You’ve seen those letters right?

I’m sure I’ve written one before even, when they were a thing. But what I’ve learned in the past two years has changed what I’d tell my teenage self a whole lot.

Maybe because it took me until my mid 30’s to actually really like myself, which seems like a massive waste of a whole lot of years.

I had a normal childhood with loving, normal parents. Around the time I hit puberty I started actively comparing myself to everyone else and coming up lacking. By the time I was 14 I had developed an eating disorder that would manifest for the better part of a decade, and impact my relationship with food and with my body forever.

I started smoking for the most predictable of reasons – peer pressure – when I was 16. I quickly discovered that I could smoke instead of eat sometimes, so I did.

I considered myself the least coordinated of people. I hated PE, I didn’t play sports, I actively avoided physical activity preferring to focus my attention on drama and music. I knew I could never be like those sporty girls, I just wasn’t built that way so I didn’t try. I HATED cross country day and wagged the whole thing in my final year of school.

This is where I wish my adult self had some say in my teen mentality. 

If I’d only tried a few things, maybe I would have discovered that I didn’t have to be ‘good’ at something to enjoy it.

I wish so much now that there had been a role model in my life who may have helped me find running sooner… To focus on doing things because they were great for my body and my head, not because I had to be the best at it.

But hey, maybe I would have thought they were dickheads and gone on my self destructive not-so-merry way regardless. I can’t change the past, it shaped who I am now and I am grateful for even the more painful experiences. I’m also glad that they are over.

What I CAN do is try to influence my own daughters, and my sons, by example.

When I started running I was a pack a day smoker, and my son was old enough to actively HATE it and tell us often that we had to quit or we would die. It really sucks to hear that from your kids, and realise that you are STILL a slave to the smokes 20 years after that first one. Especially when you really always thought that you could just give them up if you wanted to.

So I’d force myself out three times a week and do my runs. They were hard, and it wasn’t exactly fun, but it was only a matter of weeks before I realised I was getting better at it and that spurred me on.

Over time, it slowly became the new norm. Instead of asking what I was doing, my kids started asking when I’d be going for my run. Sometimes they would ask to run with me, or ride their bikes.

After a good long while I realised how ridiculous it was to come home for a cigarettes after each run, and began to wonder how much better at it I might get if I quit. So I did. It wasn’t easy, but by then I had discovered that actually I COULD do hard things. That was nearly a year ago, and today I cannot believe I was a smoker. That person seems so far away from where I am now.

Activity became a part of our daily family life, not just some weird thing that other people did.

My couch-inclined 9 year old daughter has just wrapped up her first netball season, and asked if I could help her learn to run 5k over the break until next season. She is so like I was as a child… for her to ask me feels kind of momentous.

I may not be able to change things for my 16 year old self, but maybe I can help give my daughter tools to help her through puberty and beyond with stronger self esteem, without her even know that I am doing it. 

Running has given me so much.

It has changed the way I feel about myself completely. I have never been stronger, more confident or more happy within myself.

But if my running can somehow help smooth the bumpy teenage path that lies ahead for my kids, that would be the greatest gift of all.

If you’re ready to be the change you want to see in your family, you can Learn to Run with us and even take your kids, partner or pets out with you! It is never too late to find your happiness and strength, and we would love to be part of your journey.

Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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