Happy Anniversary!

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of weekly weigh-ins and postings on Jenion.  On Thanksgiving Day, 2009, I stepped on the scale and clicked a pic of my weight to begin the Hunger Challenge (which lasted until Easter and resulted in over $1700 raised for Horizon’s Meals on Wheels).  Interestingly, after a year of Thursday postings, I will not be able to post tomorrow — hence this early Anniversary edition of Jenion!

The worlds of books, movies, and blogs are full of stories of people who set out to change their lives, giving themselves a certain time-frame in which to accomplish this difficult task.  (I just read one titled, “A Year of Making My Own Bread”).  I have become a sucker for such stories, and more importantly, the quests which drive them.  However, when I began this blog and the Hunger Challenge, I wasn’t consciously aware of the desire to change my life.  I was only aware that I wanted and needed to lose weight, and would be more likely to do so if I devised a method of keeping myself accountable.  I was moved by news reports of the increase in Americans living in hunger (or who are food insecure), and put the two together in a way that seemed to make sense to me.  As you know, the result has been a true transformation of my life.

A big part of this transformation has been the result of learning some valuable things about myself, others, the world we live in.  In honor of this one-year anniversary, I’d like to share 12 of these insights, one for each month of my journey (in no particular order):

  • Success doesn’t bring happiness, happiness brings success.  In a world of people striving for success, I want to make the case for happiness as the priority.  Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but in my experience, the more room I’ve created for joy in my life, the more success I’ve experienced in reaching my goals.
  • Sing, and the world sings with you.  And I am not just talking about the karaoke bar, here.  When you exude high energy, it calls forth high energy in others.  When you are in the “feeling place” of abundance, the world around you experiences abundance, too.
  • If you ask for what you need from others, they will try to give it to you.  After spending most of my life hiding my neediness from others, it comes as a deep revelation that sharing my needs is the only way to allow others to help me meet them.  And as I’ve shared, the amazing people who have come forward and offered of themselves has been humbling, and inspires me to give to others in return.
  • You are exactly as strong as you choose to be.  Now, the caveat here is that I am talking about people who, like myself, are not in the throes of major life issues (personality disorders, chemical imbalances, domestic violence in relationships, etc.).  I have normal life stressors, not extraordinary ones.  I can choose to let these stressors and problem situations overwhelm me, or not.  I’ve discovered that I have always had the strength to change my life — it resides within me.  I just didn’t know that I could choose that strength over the fear that also resides inside me.  It isn’t quite as magic as clicking your heels together and thinking of home, but it is pretty close!
  • It doesn’t matter what the scale says.  I was as worthy and as lovable on days I weighed 352 as I am on days I weigh 225.  I am worthy and lovable, period.  And so are you!
  • The hungry will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the ways we participate in ensuring that to be true.
  • Veggie loading.  Single best concept I learned with regard to nutrition and weight loss.
  • Laughter may be the best medicine, but sometimes the other emotions need their time in the light.  It is not only ok to feel anger or sadness, it is necessary to own these emotions as ours.  The more I swallowed my emotions, the more I looked to swallowing food as a way of soothing those emotions.
  • It is never too late to become what you might have been.  George Eliot said this, and I call it “The Late Bloomers Credo”.  I might have been happy, now I am.  I might have been a writer, now I am.  I might have had soul-satisfying friendships, now I do.  Not too late by a long shot.
  • Give of your time, your talent, and your treasure.  My own transformation involved a certain amount of focusing inward.  However, if that was the only thing I did for twelve months I’d be both bored and myopic.  Looking outside yourself, finding ways to give to others, is the best way to gain perspective.  And being of service to individuals or to our community is something we are each called to do.
  • The journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.  And continues with one more.  And then another. (Remember “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”, the claymation Christmas special?  There’s a song from that special which says:  “Just put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door…”)
  • Inspiration vs perspiration is a moot point.  Operate with the strength that comes from inspiration when inspiration is available to you!  When it’s not, which is more frequent, perspire.  As a bonus, our hard work and dedication may inspire others, thereby creating a wave of inspired action which can change one life…or change the world.

