Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Other types of closets

I have struggled with Same Gender Attraction (SGA) since the age of 10. Technically, that means I’m gay.

Up to now, however, they way I answered the question, “Are you gay?” depended on the day you asked me. Some days I'd say, Yes; other days I'd say, No; which may not make sense to some people. If I’m attracted to other men, then why would I NOT self-identify as gay? To sum it up in one word – behavior. I don’t live a gay lifestyle. Do I “feel” gay – yes. Do I “act” gay – no (although some people might disagree! I mean I HAVE always been a “sensitive” guy and I DO have a longstanding obsession with the Care Bears…!).

If I feel gay, then why not act gay? I can also sum that up in one word – church. I can’t separate my identity from being LDS because it IS a part of who I am – and not just because “I was raised that way.” If I’m being completely honest, yes, my parents were very clear that I was expected to continue the same belief system, BUT – at some point – I had to know for myself if my religion was truly the right religion for me. I had to know – what DID I believe about God and religion and specifically about LDS beliefs? The short response is: I came to know for myself that the church is true, or in other words, that its teachings are true doctrine from God. I’ve had too many experiences and witnesses to deny it – and I don’t deny it; and I hope I never will deny it. But what I also can’t deny is how I feel. And believe me – when I say “I’ve struggled,” that there is no earthly way I have adequate words to describe the hell that I’ve been through in battling these feelings of SGA.

I know – and I accept – that being homosexual is contrary to God’s plan for his children. (In this instance, I’m not talking about how he wants all of his children to be happy and to follow their own path even though I believe in that as well.) I truly believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that mother/father/children are central to Heavenly Father’s plan for progression for all his children, such as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family. And yet…

Being LDS (active and in good standing with a current Temple Recommend) hasn’t taken those “other” feelings away. I’m approaching 30 years of praying, fasting, crying, pleading, bargaining, suffering, punishing myself, torturing myself, hating myself – and not once have these feelings diminished. How can that be explained? If I believe the Gospel is true, if I believe that marriage between man and woman is right, if I want to follow God’s plan, if I have been asking in faith, believing that Heavenly Father can change my heart, asking for what’s right – then why has my prayer not been answered? Why has that scriptural promise not been fulfilled for me? I’ve been through every level of: it’s because I’m worthless to because this is just the cross He wants me to bear through life and continue to choose to remain faithful – which I have strived to do so far. Ultimately, though, I don’t know how to answer that question.

But I do know that I’ve been hiding a part of myself. At first I didn’t want anyone to know that I struggled with SGA because I was SO ashamed of who I was – I FELT wrong; I felt like I was a damaged thing that wasn’t worth existing. (I have explained in previous posts how I was suicidal through most of my teenage years - now you know the real reason why…) As I entered counseling and learned to open up to a very select few (my parents, bishops, counselors, etc.), I still kept it hidden from everyone else. I believed that I would change – that God would change me – and so I didn’t want anyone to know what I struggled with because I didn’t want anyone to see me “that way.” I didn’t want them to remember me “that way,” especially after I received this inevitable and miraculous change that Heavenly Father was going to bless me with.... But I still felt damaged and broken. A part of me was still “in the closet.”

Eventually, I realized that what I needed to learn, was that even though I’m “broken,” I’m still okay. I came to the realization that I did not choose to have these feelings – quite the opposite – I feel like I’ve done all I could to change them. I realized that it was the secrecy that was increasing the shame. So, little by little, over the last year, I’ve been telling people, testing the waters, I suppose. I specifically selected a few individuals that I felt would not judge me and would be supportive, which they were – and I will always dearly love them for that.

What they taught me was that it didn’t change the way they saw me – they still loved and accepted me for who I am – even if I felt like I had never really shown “my true self…” They taught me that I’ve never been able to do that for myself – I’ve never been able to accept myself. I mean, how could I when I thought of myself as this damaged, worthless thing that wasn’t worth being changed. So I’m writing this post to open up about what I’ve lived with – struggled with – for almost 30 years.

I was 10 years old; I was in 5th grade and I have a perfectly clear recollection of what initiated these feelings and the exact moment when these feelings started. I have spent SO MANY YEARS asking why. Why me? Why this? Why have I dealt with this for so long now? After years in therapy and counseling I think I can identify what contributed to these feelings of SGA.

To the best of my knowledge it’s the result of mild dysfunctional family patterns and being molested on two different occasions (by two different perpetrators). I held hope for years that if I could find the cause(s) of my SGA then I could change the feelings, but that has not proven to be the case – which is devastating, to say the least. [I should just insert here that I want to be clear that I am only talking about my case; circumstances that are specific to me. I’m not suggesting that everyone who is gay has a cause or contributing factors like mine. I think there are a multitude of possible causes and I think it would be hurtful to someone who is gay to assume that they are only gay as a result of a sexual trauma. I would venture to guess that the majority of people who are gay who have not experienced a sexual trauma, so there are other factors and I would never presume to know all of them.]

I suppose I should also admit that my own personality is a factor. As I mentioned above, I have always been very sensitive. I think this has been both a blessing and a weakness, depending on the circumstances. I realized at a very young age that I was “different” in my sensitivity. (This is going to sound totally prideful and I really don’t mean it to sound that way!) I saw patterns that other people my age didn’t see. I felt things about people that other people didn’t feel. I sometimes just knew things about people that I couldn’t explain how I knew – and it was usually something related to emotions. I suppose it’s just empathy, maybe, but I felt like I could readily identify other people’s emotions. I could tell when someone was angry because they were scared versus angry because they had been wronged. (I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality test, which I feel is pretty accurate for me.) I think that empathy has been a blessing when it comes to dealing with others, but a weakness when it comes to myself because I am not actually empathetic with myself. If anything, I’m over-sensitive to how I think other people see me (especially how I felt my parents interacted with me, but that’s a totally different post!). I actually remember the moment that I felt ashamed of my body. How old do you think I was? A teenager? Starting puberty? Nope. I was six. Six years old. I mean, what six year old boy feels shame about his body?!

I think this also contributed to me feeling like I wasn’t really a man. I saw that society had a very clear definition of what a man was – strong, quiet/stoic, reacts with physicality – not words, non-emotive, and even fearful of effeminate traits. Well, I was more feminine than masculine. I lived in the world of feelings. I couldn’t turn them off. Everything I did was surrounded in a shroud of feeling. Feelings were my compass. I had learned to trust my feelings. But it also meant that I wasn’t really masculine. Well, if I’m biologically male, but have these largely feminine traits, then what am I? More importantly, what was I going to grow up to be? Hence the identity confusion.

I may be wrong because I’m not a social scientist, so please don’t take this as the absolute truth, but as I understand it, sex refers to a biological state; whereas gender is much more of a fluid/dynamic, socially defined set of traits. For example, having one type of sex organ is a sex trait, but being aggressive is a gender trait – which we either label “masculine or feminine.” This is why I prefer the term Same Gender Attraction* (SGA), over Same Sex Attraction (SSA). I’m not just attracted to all men outright – much like any heterosexual person isn’t automatically attracted to EVERYONE of the opposite sex. I’m attracted to certain masculine qualities – ones in particular that I felt were lacking in myself; things like strength, confidence, athleticism, and a host of others.

Someone once asked me if I had ever felt attracted to a woman and the answer is yes – several times, actually. Which could open a discussion for being bi-sexual, but when I feel attracted to women far less often than men, I’m willing to accept the label of being gay over being bi-sexual. But I tried to date women. I allowed myself to be set-up on blind dates. It was always with the hope that I would meet the woman who would change me or who would help make those attractions to men diminish. When it didn’t happen that way ever – I got scared. I ended the relationship with “I’m not ready,” which was totally true, but also only half the story. I couldn’t bear to offend a daughter of God by dragging her through my sh!t. I felt that admitting to SGA would be a huge betrayal or that she might feel like I was lying to her from the beginning – which, I guess I was. I felt it was better to hurt someone by ending a relationship with a vague answer, rather than hurt her with the truth. Which is why I’m currently not dating! It’s such a landmine of emotions that I prefer to avoid it for the time being.

