I Am More: Justin

Years ago a friend of mine shared on social media that she was about to enter a gym for the first time and she was scared. Her health was at its lowest point and she knew she had to make a change, but she was scared of the unknown that awaited her inside. She was about to meet Justin, whose own vulnerability inspired her to take a chance and enter his world of weightlifting. I witnessed my friend make weekly gains in strength, meet her new goal of becoming a competitive weightlifter, and to ultimately help found a community farm with her accumulated strength. After following Justin’s impact on my friend’s life, I was honored when he welcomed me into his gym and told me his story:

Justin
Justin, 2018. Pastel on paper, 32×40 inches

I’ve been good with words since I was a kid.  When I was five, I wrote a letter to Senator Ted Kennedy wishing him luck in his Presidential run.  That summer I wrote back and forth with my kindergarten teacher, Sister Roberta. She thought it’d be good for us to be pen pals.  Words don’t usually fail me when I can hunt and peck from a remove, and more often than not they provide the comfort of distance and perspective…

…of control.

Maybe I’ve been good with words, but I’ve also been pretty good at being afraid of life for just as long.  Sometimes this has manifested itself in relatively harmless ways, but during other periods of my life, it’s been like a rock on my fucking chest, like I’m not sure I’m going to make it another day.

I remember being six or seven and absolutely terrified that my ride, five minutes late for pickup, would never arrive–and that would be it, school would close, I’d be left in the parking lot by myself, and I’d just sink into hell through a crack in the pavement.  I remember being twelve, going to a new school, and sitting in Latin class every morning for six months thinking about whether it’d be better to die before or after my parents died, whenever that would be. Every morning. Being sixteen and afraid to drive, being eighteen and afraid to drink, being twenty and afraid every second of the day my college girlfriend would leave me for someone smarter, better-looking, whatever.

Twenty-five, delivering wine in New York city, convinced I was being followed by scam artists and creditors, catching my reflection in a store window and being horrified by what I saw: hollow, dead, wide eyes.  Like they couldn’t see anything but debacle. So many long, shitheaded nights in a big empty city, because the morning fears wouldn’t abate until after supper and it was like I had this window of four or five hours to attenuate by any means necessary.

And being forty-two and convinced I was dying, for a good six months.  Standing at the computer on the worst morning I hope I will ever have in my life in July 2016 and writing my family goodbye letters.  My sons were 7 and 5 at the time. Jesus. I had a doctor’s appointment and thought I wouldn’t make it home. Thank goodness I was wrong.

And yet, I am more than that. I have to be.  I am a husband and father and I love my wife and sons more than anything. I am a brother and a son.  I am a business owner. When I think of all of the things that I already AM, it reminds me that I don’t have to have all of the answers; I don’t have to be afraid of life anymore or all of the time but I can wake up every morning and resolve to let my ACTIONS define who I am in this world.  I don’t have to control all the minutes of my day or every interaction on the docket. I can countenance worry but I can move forward. I can respond instead of react. I can do the next right thing. I can run the next play, and let that be enough. I can be movement and strength and kindness and let those things tell my story.

And I am a weightlifter because when I get under that bar and take it into the hole, it doesn’t matter how much weight there is, or what face I make, or anything really other than this:

Will I stand up?

To read more of Justin’s writing check out his blog, A Lifetime of Strength: Thinking Things Through, One Rep at a Time.

If you would like to share how you are more than your mental struggle, please email me at amykerrdraws@gmail.com for a Writing Guide.

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3 thoughts on “I Am More: Justin

  1. I’m so glad you found Justin. I found his story very interesting in that on one side he talks about all these different things that cause him insecurity and fear. Yet in the next breath Justin seems happy and living his life in his own way. I am so glad he has found ways to accept his life and feel very at ease with the life he lives and love for his family. Blessings to Justin

    Like

  2. What an interesting story! Great portrait! It certainly fits his story. So, if you put together all of the backgrounds of all your drawings, just like all of the different people, they are all quite different! Love you! Keep up the great work! >

    Like

  3. Beautiful work, Amy, about a beautiful subject. Justin teaches and inspires so many people in his daily life, that it can be hard to reconcile his inner struggles. I find him extraordinarily brave in his willingness to reveal his demons. Thank you for reaching out to him and for sharing your gifts and his at once.

    Liked by 1 person

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