To My Post-Weight Loss Body

9 10 2014

I have been told I should love you.

I have been asked why I hate you.

Love and hate: the extremities of emotion. What I feel toward you is neither, yet both: extreme in its measure of complexity rather than its static position on an axis.

When it comes to their bodies, even poets vacillate between love:

Clifton swinging her jazzy hips;
Piercy belly bumping her lover;
Whitman singing the body electric…

And hate:

Roethke’s “rags of anatomy”,
Amichai betrayed by hair’s sprouting and Corso by it’s routing;
countless unnamed others using their words to reach an armistice on this war’s very personal front…

If much of humanity swings on that pendulum, loving you and hating you, how am I to reconcile my own internal tug of war?

I am proud of you:

The vigor of muscle and bone, their strength;
The tenacity of heart and lungs, their endurance;
The willingness to rise to the occasion when I mistreated you and, again, when I needed you to recover myself.

Am I also ashamed of you?

I keep you covered from the eyes of others;
I avert my own gaze in bath and dressing rooms;
I refuse the sleeveless and eschew summer beaches.

Or is what seems to be shame, instead, a self-protective instinct? A desire to hold safe and sacred “this skin, this sac of dung and joy” described by yet another poet*? Am I afraid that eyes will see not the triumph,but the scarred aftermath of the battle we waged to regain wholeness?

Will see not your death-defying resilience, but the false, sagging appearance of its opposite?

I am not touting this ambivalence as either good or bad. I’m attempting to come to terms with the “what is”

As opposed to the “what I wish it was”.

It’s one of the things you, my own body, have taught me:
What IS is always infinitely greater than we anticipate,
While also often less than we hope for.

If I need a reason to hate you, that might be enough.

In the end, though, we’re in this together. Wherever we go, however I feel about you.

If I need a reason to love you, that ought to suffice.

***********************************************************

Note: This piece was written as an exercise for my writer’s group – our assignment: to “write a toast to someone or something important to you”. Thanks to the Rider Writers for the inspiration, and the encouragement to experiment.

* The poem quoted, above (“…this skin, this sac of dung & joy”) is Yusef Komunyakaa. Here’s a link to his poem, “Anodyne” – a must-read exploration of body-love! I love his closing, which I quote here in case you don’t go to the poem in its entirety:

I love this body, this
solo & ragtime jubilee
behind the left nipple,
because I know I was born
to wear out at least
one hundred angels.





Wish it. Will it. Do it.

28 02 2013
“…you will sooner or later experience something almost magical: the moment when your mind, led by your sense of yearning, embraces the next step toward the best life you are capable of living. This is the moment when desire stops being just a story about what might happen and becomes a template of what will happen; the moment when “I wish” becomes “I will.”
          — Martha Beck “The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life”
 

Earlier this week, I read a post over at “-200”, which made me cry. The post, titled “A life for my birthday”, shares Ben’s story of living in the depths of despair before deciding that instead of taking his own life, he would take action in his own life. I was moved by Ben’s honesty and depth of feeling, and by the fact that I recognized  Ben’s story as my own: different in particulars (of course), but very similar in essentials. (Thanks to April Hageman for sharing Ben’s blog with me!)

I can’t point to one moment. But I can point to a series of moments – and some very powerful experiences of intervention and grace – which led me to that magical point where “I wish” became “I will”…

…I will lose weight…

…I will make exercise a habit…

…I will learn how to eat healthy, whole, nourishing food…

…I will LIVE my life, not just wait it out.

The thing I didn’t realize, that I am still striving to learn in a visceral way every day, is that this particular magic will spur a person on to wishes they didn’t dare allow themselves before. And you’ll want to take these new desires and turn them into action too.

Wishful thinking. I know only too well the ways it can be a trap – it kept me sedentary and daydreaming my way through life for decades.

But wishful thinking can also be a catalyst once you’ve learned the trick of turning that desire into intention, and intention into action. Like all tricks worth knowing, you will have to talk yourself through it again and again (because practice is the only thing that perfects the technique). There are three simple steps:

1. Wish it.

2. Will it.

3. Do it.

Simple, I say. But not usually easy.