Yes, I would like to be married with a family of my own. But I truly don’t know if that’s an option for me. What scares me is that I’m tired. I’m not saying I’m ready to give up the Gospel and live an “outed” gay lifestyle, but I AM tired of fighting these feelings that I know are wrong. If I did give up the church, I would know exactly what I’m giving up and I’m not ready to do that yet. On the other hand – I’m just tired and I don’t want to fight these feelings anymore. If nothing I’ve done – and nothing God has done – has taken them away, then shouldn’t I just accept that they are a part of me and pursue that lifestyle? I ask myself that question daily. I worry that I’m even writing this as a way of giving myself permission to leave the church and be openly gay – but I don’t think that’s what this is.

I may have my doubts, but I just want to say this – while this may feel like I’m officially coming out of the homosexual closet – what I’m really doing is coming out of another type of closet - the shame closet - and saying, “this is what I struggle with.” I feel gay, even if I don’t act gay. I don’t know if there’s anybody out there dealing with the same thing. I don’t know who might be reading this or whether or not they can relate. I just know that I can’t keep living my life in secret or in shame. If I am going to learn how to love myself, then I need to be open with ALL of who I am.

Ultimately, I can’t control how anyone else will react to this, but I can say this – if this makes anyone uncomfortable – and more specifically, uncomfortable being around me – then just know that I understand. I understand if you don’t want to be friends with me. I understand if you want to stop following me on social media. I understand if you don’t want to associate with me anymore in any way. I don’t plan on changing my lifestyle anytime soon, but I also don’t plan on “hiding” this part of myself, either. In fact, I would go so far as to say, if you don’t like things I post or write about, then please do us both a favor and “unfriend” me ASAP - because neither of us needs that kind of negativity in our lives.

I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what I might choose down the road, but I can’t consider that. All I have is today. Today I am making an effort to remain faithful to what I personally believe to be true – that God lives; that the Savior's Atonement provides the power to change and that neither the Savior, nor my Father in Heaven, have abandoned me. And that knowledge is as much a part of me as anything else. I am Mormon and I am gay and this is who I am.

*Note: some people use the term Same Sex Attraction (SSA) instead of SGA and they are pretty much interchangeable. In my case, I prefer the term SGA as I feel it better relates to my experience.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Perspective

Was it really just three months ago that I came to St George? How can I be leaving already?! Three months sounds like such a long time – how can it go so quickly?

As I drove into St George it felt so foreign. I had certainly been to St George and/or driven through before, but I didn’t have any connection to anything, so it was always just fleeting associations. But this time, I had to pay attention to everything because I knew I would need to remember how to get around. Far from being intimidating, this is what I love about going to new places – exploring! And I did a lot of exploring! The first few days, I looked at maps and just drove around – I had no idea there were so many suburbs and communities within St George! I don’t really know at what point things became familiar, but over time I started to get a feel for the city. 

I suppose what really had me worried was my work assignment. I knew at the outset that I would only be there for 13 weeks (I eventually extended two weeks, so it ended up being 15 total) and I wondered if the transitory nature of the job would affect whether or not I would fit in. Would people like me? Would they accept me? Would there be a caste system and would I, as a mere “traveler,” be on the bottom? Would they trust me as an SLP? Would they value my insight, when so much of the medical community seems to discount the validity of Speech-Language Pathologists, in general? Would I have to prove my worth to them somehow?

So before I went in on my first day I made a decision: be myself. I decided that worrying about whether or not they accepted me or if I would fit in was pointless and wasted energy. If I was myself and they didn’t like me then I couldn’t do anything about that anyway. At the very least, I would know that I didn’t try to alter myself to please someone else – something that has taken me a lifetime to learn. As I think about those first few days – that period of meeting people and analyzing personalities – I look back and realize something that wasn’t apparent at the time. I think people were more likely to accept me BECAUSE I accepted myself. Accepting myself led me to be honest in my actions, honest in my words, and honest in how I treated others. And I was accepted.

And somehow that acceptance grew into a genuine love for them. Here it is, three months later, and I feel like I’m leaving a family, not just co-workers. There were hugs, tears, gifts, laughter, and promises to keep in touch, but there was also the sense that I had made a home there and that this place – and the people in it – would somehow always be with me. With how busy I was to get everything ready to move back home, it didn’t really catch up to me until I actually drove away.  I had driven to Salt Lake and back several times during my stay there, but this time it hit me that when I went to Salt Lake – I wouldn’t be driving back. I guess perspective is funny that way – how it changes and how it can help you see things you didn’t see before. Perspective made me grateful – grateful for my time in St George, grateful for the people I met, grateful for how they helped me and loved me; grateful for how I changed by being there.

They made a valiant effort to keep me, too! I was honest from the beginning that I wanted to travel and I opted not to accept their offer of full-time employment, but I was so flattered that they would want me to stay. Side note: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I like praise. If I’m being honest, there’s a very selfish reason I liked being in choirs, marching band and the odd play from time to time – I liked the applause! I suppose wanting to be recognized and admired is a fairly human trait, but for me it means something much deeper. Historically, I saw praise/recognition as an indication of my worth – the more people who recognized/praised me meant I was worth more (more than what, I couldn’t have said, but that’s beside the point…). I think for the first time in my life – that I can recall – I truly appreciated that the praise of the world meant nothing and paled in comparison to the love of these 5-6 people who wanted me to stay. That may not sound like such a big deal, but for me it is, because it’s a shift; a BIG shift - in how I see myself, how I see the world and my place in it. It means a shift in my identity and how I choose to define myself. It’s a realization that praise/recognition has no impact on worth, because worth is inherent – not measured in comparisons or praise.

So I say goodbye to my time in St George and more importantly, goodbye to the man I used to be. To my new St George family, I could never really say goodbye – because they, and what I learned from them, will always be with me. But to them, I say, “Thank you;” thank you for accepting me, for helping me grow. I am better for the time I spent with you and better for the influence you’ve had on me. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The way I want to be loved

Sometimes I can be a real bonehead.

Case in point: Several months ago, I had been having a hard time. Life, in general, was the pits. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, which, I’m sorry to say, is kind of a normal reaction for me.

A friend of mine, who lives out of state, reached out to me via text and asked me how I was doing. I can’t remember exactly what I texted back, but it was something like a passive-aggressive “I’m horrible, but don’t worry about it…” kind of reply. A day or two later, while I was in church, I sat pondering why I responded that way to a friend who was only reaching out to see how I was doing. Essentially, I was trying to make him feel bad for expressing concern for me. Even I realized how f*cked up that was.

Why? Would I try to hurt someone who was only trying to help me? The answer came in a flash of insight that only made me feel more guilty for my behavior, but also explained a lot of my own resentment/behavior towards my parents for so many years.

The insight was this: I was angry at my friend for reaching out and expressing concern because he wasn’t loving me the way I wanted to be loved.

What I wanted was for someone to throw their arms around me and tell me everything was going to be okay, that I was okay. But this friend doesn’t like hugs. Even if he were here in the state, he still wouldn’t have expressed his concern the way I would have wanted him to (or anyone for that matter) – and that made me feel immediately resentful. So I lashed out in my passive-aggressive way and, essentially, rejected his love/concern; all because it didn’t come the way I wanted it to.

(I might put a plug in here for the “Five Love Languages,” which definitely has some application to this situation, although I won’t go into detail about it here.)

I felt like such a childish jerk, but as I pondered it even more, I realized that this a huge part of why I sometimes have a strained relationship with my mom - and before my dad died, with him too. I realized that so much of why I was angry and resentful was because they didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved.

I mean, it’s documented in psychological circles that children see their parents as god-like and we attribute bad things that happen to ourselves, i.e., we caused it, because that preserves the omnipotent/omniscient qualities of our parents. We damage ourselves to preserve their god-like status so that we feel safe by being able to rely on them for support. (When we can’t rely on our parents, it feels like death because we have nothing to rely on, making us vulnerable and unsafe.)

So what happens when you want to be held, but your “omniscient” parent doesn’t hold you? You feel like you aren’t worth being loved. Because even your god-like parent – who knows how you want to be loved due to their omniscience – won’t love you that way. So you must not be worth it.

