The Transformation of the Fat Girl


transformation

“If you’ve been fat, you will always feel and see the world as a fat person; you know how difficult it is… It’s the same coming from a working-class background… it never leaves you.”
― Caitlin Moran, Moranthology

Living my life as a fat person has been the hardest of all the challenges I have encountered. Overcoming emotional abuse and the dysfunctions of my childhood pale in comparison to my struggles of self-acceptance and finding a place of self-love that transcends what I look like. My existence has been marked by a shame spiral that circulates between my humiliation over my weight and the weight of the shame that holds me back from tackling my problem. My strategy has been to overcompensate for my largesse by trying to distract people from really seeing me. Humor and intelligence, accomplishments and pleasing are some of the sharpest tools in my bag of tricks. Yet, every day I have looked in the mirror and focused in on my fears about what people would see and how what they see might influence how they perceive me. My goal was always to find a plan to shield them from what I internalized as ugliness. What looks back in the mirror at me is viewed, by me, as an abnormality – a misfit who is unacceptable and, surely, unworthy of love. When I reflect on all the struggles throughout my life and the darkness that has lurked so deep within me, I know the truth is that my weight helps to keep perpetuating the pain and reinforcing the message that I have been running to escape – no one will love me.

This is not a new story for me but, like everything else in my life, it has shifted as my life has evolved. As we work through our challenges and commit to improvements, we have to keep diving deeper to study the roots of our emotional baggage. There are layers of experiences and pain that have resulted in our current selves and, sometimes, what looks to be the source matter is, in fact, just a projection, distracting us from the more painful reality that is out of our reach. My relationship with myself and my journey of self-acceptance has finally led me to here and now I have the space to explore this deep and secluded area of myself. All the work I have done to move past the traumas and deep scarring pain has led me to this place. I know, with certainty, that this is the final frontier and truly the last piece of the puzzle for me. Around the corner, I can see peace and love and acceptance but first I need to confront the darkest core of my soul and unlock the safe where I keep all the shame that plagues me.

Despite all of the unpleasantries that have marked my difficult life, my weight has, hands down, caused me the most pain and has most held me back from being the person I always believed I could be. That simple acknowledgement causes me even more shame and discomfort because it feels like failure. Hiding behind my weight feels like I’m using a lame excuse to cloak and protect myself from the heavy lifting required to live an authentic life. So, when I decided to write this blog, I had to be metaphorically ready to stand in the middle of Times Square, fully naked, with the words “I am fat” tattooed across my stomach. And I had to be comfortable with everything that came along with that. Alright then. Here I stand. And, for the record, I am really not comfortable at all. Give me what you’ve got. I can take it as it is all part of the process.

To be clear, I have travelled a long road to where I am today and I’m confident that I’m close to reaching a destination that feels awfully good but, in order to get through the final leg of this journey and ensure my admittance to the Emerald City, I need to confront the truths of how I got to where I was. I have had to burrow down a bit further to understand the roots of my weight issues. And, most importantly, I have to step out into the light and acknowledge who I have been and who I am becoming today.

I had a deeply traumatic childhood, riddled with emotional abuse and abandonment. Food served as an emotional pacifier for me, providing a salve for my wounds and serving as a stand-in for the love that was so painfully withheld. I can intellectually lay that out on the table and I grieve for that young girl who was so tortured as she sneakily comforted herself with cake and cookies. The most distant element of my battle – the part I struggle to wrap my brain around – is the emotional understanding that would afford me a level of self-acceptance. For me, while the truths behind my addiction to food are abundantly clear, there has been no absorption of this deep in my psyche and I have continued to abuse myself by reinforcing the disappointment and shame. Over the years, I have read stories about people who have lost large amounts of weight, only to swiftly gain the weight back because they never addressed the underlying pain that resulted in them gaining or maintaining their excessive weight. They were incapable of making the mental adjustments necessary to see themselves as anything but the overweight person they were. For me, being fat is what I know. It is, quite frankly, synonymous with me. I cannot imagine a world where I am not a fat person. Yet, for the first time in my 48 years of life, that might be the case.

I have had a private and dysfunctional relationship with food. Food has been my best friend and worst enemy. I am not one of those people who loves to eat but, instead, I eat to soothe. For me, eating has always been a private affair. I would eat late at night or when no one was looking. Even after I was married, I would quietly slip downstairs after my husband was asleep and pour myself a bowl of cereal or fill a large bowl with ice cream and tiptoe back upstairs, eating the food quietly, hoping my husband would not wake up and find me.  Or, I would wrap a sleeve of cookies into a napkin and pour a glass of milk, feeling my anxiety and sadness slip away as the sugar made its way into my bloodstream. This was my heroin. I could numb myself standing in the darkness of my nighttime kitchen, flooded by the light of the open refrigerator, shoving leftovers into my mouth, silently hating myself with each bite. I would lay in bed at night thinking only of the food that called out to me from downstairs.  I needed to fill the bullet holes left behind from the massive assault I experienced throughout my childhood and young adult years. Food was a bandage that stopped the bleeding but, of course, couldn’t ward off the infection that was inevitable for I never dealt with the underlying disease. What has been hard for me to accept and absorb is that, as I grew older, I was creating more holes by repeating this cycle. No one was hurting me anymore except for me.  Food became my drug of choice and my weight became my weapon of choice.

