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My Fitness Journey, Part 4: Building The Wall.

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

Myself, 21 years old

A worm…a worm, and not a man…

Never…you will never become a man…you will never be like him…

I hate you…little, twisted, ugly boy – a boy that has not grown and will never grow…I hate your dull, ugly face, and I hate your slow, clumsy body…

Why are you still alive, worm? Don`t you know the world doesn`t want you?

I want you dead; you must not live, you hindrance, you burden, you awkward, heavy load – die and be gone forever!

I want to kill you, and raise another one in your place…you are a mistake – a mistake!

You must die.

Curse you. Curse your very life…

I will kill you…I cannot let you live.

— 'The Lost Heart'

By the time I entered the world of adulthood, I had started to look like a man, outwardly. The last few years spent in my secret pursuit of growing my muscles, were at last paying off. And speaking of paying, so were the kids who had once made me feel weak and useless. Some of them had indeed been made to give an account for their behaviour years ago. Revenge felt sweeter than I ever thought it would, but those parts of my experience is not what we will be looking at here...

Here, we will take a look at the mask behind which I lived for much of my life — the wall of (seemingly) solid well-being, muscles and smiles that I spent years erecting. And since that wall, like the Berlin wall, like the Iron Curtain, fell years ago and was destroyed, we will at last be able to take a peek behind the mask, and see what was really going on inside.

* * *

By the time I was a student in Varna, I looked good. Good enough to take my place in the night scene and pursue the bliss of romance and pleasure, while hiding behind my mask — the self which wasn't mine and had never been mine. That self, the good young man with the charming smile, the good intentions and the muscular, well-toned body, seemed so firmly attached to me while I was in the 'sweet spot', that I pursued that feeling night after night, trying my best to avoid the mundane light of daytime, the people who lived in the daytime and their dull daytime lives. I tolerated my time in University mainly because of the new friends I had found there, all the new girls and the pleasure of parading my new image before them...but my time was the nighttime.

You see, during the day, even while I was surrounded by my happy group, even when I felt like someone who had reinvented himself, escaped the ugliness of his rural roots and his own detestable, hideous inner self — even then I was too close to my fear of people seeing me, the terror of being confronted, exposed as the child I knew I was, and humiliated.

But at night, I could drink; and the drink pulled the veil of shame off my face for a few precious hours: then, I was a king — a kind, benevolent, strong gentleman of a king — at least most of the time. Then, I could also confront others and, at least to a degree, embody a force of virility and strength...but that side of my story will be told another time, along with the stories of revenge...

* * *

The gym — this is what kept me happy with myself in those few years of blissful oblivion. Ever since I had left the small, suffocating world of my village, I had been following a 'split-routine' which focused on a different muscles group during each session. At that time, I did not care about my body as much as I cared about what my body could get me — the acceptance of men as one of them, the interest of the girls, and my own pride in myself.

If other men respected and accepted me, I was, after all, a man.

If women saw me not only as sweet, as they have always done in the past, but as exotic and strong, I was, after all, a man.

A man, at last. And that, without paying any price, save for a few hours of sweat and well-controlled struggle in the gym each week.

Life was good! And who cared if I was still as fearful of being exposed as small, incapable and weak, as ever before! Who cared if I could still not bear walking past a group of young men, even if they were teenagers, without feeling exposed and shaken, like a five-year old boy, inside! Who cared if I knew, deep down, that I could never really be as manly as other young men — like most of my new friends who were not only looking as good as me but had also had training in athletic pursuits like football, wrestling, boxing, swimming, or simply the things which any healthy boy would gladly spend his summers doing, exploring and testing his own body and enjoying life through it...

* * *

'Hey, George,' said a friend to me during one of those summers of guilty, stolen bliss, 'I got a pair of boxing gloves in my bag. You want to have a quick spar? Me and the other guys sparred the other day in the garden — we had such fun!'

'Nah,' I waved his offer off in a carefully pre-fabricated gesture of seeming lack of enthusiasm mixed with a touch of loyalty and love. 'How could I ever fight you and hit you? I don't do these things with friends...'

Yes, that was true — I didn't wish to hurt my friend...but it was only a part of the truth. The other part revealed my fear and insecurity; it was rooted in the fact that I knew how weak, childish, and unmanly I was. I knew that I could not take a punch, and I knew that I would feel young, very young again, if I ever did — totally unprotected and alone, totally worthless and helpless, left forever with a semi-developed self which, while others grew and moved to greater heights, would always be with me, inside me, holding onto me, clinging, pulling me back, never allowing me to move up in the world and feel joy...

I knew, even then, that I would never know joy fully, without the ever-present, always looming threat of being exposed, of being made to feel diminished. I knew that, even if I surround myself by friends who were impressed by me and never challenged me, I could not surround myself with a wall which would be as thick as to shield me from what I knew was inside me.

I had, after all, been building that wall for years.

* * *

No, I could not have any form of play-fighting with my friend — not while sober anyway; I could not swim with them, box with them or wrestle with them; I could not even go running with them — I hated running and the way it exposed my lack of aerobic fitness, and what was the point anyway?

