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The Year of Open Doors: 2011 in Review

Saturday, December 31, 2011

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
-Joseph Campbell

The year 2011 did not start out looking particularly promising. Actually, the word "bleak" might be a better term. I had rapidly gained weight over the preceding several months and topped out on the scale at 298 pounds. My home loan was in default and I wasn't sure if I would be able to fix it. I had a large amount of credit card debt because of the cut in my work hours, with insufficient income to pay them. I wasn't exercising, primarily because my right knee was so painful that I could barely walk or get in and out of the shower. I had just completed my Bachelor's degree, a 17 year journey, but was left so broke in the process that I could not consider grad school. I hated my job and felt trapped, despite just completing a degree. In general, I felt trapped. I was so aimless, though, that being trapped was a blessing in some ways.

In all seriousness, I considered abandoning my house, giving away my possessions, and wandering the country. I didn't want anything to do with this life. What stopped me? My pets. I knew it was not fair to them to re-home them just because I couldn't get my act together. So I knew that I owed them a home and I had to fight for it. I also felt ashamed because my family had helped get me into this house, and I did not want to let them down. Abandonment was not an option. I had to find a way to turn my life around before I spiraled into a deeper mental health crisis.

Considering its beginnings, I would not have thought on January 1st, 2011, that I would be sitting here writing about one of the best years of my life. Of course, SparkPeople was the life-changing force behind turning this year around. I had been logging onto SparkPeople frequently and doing some of the activities, but I was not tracking consistently. Nonetheless, those small activities added up quickly. My main goals in the beginning were to track and increase the amount of sleep I was getting and to deal with my finances. I used the tools on SparkPeople to track sleep and then to create and follow a budget. I felt more in control with those actions. By February, I was doing pretty well tracking my food. SparkPeople provided building blocks from which I could slowly expand upon good habits. Then, in February, a fire lit inside of me. I wanted my life back. Actually, I wanted a better life. Yes, I wanted to lose weight, but I wanted something more profound than just seeing dwindling numbers on the scale. Those numbers on the scale would not reveal who I really am. I set out to not find myself again, but to find the person I could be.

The doors that have been opened in 2011 have taught me that I can do anything I set out to do. I walked up to some of them and I created some of them myself. Now, the doors may not have opened the way I thought they would, nor have they always panned out, but I had the nerve to walk through them. I walked up to the door with a plan in place and was willing to pave the path once I opened them. I don't get discouraged by things not going "according to plan" as often. If it didn't go "according to plan," then maybe it wasn't the best plan in the first place. I accept the learning process now and am willing to open new doors if needed.

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“A small key opens big doors.”
-Turkish Proverb

Writing has been a powerful force for me over the past year. I have always been a writer and this past year is not the first time that writing has saved me. Instead of writing imaginary stories, though, I have focused on blogging to help sort out my problems on paper (or on the screen). I will sit down to write about something in particular, and then I will get an idea and my fingers will start flying across the keyboard. Writing blogs has been a way to journal my thought processes, but has also created them. Writing has created many of the doors that I have opened this past year. It has also helped guide my way once the door has been opened. I have learned how all areas of my life are interconnected by writing down the details.

Of course, my beautiful SparkFriends have been my inspiration and rock throughout the year. I am so happy about the connections I have made. It has been amazing to watch people change, both physically and mentally. It seems that my SparkFriends always seem to have the right words, whether I need to light a fire under me or need words of comfort. Sometimes I am moved to tears. I am so grateful for the wonderful community here and the camaraderie amongst those of us who are sharing in this journey. My SparkFriends have ingrained in my head that change is possible as long as we are willing to open those new doors.

There was no aspect of my life that went untouched over this past year. Fixing my financial crisis was my first major accomplishment that taught me that hell-bent determination can truly solve problems. I was able to turn my finances around with careful budgeting and demanding that my work give the full-time hours I was supposed to be getting. I did not accept "no" for an answer. I haggled with the credit card companies and my home loan lender. By June, my home loan was out of default and I got rid of over $10,000 in credit card debt. Finances were still tight, but much more manageable. Actually, I had enough money to start pursuing some interests again.

