Friday, June 24, 2011
June 20th was the anniversary of the car accident that had killed my older brother, and I had blogged a bit about that event a few times earlier this week. The ensuing aftermath of the accident ultimately shaped who I am today, for better or worse. I had post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and I saw a therapist from the time I was 5, immediately after the accident, until I was 17. I didn't really grasp why I was in therapy at first, but it turned out that I indicated that I thought I had killed my brother Brian. He had removed his seat belt to lean over the front seat to give me a hug, and that is when the truck went through the red light and hit us. The fact that his last act was showing me love haunted me, and I thought I should have been able to hold onto him. If I had, he would not have gone through the windshield, and he would be a 35-year-old man now. I punished myself intensely throughout most of my life over something of which I had no control at all. My punishment was to never stop eating, to never get to feel satisfied.
My best friend and my worst enemy was food. I got up in the middle of the night to sneak into the kitchen and eat cereal or anything else that could be snatched quickly. I shoplifted candy from various drug and convenience stores. I begged my mother for more food and stole change from her to buy snacks. I never, ever felt satiated. When I wasn't eating, I was thinking about food. I ate myself through the grief and pain. My inward struggle was not private--everyone knew I had a problem because they could see it in my fat.
It took me many years to learn that I wasn't rewarding myself with the food. I joined WeightWatchers in 2006, when I felt I was really ready to address my relationship with food. I did manage to take control over my relationship with food and lost 95 pounds. As many have experienced, we picture our problems simply melting away with the body fat. I obsessed over how wonderful my life would be if I could just lose the weight. The Thin Erin I had pictured since childhood was always smiling, was always happy, and was super popular. The interesting thing is, I am an introvert, and I probably still would have been an introvert had I never been overweight because most people in my family are introverts. Since "normal" people are friendly and outgoing, so was Thin Erin. She was as normal as they come.
For some reason, I was always so happy as Thin Erin in my head, but I could not to this day tell you why that would have been. Brian was still not there, my younger brother still struggled intensely because of his head injury from the accident, my mother was still grieving, my relationship with my father was shaky at best, and the bullies followed me everywhere. Thin Erin didn't have any of those people in her world; I don't think she had any actual family or friends. She was surrounded by beautiful and smiling people, and none of them had any names. Perhaps it was simply that Thin Erin had not been in the car accident, had a normal and happy childhood, and was an extrovert. Guilt didn't exist in her universe, because Thin Erin did not have a brother that she felt she should have been able to save. Thin Erin existed in an alternate universe where problems simply did not exist. There were no bullies, no bad grades, no drunk drivers, no angry fathers, no dead brothers, no sad mothers...she was simply thin and happy. She seemed to have a very empty life and shallow existence, but that seemed to be enough.
As I said yesterday, I don't regret being fat. As a matter of fact, I don't really regret regaining the weight that I had lost on WeightWatchers; regaining 95 pounds has taught me so much. I almost got to my goal weight, but my crappy job, my house payment, and the same toxic people were still there. I thought I would create Thin Erin's idyllic world simply by losing the weight. I was shocked to find out that I had not really changed at all. I started to build up my protective layer of fat again, and it has stayed on until Thin Erin was able to learn how to emerge as a real person, and not a dissembled shell of a human being.
Thin Erin will probably not always have a smile on her face, will stomp her feet and cry out in frustration sometimes, and will laugh until she pees her pants on occasion. This time, Thin Erin is going to exist in the real world, with all the happiness, sadness, frustrations, successes, good days, and bad days that ensue.
"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thursday, June 23, 2011
"When we lose twenty pounds, we may be losing the best twenty pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty."
- Woody Allen
Weight loss journeys seem to be riddled with so much pain and regret. The focus tends to be on how much time we've "wasted" with being fat. The truth is, being overweight doesn't actually waste any time; we have the same amount of time whether we are fat and thin. It's a perceived barrier or, dare I say, an excuse to deny ourselves our dreams. I do wish I had learned this basic principle 6 years ago when I lost 95 pounds on WeightWatchers, but my brain wasn't ready, and I didn't have the tools to help me get to that realization. WeightWatchers is a great program, but I really needed tools to change how I think about myself in a very fundamental way, and not just change my relationship with food. The weight crept back on because, despite being thin, I still hated myself. I did not learn basic love and respect for my body. This time, on SparkPeople, I know my weight loss will be permanent. I will (and have had) ups and downs, but I don't get derailed by slip-ups, and I approach the scale with a neutral attitude. Essentially, I have taken the emotions out of the weight loss and improved my relationship with my body.