I could not learn to master some of these pursuits: as far as I was concerned, this should've been done while I was a boy...and I was no longer one.

I was a man now, and had to act like one, or indeed, hide, like I did.

The training regimen which helped me to get my body into the shape and the look I wanted it to have, looked like this:

Monday — Chest, Shoulders, Upper Abdomen.

Tuesday — Back.

Thursday — Arms.

Friday — Legs, Lower Abdomen.

'Just that?' — I have been asked over and over again, both at the time, by others at the gym, and later, when I trained others — 'Just that?'

Yes, just that. But remember, we are talking hypertrophy here, nothing more. We are talking shapes and appearances, not a human body functioning at optimal level. We are talking muscle growth — a mere fortification of the most external wall of the complex construction that a human being truly is — and that is very different than the full development of that body's potential.

Muscle growth. To do that, one does not need much. To do that, one needs only knowledge. And my knowledge, though far from complete, was enough to help me gain the growth that I needed, with minimal effort and time. But we should not be deceived — it was my knowledge, backed by a degree of favourable genetics and high metabolism, which was the product of real effort. It was that knowledge, which, much like a university degree, was gathered, collected, and put together during years of research, enabled me to dedicate only a several hours to sweating each week, and still look like I was spending a lot of my time in the crowded Varna gymnasiums.

That knowledge was not easy to get at the time, but I was determined to learn and grow. Day after day, in summer and in winter, I read the books and the magazines and watched the fitness show of Nedik Nedev, on one of the new channels (an exciting fresh addition to the two only channels which made for my whole experience of television prior to that time) and took in his teachings, putting them into practice day after day.

I did not have much at the time; there was no internet and no quick way of learning — but I had time.

And, day after day, I put every bit of new information to the test. I trained and I experimented; I found ways in which I could train hard but not waste too much time.

I found what worked for me, during the first couple of years of lonely, secret training in the dark, dusty shed at the back of our house, and I put it into practice. That was my education in muscles, which had began at the age of fifteen, after that fateful night of rejection and shame. A little bit later, when I went to high-school in town, I got a gym membership, and my education continued. I bought more magazines there and began to listened carefully to the conversations of those big, loud guys who seemed to spend most of their lives between nightclubs and gyms — the strongmen, the bouncers, the newly popped-up muscular businessmen and their 'boys' — learning even more about what works and what does not...

The city of Varna, where I went to live and study at the age of twenty, had even more gyms and even more people and resources to learn from. By that time, exposed as much as possible to the night scene, working as a bouncer myself, looking strong at 85 kg with biceps measuring at 44 cm/17 inches, many people asked me if I took steroids. Anabolic steroids were everywhere, and we all knew many people who sold them. The truth about that was not that I wasn't tempted to use them; I certainly was. But to do a 'cycle' of steroids, I was told that I had to stop drinking alcohol, to avoid damage to the liver and other scary possibilities. This is why I never did it. To me, there would not be any point in building a body which ensured my place in the world, under the spotlight of male respect, female attention and the haze of endless party, if I was never allowed to live that life...

The other option of enhancing muscle growth — natural supplements like protein powder — was simply too expensive for me, and I never did that either. All of the other bouncers jokingly pointed out the fact that, unlike 'natural' supplements, steroids made you bigger and stronger almost right away, while costing only a fraction of the price!

By the time I was twenty-three, I had reduced my training to three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — by getting rid of my 'arm day' and simply adding biceps training to my chest workout, and triceps to the back one.

I still looked no less muscular than before. And I still passed for a strong guy, even though my body did not possess the real, balanced, rounded, high-functioning strength which it could've had, if I had trained for life, instead of looks.  

* * *

It was very strange that a healthy-looking young man should develop such a severe case of chronic back-pain as I once had — a case which the doctors, apart from prescribing drugs, could do nothing about; it was also strange that I suffered so much from heartburn and acid reflux, that I had to take pills daily... 

Other, seemingly minor things, were also lurking, always near the surface: heart palpitations, recurring feeling of tension and nervous exhaustion at the end of some days, and a strange, consistent ache on the left side of my chest...

But what was even stranger, was the depression which kept me in bed for most of the day, even when I was awake. That sense of defeat, of utter uselessness, of being helpless and tired and unable to make myself move with the energy I knew I should have — that was not brought about by any outward occurrence, a loss or a tragedy: those were the first tremors of the deep conflict inside me — the quaking depts which I would rather have died but faced at the time.

We all fight for existence, all of us; and in the process of securing that existence, we end up hardly living at all.

Blessed indeed are the poor in spirit; but in those happy years I was not one of them.

My muscular, happy, strong self, was the mask that ensured my survival and my place in the world. Like the cold, white Communist monuments, once built to display glory, strength and invincibility, my solid, well-presented exterior showed to the world what I wanted them to believe, but I myself did not...

And behind the mask, there hid a little boy. Tormented, traumatised, plagued by dark terrors, separated from me and kept away by the venom of my hatred, he suffered alone in the dark, while on the outside I got on perfectly fine without him...

...or at least as best I knew how.

End of Part 4.


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