstagram #selfcare #selfacceptance #calledtocreate #winnipeg #everydaygratitude #liveoutloud #parentsupport #findyourself #shameless #gratitude #desksetup #deskdecor

A post shared by Raegan (@raegjules) on

Nothing seemed to help. I felt like a black cloud all the time, which was one of my biggest fears about giving up alcohol: I wouldn’t be fun anymore. And as it turned out, it sort of came true, but it taught me something really important.

I got into the toxic habit of treating a lot of close people in my life like my personal therapists. It’s healthy to ask for support and to talk things out, but there’s limits and boundaries to how much your loved ones can really help. Besides, now that I have a good therapist I’m trying to see regularly I can safely say that those are much more productive conversations and it means I don’t have to put the people in my life through unpaid emotional labour. Which isn’t cool.

Fortunately, my friends and family were willing to talk to me about what they were feeling instead of just running in the other direction.

So after my failed Google search, I started thinking about a new way forward in my recovery.

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up.

I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept the darkness and all that comes with it, and light a match.

I couldn’t find lightness in numbing because it obliterates everything — both good and bad. Denying negative or heavy emotions also isn’t realistic because it denies a part of you that exists for a very good reason. So now, I’m trying to stop grappling around for a lever or light switch and meet my internal struggles with unconditional acceptance instead of intolerance. I want to be empowered to make my own light.

Part of the journey has been figuring out the people, activities, and places that create light in my life. Especially my newly sober life.

So far, I’ve figured out that reliving ridiculous moments is a great way to light that match. My go-to memory involves a public park bathroom in New Orleans with a broken lock and yeast infection medication. Nothing reminds me how absurd life is quite like that moment.

Also on the list of things that seem to light a metaphorical match in the darkness: Being outside. Riding a good spin class. Looking at old vacation pictures. Writing. Laughing.

I’m looking to add to the list, but I’m still figuring it out. If all else fails, I just lay on the floor and listen to Magic by Coldplay. Can’t lose with Coldplay.


I recognize that seeking professional help isn’t always accessible or financially feasible. Here’s an article about different types of therapy options for different price points.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 12.44.18 PM

GUEST POST: THE STORY OF MY BODY AND MY BUSINESS

How Brooke Ryssel came back after an accident and built a health and wellness company around body positivity

GUEST WRITER INFO

Brooke Van Ryssel is the owner/creator of My Body Fitness + Nutrition, Winnipeg’s first company dedicated to fitness, nutrition and body positivity.

She is a 25-year-old entrepreneur, fitness trainer and Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

In August 2016, I moved away from my partner, family and friends to study Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver. Everything was going swimmingly, I was enjoying school, excelling and working a part-time job at a group fitness gym.

Until one morning when I was driving to work.

On May 16, 2017, someone went right through a red light and hit my car on the drivers side at full speed resulting in another impact into a lamp pole.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 7.28.12 AM

I can still remember the exact feelings I had after the second impact: shock and disbelief, quickly followed by panic when I couldn’t open my door and realized I was covered in glass.

Am I ok?

With the help of some pedestrians I was able to get out of the passengers side door. I tapped each foot into the cement to see if I was able to stay standing, and began touching my body from head to toe as if I was giving myself an airport style pat down. As I did this, I was crying hysterically and a paramedic started asking me questions and guiding me towards an ambulance.

The woman who hit me casually walked over, travel mug in hand, and said she was glad I was ok. I didn’t say anything because I barely heard her.

I was sitting in the ambulance when I felt the first tinge of pain under my left thigh. I reached my hand underneath my leg, and when I brought it back up it was covered in blood and little shiny shards of glass.

“So I guess I’m bleeding,” I said to the paramedic.

We got to the hospital where I was assessed and laid on the table bare butt up while a medical resident pulled shards of glass out of my leg.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I could barely walk and my body hurt all over. It was a deep aching pain that seemed to be just as bad when I was moving as it was when I was still. I went upstairs and called everyone to tell them what happened.

I told my mom that I was fine and that no one needed to fly out from Winnipeg to take care of me. She didn’t listen to me and left that evening. I am grateful every single day that she came because I was completely useless and unable to do most things myself for the following three months.

I began my recovery with a chiropractor, physiotherapist and occupational therapist. I kept attending school and I was determined to not fall behind and have to delay my certification. I missed one day of school total — the day of the accident.

My life became riding in cabs to school, home and various rehabilitation appointments. I became a recluse; unable to do anything I had done before. I went from teaching 13 boot camp classes per week, working out three times on my own and walking everywhere to no activity at all.

For the first two months of recovery I couldn’t walk more than one block without the pain becoming too overwhelming or having my leg swell up like a water balloon.

It was in the darkest period of my recovery that the idea for my business came to me. My body had started to change as a result of my injuries and lack of activity. I looked in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time, I truly hated my body.

I felt so helpless, depressed and out of control. After about a week of this I thought to myself, “some people feel like this every single day and I need to do something about it.”

I began to acknowledge the privileges I had. First of all, I’m alive. I could’ve died in that car! Second, I am a certified trainer and almost a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with an education in injury recovery that I can use to help heal my body. Third, pain is temporary. There is an end in sight, and I’m a small-medium sized white woman living in Canada and am fairly able bodied.

Lastly, I was asking myself why I feel the way I feel about my body in the first place?

