Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Strength Becomes Armour

When my daughter, Emily, died in 1989, the world fell away from my feet for a very long time. I had previously lost a child through adoption in 1978 and, no matter what the choice involved, no matter what happiness I brought her new family, no matter how many well meaning souls congratulated me on "doing the right thing", the loss of "Sarra" was as emotionally painful as the death of Emily. Two children gone forever - my heart broken completely.

I can't think of a single parent who has heard my story who hasn't first shuddered then quickly counted their blessings. All in the split second before they automatically say, "You are so strong, I couldn't survive that." For years I mentally said "oh yes you could and you would. What makes you think I'm so special?" but I never said it out loud because no one knows their strength until tested and no one ever wants to imagine that the test might come someday - like a pop quiz in life. So - mostly I sucked it up, moved forward and ate myself through my pain.

I became pregnant with Gillian less than 2 weeks after Emily died - a single act of sex between two traumatized souls producing a new hope for the future but, inevitably, adding to the burden of a life not yet ready to be rejoined. I have no memory of the pregnancy - so wrapped up in my own head, I barely recall her birth. I do know I never moved out of maternity clothes - every ounce of emotional relief I sought from the bottom of a bag of chips during my pregnancy stayed with me on my hips.

I learned to survive - my husband and I grasped hands together tightly and moved forward one tiny step at a time. I spent the first 6 months of Gillian's life thinking that she, too, would die. I became resigned to the fact that I had no control over the things that mattered. Over time, the gloom started to shift a little and I found room for small measures of joy. Gillian was an easy baby, her older sister Heather was a charming 4 year old. Steven and I became closer than any couple could imagine being - we are, to this day, each other's biggest supporter, closest companion, best friend. So, the fog lifted, and I started to move forward.

I AM "strong" - my spirit has been forged in a veritable blast furnace. People, as I've said, openly admire my strength. I admire my strength - marvel at it at times - what I've been through!! How I've managed! How I cope!! I'm amazing...

Except, I rarely felt amazing, or particularly strong. I was a lost soul with a tough armour on the outside and a huge gaping hole on the inside - just like those relics from the middle ages. I kept trying to fill that hole with food - anything and everything. It was a momentary pleasure followed by a monstrous personal disdain that dug the hole a little bigger. An endless circle of eating to fill up and feeling emptier as a result.

I didn't even realize this was happening to me. As life tumbled on at its breakneck pace, I ran along side of it. Wonderful people, events and accomplishments kept me moving forward with a kind of momentary pleasure. No one looking at me from the outside could have guessed that many nights, while I lie awake in bed, it took every fibre of my being not to scream out loud. Those moments were frequent enough to tell me that all was not right but life was enjoyable enough during the day that I didn't probe it too deeply. I bought another Mars bar.

My armour of strength became so thick that nothing got in or out. It took a chance encounter with a caring psychologist to point that out. She was supposed to help me find a new job after relocating to Calgary with my husband's job change. She was supposed to sort out my aptitudes and interests, help me navigate the decidedly different health care system in Alberta and help me get back to work. Instead, she met with me a couple of times and then asked "why do you think it is so hard for you to ask for help?"

It was an epiphany. It was THE moment that started me on my journey to health. It was a tiny little question with HUGE implications. It was the wee little chisel that found a weak spot in the armour. Our lengthy discussions about this very question led to more questions and more discussion and slowly, the armour started to feel less constricting - I was starting to breathe.

I am strong. I have coped with trauma. I have dealt with pain. I have survived. But, when strength becomes armour it can do more harm than good. I became so good at coping, that I stopped letting anyone see that I didn't always cope well at all. I became so good at masking my pain, that I never let anyone see when I was hurting. I was always externally cheerful, relentlessly pragmatic and present oriented, never daring to dream, never showing a moment of weakness. I was efficient, hard working, thoughtful, intense. I was short tempered, impatient and filled with a kind of sad anger that can't be defined. I disdained weakness, fear. I was a mess of conflict, resignation, sarcasm and hopelessness. I never let anyone visit the damaged inside of me. Not even my husband.

My armour was killing me - learning how to shed it saved my life. Learning how to ask for help - learning how to accept help! Learning how to dream - to feel like I deserve to have dreams! Learning how to stop comparing my tormented insides to anyone's outsides - learning to change my insides! Piece by heavy piece, my armour has fallen away and my life has begun to emerge.

It's still emerging.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tale of Two Blogs

I've been leading a double life and it's caused a standstill on this blog even though I like this blog very much.

