Thursday, December 4, 2014

Passive Voice

You know, I've always believed in the therapeutic power of writing.  Even if I didn't publish a blog I'd write for myself.  It helps me gain self awareness in the present and perspective for the past.

I also believe in the power of the story -- the narrative that we either reflect (fact) or the one that we create (fiction).  In my old age (okay, I'm 33), I've come to realize that the hardest stories to write about are the ones we don't feel are our own, where things happen to us and we had no control over them.

A few people know the truth about this story: my spinal surgeon, a few friends, and my dad (he knows the gist, not the details -- so um Dad, you might want to stop reading now).

Monday, December 1, 2014

No Place Like Home

Doug Newburg has been scrambling my brain with his five questions:
  1. How do you want to feel everyday or about your life in general?
  2. When, where, and around whom do those feelings happen?
  3. What gets in the way of those feelings or takes them away?
  4. How do you get those feelings back?
  5. What are you willing to work for? 
My mind has been bouncing around from between each question. They're so interrelated that you begin to find an answer to one and it starts spilling over to the other questions.

Answering "how do you want to feel" was much easier for me to answer in the negative -- I knew how I didn't want to feel: broken.

Flipping around the verbiage didn't quite work; the antonyms of broken didn't quite capture how I wanted to feel because I know there is no simple repair, no time machine to get back lost time, no erasing the feeling of being susceptible.

I thought about the times and places where I felt this "opposite of being broken" and came up with the time when I took a leap of faith (March 2011) and joined a boxing gym. I had only recently found my exercise groove, my diet groove, and needed to change it up a bit to deal with the plateau on which I had been residing. My boxing trainers made it very clear that my success required both my body and my mind. I couldn't let the narrative of being broken run the show. They taught me to fight for myself instead of fighting against myself.

Of those trainers, Randolph was the one that I bonded with for many reasons. I loved it when these young, jacked guys would come in to spar and he'd slip past each and every punch. More than anything else, he saw the fire in me and knew that if my body could do more that I'd let it (in other words, I wasn't one of those people who showed up just to burn calories, but I was there to learn and fight). He would only give me crap if I mentally checked out before I physically checked out (i.e., I had to at least try, even if I couldn't do as much as everyone else). Because of this (and his extensive training/certification), I trusted him enough to turn off my brain and let him take over.

I knew that the answer to both "How do you get those feelings back?" and "What are you willing to work for?" started in the same place and with the same person:



The good news is that my form is still pretty good. The bad news is that my conditioning is kinda crap (the respiratory plague could have a little to do with that). It's not as bad as he thought it could be, but I was winded 15 minutes in and my arms were noodles for 4 days after.

I am going back tonight.

How do I get that "opposite of broken" feeling back?
I get help from people that I trust and put in the sweat equity.

"What are you willing to work for?"
Myself.

Yes, I know that the more I work on Doug's questions, the more specific and detailed my answer should be, but for right now, it's enough to say that I'm willing to work for and fight for myself. Instead of working for and investing in everyone else, I'm just gonna hit the pause button to recognize that I don't need to prove my worthiness to anyone. I don't need to beg for their affection, approval, or attention. And if people don't know how I fit into their life, it's not my fault to cure or my burden to remedy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fractured Tree

The other day, a Twitter friend shared a photo of a family vacation.  She was an adult and was still going on vacations with her parents and siblings.  This made me sad. I really don't know how this blog post will come out, but I'm going to try to speak from the heart, not edit myself, and hope for the best.

Somewhere between my mom being an agoraphobic with panic attacks and my dad's work, we didn't go on many family trips when I was growing up.  Our big vacation was driving to Hilton Head, South Carolina when I was 11 or 12.  Most of our other vacations were weekend trips upstate, going to the beach, genealogy excursions to cemeteries, or family-related.  After mom died, we went on one vacation -- a week of camping at the beach with my extended family that was fairly disastrous thanks to a thunderstorm.

I'm not writing this to complain about not going on fancy or expensive trips as a kid, or complain that I've never been to Disney.  As an adult, I've gone to some amazing places and plan on going to more (4 words:  Costa Rican Sloth Sanctuary).  This, along with the upcoming holiday season, just made me think about the many fractures in my family.