Alarmingly, my food addiction and associated weight issues became a comfortable place and I used them as a way to distance myself from the rest of the world. Despite my desire to have intimacy and close relationships, I spent my life living life on the fringe, withholding myself from others.  I could more easily tolerate my disruptive upbringing by letting my weight be what distanced me from the rest of the world. Being fat meant that I lived outside of the mainstream and I didn’t have to address the loneliness left from the abandonment and loss of family. When I struggled with dating when I was younger, I would always blame it on my size. All I could see was an ugly girl who grew into an even uglier woman. I believed what my mother and sister told me for years (as an encouragement to lose weight) that no man would ever date me if I was fat. Instead of looking at my emotional dysfunction, I would focus my disappointment on my weight and neatly distance myself from the realities of having to engage in an emotionally mature relationship. While I can never deny that living outside of the lines of conventional beauty is challenging, I never had the emotional maturity to understand that I had the ability to emanate beauty from a different place and could attract love just as easily as my more traditionally attractive friends. Instead, even when I met my husband, I quickly attempted to pawn him off on my more attractive friends because I never believed he could sustain an attraction or love towards me because I didn’t fit the part. I was really fucked up. Focusing on the fat meant I never needed to zero in on the truths that I was too scared to face which was that I wasn’t sure if I could emotionally endure an intimate relationship with anyone.

“Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction making them useless, chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

I have often believed that it was some type of miracle that afforded me the opportunity to secure myself a husband and, rather than using that as evidence of my worthiness, my self loathing deepened even more over the years. As a result, I found myself moving further away from a sense of normalcy and deeper into a dark cave of loneliness and depression, padded with humiliation. Over the past 25 years I have gained and lost weight, never achieving any significant results and, like most yo-yo dieters, adding more weight in the end.  I would secretly attend Weight Watchers meetings or try fad diets, never admitting to anyone what I was doing. There was some twisted part of me that believed if I never told anyone that I was on a diet, they wouldn’t notice that I needed to be. While all I saw was fat and all I believed that anyone else ever saw was fat, I worked tirelessly to hide it.  My life was a costume party with me donning disguises to mask the truth. I think I was the only one I was fooling.

I endured myriad struggles. I could never really shop with my friends.  I’d go to stores and pretend that nothing was of interest to me and then secretly shop on my own. I could never admit that I was relegated to the plus size departments. Shame. No one could ever know my size. Shame. Perhaps the most humiliating experience came when I should have felt most beautiful. After I was engaged, my girlfriends wanted to shop with me for my wedding dress and all I could think was how dreadful that seemed. I couldn’t bear them knowing the truth about my size. I was dying on the inside as the seamstress took my measurements and announced to the group that I would need a size 18 dress. There was no place for me to hide and I averted their eyes in fear that they would judge me. It has taken me a long time to understand that my real fear was that they would stop loving me because I secretly believed that my weight was to blame for my family’s lack of acceptance of who I was. So much bigness wrapped up in that small little word. FAT.

When I was pregnant, I struggled to find maternity clothes in my size. I found plus size shops and purchased whatever I could find to fit my rapidly growing body. I was disappointed to not have the cute outfits I saw my friends wearing and tried to create looks that would emulate theirs. During my pregnancies I couldn’t wait until my stomach got so large that there was no question as to whether or not I was just that fat or, in fact, I had a baby in my belly. I never experienced that exuberance of “popping” like so many of my girlfriends did.  Well, I knew that I had popped but it was months before anyone could see the protrusion of my uterus beyond my otherwise thick belly.

“We fatties have a bond, dude. It’s like a secret society. We got all kinds of shit you don’t know about. Handshakes, special fat people dances-we got these secret fugging lairs in the center of the earth and we go down there in the middle of the night when all the skinny kids are sleeping and eat cake and friend chicken and shit. Why d’you think Hollis is still sleeping, kafir? Because we were up all night in the secret lair injecting butter frosting into our veins. …A fatty trusts another fatty.
― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

To further cover myself, I often avoided hanging around other fat people, choosing instead to surround myself with the most attractive people I could find. I had this twisted perception that I would stand out less as the one fat person in the group because I would be overshadowed by all the beautiful people. It felt like I could become invisible in this group. This served to be an even more painful version of torture because it was a constant reminder of how much I was not like those around me. All I focused on was what people looked like and I berated myself for not being able to look “normal.” I moved so far away from the core of who I am and neglected the parts of me that most needed my love. The recording in my mind was repeating hatred and disgust, pushing me further and further down. And, even worse, my existence became even more solitary because I never had anyone with whom to share my struggle. When I was finally ready to confront my truth, I realized that no one around me really understood my challenges or could relate to what I was going through. I had distanced myself from anyone who looked like me and stood alone. No one I knew understood what it meant to have this branding from early in their life. No one shared my identity that was marked by only one characteristic – FAT. When I was finally ready to broach the subject, I didn’t know how to openly discuss my feelings about my size. So, the first time I publicly confronted these emotions was about two years ago in my blog. To an anonymous audience, I revealed the secret truth about how I looked at myself and, for the first time, acknowledged how much my weight influenced how I traveled in the world.

