Saturday, December 9, 2017

What do you think you're worth?


Every time I go shopping I play a judgment game. When I see an item I judge it first on its appearance – is it desirable or not? If it is desirable, I look at the price tag next and make another judgment. Is it worth the cost? If it is, I consider buying it; if it isn’t, I pass on to the next item. When I’m at the store, I’m constantly doing this because I’m constantly looking at everything.

I just didn’t realize that I also do this to myself.

When I get up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror and I judge myself by my appearance – am I desirable or not? (I’ll cut to the punch line and tell you the answer is usually “no.”) If, on the off chance, I decide that I look reasonably okay (i.e., “desirable,”), then I look at my “price tag.” What do I mean by “price tag?” The short answer is – how I treat myself.

The long answer is that the way I treat myself is a reflection of what I think I’m worth – the cost of being me, if you will. If I think of myself as being worth a lot, I might go for a walk; I might take time to prepare a healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner; I might reach out to a friend that I admire; I might choose to turn off the TV and go to bed early; etc. If not, the opposite is true and I don't treat myself very well.

Clearly, this isn’t a revolutionary idea; hell, it’s not even very original. But for someone who was a victim and for someone who has lived like a victim for so long – this is a concept that is harder to practice than you might think.

I really think that there are some people who are born with an innate sense of self worth. I know people who just seem to have confidence in themselves and it’s effortless – they know what they’re worth and they treat themselves accordingly and they don’t appear to have any inner turmoil in doing so.

I also think that there are people like me – people who may or may not have had a strong sense of self-worth, but even if they did, the traumas of life quickly beat it out of them.  I don’t think I need to go into any great detail here, but I think it’s hard for anyone who’s been molested to feel like they’re worth much, if anything at all. Add to that family dynamics that made me feel small, weak, inferior, not good enough, a disappointment, etc. and that’s a perfect recipe for someone who doesn’t think he’s worth much.

And, historically speaking, that’s how I’ve treated myself – as someone who wasn’t worth much; someone who didn’t really deserve to be happy, or to be healthy, or to be successful in life. I looked at my “price tags” and decided I wasn’t worth the cost. So I ate junk food and/or binged on junk/processed food; I slept in, instead of going for a walk; I watched TV constantly so that I didn’t have to think about how lonely and unhappy I was; I stayed up way too late and didn’t sleep well; etc.

And I did the worst thing any person could possibly do to themselves – I told myself I was worthless. I chose to believe I was worthless. I thought to myself, “Micah, you are a pathetic and worthless human being. You’re ugly and disgusting and how could anyone ever love you?” (Does that sound harsh? It’s not the worst of what I’ve said to myself and I’ll spare you from hearing more of the poison I fed myself my whole life!) I held myself back from trying new things, from meeting new people, from taking care of myself, and so on… because I truly believed I was worthless. I looked at my price tag and thought, “you aren’t worth the cost…”

Being worthless became my home. Being worthless became what I could count on. Being worthless was a constant that no one could change and that felt like stability; and stability felt like safety. And a victim will do anything to feel safe! Even better, being worthless (at least in my experience) was easy! It was so easy to discount myself; it was so easy to keep my gifts and talents to myself; to NOT put myself out there and risk humiliation or disappointing people (especially me!). And – bonus! – it also feels similar to humility, which is a noble characteristic. So if I’m worthless, I know I’m protected against being prideful, which is like, the worst sin imaginable, right?

But there is a harsh downside to all this “easy safety.”
Unhappiness.
Loneliness.
Depression.
Sadness.
Anxiety.
Fear.
Misery.
Stagnation.

Read each of those words again, slowly. We all experience these unpleasant feelings at times in our lives, but believing that you’re worthless invites these unpleasant feelings to move in, like unwanted house guests.

So I know this all sounds thoroughly depressing and you’re probably asking, “is this going anywhere?” Yes, it is, just hang in there with me!

Why am I even writing about this at all? Especially when I’ve kind of hashed all this out before (i.e., any of my recent blog posts!)? Because I had an email exchange with my personal trainer, whom I’ve been working with once a week for about a month now. He was checking in with me and I was telling him that I’ve been really struggling; struggling with slow fat-loss, struggling with injuries, struggling with mindset/staying positive, etc. He said and asked me the following: “I firmly believe that you deserve better...healthier, happier, stronger, without pain. Do you believe that? Can you believe that?”

Essentially, I felt like he was asking me, “do you think you’re worth this?” and my answer was, “no.”