Both of my parents had one of their parents die when they were young (my dad's mother, my mother's father).  Because of this, I don't think either of them had normal childhoods.  I don't think either of them grew up going on family vacations (my mom's father was in the Army, I don't think that relocating counts as a vacation). My paternal grandfather remarried and had more kids (so there are 4 from my paternal grandmother, 3 from my paternal step-grandmother for a total of 7 kids).  There was always tension in their family partly because of this.  My maternal grandmother didn't remarry or have more kids (my mom was an only child, and Nana never let her live this down).  She died when I was 8, but my mother's cousins filled in the void.

There was a main nucleus on each side:  my mother's cousin (by marriage) Sandie (who had a blended family as well) and my step-grandmother, Janet.  Because we all lived in the same little town, my grandparents and my mom's cousins knew each other and got along.  My aunts and uncles even went to school with my mom's cousins.  After my mom died, I didn't see my mother's side of the family as often because my dad gravitated towards gatherings on his side of the family.  After Janet was diagnosed with Alzheimer's (and as my cousins grew older and had families of their own) and after my grandpa died, that side of my family seemed to have lost some of the gravity that held us together.

We used to have ginormous family events at my paternal grandparents' house -- you know, the kind where every table and chair in the house was used so that we could all eat together.  There would be nearly 30 people eating together and almost nearly that amount of desserts.  We'd play basketball together before dinner and Trivial Pursuit after. As it turned dark and if it was still warm enough, the kids would play manhunt in my grandparents' backyard and the neighborhood.    These are some of my most treasured memories of my family mainly because I was blissfully unaware of many of the tensions and pain that ran deep on that side of the family.

As I got older, went away to college, and moved 250 miles from my whole family, I noticed that I became somewhat of the black sheep of my dad's side of the family.  My father wasn't the best at keeping me in the loop in regards to family events (people would invite him to things and assume that I got the message -- and I did, but usually with too little notice to do anything or after the fact).  As the years went by, I just felt further and further from my dad's side of the family because of the distance and because nothing and no one reeled me in when I was adrift (and I didn't seek it out for myself).  (Though, this is not beyond the point of repair. And there are times when I think moving back to NYC would help with reconnecting.)

Just as that was happening, I started reconnecting with my mother's side of the family.  They told me stories about my mother and helped me keep her memory alive.  I felt a very strong bond with them because of this. Sandie and her husband Joe also have one of the strongest marriages that I've ever seen.  I'm always in awe of the love they have for each other and how it translated into the relationships that their kids have with each other and with their own little families.  I feel the gravity from them, holding me close.

Within my own little family (my dad, my brother and I), it was never easy.  My mother was one part nucleus, one part puppet master, and one part cruise director. While she was alive, it felt like there was a shift between the daily life of mom, John, and I and then the time we had when dad was around.  At night, we either didn't see him or we got the message that dad was too tired or stressed from work and that we shouldn't bother him.  On weekends, mom always had projects for him to do, and we shouldn't bother him. John would go off and play with his friends and I'd be stuck at home helping.

It was only after she died that we were able to untangle some of the strings she used.  It was a huge revelation when my father told me that he didn't want the role of enforcer/punisher, but that mom had pushed him into it.  I think it was a big revelation for my dad to realize how my mom exaggerated stories about bad behavior, neglecting to tell my dad some of ways she drove wedges between my brother and I, or how she would often belittle us.

But the damage was done, and we took no time to repair it (i.e, no family therapy).  I was 13. My brother was 14.  My dad had a full time job and 2-hour commute each way.  The goal was to survive.  We did survive, but it was far from perfect.  The wedges that my mom drove between all of us remained, and continued to push us away from each other.  I didn't trust my dad to be the confidant and protector that I needed. Dad and I used to get into the worst fights because I felt like I was doing all the housework and my brother was doing none of it. I think my brother resented me asking for the help, that I was trying to control him.

I think my father is thankful that my brother and I were good kids -- we did our homework (usually), got good grades (always), didn't get into trouble, didn't become hooligans, and managed to get into good colleges.  But the truth of it is that when my mom died, my brother and I stopped being carefree kids. And what makes me the most sad out of anything is that we stopped being siblings.

My brother and I not only shared our parents' DNA, we also shared the common experience of growing up together and experiencing many of the same traumas as each other (unlike my brother, I didn't take a line-drive to the nose).  And instead of that uniting us, it really drove us apart.  I feel a pang of jealousy and hurt when friends talk about their close relationships with their siblings.