In the beginning of 2011, I hit bottom. I am not sure how much I weighed at the time but I know I had ballooned past 280 lbs. (When I weighed myself for the first time after I started working out, that became my starting point. Yet, I’m fairly certain I hit a mark closer to 300 lbs., which is painful to even acknowledge today). I recognized that something had to change but I was so very lost. I’ve shared before that, sort of by accident, I began a journey of transformation. The universe led me to what I needed right then and I first found a pathway to fitness. At the time, while I had no diagnosable illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension, I could barely walk down the stairs in the morning because of the pain in my knees and my feet. I struggled to get myself out of bed in the morning because even sitting up was difficult and walking up a flight of stairs was overwhelming. I was in denial and frightened about my future. On a drunken dare, I began kickboxing, finding the courage somewhere deep inside me to make myself vulnerable and show up in a way very different than I had ever done before. Fitness and exercise became a fundamental part of my life for the first time ever. But the underlying issues were never addressed. Within a year, I had lost 50 lbs. and started to see myself in a whole new way. My body began morphing into something different but I was still emotionally eating. I was like so many of the people that I read about. And, sure enough, about a year later, after an injury, I was not able to exercise regularly and the weight started piling back on. And within another year, I had gained back 25 lbs. of the weight I had worked so hard to lose. I was free-falling back towards a place I swore I would never return to. After feeling such great accomplishment, I was awash in a new level of embarrassment and disappointment in myself.

Like most of us, I have watched people on television or read magazine articles about people who have managed to have success with extreme weight loss. I’ve always paid attention to these stories looking to identify their secret. What changed for them? How did they finally find the willpower and discipline to change their lives? What I realized is that no one can ever explain the shift that takes place in your brain when you are ready to change your life. It just happens and you know it. And then you have to be ready to endure it. No one rolls out the red carpet for you, enabling you to strut your way to transformation. You don’t reach the end of the line, walking past the black rope in a new body. You trip and fall and get back up and cry and struggle and breakthrough lots of pain. And then, if you have managed to endure all of that and still have the discipline to stay the course, you might actually make it to the other side. In the late winter of 2015, the switch flipped in my head. I can’t exactly say why and I am not sure I will ever truly understand. Perhaps I was simply ready and had found the strength to look at myself for real for the first time. What I do know is that on March 1st I committed myself to being open and honest about the deep pain associated with my relationship with food and my self-loathing and I knew I was ready to really change my life. I started an emotional and physiological cleanse. I chronicled the journey in my blog, publicly sharing my battle with my weight and holding myself accountable to whomever might have been along for the ride. I started unpacking some very heavy bags and couldn’t help but notice the shifts occurring. The heavy weights that had been buried so deeply inside me were starting to melt away and, with them, the fat on the outside of my body disappeared too. After three weeks, I had shed 15 lbs. and, within months, I was down nearly 30.  I felt different and began to see glimmers of sunshine that had never made its way to my eyes before. In August, after maintaining my weight for a while, I decided to cleanse again, as if to exorcise any remaining demons. And, another 15 lbs. were gone. And then more. Today, I hit a milestone of 70 lbs. lost. I can actually see the end of this road in sight.

After my first cleanse ended in March, I sat with my best friend and shared small pieces of my struggle with him. It was the first time I had spoken so openly about my weight with him and he listened intently, aware that this was a breakthrough. In all of our deep discussions about the various elements of our lives, we had never touched this and he didn’t dare ask because, instinctively, he knew it was a place I was not ready to visit. This time, I told him that I was ready to tackle my issues head on and was committed to take control of my weight and find a place of self-acceptance, wherever that might be. I knew I would know it when I saw it. About a month ago, I sat in therapy and told my therapist (who, by the way, also acknowledged that I had not been very open about my weight battles) that I no longer feared that I would regain this weight. I implicitly knew that something had shifted inside me. I am no longer hiding. This shit is all out on the table. It doesn’t feel great but I know it is where I need to be.