This is when I began what I now call the “research” phase of my body positivity journey. I began looking internally to discover where my feelings about my body were coming from. My body isn’t working normally and I have cuts and bruises, butI will heal. I have more squishy bits, cellulite, scars, and flaws…wait why are they flaws? Who told me that cellulite was a flaw?

Answer: the beauty industry, diet culture and other media. In other words, I realized that this was something that I was taught and not something that was true or factual. Flaws don’t exist; they were created by someone who was profiting off of me hating my body!

This was when I began to make the connection between body positivity and the health and fitness industry. This was very foreign territory because after working within the fitness industry in some form over the past six years body positivity had literally never come up. No one seemed to know how to make the connection between the two.

How can you love your body and still want to change it physically?

The truth is that body positivity and body health are completely interconnected; you cannot have one without the other. Why do you move and exercise your body? Is it because you are punishing yourself for something you ate yesterday or will eat today? Flipping the switch and changing your mindset on why you exercise and nourish your body is an incredibly difficult and slow process, which is yet another reason why the diet industry makes billions of dollars every year.

Since starting My Body Fitness + Nutrition in January 2018, I have been called a hypocrite, had someone say I’m “not a real trainer” and been told I am promoting obesity. While I strongly disagree with what was said, I can see where they are coming from, because this has never been done before.

Body positivity has been either completely absent or just unwelcome in the health and fitness industry for far too long. The focus is always on “get rid of your stubborn belly fat” or “get your summer body ready”. Essentially do this, change that, look like this person and then you’ll be happy.

You must start with accepting and loving yourself exactly as you are in order to make any kind of positive change in your life. It’s not about throwing away your goals, just changing your perspective. Why are you doing it? Take time to notice what your body is capable of, more than what it looks like, because in reality body positivity has nothing to do with what your body looks like. Every single inch of you is worthy of love, acceptance and celebration! You are worthy because you exist.

The tagline for My Body Fitness + Nutrition is Because I Love My Body. I am bringing the body positivity movement to the health and fitness world. My ‘aha’ moment, my calling, this was what I was meant to do!!

After this revelation my recovery became easier to deal with, and to this day even though I’m still living with chronic pain, I know that the car accident was meant to happen to me.

View this post on Instagram

The moment you realize that you were born naturally flawless, is the moment you become free. • Free to not only accept your body as it is, but love it completely. • Free to celebrate your body for all that it is and all that it can do. Rather than punishing it for what it is not. • Free from all the negative images, words, and thoughts thrown your way every day that tell you that you are not enough. You will know that you are more than enough. Don’t let the people who created flaws to profit off of you hating yourself win. Say it loud for the people in the back!! Flaws do not exist!! 🙌🏼💕 #mybody #becauseilovemybody #bodypositivity #bodypositive #bopo #inspiration #holisticnutrition #nutritionist #fitness #bodylove #selflove #selfcare #love #nofilter #mybodywpg #mybodyfitnessandnutrition #health #wpg #mb #supportlocal #lovelocal #wpgglow #flawsdonotexist #effyourbeautystandards #free

A post shared by My Body Fitness + Nutrition (@mybodywpg) on


What comes next for Brooke and her business

Can you imagine walking into a gym knowing that you are already flawless as you are? Walking in, knowing it is a truly judgment free environment where everyone is there sweating, laughing, learning all with the mindset that they are there because they love their body? Sound like a dream?

View this post on Instagram

🚨THE MOST IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT OF ALL🚨 Announcing the location of the first ever BODY POSITIVE GROUP FITNESS GYM!!!! Aka MY BODY FITNESS + NUTRITION!!!!!! Opening its doors FALL 2018😍😍🙌🏼🙌🏼 3655 ROBLIN BLVD, just past the Assiniboine Park + the Zoo. This has been a dream of mine for soooo long to create a space for ALL people and ALL BODIES to come together, sweat, laugh, and learn together all with the mindset that they are all there Because they Love their Bodies!! This space will host 30 minute Group Fitness classes 6 days a week Monday-Saturday, 8 classes per day, and 4 classes on Saturdays! As well my Nutritional consulting office for 1 on 1 holistic nutrition consultations! Both available for monthly memberships! Plus monthly community events hosted in the space on Sundays! Everything from workshops, Body Positive meet ups, fundraisers, other community building events and so much MORE!! To say I can’t wait to open and share this space and labor of love with all of you is an understatement!! I am ecstatic, and now it’s time to get to work!!!! I’ll be posting behind the scenes looks at the progress of the location on here so stay tuned!! And if you want a sneak peak inside check out my stories today!! My Body is bringing Body Positivity to the Health and Fitness world!! IT’S HAPPENING!!!😭❤️ Do you want to be a part of the My Body community???❤️❤️ #mybody #mybodyfall2018 #mybodylocation #bodypositivegroupfitness #becauseilovemybody #bodypositivity #bodypositive #holisticnutrition #nutritionist #fitness #bodylove #selflove #selfcare #love #nofilter #mybodywpg #mybodyfitnessandnutrition #health #wpg #mb #supportlocal

A post shared by My Body Fitness + Nutrition (@mybodywpg) on

Winnipeg’s first ever body positive group fitness gym and nutritional consulting service will be available Fall 2018. Stay tuned!

For more bo-po power and info about Brooke’s business follow @mybodywpg on Instagram.