I know every situation is different, but I think for me, this explains the huge discrepancy between what I experienced as a child and what my parents experienced. I have always maintained that I knew that my parents loved me – and I still do. I always knew that my parents loved me, but I also felt that I didn’t measure up somehow. [What I’m about to say next is a huge oversimplification, but it helps me wrap my head around what I experienced.] My parents showed love by providing physical support, but made me feel inferior by not showing me emotional support. And when I say “not showing me emotional support”, what I mean is, not loving me the way I wanted to be loved.

As a child I knew that I needed shelter, clothing, food, etc., and I knew that my parents loved me because they provided that. But people also provide those things for their pets, so how was I supposed to know that my parents loved me any more than people love their pets? For me, the difference was in emotional support, i.e., the way I wanted to be loved.

What I wanted was for my dad to want to spend more time with me, to talk with me and to put his arms around me and tell me how much he loved me. I wanted him to be interested in me and I so desperately wanted his approval.  What I wanted was for my mom to validate me by giving me complements, or to acknowledge my efforts/hard work and encouraging me to express myself. I wanted my parents to accept me for me and not tell me who they wanted me to be or make me feel like I had to change who I was in order to be acceptable.

The bottom line is that, because it’s based on my perception, I did not receive love the way I wanted to be loved, but I also acknowledge that my parents loved me. They loved me the only way they knew how, and even though it wasn’t the way I wanted, I can’t deny that they did the best they could do. People are different. People aren’t going to love you the way you want to be loved, but does that mean they don’t love you? Of course not!

When I had this realization, it softened my heart and removed so much resentment. It helped me change my definitions of what love is or what love should look like. Yes, there is still a way that I want to be loved (hugs are awesome!), but I shouldn’t reject all the other forms of love simply because it’s not how I would define it. Besides, I’m quite sure that I’ve offered love that has been rejected because it wasn’t they way that person wanted to be loved. Rejected love, in any form, hurts. I don’t want to be guilty anymore for rejecting love when it’s offered differently than I might want.

I’ve spent so much time wanting my parents to see how they hurt me by not loving me the way I wanted that I mired myself in the sludge of staying a victim and expecting everyone around me to pay for how I’ve been hurt. When in reality, I could have used that time to express gratitude for the love they did provide and spent more time trying to actually improve myself rather than spend my life trying to prove to everyone how worthless I am.

So, I apologize. First, to my friend who reached out to me and simply tried to express his concern for me. I’m sorry I “rejected” that and I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate what a good friend you were being. Second, I apologize to my parents. I’m sorry that I’ve been resentful. I’m sorry that there were times I wanted you to hurt as much as I was hurting. I’m sorry I rejected the love you did show me and I’m sorry I didn’t express more gratitude for that love. I know I can’t change the past; I would if I could. I know I can’t go back and undo the perceptions I had or the meaning/interpretation I gave to my circumstances – mostly because they were dependent on physiological brain development, but I can change how I see love now. And I can be grateful for all the love I’m shown now, no matter how it’s expressed.

I guess what it boils down to is this: even if it’s not always the way I want to be loved, I would rather be loved “differently,” than not loved at all.


Monday, August 15, 2016

For my fellow Cavemen...

This weekend was my 20-year High School Reunion. Wow! I can’t believe I just typed that sentence! How did 20 years go by so quickly?! I attended American Fork High School, home of the Cavemen!

I didn’t go to my 5-year reunion. Nothing in my life had changed and I felt like I had nothing to show for myself. “Also,” I told myself, “I pretty much keep in touch with the people I’m closest to...” Which didn’t really last too long because, hi, people get married and then they evaporate.

I actually bought a ticket to my 10-year reunion, but then chickened out at the last minute and didn’t go. It had been 10 years and I STILL had nothing to show for my life. I hadn’t gotten married or had children. I was still fat and even uglier, because now my hair was falling out. Sure, I had graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and was working in Human Resources, but was that impressive? Not nearly enough to make up for my pathetic past. Or perhaps, more accurately, to “replace” how everyone might see me. In my mind everyone else was wildly successful – you know, married with 5 kids, millionaires running their own companies and jetting across the globe on fabulous vacations, etc. But I was still just me. Just fat, depressed, lonely, struggling, unimpressive – me. I had pretty much decided that “reunion’s” weren’t for me and I wasn’t ever going to another one…

But a lot can change in 10 years!! So what changed my mind? A lot of things, I guess. Maybe a little bit of curiosity to see how much other people have aged. Maybe curious to see people that I had good memories of, but hadn’t kept in touch with. But also a recognition that, even though my life hasn’t turned out the way I had planned – or even hoped – I’m pretty sure no one else’s life has turned out the way they planned either. Sure, I’m still fat and bald; still not married; no kids to speak of; I haven’t really done anything impressive with my life, or earned any great accolades; but I have changed. I’m not who I was in High School and thank God for that!!

High School was really difficult for me – as I know it was for many people. I was unbelievably self-conscious. Internally, I withered when anyone looked at me because I knew they were looking at how fat and ugly I was. All I ever wanted to do was blend in – disappear, so to speak. Unfortunately, I had a body that wouldn’t let me “blend in.” Every day I woke up to a world that I didn’t “fit” into. Literally.

Of course I was made fun of; Of course I was ostracized and laughed at. I even had to endure teasing from teachers… I hated myself. I had succumbed to multiple addictions at that point in my life and I felt like the worst piece of scum that had ever been created. In fact, I felt like I was a mistake. And I wanted it all to end – frequently. I never actually had the balls to carry out any of my plans to commit suicide, but I planned how I would die – a lot.

Fast forward to the day of my reunion. There was a 5k in the morning and some family activities. I knew I could walk the 5k, so I decided to go. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized how hard it was going to be to recognize people!! So glad we had name tags!! :) But I saw several people I knew and it was so much fun to catch up and see what people were doing and to see where life had taken them. What was the most ironic for me, was to hear people say, “I remember that you were always so happy and always had a smile on your face.” Technically, they weren’t wrong. I DID always have a smile on my face, because I was lying to everyone. I wanted to die inside, but I couldn’t let anyone see that. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. Or worse, let people catch on that I wasn’t okay, and risk finding that they really didn’t care… So I hid myself behind a mask of smiles and happiness. It wasn’t real, but I guess it was pretty convincing. I guess I was more worn out from the 5k than I realized, because when I got home I slept for a couple of hours. 

Later, I got ready and headed out for the evening portion of the reunion when I had a surreal experience about 5 minutes from my house. I was driving on the Van Winkle Expressway and looking at the mountains when I suddenly had this intense realization that I was okay. That might sound anti-climactic, but I will never be able to capture in words how deep that realization came to me. “I am okay.” I also can’t convey how profound it is for someone who spent their entire life feeling like a mistake, to look within their own soul and find contentment. I was so overwhelmed I started crying. I was overcome with gratitude.

“How did I get here? How did I get to being okay, when for so long I wasn’t? And I genuinely believed that I never would be.” I thought about all of the terrible things I’ve experienced in my life – the sexual and emotional abuse, the addictions, the depression/anxiety, the self-hatred, etc. And I recalled an experience where the Spirit told me that Heavenly Father would let me make my own decisions (e.g., with regards to suicide), but that He wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. And He kept His promise. The fact that I was there, driving to my 20-year High School reunion, when I almost didn’t survive high school, was proof of that.

A major part of that has been just in the last year. I hired a personal trainer and while I’m nowhere close to my physical goals, the change it has made on my mind and outlook on life is immense. Every effort to improve myself physically has challenged every aspect of my being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Every effort to improve myself physically has brought untold trials and challenges, but it has also brought immeasurable success. Ten months ago I was 300lbs and couldn’t even deadlift an unloaded bar; today I weigh 295lbs, but can deadlift 300lbs. I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to be able to deadlift more than my own bodyweight!! No, I haven’t lost nearly as much weight (fat!) as I would like, but I am stronger than I used to be; I have changed.