This transformation process has been rough and emotionally challenging. Seeing my body become something I am not familiar with has been both wonderful and disruptive. I struggle to see what others see and often try to imagine how someone who meets me for the first time perceives me. I don’t think the first thing people see is the fat girl anymore. In fact, while I still have a ways to go before I will stop thinking of myself as overweight (and before the medical charts will stop referring to me as obese), I am not entirely certain that the rest of the world sees me as the fat person I once believed I was. My friend explained to me that he thinks I have rewritten my script so dramatically and have made so many other emotional and internal changes that how I show up is so very different than how my old self did. I am not hiding nor pretending to be someone else. I am living out loud and proudly strutting my peacock feathers. I feel bold and beautiful and, most of all, proud and confident. My arms are jiggly, my belly is saggy, my neck is wrinkly and my thighs will forever touch but I feel so good about myself. After covering my body for years when working out, I am now wearing tank tops and funky bottoms. I am coming out of the shadows and confidently showing up, less concerned about what others see. I want everyone to know my story. I need everyone to know my truth. My wish is that it will help another person come out of hiding and feel comfortable enough to confront their own truth.

And, something really remarkable happened to me last week. While, for most, it will not seem all that amazing or noteworthy, for me it was a truly incredible experience. I was out shopping with a friend and we walked into Banana Republic where I saw a jacket I liked. I tried it on, out in the open of the store, and it fit perfectly. I calmly walked up to the register to get in line to pay and, on the inside, I was doing a victory dance. Right there in the regular people’s department I found a jacket I loved. Just a plain old size Large. That was pretty cool. For the first time I can honestly say that I like being Large.

Oops! I Did It Again!


louis ck

On March 1st of this year I did something that, unbeknownst to me at the time, was life changing. It seemed rather unremarkable then but, looking back, it is incredibly clear how significant it was.

I started a cleanse.

Yes, it seems banal. Ordinary. Trendy.

It was time for me to do something about my eating and general health. After struggling with my weight my entire life and being a confessed emotional eater, I was looking for something that would help me change my behaviors. It was a 21-day cleanse and I figured that in three weeks I would likely see some shift in my routine and approach and, hopefully, develop some new practices. I shared my journey through my blog, hoping that my very public adventure would provide me with some level of accountability that ordinarily I don’t always provide for myself. I tended to my mission adeptly and I managed to completely dismantle my psyche in the process, creating a new approach to how I look at food, health and myself, in general. In other words, I accomplished my goal.

Exactly five months after I finished my cleanse, I decided to do it again. There was no clear motivation for me repeating the process except that I inherently knew that I needed to focus in on myself once again. After all, my results from the first round were extremely satisfying. The first time I cleansed I lost 10 lbs. and, subsequently, I managed to lose about another 25, along with drastically changing my relationship with food. I continued to workout very regularly and have felt much more active and fit. But, as the months marched on, I could gradually feel myself starting to lose my focus.  While I have not reverted to some of my destructive eating patterns, I could see that I was ever-so-slightly taking my eye off the ball.  The summer brought socializing and drinking and, even though I managed to keep the sugar and heavier foods at bay, I became less intentional about making sure that what I was eating was nourishing my body. My workouts were still pretty intense but less regular. Fortunately, the pounds were not packing back on but, in my new evolved state, I could recognize that I was slipping and needed to cut myself off at the pass. Plus, I wanted to feel that euphoric state that comes from eating clean and living a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to wake up every morning feeling good about my choices the previous day and not battling with myself about what I was putting in my body. So, I decided to give it another go. After all, it is just 21 days.  Three short weeks.

Once again, I found a window of time where I would not be traveling for work and would have the time to commit to preparing food and working out nearly every day. While this cleanse is relatively easy to follow, it does require you to commit some serious time to planning and preparing and to exercising. I sort of love the idea that these 21 days are a chunk of time devoted to me. It is like a little respite where I put everything else second and focus in on myself.

In preparation for the cleanse, I decided to go back and re-read the 21 days worth of blog posts from the last time in order to get back into the mindset. I was surprised when I quickly recognized that nothing about this time resembled the last. I foolishly expected my experience to be similar but, as soon as I read the first post, I realized the error in my thinking. Nothing about me today even remotely resembles the me who was preparing to start the cleanse on February 28th. It seems quite incredible that so much could change in five months but, in actuality, it has. For starters, I am not setting out on the cleanse with the dismay and disdain for myself as I was the last time. Before beginning the cleanse in March, I was profoundly disappointed in myself. After having lost about 50 lbs. several years earlier through intensive workouts, the weight was creeping back up and I had lost my motivation to exercise. I would longingly look at photographs of myself from that time, feeling overwhelmed and regretful of my lack of discipline. As someone who is typically quite regimented in my behaviors and very thoughtful about my actions, this was a major blow. This time, none of those feelings exist. On the contrary, my confidence level is high and I am extremely proud of my success because I look better than I have in years and am, inarguably, in the best physical shape of my life. While I still have plenty of weight to lose, I have never been healthier. Now, my motivations are about enhancement rather than rescuing myself from a dark hole. And, by the way, that feels pretty amazing.

