A False Sense of Security.

Mr. Stuck and I recently spent some time down at our lake property for a much-needed mini-vacation. We let the days and our imaginations determine our activities: we swam, boated, and fished, and we visited a local small-town festival. We spent time in conversation, watching the fish rise on the lake and spotting the same paddle boarders gliding by each day. And, as usual, we brought way more food and supplies than we actually needed and lugged a lot of it back home.

The simple, amusing observation that we always seem to over pack for our trips sparked an interesting conversation one day. I called us ‘contingency packers’ because we are the king and queen of ‘just in case.’ I’ll bring extra food, just in case someone runs out of hot dog buns or prefers peanuts to Cheetos. I’ll bring soda (that we don’t drink) just in case the kids want some. I’ll add Tylenol, ibuprofen and aspirin to the first aid kit just in case someone has a preference; I’ll bring feminine supplies just in case someone else needs them. I’ll bring extra socks, shirts, and jackets, just in case someone gets wet or cold and has no change of clothes. You get the idea.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared. In fact, it’s great advice. Mr. Stuck, being the former Boy Scout that he is, has a full complement of hand and power tools that he tosses into the truck for such occasions, just in case he has to repair some wiring, fix a flat, or perform some mechanical miracle while we’re away from home. I have always appreciated his foresight and ability in those situations. Granted, he’s been able to pull off amazing things in less-than-ideal circumstances, but he’d much rather have resources available to him when he needs them, and I completely understand. Most of us, I’m sure, would agree.

The problem lies in how to find a happy medium between the essentials and our unforeseen needs and wants. Do I really need to bring 3 bottles of sunscreen just in case I run out? Probably not. Do I need to pack 6 T-shirts, when in reality I will probably only wear 3? No, I don’t. Do I need to bring hot dogs AND brats AND chicken sausages AND cheesy hot links to make everyone happy? No. But I do.

At one point, I thought that if I could make lists and follow them, I could vanquish my over packing tendencies. Unfortunately, my lists, though short at the beginning, grew longer and longer. I kept adding more things. I couldn’t make a clear determination between what I truly needed and what I thought I needed, so I took it all. Having all that stuff available made me feel in control. It gave me a (false) sense of security. Even with my good intentions, the problem just got worse: if some was good, then more was better.

Is this manner of thinking part of the reason I was obese? Probably.

I began to see parallels between having ‘stuff’ and having food. I couldn’t distinguish between real hunger and emotional hunger, so I ate when I didn’t need to, and I always ate more than necessary. Food, like ‘stuff,’ meant comfort and security. Sound familiar? The baggage I take with me on vacation mirrors the weight I carried with me most of my adult life and the disorganized mess in my home. The junk in my house is the junk in my diet is the junk in my suitcase is the junk in my head. The things I did to cope had no effect on what actually happened. In reality I was out of control – way out of control.

I used to joke that my messy desk was the sign of genius; now I know it’s just the sign of my inability to make a decision. I used to think that ‘contingency packing’ showed that I was prepared; now I see that it’s proof of my insecurity. I used to think I was unhappy because I was fat; now I understand that I was fat because I was unhappy. What I’ve found over the past year is that losing weight didn’t ‘fix’ me. In fact, it made me see that I needed more fixing than I realized. My obesity wasn’t the cause of my emotional issues; it was a symptom.

I struggle daily with the baggage in my life, whether it’s the clutter in my car, the piles of unfolded laundry on my couch, the stacks of paper on my desk, or the vestiges of my obesity-wired brain telling me I ‘need’ a cheeseburger. I still can’t discern very well between what I think I need and what I actually do need. I still have terrible impulse control. And I still have trouble ‘letting go’ – of emotions, of habits, of material possessions.

But now I feel an urgency to make a clean sweep. I want to simplify my life and de-clutter my home. I just don’t need all that stuff anymore.

 

 

The Ides.

Dad, Wendy, and Mom - Dec 1996
Dad, Wendy, and Mom – Dec 1996

Many of you know that I lost my parents, a sister, Wendy, and her friend on March 15, 1999 – the Ides of March.

Every year since then, I have marked that day: early on, I would stay home from work and be miserable.  It was too much to try to be ‘normal’ when I was grieving so deeply.  Between late February and late March, I faced heartache on days that should have been celebrated:  February 26, my parents’ anniversary; my mother’s birthday; Wendy’s birthday; and even my birthday, which was the last time I ever saw the four of them. 

Every one of those days was tough to get through, but not as tough as the day: the 15th, the Ides of March.  For a long time, I was unable to function on that day; it was overwhelming, and I couldn’t manage much more than taking flowers to the graves, awash in tears.  After several years, I would take flowers to the graves and spend the day in quiet reflection, but I no longer took the day off from work.  I would still be overcome with the memories, preferring to keep to myself that day. 