I used to wake up with fear and dread, unable to bear the uncertainty of what horrors each new day would bring. But now, I wake up content; knowing that no matter what happens, I can handle it; and if I can’t, I have a Savior I can call on to help me, which means, even if I can’t handle it, I can still get through it. I know that I am worth being helped. I know that I am capable of meeting challenges, because I’m not alone. I know that God makes up the difference WHILE I’m giving it my all, not ‘after’. I know He loves me. I know I’m important to Him. I know that I’m okay.

Yes, I still have addictions I’m grappling with. I have so much to repent of, and to overcome. I am nowhere near perfect, nor do I pretend to be. I still have days where I’m lonely and depressed and want to give up. But those days come much less often than they used to. I still have a lot that I could beat myself up for (fat, ugly, not married, no kids, etc.), but I’ve done that my whole life, and what has it gotten me? Misery. So I’m trying to be nice to myself; I’m trying to be a friend to myself. I’m trying to improve myself and take care of myself – and be okay with that.

The result is that I am capable of seeing all of me – the good and the bad – and being okay with it. I feel like I am now able to live life with nothing to “prove.” I no longer feel the need to make excuses for all that I haven’t done, i.e., all that I haven’t measured up to (marriage/family/weightloss, etc). I’m working on the things that I need to change and for the first time in my life, I know that I’m okay WHILE I’m working on those things and not “I’ll be okay WHEN I have those things.”

Maybe this is the real reason I needed this 20-year reunion. Maybe I just needed to be reminded of how much has changed for the better and how all of those difficult, painful, miserable experiences, were a part of my journey for a reason. And I needed to be reminded that there was also a lot of happiness. While I may not have been close to very many people in high school, and while many people did make fun of me, there were so many more who were friendly and kind. Those are the people I wanted to see -  those whom I hadn’t truly appreciated for their kindness. (Hell, those who even just tolerated me meant something to me!)

Yeah, there is a part of me that wishes I had appreciated them more. There is a part of me that wishes I had been a better friend to so many others. But the past is to be learned from, not mourned. I thought going to my reunion would make me nostalgic, but it had the opposite effect – it made me appreciative of where I am and of how much courage, strength and divine help it’s taken me to get here. And maybe for the first time in my life, I’m finally genuinely living the way people remember me – smiling and happy. 

Thank you to all the “Cavemen” who were a part of my journey – I needed you! (And yes, I’ll always fight for AF High!!)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Identity's "I AM"

I had an experience recently that brought up some inner turmoil that I thought I had resolved. As it turns out, I hadn’t resolved it completely. I think I needed to understand myself more deeply and so now, looking back, I am grateful that it happened.

I was at Kinstretch class and thought I was doing better. I felt like I noticed slightly more strength in various ranges of motion, but there was also a problem – the guy next to me. He was new – it was his first time ever at Kinstretch and he’d never done anything like this before. Quite honestly, I wondered why he was there in the first place. He was super thin, but very athletic looking. Because of the mirrors, it’s hard not to notice what everyone else is doing, and what I noticed was that this guy was doing awesome.

He was doing every move perfectly and wasn’t even breaking a sweat. I was only mildly annoyed, but I realized that we’re all different and we all have different abilities. Yeah, of course I was jealous; I wished I had the type of body that I could go into a fitness class I’ve never been in and kill it – without even breaking a sweat. But what finally threw me over the edge was what occurred towards the end of class. 

The instructor demonstrated a move where we had to lean forward against one knee with one leg stretched out behind. I tried to get into position, but couldn’t. My belly fat wouldn’t allow me to get into that position. That’s when I got discouraged and mad. It didn’t help that the guy next to me was, of course, “Gumby” and had no problem getting into position or doing the movement. Even more frustratingly, was that not only could I not do the movement, but I couldn’t even get into a position to do the “regression” or the modified/easier version.

I got mad. I was mad at myself for being so fat that I couldn’t even get into the right position to do the “easier” movement. I suddenly felt so stupid. I felt stupid for thinking I could do this. I felt stupid for being the only one in the class that couldn’t do it. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my body. I was sure that everyone who saw me thought I was a f*cking retard. I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to run. Does it seem like my reaction was maybe a little more intense than the situation warranted? I did too.

Afterward, I thought about why and then it dawned on me. Yes, the situation was difficult, but it was more about what the situation meant. It meant I was different. It meant I wasn’t like everyone else. It meant I didn’t fit in. All my life, all I’ve ever wanted was to blend in; to be unnoticeable; to be just “one of the guys.” And this situation was proof that I didn’t fit in; that I stood out for something negative; that I wasn’t just one of the guys. I was different and being different doesn’t measure up, especially when you’re fat.

It didn’t matter how hard I was working, I was never going to be as fit, healthy, or attractive as the guy next to me. And I hated myself for that. I almost quit that night. In fact, I emailed the instructor and told him that I was too fat to do this and I needed to cancel my membership in the class. When he wrote me back, he told me that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for the hard work I was doing and he assured me that nobody saw me the way I described myself. The next day I talked to my trainer about my experience and we talked about how important self-love is. I understood what she was saying, but in my mind I kept saying, “that’s bullsh*t.” 

My internal argument went something like this, “telling me that I need to love myself is saying that I need to love being fat and I can’t do that, because I hate it. I hate how being fat feels. I hate what I see in the mirror every day and I hate how being fat limits what I can do. Furthermore, all those thin, skinny, athletic, beautiful people who say you just need to love yourself can say that because they ARE already thin, athletic and beautiful. Of course they love themselves – they are practically perfect!!! If I were that fit and attractive, I would love myself too! I am pretty sure that you take any one of those people and if they woke up one morning 100 pounds overweight, like I am, I am damn sure that they would NOT love themselves. I am positive that they would hate themselves being that way as much as I do. So no, I’m sorry, but ‘loving yourself’ when your fat and disgusting just isn’t possible.”

But how can you tell that to a thin, beautiful, athletic person? How could they possibly understand? They can’t.

This really bothered me. I took some time to think, meditate, ponder and pray about why I was feeling this way and how to change it. (Yes, I know positive affirmations can help; as does changing my self-talk; as does giving myself space to react with a different emotion, etc.) I just couldn’t put my finger on why this was so hard to resolve. I did more journaling and that helped me make a connection that I haven’t ever acknowledged before. In evaluating my “internal argument” I realized that my argument was really based on a very simple math equation:

I am = Fat

Essentially, what I believe is that the condition of my being fat is my identity – it’s who I am; It’s all of who I am and nothing else about me matters. Being fat = who I am. (And all of the negative associations I have with being fat or what “fat” represents!) So when someone says, “you just need to love yourself,” all I hear is, “you just need to love being fat.” How can the solution to someone’s problem be being told that they need to love what they hate about themselves? I can’t do that. I can’t love being fat. I hate how it makes me feel. I hate how it makes me look. I hate how much it limits what I can do. I hate how it destroys my confidence the second I step outside my door. All this time I have been agonizing over how to learn to love being fat (which I can’t do), when I have finally realized that that isn’t even the real issue. The real issue is the belief that being fat is who I am.

No one is just one thing. Just like how our bodies are made up of different organs. Our bodies are not our hearts, but our hearts are part of who we are. Our bodies are not our muscles, but our muscles are part of who we are. The truth is, I am fat. I am overweight. I’m carrying more adipose tissue on my body than is healthy. But that’s not ALL of who I am. It’s only a part. I made a list of what I think the “parts” are that make me up.

I AM MY:
Behaviors
Beliefs
Thoughts
Feelings
Perceptions/Senses
Memories
Character traits
Strengths/weaknesses
Body
Spirit

Taken alone, I am not any one of these things; and yet, each one of these things are a part of me. My problem isn’t acknowledging that I’m fat. My problem is thinking that that’s the only thing that matters. Or that “that’s just who I am.”

My Kinstretch instructor was right. I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for all the hard work I am doing in class, because I can’t see that determination and a desire to improve are as much a part of me as being fat. I can’t appreciate the courage it takes to be fat and yet pursue health and fitness – knowing that I’m going to come face to face with people I’m jealous of, and people I’m likely to compare myself to (i.e., my “little-blue-shorts-guy” post…).