I designed this blog to be a blog for me and me alone - anyone else reading it was welcome to do so but, ultimately, I just wanted a place to come when I needed to be reminded of the importance of my journey.

The problem now is twofold - I haven't really needed to be reminded as often as I thought I would. I now believe that I've managed that amazing thing called a lifestyle change - I firmly believe I have made life altering changes that are permanent.

My daughter tells me the best evidence of this is what happens when I buy a coffee. She and I have the good fortune of meeting on the train 2 mornings a week for our commute - lovely to get together for a visit before work. When we get to Union Station, I go to the Cinnabon stand to get a coffee - I like their coffee (Country Style) but I cannot even look at their baked goods. DD tells me that when I am asked if I would like anything else, I make the most appalled face as though I cannot believe anyone would ask such a preposterous question. She's right - I'm in the line up where tons of people (pun intended) go to load up on the worst form of pure sugar nightmare imaginable and I act like it's a ridiculous idea that anyone would want to order one of those things. I am trying to reform for the sake of the other customers and the lovely people who serve me my coffee but the very idea of a gloppy, gluey, calorie laden, nutrition free product such as a Cinnabon bun makes me want to throw up. Same with cheesies, Mars bars, chip dip, french fries, every single thing sold at McDonald's, deep fired anything, store bought baking of any kind, home prepared products using Campbell's soup as a base - the list goes on.

So, I'm not tempted. Don't have cravings. Eat alot. Exercise willingly. Feel self love. Feel grateful.

As a result, I don't get back to this blog very often.

The second reason I'm not here is because I started another blog on my sparkpeople page. That blog I started to inspire others. And it's worked. After just 3 months as a sparkpeople person (a sparkie?), I was chosen as a "Motivator" - an honour given to those people who are nominated by other members. I'm very touched.

My sparkblog is really dedicated to what I think about this journey I've been on. To share some of the self learning I've had in order to stimulate others. It is an unapologetically positive blog. My whole page is - dedicated to simply positive thoughts and gratitude. This is definitely in keeping with the sparkpeople approach - it's a way more positive and helpful site than my old friend WW.

So, now, I have 2 blogs. This one for me and that one for others. Because the other is so abjectly positive, I've decided to use this one to explore some of the darker sides of this journey - again, for my own purposes. I've had some breakthroughs recently about my childhood and upbringing and I want to explore their impact on me as part of this journey. It may get a little ugly - who knows? But, I thought a warning for anyone lurking around might be in order.

If you're interested in my sparkpeople blog, visit my page:

http://www.sparkpeople.com My name there is serene_me.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Then and Now - photos of change

This is a picture of my husband and me taken in the mountains in August 2004. We're both at our heaviest ever weights - 221 for me, 235 for him.
We were both 45 and heading down a perilous path of poor health - he with high blood pressure already percolating away and me with a self-loathing that was downright paralytic.

We needed to make change.

Fast forward to August 2009. What a difference 5 years make!
I like the idea that time will pass regardless of what you're doing with it. Taking 5 years to make this change would have seemed untenably long as it stretched into the future back in 2004 - in retrospect, it's happened pretty quickly and I'm glad we spent our time this way. Now we're both thinner, fitter and way, way healthier:

DH is 165 lbs and, here I am about 138. My goal is to be 140 so, this little extra cushion works well for me.

We are committed to maintaining the healthy lifestyles that got us to this fit, thin state and believe we will never again be obese.

Working on this one day at a time together makes that possible. I am grateful that my DH will do this with me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Some catchphrases just work.

My lovely and talented sister-in-law C. is an inspiration to me. She conquered her life long battle with obesity about 12 years ago and changed her corporate career to become a Life Coach - a perfect choice for her personality and skills. I had a chance to catch up with her last week while on vacation and, as usual, learned a few new things from her.

I can't credit her with creating this saying but she's the first person I heard it from so I give her credit for spreading the idea. We were talking about some of her young work colleagues whose lives look so perfect - gorgeous, thin and making good money, these 3 women have what everyone wants. Success, amazing lives, unbelievable opportunity and, of course, perfect wardrobes. It's hard not to be jealous of women like them - and, in fact, we very often waste energy and do ourselves harm by being exactly that - jealous. But, as C. was telling me about them, it became clear things were not all that they seem. One of the 3 has recently entered a treatment centre for substance abuse. Another went to visit her on a "friends and family" support day and came sobbing to C. the next day describing her own need for treatment for a cocaine addiction and bulimia. We discussed how unhappy these 2 women must be to have these terrible problems and I commented that you never really knew what was going on inside someone's head. C., "well, you know, you can't compare your insides to someone else's outsides. It's just not a fair fight."