Honestly, it broke my heart to admit it, because I think it was the first time I really felt the depth of how worthless I have felt. And it hurt. It hurt to reflect on all the bad things that have happened to me that made me feel worthless. It hurt to reflect on all of the ways I’ve inflicted pain and punishment on myself, because I believed I was worthless. It hurt to hear that voice within my own head – my own voice, in fact – spitting out such vehement hatred. No one hurt me as much as I’ve hurt myself. I did this to myself. And that right there is where the cycle starts to turn. That is the exact point that I slide back into self-punishment, beating myself up for feeling worthless, then beating myself up for beating myself up, etc.!

But I see it now. I see the cycle; I see the pattern. I see that moment, where I need to offer myself compassion, but don’t know how. I know how to beat myself up – it’s easy, in fact. I don’t know how to forgive myself; I don’t know how to offer myself compassion. I don’t know how to rip off that f*cking price tag and say, “you can’t place a number on your worth!”

I say I don’t know, but what I really mean, is that I’m just inexperienced with self-compassion. Clearly, choosing to stay local rather than take on other travel assignments, which has meant a great deal of financial strain, so that I can work with a personal trainer on a long-term basis, is a sign that I’m endeavoring to take care of myself. Even just hiring a personal trainer is a sign that I’m committed to taking care of myself; to challenge my poor mindset; to improve my relationship with myself; to accept that I have infinite worth.

But I feel like an infant again. I feel like I’m just beginning to learn how to walk for myself. Changing the way I see myself – changing the way I talk to myself, is hard; so much harder than I would have expected, but I know that it’s possible. It’s jarring, in my head, to hear two voices fighting each other and at times it’s uncomfortable, painful, scary even, and, quite frankly, exhausting; but this is the process of change, of re-wiring my brain. It’s like learning a new instrument – it just takes practice.

A lot of people have advised me to “fake it, ‘til [I] make it,” which I’ve always hated. (To my way of thinking if you have to “fake” something then it’s a lie because it isn’t really you.) But I think I see, conceptually anyway, the principle behind this saying – I’m not trying to “fake” something, I’m trying to create something – someone – new. Just like it takes countless brush strokes to create a painting; countless repetitions to create a jump-shot; countless breaths to create a singer; it takes countless new thoughts to create a new man. Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.

I’m grateful to my trainer for asking me the questions that opened my eyes to my own thought processes. I’m even more grateful for his professed belief in me, because if he can believe in me, then maybe I can too. Then, maybe, when I look at myself in the mirror, I won’t see a price tag… just a guy who’s worth caring for himself.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Overcoming a Victim Mindset

What follows may not apply to everyone who reads this. However, for those people, I still hope that this gives some insight into the behaviors of friends or loved ones for whom it may apply. As well as gives them some compassion in dealing with a loved one who sees themselves as a victim.

I’ve been thinking about this “Victim Mindset” for awhile now. I haven’t been sure how to write about it because it becomes overwhelming every time I think about it. But I feel compelled to try to get it out there because I think it’s essential to understand if it’s to be overcome.

“I am a victim.”

The power in that statement comes from the fact that it’s true.

I was molested; that is a fact. I was bullied for being fat; that is a fact. These things happened.

But – and this is much more subtle – that statement also carries power because it is an expression of identity. “I AM a victim.” Notice how this is present tense verbiage? Not, “I WAS a victim,” but, “I AM a victim.” That’s a truly powerful statement.

And it’s also wrong.

At least, my mind knows that it’s wrong, but my heart doesn’t know it yet. In my heart, I’m still a victim. Even though those events are far behind me, meaning I am NOT currently a victim of those acts (which I understand logically), I don’t FEEL that way. I still FEEL like I am a victim. When I was victimized, I took on that label of “victim” and it never left.

So if I know, logically, that I’m not a victim, then why has it been so hard for my heart to give up that identity? As it turns out, being a victim has some pretty significant payoffs. (What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some of what I feel have been the most prevalent in my life.)

No Accountability
Because I am a victim, I’m not responsible for all of the things that have happened to me, which should feel like a huge relief. After all, there is a great deal of safety in being able to pass the blame on to someone else and to reside in that sense of your own innocence. However, it also means that neither am I responsible for MY OWN choices or circumstances, because being a victim is all or nothing. Either I’m to blame for everything (including the actions of those who hurt me) or for nothing (including my own choices/action) – and being blamed for “nothing” feels safer.

Ironically, victims may take on blame as a way of demonstrating the nobility of self-sacrifice; it’s just that they usually take on blame for things that are OUTSIDE OF THEIR CONTROL because it preserves that sense of innocence. Safety, as it turns out, is of monumental importance because the brain doesn’t distinguish between physical, mental, or emotional threats. A threat is a threat and all you want in that moment is safety.