In more recent times, my brother has had his wife (and her family) and his kids to focus on.  But even when they were just dating, I feel like my brother treated his future in-laws with more care and respect than my dad and I.  He preferred the shiny new thing to the thing that was broken and needed repair.  That sometimes left Dad and I alone to shoot the shit together.  Quite often dad and I end up talking about the past.  But it's hard for me to say what I always want to say because I know they hurt (not because they're arrows pointed at anyone, but because they are surface wounds).  Things weren't perfect back then and we were all hurting in our own ways.  But I regret that we didn't have family therapy.  I regret that we let this terrible thing push us apart instead of bringing us together.

So holidays are always sad times for me because I feel not only estranged from the family (extended and nuclear) that I was born into, but also because I've yet to create one for myself (see previous blog post).

In the last post, I alluded to the book that I'm reading, by Doug Newburg(that he so graciously shared with me): The Most Important Lesson No One Ever Taught Me.  He asks of the people he works with these 5 deceptively simple questions:

  1. How do you want to feel everyday or about your life in general?
  2. When, where, and around whom do those feelings happen?
  3. What gets in the way of those feelings or takes them away?
  4. How do you get those feelings back?
  5. What are you willing to work for? 
These questions have been doing a number on me in just about every facet of my life.  It just happens that today they had me thinking about my family.  I want to be connected to all of them in a meaningful way.  I don't want to be the person that people feel obligated to have around.  I want to know what makes my family happy, what makes them sad, and how I can help shoulder their burdens. 

But where I get hung up is the third question -- what gets in the way?  And I think that is where I need to end this blog post, because it requires me talking to my family and not to my readers.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Burn, Ache, Break

Less than half an hour after learning that my mom died I asked my grandma if I could use the phone and if she had a phone book. Everyone was in the living room crying.  I felt like I was suffocating and the world was imploding at the same time.  My fingers flipped through the pages and down to his phone number.  He wasn't my boyfriend, wasn't even a close friend.  He was just the boy I had a crush on ever since I moved to the school district in first grade.

To be able to breathe at that that very moment I needed to be resuscitated by hope.

I didn't need his pity or his condolences. I just needed his voice.  I needed the way his voice made me feel. And because he was (and is) a good person, and because he was (and is) gentle and kind, he took the call and gave me something to cling onto.  I knew in that moment that my heart, though broken from the loss of my mother, was reparable.  And because he was good and kind, he even came to my Sweet 16, and danced with me at our senior prom.

While the teenage me fancied him to the point of scribbling our names together and whispering goodnight to him before I fell asleep, the person I am now is so very thankful to have had him in my life even though nothing ever came of it.  Why?  My crush didn't crush me: instead, he helped me through the worst part of my life just by being himself. (I was reminded of him by the calendar — today is his birthday.)

I think it's because of this (and also my personality) that I willingly, happily, and sometimes even recklessly fling myself at love, even if I know it's unrequited, puppy-dog, never gonna happen love. Of all the different iterations of Robby, the one that I most adore is the courageous lioness created and emboldened by love.

However, if you know me or have read my blog for any time you know that (1) I rarely talk about my personal life and (2) I tend to talk about the past and not the present.  I am going to stray from that to share a few revelations that happened this weekend (partly in response to this article):

1) Being single prevents me from being the joyful and loving person that I like to be. I'm my best person when I get to love someone.  I'm my best person when that love gives me the confidence to shine (she was there all along, but just needed a venue).  And for me, that joy is in the details of sharing a life together with someone in both meaningful and trivial ways:  to bring someone into my family, or to just read books on opposite sides of the couch, stealing glances every now and then.

2) All of my crushes have helped me understand what it feels like when someone's interested in you and what it looks and feels like when they're not.  Unfortunately, many guys view dating as a battle of who can care less. Not my thing. Woo the crap out of me cause I'm worth your time and energy.  And you know what? You get steak in return.  Woo --> Steak.

3) I love love love being proud of the person that I am with.  I love giving compliments and encouragement.  I love bragging.  I love basking in his glow.  I love it when he does the exact same thing for me.

4) Everyone says that I'm intimidating and come off as dominant (as if those things are bad in a woman).  I'm really a kitten.  I like it when a guy takes the lead, makes the first move.  It's not about machismo or anything like that.  My kinda guy is willing to take a risk.  I'm intimidating because I am self-aware and confident; I come off as dominant because I'm not willing to let any man make me small just so he can feel big.

