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How Exercise can Change the World: Discovering your Hidden Self

Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

I awoke to a sunny San Francisco morning and miraculously fog was nowhere to be seen. The day looked bright, but I was not feeling it. Pessimism and self-doubt ruled my world today.

I was feeling tired, uninspired and fed up. I wasn’t sure what was troubling me and I knew damn well I wouldn’t figure out what is wrong by staring at a computer screen, playing with my phone or some other mindless activity.

I knew from experience that moving my body while listening to music would bring me relief and quite possibly I could understand what was bothering me and be on the road to resolving it.

I put on my running clothes, tied my shoes and turned the music on. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album. This record is filled with anger, bitterness, regret and after all that; hope.

I opened the apartment door and started slowly running down the street moving to the rhythm of the drums and guitars.

I asked myself “what do I feel and why do I feel this way?” I was patient (which was unusual for me) and I waited until the answer revealed itself.

My pace was quickening and I could hear the sound of my feet hitting the concrete along with Bruce singing Something in the Night. He sang about losing all that he had and how people will take advantage if they perceive you as weak.

I was feeling numb, sad and frustrated. I am a psychotherapist in private practice and I work with clients who have been traumatized. They may have lost a loved one through death. They may have experienced horrific abuse at the hands of another. They may be victims of domestic violence. They may be children in the middle of a protracted hostile divorce.

I hear stories of utter anguish nearly every day and sometimes my client’s pain really overwhelms me.

As therapists, we are trained to be aware of what issues from our childhood are being stirred up while working with those who have been traumatized. We are supposed to use this awareness as a tool for helping our clients. Sometimes the issue that is being brought to the surface is utter powerlessness and helplessness. I sense this state of being in my clients and I have memories of feeling like I have no influence in improving anything.

I remember several of my grade school teachers criticizing my handwriting and telling me that I was stupid and my guidance counselor in high school saying that I was not bright enough to attend college.

I remember my father turning away from me with a blank look that told me what an utter disappointment I was to him. I remember him dying shortly after that. I could relate to my client’s feeling that nothing was ever going to change and despite how hard they worked to improve their situation; they were still feeling bad about who they were and lost faith that their lives would get better.

This was how I was feeling when I began my run and now that I had a clear sense of what was troubling me, in spite of the seemingly many obstacles blocking my path, I was ready to face it and see what I could do to make myself feel better.

Then the Promised Land came through the headphones. This is a song about believing in the power of redemption, faith and no matter how distraught your life seems; you will find a way to the light.

As the sweat poured down my face and fogged up my sun glasses, I knew I was onto something and could feel the intensity of the music as I pounded my legs up and down hills. I marveled that at age 62 I was running faster than most Americans of any age could ever hope for.

I thought about those people who have inflicted emotional and often physical pain upon others. I was reflecting on the new found knowledge that one out of every three women suffers from domestic violence mostly at the hands of her male partner.

I know I have helped transform many of these victims into warriors who learned to hold their ground and stand up for themselves. They learned to stay out of abusive relationships and to take control of their lives. I feel very proud of my work here.

As I continue to run and notice that my muscles are loose and thoughts are coming out fast and furious. I seem to be able to face the most difficult of emotional pain while I am exercising and at this moment I am seized by the moment.

Most people my age are thinking about closing shop and heading to retirement: not me-I am focusing on my dreams and how I can make them come true.

I have images of men and women who have really hurt others. They come across as predators, but deep inside they are terrified children. This is a part of them that is hidden. I hope to help the woman who pushes everyone away with her rage. I hope to help heal the man who batters and belittles those physically weaker than him.

I imagine teaching these people how to do what I am doing today; to face and work through their emotional pain while exercising. Many will say that these folks cannot and will not change. I say that we should discard these beliefs and build a new model for discovering and working through hidden pain.

Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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