I'm not totally at peace with my body, with an incident a few weeks ago serving as an example. I was supposed to do the bike leg of a sprint triathlon with my old running and triathlon training buddies, and because of the torn meniscus in my knee, I wasn't able to do it. I went with my friends anyways, to cheer them on. As we were driving there, one of my friends asked me why I haven't been to swimming practice. I grimaced and said I didn't want to be seen in a swimsuit since I've gained weight. She looked sideways at me for a moment, and then said, "That's stupid. I mean, I don't mean to insult you, but that's just f******g stupid." Well, she's right, what a dumb excuse to miss out on doing something that I love. At least I have honest friends who will call me out on my thinking mistakes. Sure enough, I will be joining my old training buddies to swim again (and I've somehow been talked into doing the swim leg of a triathlon next summer).
Me (on left) and a couple of triathlon training buddies
Despite the occasional slip in self-confidence, I don't regret being fat. I'm ready to be healthier, but my happiness is no longer based on how much I weigh. My thoughts no longer begin with, "I can't wait to be at my goal weight so I can...;" I just do those things now. I have certainly wasted a lot of time thinking that being fat was stopping me from pursuing things I wanted to do. Well, I am done punishing myself. So I'm fat. So what? Is that really a reason to deny myself playing the saxophone, learning to play new musical instruments, singing, belly dancing, boxing, swimming, and seeing friends?
When I started being active on SparkPeople in August, 2010, my main goal was to get ready to lose, and more importantly, to be able to maintain weight loss. I wanted to stop hating myself over something as superficial as my body weight. I did even better than that: I found that being overweight has actually had a positive influence in my life. Being fat has shaped who I am today, and I mean that in a good way. I sincerely do not believe that I would have the compassion and kindness that I have today had I never been overweight. I have a strong desire to help others, and now I have the experiences to help them work through problems. I can face and overcome any adversity, all while asking friends and family for support when I need it. I think people of all shapes and sizes are truly beautiful (which is one of the reasons I get sad when I see SparkFriends speaking negatively about the way they look). I have dealt with a lot of toxic people because they have bullied me about my weight, and now I can tell who is a true friend and who is not. Instead of wishing I had been thin my entire life, I am grateful for these experiences for making me an awesome person.
The only thing I've wasted is a lot of energy and hatred. That is my only regret. The time was there, but I chose to wallow and blame my body weight for my unhappiness. But now, here I am, 270 pounds, and I'm the happiest I've ever been. My attitude is no longer, "Oh the things I will do once I'm thin..."; now I say, "Oh the things I will do today!"
"If nature had intended for our skeletons to be visible it would have put them on the outside of our bodies."
- Elmer Rice
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Green tea with fresh rose-aromatherapy heaven!
One of my favorite places is right in my back--and front--yard. Every year people flock to far away places to "get away from it all." Last summer I took a week of of work to enjoy my garden. Not to escape to some exotic location, but to be able to sit in the beauty that I helped create. I had completely redone my yard last year, and my yard is 100% garden. I labored to re-arrange, plant, clean up, and get ready to plant vegetables. I created little paths inside the gated part of the garden and put in benches, tables, and bird feeders. One could not ask for a better spot to spend a day.
I did not used to be interested in gardening. But as I watched the same plants come back year after year despite the neglect, I knew I should make it better for these plants. Spectacular climbing roses have come back every year with no work put into them. Bright orange Oriental poppies explode every spring. It seemed that many plants could simply be put in the ground and would take care of themselves.
Needless to say, I didn't really know what I was doing. Luckily, my mother is a Master gardener, and it was great to have such a resource when I had questions. I had also absorbed a lot of what she had talk me as I was growing up, even though I was only listening passively. She was a tremendous help in deciding what to do with my yard. It seems she knows the answer to every question about every plant.
Last year my focus was on planting perennial flowers and to create space to plan vegetables this year. My vegetables are still alive, so thus far I would call it a success. The only plant that has produces anything as of yet are my strawberries. I don't think I will ever forget the first fresh-picked strawberry I picked from my patch. It was the perfect balance of juicy and firm, of sweet and tart. It was like biting into sunshine.
My vegetable garden, strawberry patch, and blueberry plants
I have planted various lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, and herbs in containers, and broccoli, carrots, peas, summer squash, and beans in the ground. I may be successful with vegetables this year, I may not. I know vegetable gardening can have a steep learning curve, so I'm not expecting too much this year. The lettuces have done great, and I have been able to harvest a fresh salad almost every day; they're the best greens ever. I plan on creating more space for vegetables for next year, and will hopefully have learned more by then.
I have a week off in August, once again, to spend at home. I look forward to having my hands dirty the whole time. I plan to drink tea in the garden for hours, with the company of the resident chickadee. I will count butterflies and bees, and thank them for their help.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
My trusty saxophone
I played the alto saxophone from the time I was 8 years old until I was 20 years old, when I decided I didn't have time for frivolous activities any more. From watching my mother half-smile, half-wince as I blasted a rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to seeing her in the audience at a major concert hall performing with a semi-professional level group, playing the saxophone had been my life. I went from squeaking out my best "Jingle Bells" to being first or second chair in my high school ensemble. Although I had talent, I was unable to acknowledge it. I was never good enough, so I gave up.