I had been thinking about picking up my saxophone again after a 13 year hiatus. In July, I finally contacted the music shop where I had taken lessons as a kid to start lessons again. My old teacher no longer taught lessons, but there was another teacher with openings, a well-known local saxophonist. I was very nervous showing up to my first lesson with my teacher Jeff, heart pounding as I reached for the door, and feeling more at ease once I walked through it. Jeff has changed me with his creative power and uncanny way of tricking me into finding new ways to look at things and solve problems. Both intimidating and gentle in spirit, Jeff has helped me rediscover the power of music to help heal and teach. Fumbling through re-learning things and then being pushed by Jeff to challenge myself has provided a great creative outlet. Playing has spilled over into other areas and helped me learn that exercise, cooking, and other areas of healthy living can be creative, too. Finally, I have found someone to play duets with, and I look forward to expanding this creative outlet.

Besides reconnecting with my musical roots, my gym has been the other life-changing force this past year. My old gym served its purpose of getting me moving again and my knee was slowly getting better. However, I was very unhappy there. I walked out of the door of my other gym for the last time in September after several years of being treated with coldness and disrespect. I blogged about how I was nervous to start at a new gym and that I had allowed my fear of being treated badly stop me for long enough. I committed in writing to going to my new gym. I walked up to the glass door with the metal handle, swung it open, and marched in. I was prepared to defend myself, not physically, but mentally. I was prepared to be treated like a fat girl. Instead, I was welcomed and respected as an athlete.

I showed up to start doing Thai kickboxing (Muay Thai) again, and for a couple of months did Muay Thai and boxing. I watched the guys doing Jiu Jitsu before my Muay Thai class and became curious. I hesitated to try it, though. Would these guys be okay with a woman doing Jiu Jitsu? Would they be okay with having to touch a fat girl? Would I even be capable of doing it? I came up with every excuse not to try it.

The thing that probably caught me the most off-guard this year was my sudden undying urge to try Jiu Jitsu. I had a dream one night about Jiu Jitsu and woke up with an overwhelming urge to do it. I asked the Jiu Jitsu instructor Nate about attending Jiu Jitsu and he told to come on in and give it a try. I remember the first day I attended Jiu Jitsu class and being terrified watching them do forward and backward rolls. They look like somersaults. I couldn't even remember being willing to do somersaults as a kid. I asked my mother a few days ago if I had ever done them. She told me I had, but when I was 4 years old, I landed incorrectly on my neck and developed torticollis for almost a week. I couldn't move my neck. She told me I never tried them again. Yet here I am, at 33 years old and 250+ pounds, doing somersaults again. I have learned a lot about subtlety and patience by doing Jiu Jitsu. I have made new friends who have been very willing to take extra time to help me learn. I got my first submission yesterday and I was ecstatic. What a fitting end to a great year to have an athletic accomplishment. I never would have learned that I was capable of overpowering a guy who was bigger and stronger than me if I had not been willing to walk through that door for the first time a few months ago. I started the year 2011 unsure if I even wanted to live, yet ended it fighting for my life.

And finally, I have lost about 40 pounds total this year, a number I find very satisfying. Weight loss has not been my primary focus this past year (actually, I realized I had forgotten to mention it and came back to edit this blog). The weight has come off naturally, meaning I have not done anything drastic to lose it. It's pretty simple: when I track my food and eat within my calorie ranges, and when I don't, I don't lose. I also don't beat myself up for not tracking perfectly or eating perfectly. My relationship with food is the best it has ever been. Even when I am not tracking, I eat well most of the time. If I choose to have a treat, I enjoy it fully without any guilt. I have the healthiest relationship with food that I have ever had. Then again, my relationship with myself is healthier than it has ever been, so that makes sense.

The past year was about so much more than weight loss. It was my second chance at life, and for the first time, I am proving to myself what I can accomplish when I set my mind to it. I have proven to myself that I can get through adversity and come out the other side stronger than I was before. I walked up to doors having no idea what was behind them, opened them, and marched right in. Every door that I opened taught me that I am about so much more than my weight, and that this journey has so much to show me beyond the number on the scale. I no longer hesitate to open a new door, although I might be a little nervous at first. Despite being nervous, I still get the biggest grin as I reach for that door.