The other problem that I had never seen before is – if I do believe that who I am is fat, then who am I without it? That’s a real identity crisis and completely contradictory to my goals. If I am fat, but then I’m trying to lose fat, then I’m losing my identity. If who I am is fat, then I need to be fat in order to be who I am. Is it possible that, in spite of the last 9 months of diet and exercise, I haven’t lost any weight because deep down I’ve been afraid of losing myself?

I think I’ve fundamentally misunderstood the statement I AM as well. To me, that statement is permanent. If I AM something then I have to be that something all the time. For example, if I AM fat, then I have to be fat ALL the time, because that’s who I am!! I think that’s why I can’t say positive things about myself like, “I am smart,” because I’m not always smart – sometimes I do really stupid things!! I can’t say, “I am strong,” because sometimes I’m really weak – physically and spiritually. It doesn’t feel honest to say that I am something, when I’m not that something all the time. But on the other hand, it also means I don’t give myself credit for being those things sometimes. Is there a way to reconcile all of this? Is there a way to say that I am something positive, while acknowledging that I’m not that way ALL the time? I don’t know. I hope so.

I think it may have to do with seeing ourselves completely. Meaning, acknowledging the good and the bad. I think it means acceptance of all of who we are, knowing that we all have various traits that could be "good" or "bad" depending on how we use them. Maybe it just means accepting that we are human and that each of us is constantly evolving. Maybe my self talk needs to be that I question myself and ask, "is this one thing all of who I am? If not, what else am I in this moment? Or, is this one thing something I like about myself, or do I want to change it?"

For example, the next time I'm at Kinstretch and I can't do a move, I can acknowledge it and ask myself, "okay, I can't do this move; is my inability to do this move - due to being fat/inflexible - all of who I am? Is this something that I want to improve? Then I can try to find a way to approximate the move, or I can ask the instructor what other options I can try." It doesn't mean I have to give up. It doesn't mean the being fat is a barrier I'll never be able to cross. It doesn't mean that being fat is all of who I am; nor does it mean that who I am is worthless, or stupid, or any other unkind label I can come up with.

It feels to me like there are different types of acceptance:
1) acceptance can mean something is permanent and unchangeable. "This is the way it is." e.g., "I just have to accept that I'm fat and I always will be."
2) acceptance can also mean something is the way it is - for now. e.g., "I just have to accept that I am fat for now, but I don't have to always be this way."
3) acceptance of uncertainty (is this faith?). "I just have to accept that I am fat for now, and maybe I always will be even though that's not what I want, but even if I am, I still know that I'm okay." Or, "I accept that I may always be fat, because being fat is not all of who I am."

What do you think? How do you define yourself? What is your identity based on?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fat-Guy-Working-Out-At-The-Gym Troubles

I need to acknowledge something here, right up front – I’m not psychic. Surprise! Okay, just kidding, but really, I need to acknowledge that I have no idea what other people are thinking, or what motivates them, or what their intent might be. It’s important that I point this out now, because of what I want to say. So with that understood, read on…

I went to the gym tonight. When I’m not working out with my trainer, I usually go late (like, 9:30pm/10:00pm-ish) because there are fewer people there and I don’t have to wait for equipment. Which is only mostly true. The actual truth is, fewer people means fewer eyes to watch me as I awkwardly lumber through my workout like a blind walrus. (I know that’s not a thing, but the imagery really sells it, ya know?)

Anyway, there was only one other guy in the “Peak Performance” room (which is like the Crossfit part of the gym) and I’d seen him before, so that wasn’t too bad. I was getting my groove on like an Emperor and the other guy eventually left. I was about halfway through my workout at this point and loving the fact that I had the whole room to myself! Well, that didn’t last very long.

Not long after, a guy came in that I didn’t know, but I had just seen him playing volleyball with a bunch of other people on the indoor courts. He stood out to me because he was wearing a “snug,” bright green tank top and little blue volleyball shorts and “working it,” if you know what I mean. Anyway, he comes in and I did my best to ignore him. Which became increasingly hard to do because he was doing some pretty impressive stuff – twisting medicine ball lunges, speed drills, box jumps, all kinds of weird sit ups, etc. It was pretty obvious that the guy didn’t just look good, but had the goods – like, super athletic. You know what? Good for him.

Whatever.

And now I’m just annoyed.

Not only am I nowhere near his level of conditioning on my best day, I’m totally wearing out because I’m getting to the end of my work out and the stuff I’m doing is barely more movement than the Walking Dead zombies. And yes, I’m man enough to admit that I couldn’t help but steal some glances. Enough to notice that he was looking up every so often to make sure I was noticing how awesome he was. And the whole time I just kept thinking, “yes, snug-tank-top-little-blue-shorts-guy, everyone sees you; everyone can see how athletic and awesome you are; congratulations on how awesome you look and how you can out-perform me on every level; yes, we can all see how impressive you are and how amazing you are at having one foot balanced on a swiss ball, while you’re in a plank position and swinging your leg out to the side which takes an inordinate amount of strength, control and agility; okay, we get it, you’re like, super hot and amazing. Congratulations – to you.”

I was annoyed because one, I would love to have that kind of agility and conditioning – so I was totally jealous, and two, because he was totally showing off and looking up to make sure I was seeing how impressive he was. Cocky little "fitness model" bastard!!

That was about the time I had a realization.

I wasn’t reacting to him based on his behavior – I was reacting to him based on my insecurities.

It dawned on me that I have no idea whether or not he was “showing off.” Is it possible he was? Of course it’s possible! (I mean not everyone wears little blue volleyball shorts to the gym, but then again, he had actually been playing volleyball!!) Is it possible that he wasn’t showing off or that maybe he was doing that workout because that’s just the level that he’s at? Of course it’s possible! That’s my point – I don’t know.

I was jealous. It was easy for me to believe that he was looking down on me, but the reality is, I was looking down on myself. I was the one choosing to believe that he thought he was better than me when he hadn’t done or said anything to indicate that he felt that way. I was the one who was choosing to believe that he was better than me because he was more physically capable than me. I was the one making a comparison. I was the one measuring worth on outward appearances and physical attributes. It made me wonder how I would have acted toward him, had we actually interacted. It made me wonder how often I react to other people that way.

I don’t recall if this is something anyone has studied, so I’ll just make up some stats. I’m guessing, from my own experience, that roughly 80% of the time, I’m not reacting to other people’s behavior, but I’m reacting according to my perception of other people’s behavior. Maybe roughly 20% of the time I’m reacting to their actual behavior, but I don’t have any research to back that up.

Some of the take-aways for me are:
– We only see people at one point in time – I don’t know anything about this guy; maybe he’s worked really hard to get where he is and he’s not showing off, but just enjoying the fact that he’s improved himself, or he really likes challenging himself.

– We don’t really ever know what’s in someone’s head or heart and we shouldn’t treat them like we do.

– Maybe look at my jealousy as a way of identifying goals – maybe I’m jealous because I’d like to be that athletic someday too. (Or wait!! It just occurred to me - maybe I just want to look good in a snug tank top and little blue shorts too?! Hahaha!)

– Be more grateful for where I’m at and what I can do. This one’s hard for me. It’s hard to see someone else at a level that I want to be and yet be okay with where I’m at. But the truth is, I have improved. No, I’m not anywhere near where I want to be, but it is pretty cool that in nine months I’ve gone from deadlifting 35lb kettle bells to 180lbs with a bar and plates.

And lastly,
– I guess I still have some self-esteem work to do!

But I am grateful. I’m grateful that I’m in a place in my life where I can finally see how self-destructive my beliefs and habits have been and that I can see them for what they are. That’s doesn’t automatically translate into instant change, but at least it helps me see what I need to be working on and that’s half the battle right there.

Finally, and I’m sure he’ll never read this, but my apologies to snug-tank-top-little-blue-shorts guy. I’m sorry I accused you of being arrogant and condescending when I don’t know anything about you. It would actually be cool if we could be friends, then maybe I could be inspired by you instead of ostracizing myself.

