Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Exercise Factor (Part 2 of 4)

Just to encourage people to exercise isn’t enough. I read an article early this year that said health spas get most of their new members during the holiday season. The article also pointed out that by February 9, most of them have stopped coming.

One reason people fail with exercise is that they try to make immense changes and then give up. My advice (and my own experience) says, “Start small. Decide on one thing that you can do faithfully. Then add something else.”

Next to my faith in a loving God and the positive support of others, I place physical exercise as my best form of therapy and healing. That’s because I know what it has done for me. The best way I know to express this is to use myself as an example.

I was born in 1933, so you can figure out my age. Certainly genetics play a role, but I’m healthy and exuberant with no physical problems and I take no medication. That’s not meant to brag, only to point out what physical exercise does for me.

In 1974, I had been hospitalized twice with ulcers, my blood pressure was in the high normal range, and I was about 30 pounds heavier. My doctor said having ulcers twice made me chronic and he would soon start treating me for my high blood pressure.

I left his office with a prayer in my heart and determination never to have to go back. (I never did.) I chose to take care of my body and I chose to run. It took me almost two weeks before I could run a whole mile without stopping for breath.

But the single most significant benefit was the positive effects on my psyche. Some days I felt lousy, and in the early days of my recovery I’d have to say close to helpless.

Then I went for a run—no matter how much effort it took to get my feet moving. By the time I came home, I felt good. We sometimes call it the runner’s high, or we can say the endorphins kick in. Perhaps it’s just as important to say that God made our bodies to move.

The more I move my body, the better I feel.
That’s excellent and inexpensive therapy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just Move It (Part 1 of 4)

As a survivor, I believe strongly in daily, physical exercise. Most experts on physical fitness suggest some form of aerobic or cardio exercise 3 times a week for about 30 minutes.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper introduced the term in the 1960s, and I’ve been an advocate of his approach since the mid-1970s. He uses the term to refer to exercises that demand the use of oxygen during the workout, such as running/jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking (fast-paced walking).

For survivors I suggest a different approach. Do it every day and as early in the day as possible. (I’m a morning person so that’s easier for me.) I chose running, although I now rotate it with fast-clipped walking. I used to be able to do 15-minute miles walking, but now it takes me 17 to 18 minutes a mile.

The purpose is to get that heart pumping. Not only does it improve our health as Cooper and others have advocated, it improves our mental health, reduces stress, and lowers depression. The experts claim (and so do I) that daily exercise increases our cognitive capacity.

My Merriam-Webster defines cognitive as conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering).

For those of us who were victimized as children, this is the easiest and least expensive form of therapy. My daily run doesn’t cure anything, but it improves my spiritual and physical outlook.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Skin Hunger (Part 2 of 2)

As I pointed out in a previous blog, all of us need to be touched and held. Others took advantage of our neediness and exploited it. We were innocent kids and eagerly accepted affection from anyone.

Regardless of how much help or therapy we receive, the skin hunger doesn’t go away. How do we handle it? If you have a spouse, that’s probably not a big issue. You touch each other, I assume with some regularity.

But what if you’re single? Or widowed as I am? Needs don’t disappear. Perhaps because I’ve long been one of those individuals who likes to hug and receive hugs, I’ve been more acutely aware of it.

About a year after my wife died, I noticed a row of gray-headed widows who filled up one pew at our church. I’m not sure what compelled me to do it, but I went up to the woman on the end and said, “I need a hug. Would you give me one?” She smiled and did it.

The woman next to her smiled and I said, “I’m open to one from you if you can spare it.” Within a couple of minutes, I had gone down the entire row. I felt good about it and it has become my weekly ritual.

A few weeks later I said to one of them, “Thank you for that hug. I don’t get touched all week.”

“Neither do I,” she said. “And I look forward to your hugs.” She was 91 years old.

Two more years later I’m still hugging them, but now all of us see it as mutually needed. Best of all, they’re safe hugs. We’re both responding to that need for a physical, human caress.

That practice has grown beyond the row of widows. I’m now the hugger in the church. A woman named Kay runs up to me every week. “I need my Cec hug!” And I’m delighted to provide that. Men get hugged too.

I’ve been careful about the people I embrace. If I’m unsure I ask, “May I hug you?” In two years, I’ve had only two people say no, and both times I’ve answered, “Okay, thank you” and moved on.

I focus on this because, as a survivor of childhood abuse, on that preconscious level I needed the skin contact, and getting older doesn’t destroy it. Each Sunday when I leave church I’ve been hugged at least 30 times and possibly even more. I know I feel better about life and certainly better about Cec.

I need hugs.
And in giving them, I also receive them.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Receiving Hugs (Part 1 of 2)

Women have hugged me most of my life, but I was in my 20s when I went to a church where a one-armed man named Benny hugged me. It felt uncomfortable. But over time I learned to receive hugs from men and enjoy them.

The important lesson was that I learned the difference between safe hugs and unsafe hugs. My first awareness of an unsafe embrace came at a men’s conference. The speaker told us to move around and hug at least five other men.

A man I didn’t know grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me tightly against his body. It didn’t feel good, and I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I sense that most of us know when it happens. Maybe he held me a little too long and certainly too tightly.

Not feeling comfortable discussing it with other men at the conference, a few days later I chatted with three women at church. “Do you feel a difference in the kind of hugs you receive?” I asked.

Without hesitating, all three said they did. “I can tell if a man is trying to hit on me by the way he grabs me.” In essence, that’s the statement each of them made.

Like me, they were unable to define exactly how they knew, but they did.

That distinction helped me a great deal. A couple of years after that my wife and I moved from Atlanta to Louisville, Kentucky, for a four-year period. I joined a men’s group and became actively involved.

Occasionally I felt unsafe hugs and tried to avoid those men. One of them, Eric, invited me to have dinner with him, and I gave him an excuse. A few weeks later he asked me again, and I turned him down. He didn’t ask a third time.

About that time, I heard rumors about Eric being on the prowl for other men. I knew I had made the right decision.

I’m grateful that I sensed the difference. And I think most of us do.

How about you? Have you experienced both kind of hugs? If so, how do you explain the difference?