5) Other people say that I come off as needy, emotional (and try to shame me about being that way).  Well, damn straight I am.  It's way worse to think that you don't need the people around you (also, other people need to feel needed and not just a fashion accessory).  It sucks when you feel like a convenience to someone versus them thinking you're a missing part of their life (even if that's a small, temporal part).  It's way worse to shut down your emotions because you're too afraid of feeling them or because you've been bloodied and beaten up by love before.

6) At 33, I fear that I've realized a lot of this too late. But also that particular fear is a bit irrational and a bit common among my generation. There are other things that feed into this fear, but they're all things that I have some control over and can change. That's a whole other blog post.   But just as I've been stuck in my weight loss/health gain/athletic life, I've been stuck in my personal life.  I've realized that to fix both that I need to find hope again.  I need to heal a little bit and also remember that on the other side of this fear (re-injury of back, being a spinster) is the life that I want.

What am I willing to do in order to be the person that I want to be?  (Yes Doug -- your book is getting to me in some unexpected ways).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Down Size: Review, Part 3

See Part 1 and Part 2 for both my disclaimer and review.  This is the third and final part of the my review.  Thanks for sticking with me through not just all the material but all of my tangents. 

DOWN SIZE:  
12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success 

Part 3:  Your Best Size:
Getting the Body You Want—For Good


9. Dedication
10. Inspiration
11. Connection
12. Resolution



9. Dedication In the chapter on Perspiration Ted Spiker shares a really great quote from Martin Rooney that leads in to the chapter on dedication: 
The warrior is process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. They have to train like, when the fight gets here, they gotta know that, win or lose, they know they did what they could. So many people live this unfulfilled life. They're always so focused on the outcome and then when it doesn't happen the way they want, then they think everything was a waste along the way.  But, man, if you've done your best, regardless of the outcome, you're going to be okay with it.  I call it the warrior test. If you wake up in the morning and ask yourself, 'Hey, what am I going to do today?' and at the end of the day, you ask 'What did I do today?' If you fail that test enough days in a row, you're not going to be something. If you pass that test enough days in a row, I guarantee you can't imagine what you can accomplish in a hundred days, let alone years. 
Heavy, right? That was the crux of mine and so many other people's problems when it comes to weight loss/health gain. Somewhere along the time we forget that the process yields the outcome. Did we keep our promises to ourselves? The outcome just doesn't magically happen.  It requires consistency as well as a degree of flexibility. 

Dedication is one of those murky concepts that we all kind of grok, but have a hard time putting our finger on.  Spiker (with the help of Leslie Podlog) talks about determination in terms of energy -- what do we put in of ourselves toward meeting a goal? How do we muster the energy to continue changing our habits, changing our bodies, changing our lives? 

Spiker then goes to quote Podlog once again in a manner that completely stopped me dead in my tracks.  I put the book down, and thought back on the past few years about every time my journey got hard or any time I suffered a setback.  (Dear spine... ) "The nature of transition is uncertainty, and uncertainty is an aversive state.  When there's no certainty, there's a lack of control, and that creates anxiety."  Come what may, there's only so much we can control.  The more we put our energy into the things we can control, the more it offsets the energy sapped away from those things we can't control.  (In plain terms, because I didn't work on my diet when my back was injured, I was creating further anxiety versus relieving it.) 

Spiker then takes me, already beaten up by these revelations, and then ponders the difference between reasons and excuses, finally settling on "Instead of trying to identify what's a reason and what an excuse, it really is simply about making a choice."  You got me there, Spiker.  Had I simply been choosing to stay away from the gym? Did my dedication waiver too far? "We like to think of dedication as emotion--as being gutsy, being loud, being grunters who push and pull and fight to reach our destination.  Real dedication is quiet. Real dedication isn't about emotion; it's about cognition--about learning what to do and then thinking about the process to do it." (What some people would call "grit.") Dedication isn't a declaration, it's a resource.

10. Inspiration — [I have to admit that I was getting a little nervous about not seeing my quotes in the book.  It was page 206 by the time I got to this chapter.  Had I been edited out of the book?] Spiker begins this chapter by giving a few example of the people and athletes that inspire him.  He then presents an interesting question -- what's the difference between inspiration and motivation (See Chapter 6 -- Motivation)?  He finds an answer when discussing this topic with Art Markman -- "Motivation requires both a combination of a well-defined goal and the energy to pursue that goal.  Inspiration is only one piece of the motivational formula -- the energy part."  

