I started taking gymnastics when I was 5 and even then, I felt like my body was different than those around me. I felt bigger, less flexible, and therefore, insufficient.
By the time I was 12, my mom was taking me to Weight Watchers on Saturday mornings. I sat around with a group of women that I’d guess were at least three times my age, feeling defective and out of place. Years before I learned to drive a car, I learned to obsess about what I ate.
Everywhere I looked, the message seemed to be: You need to be smaller.
So I tried to become anorexic. And failed. When I did eat and then tried to make myself throw up, I couldn’t go through with it. I was angry with myself and angry at my body for being hungry, for its will to survive.
When I was 15, I was so miserable in my body that I tried to end my life.
When I was 23, a trainer put me on a diet of 1100 calories a day. He promised that, even if I did nothing else, I’d “see results” (meaning: get smaller). I went to bed hungry, the hunger keeping me awake most nights. I got up before the sun to go to the gym. I ran on the treadmill. I climbed stairs to nowhere. Lunged from one end of the building to the other. Got kudos for my dedication while feeling disappointed and defective for not seeing results. The only result I did see was an increased obsession with what I was putting into my body, meticulously recording every gram and every calorie in a notebook, needing for those numbers to keep getting smaller.
I watched the Food Network for hours, salivating while I ate pretzels and mustard. I watched celebrities eat lettuce out of plastic clamshells and watched a woman cry on TV about weighing 170 pounds, which was also what I weighed at the time.
I bought ‘energy’ tea from a woman I’d meet behind the mall during her break at Bath and Body Works. I would’ve given her my last dollar for that stuff, I was so addicted to it.
While I was hungry and couldn’t sleep, I’d dial up the 800 numbers and buy all the videos that were going to solve my problem. Tae Bo. Pilates. Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss. The Beach Body DVDs that came with calendars, posters, seemingly impossible meal plans, and bonus DVDs!
I was tormented, miserable, exhausted, and hungry.
What I wish I had known 20 years ago is that I wasn’t seeing results because I wasn’t giving my body what it needed. That it wasn’t as simple as ‘calories in, calories out.’ That every decrease in calories meant a decrease in muscle as well. And a decrease in muscle meant a decrease in metabolism. So it just kept going downhill and every attempt produced less of a result. The more I tried, the weaker I got. The weaker I got, the more pain I felt. I ended up seeing a physical therapist who was in disbelief by the lack of muscle on the left side of my body.
Then came strength training. I started moving increasingly heavier weight and at first, was really tired and really hungry. I was resistant to change my diet. No, I was afraid to change my diet. What if I eat more and get bigger? Then this is all for nothing. I’m not interested in making those gains, bruh.
But then. I started making those gains, bruh. And it felt incredible. I was amazed at what my body could do. I made changes to my diet and saw muscles seemingly pop up out of nowhere. I made more changes to my diet and felt happier, less agitated, less anxious.
I’m 43 and am stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.
And the food? For the first time. Ever. In my life. I feel freedom around food. I no longer track what I’m eating in order to restrict myself; I simply eat what my body seems to need.
Building strength has given me confidence. It’s given me physical and mental freedom. Most of all, it’s given me the gift of loving my body and feeling like there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Last night, I used a hydrating coconut mask that Jenna gave me as a gift. It felt good, and it was a thoughtful gift, but most of all, it was nice to feel connected to her. Most of the time, I feel okay about living where we do, knowing that we’d rather be somewhere else and trusting that that’ll happen when the time is right. However, I sometimes feel homesick and disconnected. At times, I feel directionless. And that’s what makes things like a family recipe or a hydrating coconut mask more important than they may seem at first. When I make my mom’s chili, I feel connected to her. When I watch “Ras Trent,” I feel connected to my brother. And when I use a hydrating coconut mask, I feel connected to my sister-in-law. All of these little things remind me that I’m not alone. I’m not disconnected. And this, in turn, makes it easier to be happy where I am right now.
The other day, Harbour was holding my keys, trying to unlock the kitchen door. Then he pulled the keys back closer to him. There’s a small green capsule on my keyring, which he held in his yellow-gloved hand, turning it around and around. Then he said, “What’s this?” I told him that it’s a small container that holds some of my mom’s ashes. “But did she die?” he asked. “Yes, she did,” I answered. I don’t really know what he thought after that. He was quiet for a few seconds and then just wanted to get the door open, knowing that he could eat the cupcake we had just bought once he was inside.