Another big difference for me is that, this time around, I am approaching the experience with a sense of confidence and clear expectation of outcomes. There is much more intentionality about my approach. Last time, I really had no idea what to expect and was just hanging on by a thread, hoping that I could stick to the plan and get through the 21 days. This time I can see out to the horizon and imagine where I might land at the end. I have the benefit of knowledge of how this experience can and will play out and gives me more control over the outcomes. That is not to say it will be any easier but I am comforted in knowing that I am no longer a rookie and can guide myself through the hills of this path.

This journey is also a little different for me because it is a journey of acceptance rather than of accomplishment. Completing the cleanse in March left me with a tremendous sense of pride, not just because of what I accomplished but because of the resulting shifts in my life. More mentally than physically, I felt altered. My body didn’t look dramatically different but it set me up to manage my relationship with food much more powerfully. As a result, the weight started coming off rapidly and there was an ongoing ease as I approached social occasions and difficult eating environments. I was in control. Since that time, I have openly spoken to others about how the cleanse was a demarcation line in my life – it was, without a doubt, a transitional moment. There was such significance to the timing, the process, the experience and the outcomes. Now, I no longer need to prove to myself what I am capable of. My challenge is to accept the person I have become. I see glimpses of a version of me that I really appreciate and that excites me. Right after I finished my cleanse the first time, I shared with a friend that, more than anything, my objective was to let go of the control that food held over me. With two years to go before I turned 50, I wanted to plan to give myself the gift of entering my 50s without being ruled by food or my relationship to it. I want to turn 50 with a sense of acceptance of who I am rather than continually lamenting what I am not able to accomplish. Whether a size 6, 10, 14 or 18, I want to be comfortable in my skin and proud of who I am and what I have done for myself physically and mentally. I no longer want to be held hostage by my weight. The cleanse was the beginning of that process and, now, five months later, as I begin the process again, I can clearly see my destination.

So, this time, I selected this past Saturday as the start date for my cleanse. And, for about a week before I started, I decided to let myself eat whatever I wanted. After having given up foods like pizza, steak, diet soda, ice cream and most carbs and sugar, I gave myself permission to be gluttonous. I wanted to experience all that I had been “missing” and see where that landed me. I started the week off with pizza and ended it right there again. By the end of the week, after only about five days, I couldn’t help but recognize how crappy I felt. My appetite was ravenous and I was shunning my usual favorites of fruit and vegetables and was seeking out carbs and sugar. No surprise, of course, as I was not appropriately nourishing my body but, instead, was unconsciously shoving food in my mouth that emotionally I believed to be satisfying. I no longer could taste anything and found myself soothed by the comfort of the textures and the reminiscence of what these foods once represented for me. Near the end I was even beginning to binge eat. On the last night before the cleanse, I ate three slices of pizza and followed that up with a bowl of cereal and some graham crackers and milk.  These were all foods that had been removed from my repertoire, not because they are “bad” foods but because they make me feel bad. I was bloated and uncomfortable and found myself, once again, caught in the vice of food. It scared me how easily I could fall back into those bad routines and it was a distinct reminder of how important it is for me to eat consciously and nurture my body.  For five months I had not one single craving for any of those foods and, after just a few days, it was all I could think about.  Fortunately, I knew the cleanse was coming and this was only a temporary state.

I have already made it through three days and am feeling so much better. Admittedly, I am a bit tired from the cleansing and detoxing that is occurring in my body (I always compared it to the early days of pregnancy when your body is furiously building a human being and the exhaustion is overwhelming). And, emotionally, I find that the absence of food as a comfort results in some level of crankiness and self exploration. But, those are good things that always lead to positive breakthroughs.

Recently a friend admired me, acknowledging how much weight I have lost since March and I really tried to gain perspective on that. My husband keeps telling me how great I look and, every now and again, I run into someone who hasn’t seen me in a while and they remark about how much I have transformed. It is hard when you are living inside your body to see what others see. There is only so much distance you can create to develop a level of objectivity with yourself. So, I heavily rely upon those closest to me to help me see through their eyes and I pay close attention to how the clothes fit and how I endure my strenuous workouts. The easier they get and the more endurance I develop is always a reminder that I am getting stronger and more fit.

This summer, one of my obsessions was watching Extreme Weight Loss with Chris and Heidi Powell. I am fascinated by the journeys taken by the participants in their program. The transformations over the course of a year are remarkable and powerfully moving. With each of the participants’ stories, I found a piece of myself, relating to their struggles and appreciating the hard work they have to put in to achieve the results. It’s easy to think that you are alone when battling with your weight and freeing yourself from the addiction. Most of my friends have not had similar struggles in their lives and I have always felt like I have endured this solitary battle. Food addiction is often a very silent and lonely fight. And, as someone who has battled to overcome my addiction for years, I am grateful for anytime there is an opportunity to showcase the challenges and pain people face when trying to regain control of their lives. Food is not something we can cut out of our lives and the power it has over so many of us is not always evident. I am thankful to have achieved the levels of success I have and am excited to continue to liberate myself. There is no greater satisfaction than ending a day knowing that I was able to make choices that were right for me. There are many instances in which people try to encourage me to loosen the reigns and indulge and I choose to stay the course and do what is best for me. Those are winning days and I take them one at a time.

