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The Power of Reinvention: How Boxing Changed My Life

I like to joke that boxing saved me from a stint in the psych ward and prevented me from going to jail. I’m only half-joking. If I’m honest, boxing has had a profound impact on my mental health and has helped me release years worth of residual anger and resentment in a healthy way. It also boosted my confidence in real ways and made me feel stronger — and not in the fake-it-till-you-make-it way.

I’ve learned discipline. I’ve learned the power of getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve seen the beauty of progress. I’ve felt myself getting stronger.

Through boxing, I’ve learned life lessons too.

React, don’t anticipate.

Always keep your guard up until you’re ready to make a move.

Breathe.

When you get hit, get right back up and keep going.

Sometimes you just get hit in the face.

But discovering boxing almost didn’t happen.

I hated exercise

I used to hate exercise. I’d see my friends wake up early to go to yoga or hit a CrossFit class or partake in the latest dance craze like Zumba and I’d wonder what perverse joy they were getting out of it. I’d certainly never gotten any joy out of exercise and felt like I was destined to live a life with me constantly reminding people, “I’m not an exercise person”.

I shunned exercise as if it were part of some cult of weirdos consenting to a life of nonstop sweat and pain. I decided I’d enjoy my slothful ways and keep to myself.

But at the start of 2019, I was itching to do something. Not just anything though. Something that would jolt me back to life and get me way out of my comfort zone.

At that time, I was in the middle of a one-year man ban where I ceased any and all forms of communication and connection with men, desperate to heal my heart.

Combatting heartbreak and deception

The previous two years of my life were a one-two punch to my personal life and self-esteem. It all started when after months of getting sick in different ways, I realized my nine-year partnership had become toxic and needed to end.

Sometimes your body knows things that the mind isn’t ready to accept.

Before I truly realized what I needed to do, I began to self-medicate with drinking and work. That’s all I seemed to do because facing reality seemed too difficult — as if it were a large riptide threatening to pull me under.

After months of drinking and fighting and couples counseling, I took the very difficult next step and officially called it quits. I asked my ex to move out of our apartment we shared and to say goodbye to the kittens we adopted together in haste — as if it could be a Band-Aid to our breaking bond.

The nights became so silent, it felt like I could hear the faint beating of my broken heart. The bed tormented me as I refused to sleep on “his side”. Time moved on in slow motion and the seconds were drawn out at a painful pace that felt like years.

Making a decision that you know will affect you and someone you love — for the rest of your life and change the course of everything — carries such an unimaginable burden.

I found myself unable to eat with any regularity for nearly three months. I lost 20 lbs and was at my college weight at age 32. People remarked how great I looked, which made me feel even worse.

How could I look great when I felt dead inside? Didn’t they know that it was grief that did this to me, not some slick diet?

Right at the three-month mark, I fell into the arms of someone who quite literally charmed the pants off of me. It was far too soon to date but I convinced myself I could have “fun”. We agreed to keep it “casual”.

And I’m sure you know where this is going.

Casual turned into feelings. Feelings turned into a vague situationship “without labels”. It ended after seven months in such a way that shattered me to my core.

I caught him in a momentous lie where he told me his friends had been murdered — which is the reason he gave me when he vanished unexpectedly one weekend. My friends had their suspicions, but I was blind and thought who could ever lie about such a gruesome thing?

But after he ghosted me while I was in Mexico, the frail foundation that was holding up my image of him began to crumble.

Shortly after, he was caught in his lie with irrefutable evidence and came back from the dead to gaslight me. He never admitted it but didn’t deny it either, which was crazy-making. But he was sure to tell me that I was “low”.

When that was over, I had two heartaches to deal with as the rebound could no longer serve as a hardy bandage to cover up the damage from the first one. And so started the man ban, a year of exploration and healing.

Starting the boxing challenge

The first couple of months of the man ban were easy. I was too heartbroken and knew that this time I couldn’t bury my sadness in another person or another drink. I had to sit alone, quietly with my pain to see what it had to tell me.

The pain served as a flashlight highlighting all of the places I needed to work on. Boundaries. Self-care. People pleasing. Validation. Codependence. There were so many things to unravel and untangle. My weekly therapy appointments helped me get through this time. But as I started to heal from being despondent, I started to feel a subtle brewing of rage.

I was mad. Really fucking mad. I was mad at my ex. I was mad at the rebound. I was mad at myself for putting up with so much, believing such lies. The list was endless, really.

Anger is a peculiar feeling. One that doesn’t sit well in the body and one that we’re not trained to deal with.

So when I saw a Facebook ad for a boxing challenge in my neighborhood, I was intrigued by the thought of throwing a few punches. The challenge would be six weeks, boxing three times a week for an hour.

As I pondered signing up, what made me pull the trigger was thinking that this was so un-me. It was so out of character. I’m soft, sensitive (and quite frankly, lazy) and boxing seemed violent and gruesome. I knew getting out of my comfort zone in this way would be good for me, I just wasn’t sure how.

So I signed up and on January 7th, 2019 I went to my first boxing challenge class. I remember walking to the gym and having that first-day-of-school-feeling. I was equal parts nervous and excited.

After one class, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I ached in places I didn’t know existed. I moved my body in ways I didn’t know it could move. I met others, like me, who had signed up for this crazy challenge hoping for a fresh start in the new year.

I came home that first night trying to convince myself that I could get through this. As each week progressed, I felt myself getting stronger, more confident. I learned a new physical vocabulary.

Jab, jab, cross, hook.

Pivot.

It was exhilarating.

As a complete beginner, I knew nothing.

The learning curve was steep and intimidating but also exciting. When you’re starting at 0 getting to 10 feels so good. Then 20. Then 30. Progress proved to be addictive and the antidote for my low self-esteem. Slowly but surely I was gaining a newfound confidence.

By the end of the six weeks, I was hooked. I continued boxing and haven’t stopped boxing since.

This new year’s experiment turned into a passion, a hobby, and something that has transformed all aspects of my life.

For a year, five to six times a week, I go to boxing class. It’s an incredible stress reliever and I’ve been able to get out any lingering anger that resided in my body. It’s been a much-needed component in my mental health care routine and been a bonus for my social life.

Boxing has been everything that I didn’t know I needed. It was so far out of my comfort zone but now I can’t imagine my life without it. I look forward to my time on the bags or getting to throw a few punches. It’s made me stronger. More resilient.

I know that life will throw me more curveballs — but now I know how to throw a right hook.

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Melanie Lockert

Writer. Author of Dear Debt. Host of the Mental Health and Wealth Show. Founder of Lola Retreat. Let’s talk money. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/melanielockert