For the last few years, the day has passed much more easily for me.  If I let myself, I can easily be swallowed up in that quicksand of sorrow, but I don’t want to do that, because it’s hard to return when you sink so low.  So I have deliberately tried to go the other direction and find some happiness in that day; it’s tough but necessary.  This year, I am happy to report that I am attending a dear friend’s wedding.

In the last fifteen years I have become a different person.  That sudden and catastrophic loss changed everything.  My heart was shattered, but in healing, it became more open and loving.  I have become more compassionate; living through those terrible times when I thought I might never recover broadened my capacity for love and understanding.  My empathy for those who are struggling is deeper than it ever was.

But I am also afraid.  I am more fearful than ever before of things I cannot control.  I worry constantly, and I can’t seem to stop.  I know my anxiety won’t change a situation or make things better; and I know that being concerned and worrying are two different things.  But no matter what I tell myself, the worries creep in.  I no longer believe that things happen ‘to other people’ – they happened to me and my family – so I keep wondering what will happen next.  It is always — always — in the back of my mind. 

My mind reels with ‘what ifs’ for every situation.  What if that driver crosses the center line and hits me?  What if this plane goes down?  What if a prowler shows up when I’m home alone?  What if something happens to my children and I am helpless to do anything?  I am mostly able to manage the worries, but some days they take over, and when they do, I am an unreasonable, agonizing mess.  Nevermind that many of the things I worry about are not going to happen; that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that once the fear arises, all reason goes out the window, and I become a frightened child. 

I have also noticed that my memory is not as reliable as it once was.  I think the trauma of that incident was a huge factor.  My recall of those first days and weeks is rather muddled, which is understandable, but even long-term recollections of my childhood and young adulthood are gone.  Wiped from my mind.  I can’t remember movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, or things I’ve said and done.  This is one of the hardest things for me to accept.

My priorities are different now, too.  I used to envision myself having a successful career, great investments, and a busy social life.  Those things changed.  Now, I value time with my family more than I ever did.  After the crash I stopped balancing my checkbook and lost interest in building my investment portfolio; instead of hoping to maximize my profits, I only cared to have enough to pay for my sons to go to college.  I prefer gifts of time and experiences to material things, because I am always aware that time (and life) is short.

My internal turmoil during those first few years matched both the external chaos of the tragedy and the subsequent upheaval among my siblings.  It was an exceptionally difficult time for us all, and with emotions running so high, conflict was inevitable.  There was a lot of anger and pain, and I think we learned more about one another than we ever wanted to.  But that time also taught me to look deeper into people’s hearts for their motivations.  The roller coaster extremes of emotion, the irrationality, the impulsiveness, and the inertia that I experienced all taught me to take a second look at situations instead of merely reacting.  I try to see the underlying issues that make people act and react the way they do. 

Using myself as an example, I realized that stress and emotion cause people to do crazy things sometimes – things that are uncharacteristic of them.  At times, I was sure I was going crazy.  I lost interest in my life in general and sunk into depression.  I acted strangely.  I would hope that people who saw me like that realized that the crazy person wasn’t really me, but a product of what I was going through.  So I try to extend that same understanding to other people.  Who knows what their back stories might be?

Not a day has passed since March 15, 1999 that I don’t miss my parents and sister; the gaping hole in my heart is still there.  So I’m marking the day.  I’ll take flowers to the graves, but then I will go to the wedding and enjoy myself.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). 

I spent some time in the pit of despair, and when I crawled out, the world was different.  But I was different, too.  Not all of it was change for the better, but that is life. 

And life is still good. 

 

It’s All In Your Head.

Time for a bit of an update.  Two and a half months since surgery, and I’m doing pretty well.  Still working out the details, like chewing more thoroughly and slowing down my meals.  I’m still doing my 15 minutes of stretching exercises at work each morning, with few exceptions (we’ve been doing it in an area undergoing renovation, and now the carpet, cubicles and cabinets are in and we’re losing our spot).  I feel better, I look better, and I move better.  Baby steps, but I’m committed.

Went to my friend’s birthday party this weekend and enjoyed mingling with the family; this is a great, big, loving clan, and being in their midst reminds me of home; I feel like burrowing in that familial warmth.  Big families are awesome; when the house is full, every nook and cranny has a smile and a hug.  I miss my family like that.

Chatted with my friend Amy, who has been very successful in losing weight with a diet routine and exercise.  She looks great, and she’s rightfully proud of her success in maintaining that loss over several months.  We talked about the mental aspect of making changes and making them last.  I was glad to hear that she related strongly to a couple of my more recent posts regarding my transition from obesity to health.  The things she mentioned caused me some reflection.