I’m excited to see where this 21-day journey takes me. I won’t be blogging each day to share my daily updates but I will share my story because I think it is important that we do so because you never know whose life you are going to touch to help them make a change. After all, that’s what we’re here for – to make a dent in the universe and affect others in a positive way. Hopefully my journey will do that.

UNPLUGGED


Yesterday I was reading the blog of a friend who committed herself to going one full year without buying any new clothes or cosmetics. She had proudly lost a significant amount of weight after baby #2 and reclaimed many of her old favorites that had long gone out of rotation and decided now was a moment that she could revisit her closet and shop there rather than going out and wasting money on discounted designer items that she really didn’t love all that much.

I was intrigued. I love the idea of giving myself a challenge. Right now, of course, I am working on this great weight loss challenge but I have been at it for a while and it is becoming sort of a way of life (yay for me!) so it no longer takes up that much of my mental bandwidth. Without a doubt, changing behaviors takes a significant amount of dedication. I have always subscribed to the thinking, based on conventional wisdom, that it takes 6 weeks to make or break a habit. So, my friend’s commitment of committing to a year means she will have broken it (and likely acquired some new bad habits along the way) and can move on. Given that I am on the weight loss journey, giving up shopping for a year is not really an option for me unless I am prepared to walk around with my pants falling off my butt. I keep telling my son he can’t wear his pants that way so I am not sure I would be setting a good example there. Plus, there are rewards that comes from working hard to lose this weight and one major one is the ability to buy smaller and more flattering clothes to show off my efforts. I am not prepared to give that up (although my wallet might be).

I was walking through Target today, armed with a shopping cart full of items that I did not need as I approached the bedding aisle and contemplated some nice soft, inexpensive jersey sheets. I thought twice about it, thinking about part of my friend’s rationale for her decision not to consume for the year. You wallet will become fatter if you stop unconsciously making purchases of items that you simply do not need. This made me edit my cart substantially. Did I need to buy yet another case for my son’s Nintendo DS cartridges? He has asked for a travel case for the device which holds cartridges but it is out of stock. It can wait. Did I need to buy a lighted make-up mirror? Mine did break recently but I have been functioning just fine without it. The light in the bathroom is adequate and, last time I checked, I am not planning on being on a red carpet or a magazine cover anytime soon so I think I can survive. I dumped out a few other unnecessary items like the umpteenth kitchen gadget that will sit in the drawer after the first time I use it because I really don’t need it but it looked so cool in the store. I wanted to lighten my load. Good for me.

On the drive home, as I was recklessly texting as I drove (using Siri but definitely taking my eyes off the road – no kids in the car so extra points for me!), I started thinking about what else I might be able to give up to improve the quality of my life. I looked down at my iPhone and my new friend Siri (who, by the way, uses no punctuation so it always seems like I am monotone or typing run-on sentences, which is a bit of an issue for me, developers at Apple – I hope you are paying attention), I realized that at this point in time, my biggest addiction lately is to my electronic devices. Last night, we had some friends over and one of them pulled out his antiquated phone which made me laugh because I did not think you could even still make a call from those things. I kept probing him to find out how he functions without the ability to check email, Facebook, or search google for some random, useless bit of information. He looked at me like I was crazy and responded by asking why anyone would need to do that. Good question buddy. Why would we? Not sure but I know that I do. The other day, I was in a client meeting for about 4 hours and I nearly started shaking and vomiting because I was not able to look at my phone or iPad during all that time. To add insult to injury, I had to travel via subway to meet with this client and was disconnected for nearly 20 minutes – each way! I thought the world was going to come to an end. Clearly, I have a problem. Then, I found yet another blog this afternoon by a woman who told about her period of disconnecting from the world over the holiday last week. Perhaps there was a message coming my way?

So, now I am pondering. Is it possible for me to exist in a world where I do not play Words with Friends throughout the day? Can I survive without posting links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts about some of the fascinating stories I come across during the day (and can I give up reading them too)? Would I be ok just listening to music on my radio or CD player rather than exploring my friends’ playlists on Spotify? It scares me. I feel like I am tethered to the world via my technology and I fear being trapped somewhere with nothing to do, nothing to read, no game to play, no updates to check, no mail to read or write. So, I am still pondering. I am not sure I am at a place where I can begin my rehabilitation from technology and I’m not even sure I want to but I want to consider it. Sometimes all this social media and electronic entertainment is a bit overwhelming. It takes me away from things I love doing like reading (on a kindle, of course) or playing a game with my kids or making jewelry or watching a good movie on TV (when was the last time I simply watched a movie without another device in my hand?) And, God knows, I’d be setting a far better example for my kids who seem to be genetically inclined to the same electronic proclivities.

I will continue to think about this and, perhaps search for support groups to help me with my challenge. Of course, how will we support each other without Facebook, email, twitter and texting? Maybe we will call each other on our home phones or simply meet and have coffee. Crazy, just crazy! In the meantime, I’ve got to go post this blog on Facebook!