Just another one of those fat-guy-working-out-at-the-gym troubles!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The "meaning" in change


Following my training session on Friday I had a talk with my trainer, Kathryn. I was asking her about something she had posted on her FaceBook page regarding self-acceptance. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something to the effect that building a skill, then acknowledging the effort and what you learn from that experience helps increase self-confidence, i.e., self-acceptance.

I remember reading that and thinking, “That’s exactly what I struggle with!” (Well, okay, to be honest, it’s ONE thing I struggle with on a list of many, but I digress…) I struggle with acknowledging effort. For example: I’ve been going to the gym 2-3 times a week for 5 months (give or take a week). For me, that is astounding! And yet, I don’t feel “good” about that because even with all that effort, I’m still not where I want to be. I look in the mirror and I’m still that 300lb hippo that is disgusting, gross and never going to amount to anything.

In my mind I see the “end” goal of what I want – to be that healthy, thin, athletic version of myself – but where I am right now is sooooo far from where I want to be that I feel like I’m never going to make it.

Here’s another example: In the last 5 months I’ve lost about 15 pounds. Which should be great, right? But it’s not. 15 pounds is nothing when you need to lose 100! Additionally, because I have so much to lose, I don’t see any difference when I look in the mirror. I may be down 15 pounds, but I don’t look like it – I don’t see the results and that is so discouraging. Yes, I know that losing any weight is better than even just maintaining, and certainly better than gaining, but knowing that doesn’t help me in the moment because I’m just so frustrated at not being where I want to be.

This sounds a lot like the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome, doesn’t it? (I don’t even know if it has an official name – If it doesn’t, it should!) But what I’m describing goes much, much deeper than happiness. I'm not saying “I’ll be happy when I’m thin and athletic.” What I’m really saying is, “I’ll be acceptable when I’m thin and athletic!” That is a reflection of my very identity, of my beliefs, of my past traumas, of my thoughts – everything!

I don’t know how to express that this is so much more significant than just happiness! Acceptance is huge! Every single day there are people who “fall in with the wrong crowd,” even when that includes criminal behavior, because they are accepted by them. This is why so many people turn to plastic surgery, because they think they need it to be acceptable. Every day, people who don’t feel like they are acceptable, turn to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling and any other kind of addiction, because it takes away the pain of not being acceptable, of not being good enough, of not measuring up. Every day, people commit suicide – because they don’t fit in, because they aren’t acceptable and because they don’t see any other way out of that worthless condition. I know what that feels like.

I see it every time I look in the mirror. I am unacceptable this way. That’s what I see. I don’t want to be thin and healthy because I want to be thin and healthy. I want to be thin and healthy because I won’t be acceptable until I am… It becomes a matter of life or death. I can’t enjoy the journey, because the journey doesn’t matter – only the outcome matters. I can’t acknowledge the effort – or celebrate the wins – because unless the effort results in being thin, healthy and athletic then it doesn’t mean anything or won’t mean anything until that far off day arrives.

So no, I can’t acknowledge my effort in going to the gym more consistently than ever before. No, I can’t feel good about the increased conditioning I have experienced in greater work capacity and shorter rest times. No, I can’t celebrate losing 15 pounds in 5 months; because even with all that – I’m still fat. Still fat, gross and disgusting. Morbidly obese, according to the medical establishment.

And I hate that I know that that’s wrong!! I hate it when what I know and what I feel aren’t congruent!! (Welcome to the life of an INFJ, I guess…) I KNOW I should be celebrating every win – no matter how small. But all of this hinges on acceptance. Or, more accurately, how I define what I think “being acceptable” means.

[I really need to credit Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle Is the Way” for what I’m about to share. Much of what I have been pondering stemmed from principles he outlines in his book – and I’ve only read the first two chapters!]

I look at my life – everything I’ve been through – and I see over and over, time and time again, that everything points to being unacceptable. Every occasion of neglect, every critical word or look, every insult or joke about my weight, the fact that I wasn’t protected from being sexually traumatized, etc, all of it – was purely because I was unacceptable.

Or was it?

In the last couple of weeks I have begun to realize this truth: It was not the events that proved I was unacceptable – it was the meaning I attached to the events that led me to believe I was unacceptable. (Please re-read that sentence a few times until you really “get it.”) In my young, innocent mind the only explanation that I could come up with, that consistently explained why these horrible things had happened to me was that there was something wrong with me – that at my core, I was unacceptable. This also took the form of being unworthy, undeserving, etc. But in each case, I was the one that ascribed that meaning to those events. It was my perception, my interpretation, my definition, whatever word you want to use, that formed my belief system regarding those events. That’s what we do, as people, as human beings, we try to make sense of things, right? We categorize things, we label things, we need names for everything, because we are constantly seeking meaning.

So what happens when you misinterpret something? What happens when you attach the wrong meaning to an event or circumstance? Well, you behave accordingly. You create an internal rule, or a belief filter, and everything that happens in your life gets viewed through that (warped?) filter. You then misinterpret other events and circumstances – especially, the behavior of others.

Think about it. You’re driving down the road and someone cuts you off. That’s the circumstance, but how you react to it, has very little to do with the actual event and significantly more to do with your interpretation of that event. If you decide that the other driver is a jerk, you get mad and yell and feel wronged. If you decide that the other driver is maybe having a personal emergency, say they’re on their way to the hospital where a loved one is seriously injured, you forgive them, you may even feel compassion for them and hope that they make it safely wherever their going. Totally different reactions, right? Why? Not because of the circumstance itself, but because of the meaning you give the circumstance. That’s it.

I look in the mirror and see an unacceptable guy, because that’s the meaning I gave to the circumstances of my life. Yes, I probably could blame others and be somewhat justified. I could blame all the strangers who have avoided me, or looked down on me with contempt, or pointed at me and laughed, or insulted me verbally for no reason. I could blame those neighbors whose perverted behavior damaged me psychologically and emotionally. I could blame all the friends in my life who turned their backs on me because I was too fat and ugly to fit in. I could blame my parents for the times they neglected and/or criticized me. I could blame God for knowing all that I would experience and not doing anything to stop it.

But would that blame do anything productive? It might make me feel justified in my innocence. It might make me feel like I’m the victim and therefore bear no responsibility for how sucky my life turned out. But unfortunately, blame also keeps me stuck. It keeps me revolving around things that I can’t do anything about. It keeps me stuck in the past. Ultimately, blame leaves me powerless because in order to blame others I have to give up the power to act for myself. I am left in a position where I can only react, which means I’m forever focused on what I can’t control.

That’s quite the dysfunctional box to be in! Is there a way out? Yes!! Thank God there is a way out! God has given us moral agency – meaning the ability to make choices, which means: even when I can’t change the circumstances of my life, I CAN CHANGE WHAT THEY MEAN!!

I can choose to decide that the meaning behind my friends’ rejection was more about their insecurity in those moments. I can choose to decide that my parents’ mistreatment of me had to do with carelessness or lack of awareness of their own behavior, or maybe they were just having some bad days, etc. In any case I can choose to believe that their mistreatment was more about what was going on inside of them, than what they thought of me. I can choose to believe that the reason my neighbors hurt me, wasn’t about me at all – it was about how broken and hurt they were and the horrible, dysfunctional way that they were trying to find comfort/safety.

But what about the really tough stuff? What about what I see in the mirror?

I guess I could continue to choose to believe that the guy I see in the mirror is fat, ugly, gross and worthless. Or… maybe I could choose to believe that he just got a little lost for a while. Maybe I could choose to believe that he found it kinder to blame himself than others. That maybe he felt so much charity for others that, when faced with only two (perceived) options, he chose to sacrifice himself instead of finding fault with everyone else. Maybe I can choose to believe that here is a guy who was always worthy of being loved, of being treated with respect; who was always deserving of his father’s time and his mother’s approval – whether he felt he got it or not. I can choose to believe that this guy is worth improving by losing weight and being healthy, not because he HAS to be in order to be acceptable, but maybe because he already IS acceptable and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve himself. It's okay to celebrate the wins. It's okay to dig in and enjoy the journey, because when it comes to self-improvement, there is no "end" to that process. It is not a journey of "destinations," it is a journey of milestones. When we reach one milestone, we aren't "done!" We set out for another, then another, and another....