Self sabotage – I am guilty, guilty, guilty.  I am trying to change my mindset that says if I fall off the wagon, I’m a loser who failed again and I should just give it up.  Do you tell yourself the same things?  As a battle-scarred veteran of too many diets for too many years, do you find yourself falling into a preordained pattern?  You find a new diet or program because your friend is doing it or your sister is doing it or a celebrity is doing it, or maybe you saw it on Pinterest or Facebook.  You buy the book, watch the video, go to the website and read the testimonials.  You get all excited and shop for what you need, tossing out the half-eaten Cheese Nips and leftover pizza from the fridge.

You do pretty well for awhile, high on enthusiasm, but then the old habits and thought patterns come creeping back.  You find yourself thinking all day about what you want to eat that night.  You are distracted by cravings for food you know you should not eat, and when you give in, too easily, you immediately shame yourself:

Stupid.  Lazy.  Fat.  Disgusting.  Hopeless.  Loser.  Failure.  Quitter.

You tell yourself to give up.  It’s just like all the other times.  It’s no use.  It’s too hard.  You always do this.  Why even bother?  You will always be fat and dumpy.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why let one misstep end the journey?  I have had to learn how to forgive myself for these small mistakes and keep going.  Do you remember the old Family Circus comics?  The ones where one of the kids will take a meandering path from point A to point B?  I love that cartoon.

That is a good visual of how my brain works and how I do things, but it is especially relevant to my progress on a diet.  Sometimes sideways is my only progress, and sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back.  But it’s important not to stop.  Don’t give up.

More things I’ve learned:

  • It’s okay to leave food on your plate.  I am no longer a member of the Clean Plate Club.  (my family had a song that went with it — not sure if other folks did, too. ;-))
  • It’s okay to not take that food home from the restaurant, especially if you’re not going to eat it or give it to your dog.  Why waste the room in the fridge to throw it away in a week and a half?
  • If I say I shouldn’t eat something, I should actually NOT eat it, instead of just saying it as I put it in my mouth.
  • It’s okay to remove the strings from the celery, because it makes it easier to eat.
  • It’s okay to not drink coffee anymore, even if it is kinda weird for me.
  • It’s okay to be picky!!  (I have never been picky, but I am learning how to be.)
  • Mr. Stuck and I should always share our entree, not order separately.  That is a waste of money and food.  Duh.
  • It’s okay to eat the protein first; in fact, it’s a good idea.  I load my salad up with chicken or tuna or ham and add cottage cheese; I use much less lettuce and much less dressing, but I still add broccoli, cukes, and tomatoes.  I’m even trying things like garbanzo beans.  Yum!
  • I’m still working on cooking small amounts, but I can always share extra portions with my neighbors.  Recently made a huge pot of Tuscan potato/sausage/kale soup, and gave most of it away.  It was a win-win: I satisfied my craving, and none went to waste!
  • I can allow myself treats, because if I deny myself, I want it more.  We all know that reverse psychology ploy.  I can allow myself a bite of something and then I don’t have to binge on it in secret or in the car on the way home.
  • Habits can be insidious — they can be so deeply subconscious that you don’t realize what you’re doing until you’ve done it.  I got myself so hooked on McDonald’s sweet tea (cut with unsweetened) in the summertime that it was automatic for me to stop there on my way home. And sometimes, it was too easy to order a cheeseburger or chicken sandwich to go with it, especially if I thought I was hungry.
    After I started my nutritionist appointments, I stopped doing that.  But I noticed that when I’d hit that leg of the highway, I would be thinking about the tea and the cheeseburger.  I’d find my brain negotiating with itself on whether I should stop or continue past.  I have to deliberately focus on something else, to redirect my thoughts into something productive.  I would feel victorious if I didn’t stop.
  • It’s okay to go up a little or stay the same on the scale once in awhile.  We’ll have those days.  Maybe stop weighing yourself so much and look at how you feel and how your clothing fits.  Use a different gauge for your success.  The term Non-Scale Victory (NSV) is meant for just that.  Getting to where my wedding set fit my finger again was an NSV.  Fitting into the jeans I was sure I wouldn’t — that’s also an NSV.
  • It’s okay to struggle.  I’m human, and so are you.  We make mistakes, we screw up, we give up, and we sabotage ourselves.  We have to really work at staying the course, but that’s okay.  It’s okay to stumble, but make sure you get back up.

I haven’t smiled this much in a long time.  So many people have taken the time to tell me how happy they are for me and Mr. Stuck, how much better we look and must feel, and how we are radiant these days.  Who wouldn’t smile upon hearing that?  I am so grateful for the love and support that is coming in from all of my family and friends.  It means so much and encourages me to stay strong.

Thank you.

image credit lovelornpoets, Bil Keane