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"Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us."
-Hal Borland

I wish you a joyful New Year's Eve, SparkFriends, and hope you are reveling in your successes! Peace and Love!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    What a year for you! I am really impressed and in nothing but stark and splendid admiration for all that you have accomplished financially in a back-breaking time. Your music, your writing, your animals, your gym--you've done so many wonderful things this year. It's a real pleasure to read your writing--always. You are very talented in so many ways.
    2004 days ago
    What a year for you! I am really impressed and in nothing but stark and splendid admiration for all that you have accomplished financially in a back-breaking time. Your music, your writing, your animals, your gym--you've done so many wonderful things this year. It's a real pleasure to read your writing--always. You are very talented in so many ways.
    2004 days ago
    I loved your blog. The idea of not just opening doors but creating them is a fantastic one. I'm going to use you as inspiration to not only make but open some of those doors that I've been afraid of. Happy New Year!
    2004 days ago
    You have turned 2011 into your year to succeed!

    Please give your pets a huge hug for me. Without them we may have missed out on your greatness.

    You are an inspiration and I am so proud of you.

    2005 days ago
  • APED7969
    So happy to see what a great year you've had. I appreciate your advice, veterinary understanding, inspiring blogs, and your honesty. I'm so happy to see your athletic success and also your financial chanages for the better. Money and fitness were my two biggest challenges at the start of 2011 as well and I am inspired seeing someone else succeed :-)
    2005 days ago
    What an inspirational piece. This is just bursting with so much beauty; and a consistent thread of perseverance woven within -and how it has paid off for you - and continues to do so. SOOOOOOOO AMAZING.
    You are such a talented writer! It is truly awesome how you not only refused to let the walls fall in on you, but you built new bridges, to new adventures (somersaults!) and finding passion in an old love (MUSIC!). And the lbs seem to be taking care of themselves, am I right? That's just icing on the cake (the sugar free, fat free kind of course).

    Next year will be even better.....jut you watch.
    2005 days ago
    You put things into words so well. I wish I had your flair for writing. Beautiful blog. I think many of us have gone through changes this year, overcoming so many fears. I know I have! I think I have you to thank for some of that. You have inspired me to think like an athlete over the past few months. Yes, we may be over 200 pounds but we can do things other thin people don't even attempt! Especially you with all of your martial arts training. What a great year. I'm so happy that life is finally going your way, with fitness, eating and your budget. You deserve it!
    2005 days ago
  • CANNIE50
    Another beautiful blog. Your writing is such a gift and I am grateful you share it with us. I hope lots of people read this blog, it is very powerful, as are you. You have worked so hard for so long and I am glad you are reaping tangible rewards. I am truly happy for you.
    2005 days ago
    I've thoroughly enjoyed walking through the year with you on your personal journey. All the very best in 2012, my friend!!
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    2005 days ago
    Wow, very very inspiring! Go you!!!!!
    2005 days ago
    2005 days ago
    From 'Bleak' to Chic
    I love it Erin.
    ... "There was no aspect of my life that went untouched over this past year."
    I am sooooo proud of you.
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    2005 days ago
    2005 days ago
    2005 days ago
    What an inspiration you are!!!! I have greatly enjoyed reading your blogs, keep up the good work. emoticon

    Interesting side note: Learning to somersault as a child saved my life once upon time. I was working on a film in Los Angeles forest (not much of a forest, more like a desert with a few trees.) I was sitting on a chair at the top of a little ravine. Then the ground shook, flung me up in the air (8 ft. or so.) and because I had been taught to somersault, I tucked and rolled, instinctively, I flipped in the air (I know, it sounds like a movie, but it wasn't in that script.) and landed in the ravine on a culvert, on my feet. I didn't even skin my hands. Its funny what things we learned as children come back to save our lives later. If I hadn't had a whole crew of witnesses, I wouldn't have believed it myself.
    2005 days ago
    great blog! You've had a fantastic year. And you know who the biggest winners are in this? Your pets. They still have you but now they have a new an improved you. They told me to thank you for getting it together and saving their home and way of life. emoticon
    2005 days ago
    Wow... What a year! What a wonderful year! You make me want to go and have this kind of year.
    2005 days ago
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