When Life Gets Out of Control

After some informal inquiries with many of my friends and acquaintances it would seem the consensus is… August suuuucked. In a time which is supposed to be of leisure and good weather – and in the past has meant birthdays and anniversaries and vacations for me –  for the first time in my life, I was barely hanging on.

I experienced a mass exodus of people from my life; some were tangential, some close friends, some romantic interests. But each week in August, just like the crashing waves against cliff sides came a fresh, powerful and unstoppable blow of loss. And each week, I sank deeper into the darkest of lonelinesses.

I remember sitting in the sunshine on my back deck – where I have sat in so many moments of pain and joy over the years – and being taken over by a shaking terror. This scared me most of all. I was so utterly confused (a state I do not function in well) and I was so utterly alone (another state I do not function in well) and I was asking, no begging, whomever or whatever listens in times like these… what have I done to deserve this pain?  Where did I go wrong? What is this life for anyway when I have no control over anything?!?

I have a tendency to blame myself when my life isn’t looking the way I think it should. And yes, it’s about control and believing that I am the captain of my ship. While this has its benefits in building the life you want and creating opportunity, it offers no solace when, as they say, shit happens.

Because that’s what August was mostly about… shit. just. happening. And I had little or no control over anything.

We can, however, control how we react – at least that is what I’m told –  and I’m a little ashamed to report that I did not react well a lot of the time. I was petulant, demanding, angry and blaming. I rattled off harsh texts, I wailed in agony and anger, I no longer wanted to care about anything or anyone. I shut myself off. Not my finest moments.

But at the end of the day, or the end of August, I slowly began to find my way back to myself. There were some days when I didn’t leave two rooms of my home. I read, I listened to music, I contemplated and meditated and sank so deep into my core just to get a foothold on one hour of my day. Other days, I went to yoga and made concerted efforts to focus on just one breath at a time. Because I have learned that when life feels like nothing but crashing waves over your head – one deep breath is the only thing to make you believe you’re not drowning. I did a lot of that… breathing and focusing.

If August had me hanging on for dear life, September has been me reconciling the losses and my actions. I realized a few important things about myself, others and this life.

Nothing in this world stays the same; not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. It sounds a bit trite and obvious to say, but we fight against this idea on a daily basis. The comfy, cozy softness of tradition and continuity is like that warm fire waiting for you when it’s dark and cold and wet. We crave to be engulfed by the knowing and dependable glow of sunshine in August, of our lifelong friends, of the bonds of family and the relaxing familiarity and predictability of routines we know all too well. These are lovely and useful tools for setting the foundations of joy in our lives and helping us to understand what’s truly important.

But people can get really bent out of shape when you suggest a change in the status quo. Change is largely seen as an enemy, a forbearance of awful things to come, a harbinger of uncertainty and unknown entities.

And the comfort of well-worn dirt paths helps us forget that the crashing waves aren’t just there to lull us to sleep; they are powerful enough to reshape the solid ground on which we stand. And just under that surface are undertows at work. And just because we bury ourselves in the things which keep us dry and warm doesn’t mean these other parts of life don’t exist and won’t come to wreak havoc on us one day. Because nothing in this world stays the same, not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. Not you, not me, not friendships and family. Time runs roughshod over all things both dark and lovely.

And when the waves overtake you, like they did me in August, so much of life becomes the simple act of hanging on, of coping and finding space to take one breath at a time as your head slips below the surface. And I know now that how we behave in these moments does not define us, but it can teach us if we take time to learn, if we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and we continue to assert ourselves as the captains of our ships.

We are simple humans attempting to reconcile a reality which is largely hidden from our understanding. Our simple minds have us clinging to the safety of land and simple ideas and illusions of permanence because the chaos of change is beyond our comprehension and largely, beyond our control. And that feeling can bring on a shaking terror.

But change doesn’t have to be bad. New ideas do not have to be rejected. Boundaries and relationships can be redrawn and it doesn’t spell doom. And judging ourselves too harshly for our humanity is an exercise in futility. It’s like judging a tree for losing its leaves.

It takes time and patience and stillness, but the reshaping of rock from the constant crashing of waves is a beautiful thing.

Reshaping of Rocks

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Life Lessons from My Muffin Top

I work on the Internet. Last week, it felt as though everywhere I turned the women of the world were talking about body issues. From the viral photo of the fit and unapologetic Maria Kang that prickled many woman’s spine either in outrage or defense, to a popular blogger, Glennon Melton of Momastery throwing away her scale, to this powerful video of a college student’s poetry slam exploring the question of why the women in her family deprive themselves to feel small.

Or maybe it felt that way because I have my own body issues and those are the messages I see through my jacked up filter.

I was a skinny little girl but I remember thinking I was fat. When I was 13 I wore a women’s size 3 which I thought that was way too big compared to my friend’s size 12 JUNIOR. I remember shopping trips to The Gap looking for jeans under the 3 sign and feeling shame that I wasn’t still wearing junior sizes like my friends. I was in the 8th grade, and in gym class of that year when I would also start my period for the first time. By the time I was 14 and a Freshman in highschool, I would be a women’s size 12 while most of my friends graduated into sizes 0 and 1.

Everywhere I looked from the hallways at school to the teen magazines to the commercials on TV — everything told me I was not small enough. That my wide hips and big chest needed to be smaller, thinner, better.