Dedication and inspiration are two things that help fuel our actions when we face obstacles or when our attention to our goals begins to fade.  But unlike motivation, inspiration isn't made-to-order or manufactured; it must be sought out.  Spiker quotes cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, "... inspiration can be thought of as an interaction between your current knowledge and the information you receive from the world."  Inspiration challenges us to grow.

Spiker posits "the missing part of the inspiration equation for many people is that, most times, we're looking to be the receiver--we're looking for the data that can help us.  We want to be moved. We want that energy.  We want inspiration thrust upon us. What we don't realize, perhaps, is that when we start to receive it, we begin to give it--and that's the cycle that has the most energy." [Okay, I see where you're going with this, Ted.]

Ted Spiker is no stranger to the feedback loop that is social media (check out The Big Guy Blog in Runner's World) and the power of community (for better and for worse) when declaring our intentions regarding weight loss and health gain.  It's just another way we can create an interpersonal environment to promote our success.  But it's risky -- there's both support and criticism in this arena, as Spiker notes (and as I'm well aware).  It relates, once again, to Chapter 6 -- Motivation.  One of the most important intrinsic motivators is relatedness -- feeling connected to others.

And then I see my name -- in print...in a hard-cover book.  **squees** You'll just have to get the book to see what I say and know that it's only because of my readers that I had the courage to talk to Ted and let him print any of it.  So thank you.  I'm truly honored to be in this book, and of all the chapters, to be included as an Inspiration just floors me.

11. ConnectionThe subtitle of this chapter is "Truth:  It Takes Others to Do It by Yourself."  Spiker shares more anecdotes of how having teammates support him through a challenge/goal.  This is different from competition (such as his wanting to beat Dr. Oz at basketball).  It is camaraderie -- the way we honor the promises we make not only to ourselves but to others.

Doug Newburg makes a poignant comment regarding Spiker's Tough Mudder team challenge, "The challenge wasn't getting over the wall. It was committing to being a part of a team.  You wanted to connect with people, and that's the underling thing in everything we do. That is the goal. This is what being human is about:  connecting to other people."  Those connections are some of the best predictors in terms of weight loss/health gain success.

I think about how much my obesity isolated me.  I may have been the fat and happy person, but it was all a facade--I used my weight as a barrier to connecting to other with other people and letting them connect with me. The biggest strides I made with weight loss all happened in the presence of and with the support of my little FGvW community, friends, and family. They let me be fearless.  And more importantly, they let me be afraid.  They they me ask for help when I needed it.

Spiker relays many different ways we can connect with the people around us, or to connect with people we are not quite connected to yet.  Find your people, find yourself.

12. Resolution— "Truth: There Is No Finish Line"  We can all have our interim goals, but I think most everyone's long-term goal is to have a long, healthy life. That requires all the -ologies we can muster -- not just mastering our physiology and biology.  We all have to find a way to wrap our heads around the process of weight loss/health gain, and how to live in our bodies. 

Spiker shared one of my favorite quotes by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj "Make love of yourself perfect."  The great thing about the quote is that it's not saying "love yourself perfectly," it's asking us to temper how we act towards ourselves and how we think about ourselves. Throughout the book, Spiker addresses body image issues and the different ways they can play on our psyche. 

Then Spiker really raised the bar for me -- saying that I had a profound point about how we're trained to scrutinize our bodies for what's wrong:  (in his worlds) "How do you tell yourself to accept your body when your body is not acceptable?" How do we "transition from beating ourselves up to bringing ourselves up?" 

Self-compassion/lovingkindness is hard to practice and even harder to perfect, but so very worth it.  Spiker quotes studies that point to a correlation between self-compassion and oxytocin (one of the most powerful chemicals that our body produces in regards to how safe and connected we feel towards others and towards ourselves).  Self-compassion doesn't mean that we make excuses for ourselves, it just means we don't beat-ourselves up for not being perfect. 

Spiker wants his readers to ask themselves what really matters in this whole weight loss/health gain journey.  His anecdotes hearken back to the intrinsic motivators more than any number on a scale or race time.  Why are we doing this to ourselves if it's not to live a joyful life?  What does that look like for you? 


Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of Down Size -- when it comes to weight loss/health gain, maybe losing weight is just a cool side effect of reducing the amount of noise in our lives that prevents us from living authentically, living enthusiastically, living connectedly.  When we get rid of what's extraneous and holding us back, what then are we capable of doing, who then are we capable of being? 

I don't know about you all, but I'm interested in meeting that version of me.