MIGHT AS WELL FACE IT, YOU’RE ADDICTED


This morning I read a great blog on Huffington Post about recovering from the addiction of making resolutions.  So funny and so poignant filled with small insights we all can learn from.

Naturally, the topic of resolutions is very popular this time of year because of the pavlovian response we, as a society, have to the turning of a new year.  We see this as a fresh start to correct the ills in our lives.  Much like Monday morning being the best time to start a diet after we have gone on a food bender over the weekend.  It’s a new week, a fresh start, a new opportunity to try again.  The symbolism of the changing of the calendar is the perfect time to hit the reset button.  However, as I pointed out in last year’s blog on resolutions, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that simply because we are starting a new year, we are somehow prepared to fix what is broken and preventing us from reaching our goals.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the post I read this morning is the idea of becoming addicted to making resolutions.  Rooted in humor, this is something I am sure many of us can relate to.  How easy it is for us to commit to resolve to do things differently and how quickly we are able to disappoint ourselves by abandoning these resolutions within weeks and sometimes even days.  It certainly makes sense that we can become addicted to making resolutions because if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!  Being addicted to making the resolutions allows us to avoid addressing why we are not able to accomplish our goals in the first place.  Like any other type of addiction, we are masking the true feelings or pain we are struggling with.

Addiction is such a compelling subject for me and one that I would suggest we are often quite afraid of because it inherently suggests that we have no control.  How can we tackle addiction when, by its very definition – the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma – suggests that we are bound up by it?

Earlier this year I found myself in bed, under the blankets suffering from a nasty winter cold.  While it stinks to be sick, sometimes that ability to just curl up in bed and shut out the world is a gift.  I usually try to find some old movies or catch up on television shows that I have missed.  On Demand becomes my best friend when I am sick.  During this particular stint, I discovered the show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  Now, I enjoy a good reality show as much as the next guy but, somehow, this one had managed to escape my attention for four seasons!  I guess I had heard of the show but tacitly made the decision to avoid it because it seemed more like Celebrity Train Wreck.  On this day, perhaps because of my groggy state, my compromised immune system or my desire to watch something mindless, I decided to tune in.  I figured it would be cringe-worthy and good for some laughs.  Much to my surprise, I became completely enthralled watching these celebrities battle with their own demons and confront emotions they had so carefully bottled up and expertly masked with drugs and alcohol.  I hardly expected to care about these people or relate to them on any level.  I assumed their problems were rooted in them being spoiled, overindulged, petulant fame seekers.  No one was more shocked than me when I realized that we shared many common obstacles in our lives and I felt compassion when I recognized the deep pain they were suffering from.  They were raw, vulnerable and on the verge of losing their battles with addiction and, ultimately losing their lives.  I was hooked.

I had a very emotional reaction to the group “process” sessions the patients were undergoing and, remarkably (or perhaps not so remarkably), found connection points to so many of them.  Our lives had no parallels except for the fact that we were all damaged in some way.  I understood their pain, I understood their drama, I understood their addiction.

I became a bit overwhelmed watching episode after episode because, while I could not label myself as an addict (I had no dependency to drugs or alcohol), I felt like I understood the addiction and recognized many of the same addiction characteristics in myself.  Could I be an addict of some sort?  If so, what was my addiction?  These questions rattled around in my head as I obsessively began to go back and watch every season of the show.  I needed more insight from Dr. Drew and I needed to find more links to help me uncover what my addiction was.

Watching the show stirred up a lot of the feelings that had developed in me as a result of being the child of an alcoholic.  My father, for most of my childhood, was a severe alcoholic which completely defined who he was and what our experience was with him.  I never understood what motivated his drinking as I was simply too young to even explore that aspect of his life.  All I knew was the impact his drinking had on my family.  My relationship with his drinking was related to what I witnessed when he would become violent, damaging everyone and everything around him both physically and emotionally.  I never understood my father and, even as an adult, I never understood the power of the drink.  Having never been a heavy drinker myself (although research suggests that children of alcoholics have a 50% greater chance of becoming alcoholics themselves), I did not understand the dependency.  I could not empathize with the suffering that caused him to turn to liquor to squash whatever pain he could not tolerate.  My only reference point was the experience I had and the instability it caused in my family.  Curiously enough, those feelings were not the ones that erupted while watching the shows.  Rather than relating to the patients’ stories from the perspective of a victim, I felt connected to them as an addict myself.

I processed my own feelings stemming from this for a long time.  I cried a lot while watching the show and, as a result, a lot of very raw feelings emerged.  I knew, for certain, that I was an addict and I knew, for certain, that I needed to understand what my drug of choice was.  And, as it often the case in my life, it came to me a quiet moment.  I wasn’t really thinking about it and suddenly I realized that my addiction was food.

