Changing your narrative about what you 'cannot' do

Heya, I’m Sabrina Riviera!

Here’s a glimpse into what Fuelled by Feeling has brought to my life.

A few of years ago, i contracted an inner ear infection that caused me to lose balance for days (vertigo). The infection went away, but the feeling of vertigo would remain. It would appear at unexpected times; standing up at work, walking to the bus stop, while sitting down, but it especially happened during exercise, something that always gave me joy. It happened often enough, and in such a sneaky way, that I developed a fear of doing anything that might exacerbate it - which is, most anything.

For two years, I began to measure things in terms of potential dizziness/nausea/pain. If i go for a run, I may get the feeling of vertigo after, which may render me immobile for the rest of the day. If i do this work out, I may get nauseous, and puke, and be rendered immobile for the rest of the day. My body and brain was in a state of constant fear of something that hadn’t even happened yet. There was a huge disconnect between my physical experience of vertigo and my mental experience of it, a gap whose size/depth I couldn’t even see because I was so twisted up in it.

The few times i sought out professional medical help for it, I was given gravol and told to go home. I was discouraged and exhausted, and so continued to use it as a band aid solution. During that time, working a job that I hated, I had episodes of depression that fed the story that I was weak, unworthy, and that the things I was experiencing in my body were things I deserved. And as all the other emotions that seem to stick with that, like shame and embarrassment, made their home in my brain, I began to exercise less and less. Some days, I’d feel mentally inspired to take on that challenge, and begin running or working out again. Then I’d get frustrated anew when I couldn’t even finish a work out because I was too dizzy. I would feel like my body had failed me so spectacularly. I would attempt many times to restart being physically active, but despite getting enough sleep or eating enough food, I always felt a degree of nausea and dizziness after and/or during every workout, and a lot of disappointment. After a while, that became my new normal. Embarrassed of my shortcomings as I watched others do more, move more, move faster, I never told anyone how much it affected me.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, walking to a meeting, I was in a particularly frustrated state when I called Gabby. I had booked myself in for her eight-count class at All City for later that evening, and was incredibly nervous. The first and last time I was there, I only made it part way through the class before excusing myself to vomit in the bathroom from dizziness and nausea. That day, something was breaking, and I was fed up with myself. In that phone call, the second out of our five daily phone calls, I let myself be truly vulnerable. Said things I had only ever written down or kept in my head, years-long thoughts. I talked about how hard it was to breathe. I let myself voice the things about my body that made me feel weak and laid them out between us on the line, simultaneously fearing that she would turn away from it and knowing that she wouldn’t.

She offered me this, solidly and without doubt:

“In class tonight, I want you to focus on your breathing. Regardless of how or what anyone else is doing in that room, just focus on your breathing. If I say to do something, and it doesn’t feel right in your body, then don’t do it. Dude, I won’t care.”

She said it like breathing itself, easy.

From anyone else, I probably would’ve been hard pressed to heed this advice. Gabby knew how to hold this space for me. Something clicked and I felt safe. The hours leading up to class, I imagined what it felt like to embody total acceptance and non attachment to all my rigid expectations, imagined how this might feel all the way from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, like a great big exhale. I tried to unplug values from things that just are. Nausea, slowing down, vertigo, and hell, even puking, are not weaknesses.

Breathe, always breathe.

I went into the class a little nervous…. but mostly, calm. It had been a long time since I felt that going into a workout. I had no expectation of myself except to experience and to breathe. I felt safe in the knowledge that my being there was a choice that I could make second to second, minute to minute. There was no end goal except to be. And amid the dark and loud of that room, I let myself breathe, tapping into it moment to moment, movement to movement. I wasn’t waiting on the edge of expectation of when my next dizzy spell would come. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I felt every ache and sweat as they came, and welcomed them with my breath. Later I would reflect on how wild it was to be experiencing something so personally monumental in that room, without anyone knowing, except Gabby and I. Big shifts happening in the span of forty-five minutes, a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of time. Here, I realized I’d personally taken on so much unnecessary weight for years by feeding frustrations of my own creation and then, allowing them to feed on me.

Breathe. Breathe.

I finished the class. Before i left the room, I looked at Gabby and said,” I didn’t feel dizzy or nauseous even once.” Later I would say, ”You will never know what this last hour was to me.” She agrees, and says she probably won’t ever know.

For me, that entire experience is what Fuelled by Feeling is. It’s emotion, connection, and choice. It’s being vulnerable with yourself, taking what you need, and taking it as it comes, knowing massive shifts can happen in the blink of an eye and other times, it’s a slow crawl, like winter to spring. 

That day, I took what I thought were some of the ugliest parts of me, held them up to the light, and decided whether I was going to choose to keep them, leave them, or transform them.

This is a story for anyone who cares to read it, and anyone who might need to hear the words I needed to hear; that it’s mostly an exercise in getting rid of your narrative about what you cannot do, recognizing how many of those are limitations of your own creation, and in that, the most beautiful thing, you get to un-do them. What takes its place is up to you.

Gabby Villasenor