April 24, 2021

Into the Ring & Into My Soul: A Fighter's Reflections on Healing

Alanna Sheridan

Looking back, I was angry.

I grew up mixed race and mixed up on Ireland’s rugged and wild south west coast. My mom was bipolar, my dad was depressed. He raised my brother and I in Ireland, while she stayed in the US. The family trauma ran cold and deep on both sides. Let’s just say there was a lot to unpack as I grew up, but I hadn’t yet found the language to communicate my emotions and feelings.

I developed depression at a relatively young age. It’s strange how much more acceptable depression was in comparison than anger. Anger confronts us so aversely that we condemn it instantly, partially afraid to truly hear or face the consequences of our actions.

I was in a bad place when I found Muay Thai. My father had passed away, I was attending college but working two jobs to pay tuition, and my partner at the time was emotionally abusive. I desperately needed a savior with more sense than I had.

Thai boxing saved me, I don’t know where I would be without it. I cannot tell you how much I owe the sport, or how many lifetimes it would take for me to learn the lessons that I did, had I not entered that gym under the arches of London's Bethnal Green.

My attitude about myself and my abilities changed entirely. I showed up to training even when I didn’t feel like it - discipline and managing my emotions became the precursors to my success. But alongside that, I was taught humility - even if you are the best, there is always someone that will beat you at some point down the line.

Most notably, I learned courage and self-belief and how to push myself outside my comfort zone - that’s where the real magic happens.

I had always been competitive, extremely competitive, but had never fully committed to any sports. I was a sore loser and hated to be bad at things, so often I would give up before I had ever really tried. But I was adventurous, a hard worker, and stubborn as hell. I carried a whole lot of grit in my tiny 100lb frame. Thai boxing reminded me that I am strong. And there’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it. The training is arduous and tests you physically as well as mentally. But under that scope, I was able to flourish.

As a woman, it allowed me to explore my masculine traits. It’s okay to be aggressive - in the right environment. It’s okay to be dominant, outspoken, loud, strong, forceful, willful, stubborn, opinionated when necessary. And it’s okay to be angry, as long as you can face it and direct the energy in an appropriate way. Muay Thai became an outlet for my frustrated emotions, allowing me to release and heal old traumas. It’s considered an incredibly brutal sport, but I actually became less aggressive by participating in it. I no longer felt like I had something to prove and I felt far more peaceful after letting it all out in training. Society places such narrow confines on what and how a woman should be and for years I had conformed and suppressed the “unacceptable” aspects of my identity. Muay Thai set me free.

As a mixed-race Black woman, my identity has always been hard to pin down. To be mixed, for me at least, was to live in two completely different worlds, speak two very different languages and wear distinctly different masks. Sometimes, to fit into one, is to deny the other. We all just want to be loved. And consciously or unconsciously we shapeshift as needed for social approval. What I have learned from Thai boxing and embracing my masculine is that dichotomy is not such a bad thing. I am feminine. I am masculine. I am whole. This allowed me to reconcile and accept my biracial identity. One does not cancel out the other. They can be opposed and still exist in harmony. I am Black. I am Irish. And still I am whole.

I was never good at asking for help, so I decided to take my healing into my own hands. I read extensively about the mind, self-development, and transformation. I have always found my peace and inspiration in books and I will always credit them for the initial steps I took onto the path of health and wellness. If they demonstrated anything it was that we are stronger than we know and that the human spirit is a force to be reckoned with. Through stories and studies, I began to understand the power and autonomy I truly had over my life and circumstances. I stopped making excuses and chose to live deliberately.  

Healing is love. Healing is acceptance. Healing is discipline. Healing is letting go. Most of my healing has been choosing to show up for myself on a consistent basis.  I do this by eating well, avoiding junk food and substances as much as possible, getting a good night’s sleep. I read, I train, I meditate, I write and I fight. I love myself, I believe in myself and above all, as much as possible, I allow myself to simply be myself. This has been the hardest but most transformative aspect of my healing.

I wonder how much my identity influenced my health and wellness healing journey as much as the journey influenced my identity. I thank the higher powers that be for their ability to facilitate change. And for who I have always been...the core that can never be and never needs to be altered. If anything, the journey has allowed me to cast away the parts of me that aren’t me or are no longer needed, exposing my true nature to me piece by piece.

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