Joyful, but sometimes also painful.

Magic — as in “unfolding in wonder and awe”, not as in wand-waving incantations and instantaneous transfiguration. Practical, hard-won, life-changing magic. If Ben and I can do it, so can you.

Let your desire become intention.





From Half to Whole

10 01 2013

People magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” issue is out (here). I noticed it while in line at the supermarket, then picked it up to take a closer look. The women who made it on the cover look good, having lost 137 and 126 pounds respectively. The subheadings read, “No surgery!” “No gimmicks!” I contemplated purchasing a copy, thinking, “Wow, I wonder how they did it?”

This question was not one of idle curiosity. The people being highlighted in the “Half Their Size” stories have accomplished something spectacular. I imagined reading their stories,  learning the secrets of their successes, and finding something useful that would rub off on me.

And that’s when I stopped myself.

What was I thinking? My own weight loss total is 154 pounds (give or take a couple pounds on any given day) – a bigger number than either of the cover women put up. And I did it without surgery or gimmicks, too. This doesn’t mean I should no longer be interested in or celebrate other people’s weight loss journeys. What brought me up short, though, was the realization that I had just been thinking of these other people as “successful” and myself as “not”.

The reasons for that are complex, and I’ve been trying to sort them out in my head. One time some young friends asked me to help them untangle the embroidery threads they were hoping to use to weave friendship bracelets. Unpacking my thoughts and reactions to the “Half Their Size” issue has been a lot like untangling the mass of threads those kids handed me. So far, I’ve managed to separate a few threads from the rest:

  • Comparisons are at the root of discontent. Looking at what someone else has/has accomplished is a sure-fire way to feel less satisfied with what you have/have done. Not only does the grass look greener over there, but we are not privy to whatever is lurking below the surface. This is very true for physical appearance issues like weight – the women on the cover of People look great. When I look in the mirror, I see rolls and flab and the pounds that still need to be shed. But it is also true for our inner selves. Many people appear happy, positive, well-adjusted and relatively problem-free – in comparison to us. When we look at our ourselves, we see the inner struggles, the warts and blemishes, the imperfect whole – and we end up feeling like an inferior mess. Comparing ourselves to others is a red-herring. It diverts our attention from our true focus, which is being our best selves.
  • Perfectionism derails a sense of accomplishment. Our culture regularly proclaims the importance of cultivating a relentless pursuit of excellence. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for excellence. However, this push can cause us to denigrate “pretty damn good”, as if the only acceptable or worthy-of-cheering result is perfection. And if we do achieve something praiseworthy, we celebrate quickly and move on to the next challenge – “Woo hoo! What’s next?”
  • Failing to self-reflect keeps us in deficit-thinking. In our hurry to move on to the next thing, we don’t take the time to incorporate our new skills, achievements, recently discovered strengths into our self-definition. When we face a new hurdle, we forget that we have assets we worked hard to attain. Instead of seeing our real strength(s), we continue to operate from a sense of self that is outdated and underdeveloped.
  • Success and happiness are not the same thing. We often trip ourselves up by thinking that this thing or that accomplishment will make us happy. The truth is, we can be very successful at something that we don’t enjoy. We can also be very happy without meeting outward measures of success. The reason for this? Success is about what we do. Happiness resides in who we choose to be.

So, in the face of People’s “Half Their Size” issue, who am I choosing to be? I am choosing to be someone who can celebrate others’ success without downgrading my own. I’m choosing to remember that, regardless of what goals I have set for myself, I am already whole and valuable as I am. And I am choosing to find happiness inside my own heart and inside this present moment. I hope you are choosing well for yourselves, too!





My Name is Jenion, And I’m a Backslider

29 11 2012

I grew up Catholic, so there’s always been a deep-rooted desire in me to confess my failings. Like many children in parochial grade schools, I prepared a list of sins well in advance of kneeling on the padded bench in the confessional – there was nothing more humiliating than speechlessness when facing a dark screen, behind which sat the priest during this sacramental rite. So, also like generations of Catholic school children, if I couldn’t come up with something authentic, I made something up. Yes, that’s right, I lied during confession. I also had one or two generic sins to share, such as the ever-popular, “I fought with my brothers and sisters”. With five siblings, this was bound to be true, even if I was unable to recall a specific incidence.