We can’t always change our circumstances and I suppose that can make us feel powerless. But we can always choose to find - or change - the meaning in our circumstances and in that, there is great power.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Morbidly obese and... perfectly healthy?

So there's good news and there's bad news: The good news? My blood work came back perfect. Like, perfect! Everything right in the normal ranges where they should be. The test included testosterone, thyroid, inflammation markers, etc. [The only thing a little high was my blood pressure at 132/89, which is still totally in the acceptable range.] So I'm super happy about that! The bad news? My blood work came back perfect! (yeah, you read that right!) So how can "perfect" blood work be bad? Well, how can someone have perfect blood work and still be 100 pounds overweight? (And DON'T give me that "fat set point" garbage, 'cause I don't accept that!) It may sound crazy, but I was really hoping to find something that would explain why I'm sooooo overweight - and why it's been so hard to lose weight! So, I'm a little disappointed that I have perfect blood work. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to know I'm healthy on the inside, but that still doesn't mean I want an award for being the healthiest morbidly obese person on the planet!! I'm also kind of annoyed because people keep telling me that "once you're healthy on the inside the weight will just come off naturally!" Well that sounds about as wonderful as a butterfly farting roses, but it also doesn't seem to be the case with me and it's starting to feel like a big fat lie (pun intended!!)!! So what's it going to take? Continuing my investigation, I recently submitted a saliva sample to Fitness Genes, base out of the UK. Where they take a saliva sample and test your genetic profile to see what type of exercise/diet would be optimal for you genetically. Sounds cool, no? I won't get the results back for another month, however, so for the time being, I'm left with no option, but to keep doing what I'm doing. But I'm frustrated because I have no idea what I NEED to be doing to lose weight! What do you do when you're doing everything right, but not getting any results?

Friday, January 15, 2016

You're okay, you just don't know it yet...

Well this topic has been a long time coming. Literally. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. It’s something that I’ve wanted to write down, but just couldn’t and I didn’t really know why. I believe what I’m about to explain was given to me – inspired, I want to say, hopefully without sounding presumptuous.

But look, this is hard for me to say. It has to do with identity. It should be the most freeing thing in the world to say, “I am ______,” whatever; fill in the blank. But for me it’s not that easy.

I come from a very black and white world (i.e., shame-based), where you’re either good or bad; good enough or worthless, etc. In that world, I wasn’t good enough, so I presented a “false” me. The one who was “good enough;” obedient, calm, helpful to others; the one who was happy all the time; got along with everyone – a peacemaker, even; never really had any serious problems; jack of all trades, master of none; etc. Hard to find any downsides to those qualities, right? Maybe not overtly, but subtly, the downside is this: it was just an act. It wasn’t truly who I was. Everything I did, I did out of fear of being evaluated, then judged “unacceptable,” while secretly punishing the real me for NEEDING a fa├žade. The only way I could ever complete the sentence, “I am ______,” was by saying “I am a worthless fraud.” THAT was my identity.

You can’t go through life presenting a false self to the world and expect to be accepted for who you are, let alone happy.

So I’ve spent a significant amount of energy diving into the shades of gray of being me and trying to sort out what I believe about who I am. Which shifted my belief from, “I am a fraud,” to “I am a mess!” (Hey, progress is progress!) Joking aside, though, so much of my identity has been caught up in being the victim. Wow, what a trap to be in! It feels justified in its innocence, as in, “I was innocent, I didn’t cause this trauma, it wasn’t my fault,” etc. But in order to be justified in innocence, you also have to be powerless, because a powerful person wouldn’t have let themselves be victimized (some flawed thinking here, but keep in mind that being hurt as a child doesn’t allow for logical/mature thinking). This is referred to as Locus of Control. Someone who has an External Locus of Control believes that everything that happens in life has a cause that is external to them, such as luck, time, circumstance, etc. This meshes really well with a victim mindset – everything that happens is outside my control; versus an Internal Locus of Control where the person views themselves as being in control of their own life.

I have rarely felt in control of my own life. That includes my identity – how I see myself. I have straddled the line between discovering who I am and creating who I am. And it’s the creation of who I am that I have a hard time with. “What if I fail to maintain that identity?” I ask myself. “What if I say, ‘I am – whatever’ and then find that I’m not?” For example, what if I say, “I’m a writer,” but then fail to be successful as a writer? That word “fail” is hard to get around.

I’m trying create some context for you to understand why what I’m about to share is so hard to say. There is so much fear in just trying to be me, when being me for so long just wasn’t good enough. I also know that I’m stalling. I don’t want to type it. I don’t want to say it out loud. Once I hit “publish” on this post, it’s out there. I don’t want to admit it because it means a monumental shift MUST take place accordingly. It means I must change how I think, how I feel, how I see myself, how I define myself, how I think of myself, how I present myself, how I interact with the world. It means I can never go back to being who I was. It means the death of the false self (who protected me for so long!) and the emergence of the real me…

Enough stalling.

Here it is:


I am okay.


Wow, that was hard! Can you just let that sink in for a minute? For me, the fear and doubt immediately come creeping in. “But what if I say I’m okay only to find that I’m not? What if I say I’m okay and then everyone expects me to be okay, but what if I’m really not? What if I just lied to myself? What if I can’t keep being okay? What if the real me really isn’t good enough?”

You know, one of the major problems with trauma and victimhood is that it creates an internal rule – I am not okay. (Variations are: I can’t be okay, I never will be okay, I don’t deserve to be okay, I’m not worth being okay, etc.) This rule is formed at such a young age that it seems immutable. Set in stone. Just the way things are.

You may not believe this, but I’m kind of lightheaded all of a sudden and feel inexplicably tired. I know this feeling. It’s resistance. It’s the struggle within myself that is taking so much energy that I want to shut down.

But I can’t.

I mustn’t.

I won’t.

“Come on, Micah, fight it!” I can hear a voice within me saying. “Keep going.” And now I’m nauseous. My brain is – foggy; I’m having a hard time concentrating. I just keep typing because I know I can’t stop. It feels like someone has invisible magnets all around me and I can feel the magnetic pull shifting in different directions, but I can’t see anything. [Is this what the moon feels like?! Oh crap, and now the lame jokes have started, that’s not a good sign…]

Okay, I just took a drink and some deep breaths.

Being okay is scary. It’s not at all familiar. It’s a paradox. Being okay actually means you can mess up, once in a while. Because even when you mess up, you’re still okay. Even when you make a mistake, you’re still okay. Even when you look stupid (especially looking stupid trying something new for the first time), you’re still okay. What a foreign concept for me!!

The message I received a year ago was really this: “Micah, you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

It was true. I received it, but I couldn’t admit it to myself. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to “be okay” in light of everything I’ve been through. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve prayed and asked Heavenly Father to tell me how to be okay with the things I’m not okay with! I’m not okay with being fat, yet I’m I supposed to be okay with myself that way? Not a chance!

But here I am. Letting whoever is reading this know – I’m okay.

I trust the Lord’s timing, but I wish I had been told this from the very beginning.

When I almost died at birth: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

When I was sexually traumatized: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

When I was neglected and criticized: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

When I was rejected socially for being too fat: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

When I was lonely and scared: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

When I was suicidal: “you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.”

I have always been okay, I just didn’t know it. I’m laughing and crying at the same time.

As much as I’ve needed this message – and continue to need it – I also want to share it with you. I don’t know who’s reading this. I don’t know what you’re going through in your life. Maybe things are great, and if so, I’m genuinely glad. Or maybe you’re just having a hard time with something and don’t know how to let anyone know. To you I want to say - you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.

I’m sorry for whatever hardship or trial you might be going through. Maybe you feel weighed down and hopeless, maybe you feel helpless and like a victim! Maybe you feel lonely and afraid. I promise you – you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet. It’s hard to wait for the sun when you’re in the middle of a storm, but I want you to know – you’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.