I hated my body with a ferocity in those teen years. When I was 15, and in the privacy of my purple painted bedroom adorned with magazine clippings of cute boys, I would grab  folds of fat on my belly and hips and pull at them — digging my fingernails in so hard I left deep, deep marks. Sometimes I even took a pair of scissors and pretended to cut it off. Sometimes I bled. I always cried. I wanted this fat off OFF my body so bad that daily I fantasized about slicing it off with a knife. Many times I took duct tape and wrapped by body from my hips to just under my breast like a mummy. The tape was so tight I could hardly sit or breathe. When I was done, I went to my closet and tried on different outfits so I could marvel at how much better I looked in them while I was squeezed and squashed to breathlessness under feet of tape. Had I only known a woman would do the same thing years later, call them Spanx and make millions I could have beat her to the punch.

I still remember the bright red flush of my skin as I ripped off the tape. I remember sort of liking the pain. It was what I deserved for being so fat and so weak. My heart aches for that sad girl.

I remained a natural size 12 with the exception of a waxing and waning depression between 17-20 years old where I would occasionally be a size 14. After I gained control of that I was back to my natural size except for one militant phase in my mid 20’s when I counted every calorie and worked out daily. During those years I was able to get down to a size 8 for about a day and a half. That remains my smallest size ever. Somewhere in there I realized I actually liked working out and eating healthy and I settled into a very comfortable and manageable size 10 until I got pregnant with my first child at 30.

Now, two years after my second child, at age 35, I’m still trying to lose the last 10 pounds to get back down to a comfortable size 10. As I write this, I’m on the border between a size 12 and 14.

I work out 4-5 times a week; Zumba, Pilates, Yoga. I can run 30 minutes without stopping and I can do  back bends and head stands in yoga. My body is strong. I eat a healthy diet which I enjoy. I even juice kale and worse — I like it! I have treats in moderation. Ice cream mostly. I do not eat candy or fast food very often and I don’t like things with too much sugar. I drink an alcoholic beverage once, maybe twice a week. On a good week.

I know that I could lose those last 10 pounds if I became militant again, but I refuse. I simply do not have the desire to spend my precious time and energy thinking about food to that level. Plus, that whole process makes me a wee bit crazy. If I slip on a few calories here and there I start to shame myself. I get angry and crabby and judgmental of my every decision and perceived weakness. I’ve been there before and it’s just not worth it anymore.

So for the most part I’d rather just eat healthy, workout, have treats in moderation and be a size 12-14. Accept when I wouldn’t. Those times always come when I see an unflattering picture. At those moments I get angry with myself all over again. That sad 15-year-old-girl who wrapped her body in duct tape reappears inside my head and I must work hard to calm her down. This happened to me about a month ago.

I went back home a few weeks ago to celebrate a friend’s baby shower and there was a picture taken that awoke that scared, self-shaming girl inside my head.

fat picture analyzing

Even among two pregnant friends, I am the biggest one. Even after how hard I work every day… I. AM. STILL. THE. FATTEST. BRIDESMAID. <sigh>

Truth: That picture sent me down a shame spiral… but not as much as what happened next.

A day after this picture was taken I was sitting around one of these friend’s kitchen table. My friend’s 15 year-old daughter was sitting with us. We have known this girl her whole life and have watched her blossom into a beautiful and intelligent young lady. I remember a time when she was four, having been surrounded by a group of young 20-something women, when she said, “My thighs are so fat.”

When I finally became a parent four years ago, I became hyper-aware of the messages I send to children, both verbal and nonverbal. In spite of this fact,  and what I know of this girl, I still fat-shaming myself in front of her.

I was weak that day. I just wanted to let it all fly and I was being selfish. I wanted to hear my friends (whom I don’t get to sit and talk with very often) tell me I was being too hard on myself. I needed help shutting up that 15-year-old girl inside my head and I didn’t care that this 15-year-old girl was listening. That poor, gorgeous girl sat there listening to me go on about how I hate being FAT! As I said those words they stung twice as hard when I looked at her. They still do when I think about it and now I am more ashamed of fat-shaming myself in front of her than I was of the original picture.

That day I gave her an anthropological lesson in the Generation X thin-obsessed culture, but I wished I’d given her a physics lesson instead. I wish I had told her that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I wish I’d told her that the depth of pain I felt as a self-loathing teenager is equal to the amount of love I’m able to feel for myself as a confident 30-something woman, which is actually quite a lot when I don’t look an unflattering pictures of me next to my friends.

I wish I told that bright, talented, 15-year-old girl, that from all the mirrors I hated when I was her age, I learned the real value of appearances. That because of my fat reflection, I’m can clearly see true beauty, and that kind of beauty is not something you can find in a mirror… or a picture.

I wish I would have told her that my muffin top taught me important things about life; things about suffering and grace and self-worth and what it means to overcome, and the healing power of good friends.

I wish I told her that everyone has their Thing. That Thing that makes them feel different and weird and unloveable. But that Thing is really a giant lesson in being human. A benevolent gift of learned compassion.  Being a fat teen was my Thing and now that I’m older, I love my Thing for what it taught me about life. Because often our biggest curses become our equally big blessings. 

But I didn’t do that. I failed her in that moment. I failed me in that moment. And I won’t do it again. That much I have learned. That is why I’m writing this… because for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. May this post serve as my amends.