The point is, I am a confession junkie of sorts. If I feel particularly badly about something I’ve done, I actually have a difficult time NOT blurting it out to someone. For example, there was the New Year’s Eve party when I introduced myself to a room full of strangers by announcing I had just eaten a large Papa Murphy’s pizza by myself and was feeling a little…full-ish.

And so I come before you today with a confession to make. Despite my best intentions, I have spent the past few weeks floundering. Oh, alright, backsliding. You may recall that I have spent the last year barely creeping forward with my weight loss goals. I plateaued. I dropped to a very low calorie diet, which made me cranky and didn’t help with weight loss. I upped my caloric intake and stepped up the exercise. My body shape rearranged itself slightly, but my weight barely fluctuated.

After a couple of years of posting my weekly weigh-in on this blog, in September I decided to post my weight only monthly (read the explanation here). And I made a valiant effort to feel positive and proactive without over-regard for the reading on my scale. As November rolled in, I was doing ok and holding my own. However, by mid-month, I was frustrated again with the lack of progress toward my goal. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. Well, taking this thought to heart, I decided to shake things up a bit. Based on new research (yes, reputable research!) I began to increase the protein in my diet and added more dairy (something I’ve typically kept fairly restricted). And in spite of adding to my work out routine I just didn’t feel right. I stepped on a scale and was horrified to see that I had inched up by ten pounds!

We all know that such moments can be turning points. And so it was for me – a turning point in the wrong direction! So I am hereby confessing that I was so discouraged, I went out and bought a 10-pack of 100-calorie pouches of Goldfish crackers. And I ate all 10 pouches in 2 days. (For those of you keeping track, that’s 1,000 calories of crunchy, cheesy little fishies.) I wasn’t completely out of control. But I was too depressed to maintain self-discipline. A little temptation could easily overcome my resistance.

In the midst of this backsliding-palooza, along came Thanksgiving – the holiday devoted to binge eating in America. Interestingly, as the anniversary of Jenion, and the beginning of my own path to emotional and physical health, the eating holiday had the effect of helping me reconsider my backwards slide. The first step for me, as it is in any 12-step program, is to admit my own powerlessness – I can make decisions day by day, I can be proactive, I can manage. What I can’t do is ever live a life in which food isn’t an issue for me.

Until I sat down to write this blog post, I never really gave much thought to the 12-steps and whether they have any usefulness for me and this mighty effort to make lasting change in myself. However I can see that the other steps in 12-step programs are more or less instructive for me: make a fearless and searching moral inventory of myself; admit to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs – these I’ve done using the vehicle of this blog and my penchant for confession!

Many of the remaining steps have to do with God, or whatever one’s concept of a higher power may be. I do know there is a spiritual component to this whole thing – and I must say that the following phrase (Step 2) struck me in particular:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

On the one hand, as a person of faith, I read that Power to be God.

On the other hand, as a person who has benefitted from the power that is born of love – the support, encouragement, willingness to engage with my issues (and hear my “confessions”) shown by family, friends, loved ones and even well-meaning strangers…I have to read that Power also as community.

God and community: a backslider’s most trustworthy allies. You are there to restore my sanity, to remind me that I am cared for regardless of my weight or what is listed on my food tracker any given day. And I know you’ll be by my side as I hop back on the wagon – even if it means hearing all about my latest transgression or failing. For that, how can I be anything but truly grateful.

Note: The 12th Step can be summed up as “Helping Others”. As someone fully aware of the gifts that have been showered upon me, and the willingness of so many to walk with me, I want to reiterate that I am ready and willing to “pay it forward”. If you or someone you know needs help, someone to talk with, any support that I can offer, please don’t hesitate to contact me!