Comparing my inside to someone else's outside. How much time and energy have I wasted doing exactly that? And, at what cost? And it is an unfair fight - I get to be the loser everytime I start with this game.

This has become an important discussion topic in my family. My youngest started university yesterday - her second attempt. She's convinced herself that she is the only one who is nervous and anxious. That she is the only one who is afraid she won't make friends. That everyone looks more confident/more intelligent/more outgoing than she. When she called last night to describe how she's made a few great jokes that everyone in her group appreciated, my other daughter said "what do you think the quiet ones were thinking about your outside compared to their insides?" It made me smile to hear that.

I have to stop comparing my insides to the outsides of others. And I have to be aware that now that my outside is looking pretty good, others might need more compassion from me as they compare their insides to my outside. My insides are a work in progress just like everyone else's; trying to make a life that has meaning for me. To judge that against what anyone esle is presenting just isn't worth it.

It's not a fair fight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I can.

A sparkpeople blog about being able to touch your toes again after a many year inability to do so has got me thinking about all of the things I have achieved on this journey of recovery from obesity. I thought I would talk about them here in case I ever get the urge to return to my unhealthy past! Having these reminders of what has changed (and why) has been good motivation and celebration through these months of maintenance. All tools at the ready! All hands on deck!

I can touch my toes without bending my knees. I can almost get my hand flat on the ground although I have tight hips so it's hard.

I can squat for a long time talking to a small child or playing with a cute dog and stand straight up afterwards without needing a hand up. My knees make an obnoxious crunchy sound but, they do it!

I can run up a flight of stairs 2 at a time. And still breathe at the top.

I can squeeze through a tight place - this is more handy than you know - cars parked too closely beside mine aren't a worry, I need a very few inches to get through.

I can fit boots over my calves - first time since 1978. This is significant - I plan to buy my first pair of winter dress boots in over 30 years!

I can easily change the water cooler jug at work - hoist it up, turn it over, plug it in - voilĂ  - fresh water and no need to wait for a brawny guy to happen along.

I can run 19km without stopping. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would want or need to be able to do this - I'm not entirely sure why I want or need to do it. I just know that I do and I can.

I can get up at 5:30 am to exercise. I used to think 5:30 am was a decent bedtime for a Friday night.

I can laugh at myself. Those of us who suffer from perfectionism don't laugh at our foibles very readily - being able to do so takes courage.

I can make change. I am not so set in my ways that I can't try new things. New ways of thinking. New attitudes and new values. I have always embraced change in my external circumstances - now I can make changes to my internal machine.

I can do 10 full plank style push ups without stopping. I feel like GI-Jane. Without the bad hair.

I can be serene - live without anger or frustration or impatience. I can accept, move beyond, forgive, forget. Releasing negative energy and embracing contentment makes life quieter.

I can sleep all night without heartburn, stress, worry, pain troubling me.

I can bend over to tie my shoes without a change in my breathing.

I can eat healthfully, with satisfaction and delight, without guilt or embarrassment and feel sated.

I can dream. I can set goals. And achieve them.

All of these marvelous achievements! All from a healthy lifestyle that has focussed on my spirit, body and mind. All things I would miss dreadfully if I were to lose them through my own inattention to my needs.

Such strength in 2 little words... I can.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fear of failure and the power to believe.

I'm doing it - really doing it! This maintenance thing that is both as boring and as scary as the weightloss process itself is being done. One day at a time and one decision at a time but I'm doing it!

Yeah me!

It's scary though. I have so much excellent experience with failure at this game. All the previous times I've lost a few or many pounds only to have them ambush me again without warning. All those failed attempts to start dieting. All those half baked attempts at exercise. I can't count the number of times I've successfully lost enough weight to go buy a new, smaller sized pair of jeans only to have them relegated to the back of the closet within a few weeks. Yes, failure has followed me around like a stalker for many years and doing this maintenance thing means confronting those fears daily.

I've struggled for many years with using an external locus of control in my life; basically an approach that many perfectionists use to protect our delicate ego from facing the harsh reality of our human imperfection. If I forgot to do something, I could always find something else to blame. If I ate too much or exercised too little, I could blame that on something or someone too. I used other people to determine if I were fat or thin enough and always felt judged by them. I was sure people watched what I ate or wore or said or did - and felt bad or good about all of those things based on what I thought they were thinking about me!

It's not a happy place to live because, if other people or circumstances are to blame for everything wrong in your life, you don't have to take any responsibility for fixing things - it's out of your control after all. So, I've had to work hard on squelching the inner voice of perfectionism in my head while I was working with the rest of my damaged psyche. The sad truth is that we perfectionists don't think we're perfect, we think we're supposed to be and are saddened daily by our failure to be perfect... another failure.

