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The Road to Self Discovery

In June of 2018 I was supposed to have two hip surgeries, one to fix a tear and another to completely reconstruct half of my hip. 3 cuts through the pelvic bone, at least 3 pins. I was ultimately looking at tons of painful rehab and a more limited range of motion. I was told I’d likely need the same surgery on the other hip, and that I’d have to have both redone again at some point down the line.

If you are lucky enough to have gone through life pain or injury free it can be hard to imagine the toll that constant pain and limited mobility can take on a person. Looking back I honestly hate to remember what a difficult time that was and how much effort I put into trying to seem like I was doing ok.

The week before my surgery one of my doctors reiterated that even in the best case scenario, I was looking at 60% of my pre-surgery range of motion. He told me my other option was to put the surgery off until I couldn’t bear the pain.

I hated both options and at that point decided to come up with an option 3.

Fast forward to four years later…on the last night of June. The night I earned my black belt. After completing the most physically and mentally difficult challenge I have come up against. 8 intensive weeks of fight camp to prepare for an MMA fight, and a 3 round smoker to put all the sweat and training to the test.

No surgeries. Just a lot of determination, consistency, and one serious comeback. In four years I went from constant, often debilitating pain…to the strongest I’ve ever been. Physical therapy, strength training, yoga…and stubborn optimism.

Needless to say I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

I have been training for what simultaneously feels like a long time and the blink of an eye. The training has gone through so many iterations, self defense, weapons training (sword, knife, machete, karambit to name a few), wu shu, muay thai, shin rin yoku, catch wrestling, lung gom, ninjitsu, kali, boxing, grappling…I can’t even count all of the different things we’ve touched on. From traditional arts and form work to MMA.

On top of that I have had the privilege of learning and teaching two distinctly unique styles of yoga. Sila (from Silat) and Kalari (an extremely unique and incredible art from India).

(I was also awarded the title of Top Gun C.O.B.R.A. Self Defense Instructor. And I co-produced a TV show that aired Sundays on KCDO-TV.)

I’ve walked on fire and meditated in ice cold water.

I have learned how to feel deeply connected to the things around me. To tune into the rhythms of nature, and my own body…to identify what is needed and what is getting in the way. To differentiate between what is accepted, and what is possible.

Sometimes I forget how much I have done here, all of the work and all of the reward and all that I have learned.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of the smartest, funniest, hardest working and most interesting people I could hope to know. People from all walks of life. An unlikely group of individuals brought together by an unexpected common thread.

It takes a special kind of person to see the potential that comes from constantly finding new mountains to climb. From making a point to veer off of the beaten path. And there is a special bond that comes from doing it together. Not everyone would understand, but the ones who get it…really get it.

There is no better feeling than facing a challenge and coming out on the other side stronger and better. No greater high.

I’m proud of the person I have become, proud of my independence and my ability to overcome things that have limited me in the past. I am proud of the way I have prioritized my health and mental clarity. Of all of the work I have done.

This year also marks 9 years since I stopped drinking. Not for any reason other than I wanted to see what it could teach me about myself. I quit cold turkey and haven’t looked back.

There are a lot of challenges that arise when comforts and distractions are removed. Letting go of social norms and expectations was hard, at first. But now I am so grateful to myself for ripping off the proverbial bandaids. For showing up for me. Because what I discovered was a strength I didn’t know I had. Unrestrained by the limitations and expectations of the mainstream. It’s taken time and a lot of hard work to feel good in my skin, but man does it feel good now.

There is an art to finding your way, to allowing your whole life to embody that spirit of curiosity, creativity and intensity. For me there is no difference between painting or writing or designing a yoga set. Walking barefoot at twilight. Long conversations with friends. It’s all one thing.

There are a lot of ways to go through life, and maybe I’m biased but I’ve got to say this feels like one of the coolest.


© Elizabeth McLaughlin


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