Peeling

4 10 2012
 
“The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” — Simone Weil
 

When I named my blog Jenion, I thought it was a clever play on words – a combination of my name (Jen) with onion. My tag line: peeling away the layers. Like the onion, I had physical layers that needed to be peeled away. The peeling of those layers has slowed considerably, but the process has uniformly felt good. Like pulling off the dead skin after a sunburn, this physical peeling (a.k.a. weight loss) revealed softer, healthier, more glowing layers beneath.

At the beginning, I didn’t fully grasp that there were psychic and emotional layers that also needed to be pulled back in order to reveal both the person I hoped to become and the life I wanted to live. In part, I didn’t understand this because I had denied my own hunger, to borrow Simone Weil’s metaphor from the quote above. After all, I had eaten my way to more than 350 pounds – how could I possibly be hungry?

The soul, my friends, can be a powerful liar and deceiver in the name of self-preservation.

Not understanding what that process would involve, I began pulling away at the top, papery layers of the onion that is my emotional self. Some of it was easy – self-revelations seemed to come with each pound shed. Occasionally, though, the peeling skin wasn’t completely ready to detach, and there was a wince of pain. But with the support of others and the motivation provided by ongoing success, I persevered. And I discovered happiness in my life. True friendship. Joy.

That would have been a nice, happy ending, eh?

However, there was a deeper truth about this process of peeling away the layers that I didn’t understand, in fact am only now beginning to grasp fully. This truth has three parts: the layers never end; once you begin peeling them away to uncover your soul’s hidden truths, you have embarked on a journey that calls for your continued commitment; the deeper the layers you uncover, the greater the emotional pain you feel upon peeling them away. The pain, the emotion, comes from exposing hidden places to air and light. And even though you know that is good for healing and the process of growth, it still results in discomfort.

There may be those who think I’m being either pessimistic or melodramatic here. Why should life, why should being happy, be so hard? they might ask. I don’t know the answer to that. Why are things that come easily to some, so elusive for me? Why are things that are obvious and clear to me so opaque for others? Why is the sky blue?!

I am particularly short on answers as I busy myself with the questions that my life asks me to consider. I do think those elusive answers are bound up in the aftermath of having lied to myself, of convincing myself that I wasn’t hungry, that I wasn’t angry, and that I had nothing to feel sad about nor any right to feel lonely. All that hunger, anger, sadness and loneliness were part of a life-giving river of emotion which my self-deception damned up, creating a huge reservoir. Now, each layer I peel away from my inner-onion, creates a chink in the damn. The emotions start to leak out, and threaten to become a torrent. Onions, I should have realized, call forth tears.

After all that, there is still a happy ending here. Happiness, true friendship, joy – all these are part of the same river of emotion I once damned up through self-deceit. Un-damned, the river flows with all of the emotions: the good, the difficult, and the life-affirming ones. With tears and laughter, anger and love, hunger and peace.

I keep peeling with that vision in mind.





What Defines Us

3 05 2012

I didn’t post a weigh-in today because I didn’t want to share my current weight. The important thing about that weekly snapshot of my scale has always been, in my opinion, the concept of honestly sharing both the ups and downs of my path with others who might struggle with things in their lives, too. Today, I feel like copping out.

For a month now, my time and attention has been elsewhere than on my weight. In some ways, it has felt good to let my guard down a bit, to worry about other things, to enjoy other things, to just not let the central factor of my life be the scale. In other ways, I have felt stressed and out-of-sorts, with various life issues pulling at my focus.

I haven’t made horrendous choices in that time. I’ve continued to work out. I haven’t suddenly begun eating between every meal, or eating outrageous menus or triple helpings. I haven’t given in to temptations such as the Taco Bell drive through to try one of those Dorito-shelled tacos I’ve seen on TV.

But the scale has inched up anyway.

One of my favorite television moments ever was on the Roseanne show. The family is in debt, having trouble paying their bills, and at the end of the episode their electricity is shut off. From the dark screen, we hear Roseanne’s voice, “Well, middle class was fun.” I feel a little bit like that today, “Well, One-derland was fun.”

Except for this: I can choose differently.

Not every family has control over the financial vicissitudes in life. But each of us has control over where we place our attention, the choices we make on a daily basis, and the attitude we bring to each day.  These are the real lessons I’ve been learning via the process of losing weight. And while I can’t say the scale doesn’t have an impact on me, I can truthfully say my weight no longer defines me.

