To Live My Body In Freedom

Karla L. Monterroso
6 min readSep 17, 2018

For the last year, as I’ve gone about the process of getting in shape, I’ve had so many asks from so many people:

“How do you do it?”

“Wow, so much discipline, what’s the secret?”

I’ve hesitated to give an answer. There is no magic pill that makes you start to demand your internal and physical life be good to you. I woke up one day having hit sadness rock bottom and decided the suffocation was too much. For me, it was nothing short of lust for the ability to do more. No amount of vanity got me over the line. I got a dog. We went on walks. I started to feel deeply uncomfortable with how challenging simple walks were for me. I love adventure. I love to travel and to see and explore and my body had hit a limit on how much it could do in that exploration. My inability felt like the last remnant of the trauma of assault. A physical daily reminder of my abuse.

The thing about surviving assault multiple times is that you never really understand what it’s like to feel like your body is yours. When the first time happens as a kid you don’t really even remember any time when your body was yours. Consent was taken from me. I had no choice about what was done with my body. I live with the knowledge of how easy that is and how possible it could be for it to happen again. To survive — I compartmentalized my body, my heart, and my brain. Even now, I can catch myself in conversations talking about those pieces like they are different entities instead of just me.

Today, I posted on my Instagram “1 year, 71lbs, and a 5k later…” but the more accurate construction is 10 years of therapy, 1 year of physical training, 71lbs, and a 5k later. Part of the pain of the year before the year I started to train was that my body wanted to come back together with my heart and brain. I had so broken and abused it by that point, that the process of my heart fully experiencing the brokenness was too much to bear. It almost killed me. I used so many things, food as my number one drug of choice, to numb myself. But my body wouldn’t be numb anymore. It refused.

I was lucky — finally at the point in my career where I could afford the tools for the stage of healing I was going on. It’s not that you can’t get in shape without a trainer, a health coach, and seeing a therapist one to two times a week — people have and continue to all the time, but for me, the needed skills acquisition required a different intervention. An intervention that would have been impossible without healthcare and disposable income. I’m grateful every day for the sabbatical that allowed me to focus on myself as my biggest project for the first time in my life.

I am a Latina from a low-income community and while it’s been many moons since I was in the economic situation I grew up in, skills about self-care were never passed down. Our oral tradition was survival and that’s what I did. I survived. I was the best at surviving. I didn’t feel entitled to more and rarely was I around women of color who actively felt and demonstrated that entitlement. When your trauma, your upbringing, and the scope of possibility you know does not have the entitlement to thrive wired into it you are often at a loss for how to get to something that sounds mythical. I had spent the last three years of my life surrounded by people of color on different parts of that journey. I saw women of color who demanded their worth. In small and large examples, I was also changed by them.

With that space, those resources, and those examples — I started the process of going to see a trainer. First, once a week, and then three times a week, then three times a week plus a daily morning run and a personal nightly routine (I’m not always keeping to that last routine but we’re trying). I can barely recount the pain of the first 6 weeks. It was an unbelievable amount of physical strain. I was going from nothing to demanding a lot of my body. It’s not even like I went on a huge diet. But a body that is in that kind of motion requires different fuel and that made things easier. I didn’t want to experience the pain of a bad meal during a workout, so then there were good meals. Then there were habits.

I remember the first time I saw the difference in what I could DO. I was helping a friend with his wedding and he had a box of 8 champagne bottles in my car and several other things we needed to deposit in his home. He said he could come back for the bottles and I said “I’ll try and see if I can do it” then both of us made surprised eyes at each other as I picked the thing up and carried it up two flights of stairs. Such a small act but it was the beginning of being able to DO so much more. It was a personal revolution.

There was my trip to see my family in Guatemala and my grandmother, the greatest symbol of unconditional love in my life, standing at the door to her home clapping for me as I came back from a run. She was 96 and delighted. And I was delighted at her delight.

There was my solo trip to Costa Rica and my whitewater rafting trip. I saw butterflies as big as my face, waterfalls that were many stories tall, and heard jaguars growl while my body delighted in its ability to sustain me for 6 hours on a river.

There was getting into the ocean for the first time in what was essentially a new body and realizing I could really haul ass easily because my muscles carried me so differently. Again, delight.

There was playing with my niece and not getting tired.

There was crying through the workout I had after finding out my grandmother had passed away. But kept going because I remembered the joy my ability gave her.

In this painful and difficult year, I grew to see this time not as all one thing or the other. Just a delicious slice of a long life where I made the choice to commit to myself for the bajillionth time since the last assault 11 years ago.

I am not done with that journey. Not even close. But getting to know my body intimately helped me understand so much that words and emotions never could. My own line of consent. How your poor beliefs about what you can have, can determine what you say you want if you’re not careful. That there is good pain and bad pain in the world and when you try to avoid all pain, you miss things — big, beautiful things. Why choice is such a big part of everything I try and put in the world. That you can fall in love with your body for what it can do and that significantly loosens its grip on not loving it for what it looks like.

So the answer to “How did you do it?” is layered and complex, but it’s also the wrong question about this journey. “Why did you do it?” and/or “What did you learn?” are infinitely more pertinent. This year was the culmination of 10 years of working to remove the grip of my attackers on the day to day experience of my life. That while they took so much from me they didn’t take my spirit, my heart, my softness, my ability to love my people so fully, or my ability to love the experience that is my body. And while I’m deeply aware that there will always be more to sift through on this journey, today I feel free. I live with the knowledge that I freed myself. I live with the hope that in freeing myself others may know the deep entitlement we have to freedom. 10 years of therapy, 1 year of physical training, 71 lbs, and one 5k of freedom.

  • This was written for Stella Lopez who reminded me why I write at the exact moment I needed it. I hope you dream of and taste freedom.
  • Thank you to my always editor Danilo Campos

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Karla L. Monterroso

Leadership coach, strategist, racial equity advocate, Covid survivor, long covid, former CEO @Code2040, former @HealthLeadsNatl, @PeerForward, @CollegeTrack.