This is my first post of the year. I felt like this was the message that needed to be out there right now. May it guide all that I accomplish this year, but more than that, I hope this phrase will come to you IN THOSE MOMENTS when you feel afraid; when you feel out of your comfort zone; when you attempt to improve your life and encounter setbacks; when you experience uncertainty, doubt, and fear; when you’re doing all the right things, but challenges overwhelm you; when you’re feeling lonely and forgotten; I pray you’ll remember what I absolutely know in my heart is true:

You’re okay, you just don’t know it yet.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When learning hurts...

So I had a rough learning experience this week.

A little background to set the scene. I have been experiencing some inconsistent knee pain this last week during certain movements in workouts, like when squatting, or even just everyday activities, like going down stairs, getting in and out of my car, etc. I say inconsistent, because sometimes the pain is there and sometimes it's not - weird, I know. In any event, I met with my trainer for our weekly workout and I let him know about what's been going on. So we began the workout and he had me do some new exercises/movements to help investigate what might be causing that pain.

Pretty close to the end of our workout, and after seeing that there wasn't any one particular movement or position that made a difference - again, pretty inconsistent - he had me do some body weight squats. He showed me the form he wanted me to use and could see after just one try that I was having a hard time. So on the second attempt he stands behind me and brings his leg forward to brace my back as I squat and he instructs me to push my hips back even further. I could only go down so far before losing all strength and feeling that twinge in my knee. In order to compensate for that I leaned forward to maintain my balance, not just in the squat position, but in order to stand back up, which I did.

I realized that being overweight and carrying most of that weight in my belly has pushed my center of gravity forward, such that when I went down to a certain height, I needed to lean forward in order to maintain balance. With him telling me to move my hips backward, it completely threw off my center of gravity and I didn't have the strength to hold myself in that position without feeling like I was falling backwards.

On my third attempt, this time with him insisting that I push my hips back, and even though I felt his leg bracing me, I couldn't do it. I fell. It was only about 4-5 inches, and the physical fall didn't hurt, but what hurt was the emotional toll that short action had on me. Craig (my trainer) walked around and held out his hand to help me stand up and said, "come on, one more time." I took his hand and let him help me up. I was feeling very weak, embarrassed and ashamed of myself. He walked around behind me one more time and told me to try again. I didn't want to do it, but I did. He tells me, "Bring your hips back. I'm here, I've got you." I tried again and really focused on bringing my hips backward into the sitting position. Same result. I could only go so far before my legs completely gave out. I fell again.

"It's okay," I hear Craig's voice behind me as we walks around to face me. He holds out his hand again to help me stand up, but this time I hesitate. I didn't want to take his hand at first; I was too angry - mad at myself. I didn't even want to look at him. I was so ashamed of myself. I was mad at being so fat that I couldn't even hold myself up. I was mad at being so weak that I couldn't even complete the simplest exercise. Then I got mad at myself for everything that had happened to me in my past that led me to this humiliating moment - most especially my own bone-headed decisions. You know, the little ones that you don't think will have any consequences? "Just one little bite won't hurt (which then turns into an entire pie/cake/pizza/etc.); I had a rough week, I can have some ice cream; I'm too tired to exercise, I just really need to rest/relax;" etc.

"Come on," he beckons again. I take his hand and stand up, then bend over forward - out of breath and defeated. As he walks away, while I "recover," he says, "we can stop there for today, but lets do some foam rolling." In that moment, I'm just trying to keep my shit together. I'm flooded with emotions and feeling like a massive failure. As I get my breath back I walk to where he is with the foam roller and he goes through what he wants me to do. I've done some foam rolling before and even though I don't tell him that, I'm glad to be doing something I kind of know how to do. But my mind isn't really on it and when I finish he tells me to just relax and breathe.

But he can see on my face that I'm not okay. "Are you still thinking about what happened back there?" he asks me. "Yes," I said with my head hanging down, "I'm pretty upset about it actually." I proceed to tell him how I'm feeling about myself and that prompted a pretty frank discussion about what I can learn from this experience. I wish I had a tape recorder with me to remember all of the details, but some of the major points he made were these:

I didn't fail today.
He pointed out all of things I WAS able to do - like learn a brand new exercise while keeping great form; being better conditioned in that I could actually talk to him between sets of prowler pushes; even one of the other trainers in the gym let him know that he sees me there working out on my own; etc. He pointed out that struggling with one exercise, while showing improvement in others is still a win.

In that moment I was choosing to feel bad about myself.
(That's always a tough one to hear, but he was right.) I was choosing to focus on the one thing I "failed" at, while not acknowledging all the other things I had done well. I was the one bringing up all my past mistakes and failures and causing myself to drown in regret. Additionally, he pointed out a danger in that, when I do that, I am also projecting my fears into the future, ensuring that I won't change when my focus is only on what I've done (and by extension, will continue to do) wrong. He instructed me to do some meditations to project into my future what my vision for myself is, but then to "come back" to the present and look at what choices I can make today to help lead to that future vision. In essence - have a vision of who I want to be, but focus on today (what I can control), not on the future (what I can't control).

Life is not black and white.
Coming from a highly religious background, I tend to paint most things as black and white - either you're good or you're bad and there is no in-between. But the truth is, there is gray. Humans aren't perfect, there is some good and bad in all of us - all of us make mistakes. Sometimes we make "bad" choices; sometimes we exhibit "bad" behavior. If life were only black and white, there would be no hope for us; but life has shades of gray - that is the training ground that allows us to learn how to make better choices. You can fail at something and not BE a failure - which is a totally foreign concept to a shame-based way of thinking. There is no gray for shame-based people, but that is not how life was designed.

If you have beliefs that are hurting you, then they are garbage and need to be thrown away. YOU CAN CHOOSE NEW BELIEFS. It may sound surprising, but this one is very difficult for me to accept. Again, due to shame-based thinking, wherein labels ARE the thing itself. What I mean is, I come from a past and a way of thinking that says: "if you do something bad you ARE bad. If you make a mistake, you ARE a mistake. If you fail at something you ARE a failure. If you ARE fat then you don't fit in and you ARE unacceptable. You can't be yourself because who you ARE, at your core, is unacceptable." When these beliefs are adopted at a young age they feel permanent - as if set in stone and unalterable. In my case, I know that these beliefs were instilled by the time I was six. And when I say instilled, I mean that by this age these beliefs were so ingrained that they were automatic. I had fully accepted their reality - this is who I am. There has never, ever been a time in my life when I didn't know that I was a failure, or a mistake, from the beginning. This is my foundation. Even though it's wrong, it's the only foundation I've known, so the prospect of removing my foundation is terrifying.

But what is the result? I have built a house on my crooked foundation that has resulted in unnecessary pain, an "ugly" house that is fat and un-athletic and lives in misery and sadness. The windows only see and reflect pain, sadness, and loneliness. A house of misery. What I am going through in attempting to improve my fitness is the equivalent of trying to tear down and rebuild my house, but in the process realizing that my house was poorly constructed because the foundation was misshapen and uneven to begin with. Which means, basically, that I need to gut the foundation and start over. I need to throw away the beliefs that are hurting me and choose new ones. Insightful imagery aside, this is much harder to do than it sounds. Hmm... harder to do, but not impossible...

This is why learning hurts. It reaches to the core of who I am. It forces me to examine the beliefs, experiences and circumstances that have been a part of me, seemingly from the beginning - and many of them, as I begin to shine a light on them, are dark, disgusting and terrifying (okay, not ALL of them, there are some good things in there too!). When I see the "bad" things I regret them or feel ashamed of them and the cycle continues. But the cycle CAN be broken. Actually thy cycle MUST be broken in order to progress.

The irony is not lost on me - the only way to progress is to fail. I need failures - I need to experience failing AND STILL BEING OKAY. I need to learn that I can fall on my ass a few times and "fail" at something, i.e., discover a limitation, AND STILL BE OKAY. In order to change my beliefs it will take deciding to believe different and then experiencing believing different and that isn't going to happen overnight, because experience takes time. And that's how it's supposed to be.

So how would you finish the phrase: "When learning hurts..."?

Here's how I think I would finish it: When learning hurts, be grateful. It means that what you're learning is significant and it's helping you become what you were meant to be.