By Mark E. Smith
I love working out because it’s such a humbling experience. See, people often trick themselves into believing that working out is about strength; however, it’s literally an exercise in embracing weakness. After all, if you’re putting your all into your workout routine, you do so till failure, finding your ultimate weakness every time. If you’re doing it right, you never leave a workout accomplished but defeated.
Yet, what’s fascinating about working out is that by consistently acknowledging your weakness, it ultimately makes you stronger. This goes for all of life, where our greatest strengths originate from our truest weaknesses. If we wish to live to our best, we can’t focus only on our strengths, but we have to be wise enough to embrace and pursue our weaknesses.
I come from a lineage of addiction, and I’ve never thought myself stronger than it. I was born into it, science says it’s in my DNA as a genetic component, and was further solidified by the environment I was raised in. By all accounts, I statistically should be – and could be, as it’s never too late – an addict. It would be easy for me to say that I’m too level-headed or strong-spirited to be an addict. But, the fact is, it’s knowing my weaknesses toward addiction that have kept me off of that path. I’ve known my risk factors, and knowing my predisposed weaknesses within me keep me in check. I’m not inherently stronger than addiction, just wisely aware of my weaknesses. If you know you can’t out-wrestle a bear, stay away from bears!
Having a disability, my physical weaknesses are always front and center – at least as society recognizes them. After all, we live in a culture of hyper portrayals of masculinity and femininity. Men should be strong and independent, and women should be sexy and elegant. But, physical disability can make living up to those standards not just impossible, but excruciating. As a result, it’s so easy to push disability weaknesses – read that, vulnerabilities – down in denial or shame, especially when it comes to how the so-called weaknesses and our romantic partners interrelate. However, if you’re willing to expose and embrace your seeming weaknesses, it will take your life and relationships to a far deeper, rewarding level.
I’ve always had a whatever-it-takes attitude, and it’s served me well – that is, except when I’ve used it to mask disability-related weaknesses. I’ve spent decades struggling to use the toilet, where poor balance and poor coordination made the transfers a constant nightmare. I could never use the bathroom in the morning because I lacked the balance and coordination, and then in the evenings, falls from transfers weren’t uncommon. In my mind, my thought process was, no matter how hard it all was didn’t matter – I’d rather die trying than accept help. In my skewed, macho mind, what was less manly than having my wife help me transfer onto the toilet?
However, it was tough for my wife to see and hear me struggle. And, one eve, she just came up, tucked her arms under mine, and together we slid me onto the toilet, then off. It took a lot for me to accept that help, but it immediately made my life one thousand times easier. Yes, I had to admit a weakness to myself, that independently transferring onto the toilet was a huge problem. However, as a result, I summoned far more inner-strength and confidence by being secure enough in who I am to embrace such help from my wife – and it’s enhanced my life and our marriage.
From what I’ve learned in my own life, I don’t know why “weaknesses” in our culture are seen in such a poor light. After all, when weaknesses are embraced and addressed, they can be the ultimate form of strength.