It's hurting my head to even think about it.

No, I am not perfect and I am not even supposed to be. But that doesn't mean I'm going to fail at this crazy thing. Not this time. I have too much invested in my recovery to believe 6 homemade chocolate chip cookies (eaten warm from the oven, and they weren't small either) have any real meaning in the grand scheme of this journey. Making a choice to eat cookies does not mean I'm failing - it means I'm human and that's okay because I can be in control - not the cookies.

So, here I am, a recovering perfectionist learning to believe that maintenance can be imperfectly done without failing at it. Trusting that I have the power to eat less on the days after the cookie binge; honestly reporting my calories in the nutrition calculator; not justifying the indulgence based on the 700 cals burned that morning in a run. Just making daily choices that make sense in the grand scheme of an imperfect life.

That is success and is my power.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's hardly fair... shopping still sucks!

I am willing to bet there isn't a fat woman out there in North America who doesn't believe with all of her heart that clothes shopping will be nirvana when she reaches that magical number lodged in the ideal weight part of her brain. I certainly did.

At 221 lbs., I was so tired of my limited options in clothing stores. I bought everything with spandex so it would be comfortable over rolls. I could also buy a smaller size if it were stretchy enough! But, I could never buy blouses that fit over my upper arms. And they gaped at the chest regardless of the shoulder width. I purchased many jackets that could not do up at the waist - if they fit the upper arms, I was more than happy to leave them open even if it did give the appearance of a gentleman's hunting jacket from a 17th century painting. Pants were a nightmare - to get something to go around my ginormous thighs I had to endure 4 inches of gaping at the waist. A belt cinching that extra material just pulled the whole thing upward resulting in pants with perma-wedgy. Always uncomfortable, snug, pulling, and, let's face it, not very attractive. No matter what I bought or how much I paid for it - clothes just didn't look good on me.

So I learned to hate shopping - paying too much for ill fitting, ugly clothes seemed like torture. I once enjoyed thrift store shopping but, as an obese woman, you really don't want someone else's pulled out, worn out garments. Brand new ones would rub an open seam between the legs soon enough - no need to get something already threadbare! Taking valuable time from an overpacked day in order to drive to a busy mall where you're bound to be disappointed, depressed and disillusioned just doesn't seem like a good way to spend your life.

Losing 81 lbs should mean that these feelings are behind me. That shopping for clothes with this trim, fit, proportioned body would be a joyful experience. Walk into any store in the mall and come out with a bag of perfect clothing designed to fit the new me like a model's wardrobe.


Shopping is still a nightmare! I have almost as much difficulty now as I did 5 years ago. I am a size 2 - this is not a real woman's size anymore - only teenagers and movie stars wear size 2. I lost 81 lbs but gained 5 years in age - I'm almost 50, I don't really want to shop at Garage, Aritzia, Suzy Shier or H&M. I want to shop at Cleo, or the Bay or Laura or Nygard but, in order to do so, I have to shop in the Petites section. I am 5' 5 1/2" tall - Petites are too short in the leg length, too short in the hemline (no one, and I mean no one, needs to see 50 year old formerly obese knees), too short in the sleeves. But, the regular sizes start at 4 and that, apparently, is too big.

They shouldn't be too big - I weigh 140lbs for heaven's sake!! I weighed 20lbs less all through high school and was happy with my size 10s. What the hell has happened here?? How can I weigh 140lbs and be too small to buy clothes?


I don't have time for this. I really don't. I am going to Newfoundland for the weekend and, given its, shall we say, unpredictable summer weather, I thought it might be wise to have a second pair of long pants along for the ride. I own one single pair of long pants that fit. I spent three hours shopping on Thursday night coming home with a pair of Calvin Klein jeans that are too short but, at least they fit in the waist, hips and legs. That's it - one pair of jeans from 7 stores, at least 15 trips to the change rooms and a wallet prepared to be open.

It was so discouraging. In addition to many pairs of ill fitting jeans, I tried on jackets that fell off my shoulders like a de-padded 80's blazer. I tried on skirts that could accommodate both arms with the zipper done up. I tried on baggy blouses (even in the arms) and ill fitting sweaters and I can't even imagine getting to September and facing my completely empty winter wardrobe. I may need a month off work just to find the time to search out clothes to wear to work.

What has happened? Why isn't this more fun? I don't ever want to go back to being overweight but, please, someone make cothes for me that fit!