To those of you who have been following this journey, to the many wonderful people who have been walking with me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the best year of my life.  Happy Anniversary!

Learning to Hear

“The first duty of love, is to listen.”  — Paul Tillich

In September 2002, Heather Whetstone, who had been the first deaf Miss America, had cochlear implant surgery which allowed her to hear again.  When they turned the device on, she had to begin the complicated process of learning to hear, something she hadn’t done since she was a small child.

I remember watching her being interviewed on television the very next day, day two of being a hearing person.  She described little sounds she was able to identify.  She said she was in the bathroom and heard the sounds of putting on makeup and spraying her hair.  Then, she turned the water on.  She said, “And it was the most beautiful sound.  It reminded me of my hero Helen Keller.  She felt the water and understood that it had a name.  My joy was like that.”

I want to remember to find the joy in small things — waking refreshed in the morning, good nutritious food, a body that is healthy and works in all its parts. I want to linger on the goodness in my day instead of focus and obsess on the petty annoyances and frustrations.  I want to practice seeing the beauty in people who cross my path rather than picking out their flaws.

I also want to refresh my skills in the art of listening.  The past couple of weeks a parade of young people needing love and guidance have marched through my office. They have frustrated me, they have fought my efforts to assist them, they have worked hard to keep me at arm’s length.  I don’t blame them for that — I’m an administrator sticking my nose into their business, into the parts of their lives they would prefer no one even notice.  But I need to remember to hear what lies beneath the surface.   Sue Patton Thoele says, “Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker.  When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening our spirits expand.”  I think we all want this, for ourselves and others!

If, as Paul Tillich says, the first duty of love is to listen, then I must try to do my duty. Listen closely enough to shut out the distractions and ambient noise so I can focus on what is important.  In other words, listen with my ears to what is being spoken, but hear with my heart what is being said.

You can’t make me…

Have you ever told someone something like, “You’re the reason I’m happy!”?  I said this to a friend a couple of weeks ago, and his reply was, “No, you are happy because you choose to be happy.  That’s what I read in your blogs anyway. I just get to benefit from it!”  At first, I wanted to argue with him that we were talking about two different things — I meant happy in the at-this-very-moment way.  The happiness I talk about in this blog is much less fleeting, and exists at a deeper level than the present moment.  And, to tell the truth, I was a little miffed that he was throwing my blogged words back at me (which was my other reason for wanting to argue).

This conversation, as so often happens, has hung around at the front of my brain, popping up periodically as if to say, “You’ve missed something important here!”  Well, last night, I finally figured out why it wasn’t going away.

My friend Wendy and I have spent many a Tuesday night together, watching “The Biggest Loser”.  We enjoy seeing people take a look at their own self-delusions or defense mechanisms and begin the hard work of changing their relationships with self and others — that’s why we watch the show.  It gives us opportunities for discussion about our own problem thinking, or our own emotionally difficult issues.  This season, we had been unable to watch until last night, week 8 or 9 on the ranch for the contestants.  During the show, Bob (one of the trainers) was working with a contestant, trying to get her to feel some inner motivation to remain on the ranch. After dramatic tears and a plea from Bob, the woman said (I’m paraphrasing), “I promise I will trust you to tell me the right things to do, and I will do them. ”  Both Wendy and I groaned.  We felt that the woman had missed the point — the point being the necessity of an internal locus of control, self-motivation. Not giving both the responsibility and the power to Bob.

As I was driving home after the show, I realized there was a similarity between my own conversation and the one on television.  In both cases, one person was willing to hand over the responsibility and, yes, the power for their success or failure (or, more seriously, their emotional well-being) to another person.  That’s when the AHA! moment came:

When we abdicate responsibility, or hand it over to another, we are saying we aren’t good enough, strong enough, or skilled enough to take care of ourselves, to own our feelings, to be full partners in our relationships.