Because I am choosing to define myself.

One of the lessons I am still learning is to never underestimate the power of that. We live in a world that wants to define us externally (using standards set outside ourselves) – by our looks, our weight, our gender, our sexual identity, our politics, our socioeconomic status, our race…so many factors. But none of these is who we are, no matter how central that factor is to our lived experience. Who we are depends on us.

With that in mind, there’s one other thing I’d like to share with you this morning:





Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

23 02 2012

Today, I want to look at the past. Not the generic past – my past.

When I was a kid, I loved the Wizard of Oz. In those days, it truly was a special occasion when it aired on television, and I watched every second – even the scary parts with the flying monkeys. Over the years, I’ve seen the story used as a metaphor for a variety of things from women’s empowerment to college graduation advice. So I’ve decided today to use it as a metaphor for my life.

Since the inception of Jenion, I have tried to write honestly about my life – “the good, the bad, the ugly pizza binges”. What I haven’t done is spend much time or blog space talking about the realities I experienced when I tipped the scales at 350+ pounds. In part, I haven’t wanted to hang on to a past self that has (literally) disappeared. But part of the reason I haven’t spoken too directly about my life as a morbidly obese person was my own ambivalence about my worth as a human being during that time period. It is hard to admit, even now, the embarrassments, indignities and huge burden of self-loathing – coupled with the disgust of total strangers – which comprised my daily life for twenty years or so. In many ways, I embodied Dorothy’s companions from the Wizard of Oz.

Like the Scarecrow, I felt stupid, and acted that way. I chose faulty logic over clear understanding so that I wasn’t required to change. Moreover, other people acted, sometimes, as if I was incapable of normal thoughts and emotions. It was a symbiotic relationship: they treated me rudely, with cruelty at times, dismissively at others – and I believed they were right to do so.  But I always had the brains to figure things out, if I chose to use them.

Like the Tin Man, I had a heart full to overflowing. I just didn’t know how to feel it or express it, so I covered it up with food, then fat. I loved. I yearned. I hoped and dreamed. I blocked those feelings and hid my heart – most of all from myself. But it was there, all along, if I only chose to feel my emotions instead of pretend they didn’t exist.

Like the Cowardly Lion, I feared everything. My own shadow was terrifying (and huge). Not to mention the things I ought to have been afraid of, like health risks and chronic pain. My fear paralyzed me from making choices, moving forward, loving wholeheartedly. But there was courage waiting, untapped, if I only decided to reach for it.

And like the Great and Terrible Oz, I was only acting a part. Hoping no one would look behind the curtain and see the creature cowering there. I didn’t realize it,  but the curtain was only fooling me. Those who loved and worried for me could see right through it. I could have pulled it back and revealed my true self anytime.

Finally, I set out on an unknown road as someone who didn’t even know herself. I wasn’t sure whether I could find the thing I was searching for, and I was terrified of bogeymen (lions, tigers, and bears are not scary to me compared with looking foolish, failing, rejection). I wore my layers of fat like Dorothy wore her Kansas naivete – for all to see, both a protection and a problem situation to work my way out of.

Today, for the first time, I am posting a weight with a one at the front – not a 3, not a 2.

Today, I am a much different person than the woman who hid inside that real-life fat suit. I finally realize I don’t have to revile her, hate her, deny her existence in order to become the person I want to be. I simply need to accept who and what I once was. And as I’ve watched this moment approaching it has become clear that, in order to take my life where I want, I have to say a final, loving, goodbye to that frightened fat girl. Goodbye to timid Dorothy-from-Kansas. I’m letting her go for good and all.

Standard weight charts still list me as obese. Whatever. After following the spiralling yellow brick road into “One-derland” the old thought patterns, fears, negative self-talk simply won’t do anymore. Here, I am the central character of my own life: I am Dorothy of the Ruby Slippers. I’ve had the power all along, but here is where I truly take hold of it – no more looking elsewhere for strength of mind, a stout heart, and the courage of my convictions.