He seemingly moved on, but I didn’t. Hearing his sweet, tiny voice talk about my mom – a woman he’ll never meet, a woman who will never hold him or know him – touched me more than I expected. Suddenly, I was aware of a connection, one that spans farther than my understanding. A connection between worlds known and unknown. In that moment, my mom became real again. It’s been so long since she passed away that it often feels like it was a different life. My mom is no longer tangible; she’s become a thought, a collection of memories. More often than not, those memories are hazy. I can no longer remember how her voice sounded. Because of that, I now have a harder time deleting voicemails from loved ones. If anything ever happens, I want to be able to hear them talk to me again. I want to know that I’ll have at least one crisp, clear memory. One way, no matter how small, to keep them in my world.
Hearing Harbour talk about my mom reminded me that she’s real. I don’t have to draw a line between life with her and life without her. She’ll always be a part of me, and she can be a part of his life as well. She’s still Grandma Beverly despite the fact that the two of them will never meet.
The idea of describing myself as broken makes my confidence and optimism vanish. It disregards my resilience, the healing that I’ve done, and the strength that I feel. I may have felt broken at times, but I’m whole. In fact, I’ve never felt more whole in my entire life. I am, however, grateful for the things that have broken me along the way. I’ve said that before, but this time, I actually mean it. I can see myself twenty years ago, taking a drag of my cigarette, and saying something like, “Yeah, I’ve been through a lot, but it’s made me who I am today, and I like who I am, so it’s okay.” But the truth is, I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t even know who I was. I had spent much of my time trying to be what other people wanted me to be or, more accurately, trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be.
Twenty years, eight therapists, and countless memoirs and self-help books later, here I am. Not broken, not shattered, not a mess to be picked up off the floor, but a whole person. And I absolutely mean it when I say that I’m thankful for every experience because each one has led me here. And here is a place of growth and encouragement. It’s a place of self-acceptance and kindness. Here, I’ve learned that it feels a million times better to know that I like myself than it does to wonder if someone else likes me. Here, I’ve learned that being true to myself, though frightening at times, sets me free.
Patrick recently mentioned fractals, which was a term I recognized but couldn’t define, so I looked it up. In a nutshell, a fractal is chaos. It’s a process that’s repeated over and over again in a feedback loop. On its own, it’s microscopic, but within the feedback loop, it becomes something much larger. A snowflake. A crystal. A galaxy. While we’re surrounded by beautiful fractals, this got me thinking about the bigger picture as it relates to me. The idea of surrounding myself with echoes and feedback loops. If everyone around me is saying the same thing and hearing it repeated back, things can become chaotic and dangerous.
If one person were to head to the bank to empty an account, no big deal. They could leave with all of their cash in hand without any of us feeling an impact. However, if that same action were repeated enough, it would result in what’s known as a banking panic, a run on the banks, and the situation would quickly grow out of control. The banks would run out of cash and many of us would be left with useless IOUs from bankrupt institutions. The consequences of this repeated process would be bankrupt individuals, banks, and likely, a bankrupt country.
It’s easy to seek out a feedback loop, to surround ourselves with people that sound like us, look like us. People who share our beliefs and fears, who agree with us. It’s comfortable here. We feel validated. We feel normal. But chaos will eventually ensue, whether it’s internal or external or both. Most likely both. If I was about to do something really thoughtless or hurtful, I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people that are going to tell me that it’s a great idea. If I have a belief that is disrespectful or hurtful to someone else, I want that to be called into question. That doesn’t mean that I would change my values or opinions, but it ensures that I’ll reevaluate frequently. I’ll think of viewpoints other than my own. I’ll try to consider and appreciate the full situation rather than my limited, possibly microscopic, view of it.
Too little, too late doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about the fact that some of Trump’s allies are finally calling out his intolerable behavior. What happened yesterday is no surprise. Disgusting, yes. Horrifying, yes. But not a surprise; we’ve seen this growing for years. With regard to yesterday’s events, specifically, it was no secret. It was well advertised, well in advance. While some Trump allies were asking members of Congress not to join Trump’s movement to reject the electoral college votes, they didn’t seem to have much, if anything, to say to Trump for calling supporters to the Capitol to “take back” a perceived stolen election.