In my life, I have many kinds of relationships: family, friends, colleagues, mentors, mentees…the list is long and varied.  However, for much of my life, I lacked confidence in my own ability to be enough for others:  interesting enough, funny enough, engaging enough, lovable enough.  This led to many moments of debilitating insecurity in relationships.  I spent endless hours in agony wondering if a minor misstep or unintended slight had killed the friendship.  I was afraid to share my feelings out of fear that they were too much or out of proportion to what the other person felt.  As a result, I tended to hand my emotional life over to others. If I was happy or sad on any given day depended on what I read into the way others interacted with me.

Healthy relationships can’t bear that kind of inequity.  Eventually, they feel lopsided and burdensome.  More importantly, I cannot protect myself from being hurt by abdicating my responsibility for myself, nor do I gain love by offering to be weak and maleable as a token of trust.  All I accomplish by acting out of my insecurities is making myself feel crazy and off-kilter emotionally — and placing an unfair burden of responsibility on someone else.

Which leads back to the whole issue of happiness.  The people in our lives do influence both our day-to-day happiness and our deeper sense of joy.  But we are the rightful owners of our feelings, and of our choices.  When we stay centered, we can recognize how/when our insecurities are urging us to act out of fear, and we can resist that urge.  It won’t “make” other people love us, or love us more.  Instead, it will allow each of us to act with love toward ourselves and others without all the weirdness and drama.  And it makes it possible for me to admit that my friend is right — I’m happy because I choose to be, not because someone else made me feel that way!

Why Am I Still Doing This?

A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty discouraged that my weight was stuck in the 230-233 range for a very long time.  One of the frustrations was that I would weigh myself daily, but Thursdays – when I take a snapshot of the scale and post it to this blog – were always my heaviest day of the week.  So, being the superstitious person I am, I started taking snapshots any day that the scale showed a lower weight.  In my (admittedly warped) mind, this was proof against Thursday — and my body wouldn’t dare put up a higher weight when I could prove I had weighed less the day before!

This morning, when I stepped on the scale, up slightly from last week, which was up slightly from the week before…well, I was pretty frustrated.  I had a photo from earlier in the week where the reading on the scale was 225.  I thought seriously about posting that photo instead of today’s.

As I sat at my computer, indecision gave way to resolve.  I have to choose the whole truth when it comes to this journey — the good, the bad, the ugly…that has been my internal contract since I started blogging about my weight loss.  Whether anyone ever looks at it or not, I have to tell my story as honestly as I can.  NOT being truthful with myself is, to a great degree, what made this journey necessary in the first place.

So, here are some truths I have to keep telling myself:

  • Losing weight is hard.  Even after all this time, despite ongoing daily commitment and more good choices than bad choices, it remains hard to do.
  • It would be nice to have the pounds drop off “Biggest Loser” style, but for most people who have large amounts to lose, and for me, weight loss is a long journey: a marathon, not a sprint!
  • Be happy about progress, even though it may not show in the way you want it to on the scale.  My body shape has been changing while my weight has not.  I am now uniformly wearing size 16W in pants, and regular XL or Large in tops.  Two nights ago, I bought my first size 14W skirt.  While it is strange to be straddling the “womens” department and the other departments at stores, it is also awesome!
  • Feeling good trumps everything else! This is the secret that is so hard to hold on to when I get discouraged at the scale.  Imagine, if you can, how it felt to weigh 352 pounds…panic attacks, labored breathing, never feeling good about how I looked, never fitting in chairs or public transportation…I can tell you that it rarely felt good.  Now, I pretty much feel great every day, both physically and psychically.

Posting my weight on Thursdays keeps me honest – with myself and with anyone else who looks at my posts.  I want others to know that, while there are plenty of them, it is worth the hard parts.  And I want myself to know that the truth has, truly, set me free. And that, friends, is why I am still doing this.