This probably should not have been a big surprise to me but, remarkably it was.  Despite the fact that I struggled with my weight my entire life, I never felt like food defined my life.  I have read so many books about emotional eating and, while I related to some of them, it never really nailed how I felt about food.  I was not necessarily the person who ate when I was upset.  In fact, I actually did not eat when I got upset.  I had to go deep to really embrace this concept of food addiction.  I talked a lot in therapy about it and tried to conjure up memories from my childhood where food played a significant role.  I focused on one particular memory that had haunted me for so long.

When I was young, my mother was an obsessive clean freak.  This was her way of controlling her environment and it made it difficult to be a child in her home.  She would not allow us to sit on the furniture and could not tolerate any mess anywhere in the house.  So, to preserve her sanity, she sent us down to our basement, which was neither finished nor heated.  Twelve months of the year my mother would send us down there to entertain ourselves.  The cellar was quite scary and did not contain many toys for us to play with.  I often sat down there on a lawn chair and colored in coloring books or made up stories.  We also had a few key items in the cellar that was the central point of my attention – an exercise bike and an old refrigerator/freezer.  I used to like to sit on the bike and ride a little bit.  I did a lot of my thinking and imagining while on that bike.  I also pretended that I could escape my life if I rode hard enough or fast enough.  I imagined myself visiting far off lands where things were peaceful and different from my life.  The refrigerator/freezer was a place for me to root around for sweets because my mother, in order to try to control my weight, prevented me from having any sugar of any kind.   What I did discover in that freezer was frozen cool whip.  I would sneak a spoon down to the basement and often hide it on the top of freezer and when I was feeling particularly sad or my emotions were taking over, I would pull out the cool whip and begin to eat it by the spoonful.  Now, frozen cool whip is a very different culinary experience than thawed cool whip.  It was hard to dig out and was not very creamy.  However, after plowing my spoon in it a few times, it started to have the nurturing consistency of the cool whip that we all came to love.  After I had one of my sessions with the cool whip and I was thoroughly ashamed and feeling incredibly guilty, I would spread the spoon around the container to try to smooth it out for fear that if my mother found out, I would be incriminated and even further punished.  Looking back as a parent, I cannot believe that she could NOT know that I was eating the cool whip but, only on a very few occasions did she actually reprimand me about this.  I have never understood that to this day.  Perhaps she had some compassion for me or perhaps she couldn’t be bothered.  I guess I will never know.

This went on for many years until I finally was old enough to go out of the house on my own and found places to escape to.  I would walk to friends’ houses, the library, go to the movies – anything to get out of that cellar.  But, the soothing of the cool whip now had to be satisfied in other ways.  I found other foods to make me feel good but, because it was such a shameful practice to me, it was something I did very privately and often berated myself for the behavior.

On that fateful day earlier this year, after many, many, many years of exploring my relationship with food, I surprised myself when I finally made a connection that had never revealed itself to me before.  The idea of addiction was never part of my processing.  The symptoms of addiction never resonated with me but on this day it was so fundamentally clear.  It all made sense.  My desire to go downstairs each night after we had all gone to bed to “sneak” some food back upstairs suddenly made sense to me.  My moments standing in front of the pantry cabinets in the kitchen searching for something that would never reveal itself to me because it could never be found in there seemed so painfully sad.  My definition of addiction was so thoroughly connected to alcoholism or to someone shooting heroin that I never suspected that I could also be an addict.  Sure, I had joked about sugar addiction and suggested that a mainline of sugar into my veins might cure all that ails me but I never really took myself seriously enough to understand what the sugar did for me.

I was all at once overwhelmed and liberated.  The ability to label myself gave me the freedom to seek out a plan for recovery.  I did not for even a minute believe that I would be instantly cured but I was certain that I had information, awareness and acceptance that would allow me to follow a path.  As the serenity prayer goes:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

One day at a time was all I could tackle.  And, slowly, I saw the change taking place.  Of course, unlike chemical dependency, you cannot eliminate food from your life.  There is simply no option that allows for us to remove the drug.  Instead, learning how to manage my addiction was all about learning how to acknowledge and process feelings that I would normally shove away in a drawer and replace with a pint of ice cream.  As one friend said to me during a particularly difficult time last June, “just sit with your feelings and see what happens.”  It didn’t break me.  I survived.  And another step forward I took.

Today, as we come close to the end of 2011, I have a lot of things to be proud of.  I am not “recovered” but I am on my way.  I have lost 35 lbs and no longer feel defenseless against food.  I still struggle with “sitting with my feelings” but I am learning to be uncomfortable and constantly reassure myself that I will feel better and will survive.  There are no more late night visits to the kitchen and that is one of my accomplishments for which I am most proud.  That was a pattern of behavior I struggled with for nearly 40 years.  I no longer struggle.

So, getting back to that wonderful blog post from this morning, let’s stop trying to cure ourselves with new year’s resolutions and let’s stop running from what causes us pain.  It is far less painful to confront what hurts than to run from it and allow it to control us.  Please share your stories with me.  Together, we can do anything!