Finally, last night, after a riotous, deadly invasion of the Capitol, more allies found the gumption to say something. But you don’t get to stand up to someone on their way down and then rest assured that you did your part. That’s not courageous, it’s simple. It’s easy to stand up to a man who has unquestionably lost all control, when the nation and the world are calling for someone, anyone, to finally stand up and put an end to this. What might have happened if these people had had the courage to stand up to him sooner? Unfortunately, now we see where the line was, for some. The fear and violence had to be brought to their doorstep. The Capitol had to be stormed, more people had to die in American-made extremist violence in order to see a glimpse of a bipartisan response to this dangerous man. This president has been turbulent from the beginning, to say the least, and this mob was a violent culmination of a four-year-long spiral out of control. Many White House officials served in positions, hoping they could bring about some sense of civility and leadership. Time and time again, that proved to be impossible.
Yesterday’s events were, by definition, domestic terrorism and were brought about by the President of the United States. I have to keep re-reading that sentence because it’s baffling. Baffling, infuriating, shameful. But again, at this point, not surprising. The President of the United States invited these people, emboldened them, lit the fire for them and told them exactly where he wanted them to go. The entire world was watching in shock, with many countries condemning what they saw while a few believed that we were reaping what we sowed. While I appreciate the words from the allies who finally chose to speak out and implore him to take responsibility, I hope they’re taking a serious look at themselves and their part in enabling him for the past four years and beyond. It truly, sadly did not have to come to this.
Typically, before ending a meditation session, I give my mind twenty or thirty seconds to do whatever it wants. I set it free to think about anything and everything. It’s usually during this time that my mind goes completely blank. I will have spent the past ten minutes watching thoughts go by. Then, when my mind feels free, it just relaxes, providing the peaceful space that I want and need. There are even times when I try to call back a particular thought, and I can’t grasp it. I can vaguely see it out on the edge of my mind, but there’s a barrier keeping it from getting back in. So in this time, I’m able to just sit in peace with my mind. I’ve set it free and that freedom has created calm. There’s no work to be done, nothing to be figured out, no lists to be made. Just rest. Just me and my mind enjoying our time together.
This is an invaluable gift we can give to others. We can give them permission to just relax and be themselves. No expectations. No asking for anything. Just a welcoming space where we can all make ourselves at home. How would it feel if we trusted that the people in our lives love and accept us just as we are?
I recently heard a friend of mine talking about a time in his life when he felt like domino after domino was falling. One event seemed to set off a chain reaction that caused life as he knew it to crumble. When he mentioned this, I thought of the fact that one domino can knock down a progressively larger domino, one that’s about one and half times its size. A Google search of “domino effect exponential growth” brings up articles like this one talking about the fact that the Empire State Building could be brought down by merely twenty-nine dominoes, each a little larger than the one before it. That’s incredible. One small domino, something that can rest in the palm of my hand, could kick off a series of events that topple a skyscraper. This caused me to think differently about the domino effect. What if, when things seem to be crashing around me, I could view it as a path being cleared? What if, instead of a sense of panic or dread, I could feel excited about the obstacles that are being moved out of my way? In many cases, we’ll never know what mountains have been moved for us because, by the time we get there, the rubble has been cleared. But what if we take comfort in the fact that, when the dominoes start to fall, they’re just preparing to clear away something that otherwise would never budge?
When you make something or someone else responsible for your happiness and sense of well being, you set yourself up for constant disappointment.
It’s a struggle to find a balance between the internal voices that want to push me to work harder and the ones that are telling me to relax and take care of myself. I often think of days when I was a kid and didn’t feel well. Of course, my inclination was to want to stay home from school. Sometimes, my mom immediately agreed. Other times, she’d tell me to try taking a shower first. Essentially, just start with step one and take it moment by moment. If, after the shower, I felt like I could make it to the next step, I would. Mom always reminded me that, if at any point, it seemed like it was too much, I could stop. I wasn’t committed to anything other than trying. Of course there were days that I ended up in the nurse’s office, waiting for her to pick me up. More often, though, by taking it moment by moment, I’d end up having gotten through the day at school, feeling better along the way. I’d find myself thinking, ‘I’ve made it this far. I can do a little more.’
I’m still finding ways to apply this in my life. Just start. Take it step by step, trusting that I can stop if it feels like it’s too much. In most cases, though, I end up thinking that I can do a little more, then a little more. And before I know it, I’ve accomplished something that previously felt impossible.