My saxophone had sat in various closets ever since I put it down. I had written off that I would ever pick it up again: "I probably don't even remember how anymore," "I don't have time," "I'm not any good." I looked at the case, never opening it, and thought about selling it while I was having financial problems. But I couldn't do it. My saxophone sat there, unused, for over 10 years, knowing I would pick it up again someday. I could almost hear the whisper, "Don't worry, I'll wait...you'll need me again someday."
Several months ago, I moved my saxophone from the back of the closet to a prominent location in my living room. I found my music stand. I could not, however, find my old sheet music. I looked in every box I could think of to look, and it was nowhere. I decided I would by some new books when I had more money, and once again wrote off playing.
I went to my mother's Irish singing recital last week at the Center for Irish Music in Saint Paul. I always love hearing her sing and have been a little jealous for years that she has music as an outlet. I realized how much I have missed having music in my life. I decided I would have to go out and by some sheet music so I could start practicing. I couldn't actually imagine that I would remember how to play. Then, 2 days ago, my basement started flooding from all of the rain. I was moving boxes so they wouldn't get soaked, and at the bottom of one of the boxes, I saw the word "Saxophone." There they were, all of my books, and all of my old sheet music.
Yesterday, I opened the saxophone case, and it was if light radiated throughout the room. I put my saxophone together, looked it over, and with some trepidation, put the mouthpiece to my lips. I had picked a relatively easy piece to play to see if I even remember how to play. Breathing into the mouthpiece and hearing notes spreading through the air was like breathing life into myself again. And I remember how to play; I remember almost everything. After all of these years, my brain and my muscles remember. The saxophone is ingrained in my head, and was meant to be picked up again.
I plan of joining a group of some sort and taking lessons again to review how some things, and to improve. I'm not going to regret all these years that I denied myself the pleasure of playing; I will simply pick up where I left off.
Now, the question remains, is my dog's howling while I play a compliment or a critique?
Monday, June 20, 2011
Today is the 27th anniversary of the car accident that killed my older brother Brian. He was 8 years old, and I was 5 years old. I have spent a lot of my life remembering his death and the aftermath of the accident, but today I want to remember his life. I had written a couple of letters to Brian when I was a child, but I have never done it as an adult. Part of me felt that because I don't believe in an afterlife that it was a waste of time. But I know the letter is really for me, and so I am going to free-associate writing a letter to Brian.
I was looking at a picture of you and I together; you were probably 6 and I was 3. You were very gangly in the picture. I try to picture what you would look like now, and I think you would have been a tall and skinny runner. Maybe you, John, and I would have done some running events together; John and I have had a lot of fun doing them. I know you may not have still been climbing trees at the age of 33, but I imagine you would have still enjoyed hikes and being active.
I wonder what you would have done for a living. Would you have been drawn to math and physics, like Dad, or would you have wanted to save people, like Mom? Would you have followed your passion for animals and made a living caring for them? Anything you would have done, I know you would have brought creativity and brightness.
I know you're gone, but you are remembered. Every time I see a rainbow, I think of you. I can't seem to help it because you loved them so much. A few weeks ago, I saw a rainbow outside my office building. It was enormous and bright. And I saw the end of the rainbow--it is apparently at the parking garage across the street from work. Family members still have the numerous pictures you have drawn, mostly of rainbows, and they will be forever treasured.
And of course, you are carried on the back of every turtle I see. I have no doubt you would have still loved turtles today. Your love for animals overall sparked something in me; I care for animals for a living, and I'm sure you would have appreciated that. Every time I worked with a turtle, I felt a little bit like you were there (except maybe when the giant snapping turtles were trying to bite my hands off--but I can't blame them for that!).
I have no doubt that you would have still been a sci-fi nerd, and thanks a lot for turning me into one! I just finished watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from beginning to end. It took months, but I did it. You are one of the few people who would consider that to be a life accomplishment. I love how almost every picture of you has some sort of Star Wars reference in it, whether it's your t-shirt, pajamas, or bedroom. I still have the Star Wars pillow case from your bedroom to this day.
I still miss you, and I still wonder what kind of man you would have been. You were such a sweet kid, I have no doubt you would have been a very kind man. I know you would understand why I have put the sadness from this day behind me; every time I picture you, you are smiling, and I know you would want your family to be happy. I want you to know I am a happy woman, with awesome friends, a good job, and a fulfilled life. The biggest thing I have to do to let go of the day of the accident is to let go of all this weight on my body. Eating has been the way I've punished myself for letting you slip out of my hands, and I'm ready to stop punishing myself now.
I love you, brother.
Love, your little sister,
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