The unfortunate side effect of not having any accountability, in my opinion, is self-pity. If you don’t have any accountability and everything that happens is outside of your control then you also feel powerless and it is SO easy to feel sorry for yourself when you feel powerless. It’s as if you’re making a trade: I’ll take on feeling self-pity/powerlessness and give up feeling responsible for my actions if it means I can feel safe. The consequences of thinking this way in regards to the choices we make are innumerable…

Moral High Ground
Have you ever noticed that there are some people who are always right, no matter what? Even when they are totally wrong? And no amount of logic, proof or evidence will ever sway them? They are most likely a victim, because a victim is ALWAYS right. They have to be, to preserve their safety (there’s that word again…). I hate to admit it, but this definitely defines me. I have always needed to be right and I never really understood what drove that need. What I understand now is that being right gave me the ability to say, “if I’m right, then I know I’m okay and if I’m okay, then I’m safe…” This also goes back to why there is so much power in the “I am a victim” statement, because it’s true and it can’t be refuted. No one can tell me that I wasn’t hurt; those things actually happened and no one can tell me they didn’t. So I will ALWAYS be right! 

But it’s not just enough to be right, you also have to make sure that everyone else agrees with you being right – because if you’re wrong then you’re not safe. And if you’re wrong then you’re accountable for your own actions, which you can’t be because you only did those things because you were a victim. If you hadn’t been a victim you wouldn’t have done those things so you’re not responsible. If you’re right, i.e., not responsible, then everyone else is wrong and you have the moral high ground (the “safety” of the moral high ground, I should say). This could also be called “justification” or “pride.”

I truly believe that this is at the heart of so much discord between parent and adult child relationships – the adult child, having been hurt, wanting the parent to accept responsibility for them being hurt, but the parent being defensive because they were also hurt and can’t accept responsibility for their action, meaning they are just as much a victim as their own child. So we have one victim (the adult child) trying to make another victim (the parent) responsible for being hurt and neither is willing to accept the “blame,” because, again, being wrong means not being safe.

If this has been hard to follow, good! It should be hard to follow because it’s not logical. It’s what I call “victim logic” which is a logic based on false beliefs and not really “logic” at all. More to the point, YOU CANNOT REASON WITH A VICTIM!! These people are VERY defensive and constantly on alert for anything or anyone who may try to shift blame on to them – which is tantamount to being killed. I’m not exaggerating. Remember, accepting blame is an emotional threat and the body reacts to that threat as much as being threatened with physical harm or death. If you interact with someone who is easily defensive, that is a red flag that that person doesn’t feel safe, in general, and that they perceive themselves as a victim in some way.

Being Special
This is a tough one. Everyone wants to feel special, which is not a bad thing. There is an inherent need, which begins in infancy, to be validated by our parents/caregivers. This is a very real developmental step that is required in developing a healthy self-concept. In healthy development, that sense of being special is internalized, but for victims, it isn’t. A victim doesn’t just want to feel special – they NEED to feel special and they believe that that can only come from an external source, i.e., other people.

Sometimes, to be special, you have to compare yourself to others. Most often a victim will compare their weaknesses and flaws, in order to gain "special" status. Consider the following: Have you ever met anyone who made you feel like you were in a contest to prove who had the worst life? Or when you express a hardship in your life they respond with, “you think that’s bad, listen to what I had happen to me…” As if enduring hardships was now a contest? The challenges that a victim encounters are the worst problems that anyone could ever face, according to them, of course. Because having greater hardship than everyone else, makes them special.

Oh, and what about those people for whom life is one constant round of inexplicable drama after another? Those are victims. Random bad things happen to them over and over, but pay attention to how they express themselves regarding those circumstances – they will never be at fault. They are just at the mercy of unpredictable, external circumstances. They will always express their hardships as something that has happened TO them and they had no part in causing it to happen. “I don’t know why these things keep happening to me!”; or  “I certainly haven’t cause such-and-such to happen!” And they truly believe that, because in their mind, as I mentioned above, they aren’t ever responsible for blame (i.e., no accountability, innocent, etc.).

This makes a victim feel special. It’s totally twisted, I know, but again “victim logic” doesn’t make sense. People who have constant drama feel special. They feel special because they stand out and or may get attention in the form of sympathy (even when they say they don't want it!). For a victim, sympathy and pity = love. They have to have constant drama in order to gain continued sympathy and for a victim, it’s never enough. It can’t be because sympathy cannot fill the true validation needed, which is ultimately, what they are trying to fill. Sympathy/love = attention and attention = being special.

Another way they feel special is that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them; because they are “special.” Here’s an example from my own life: other people can eat healthy and exercise and lose weight, but I can’t. It doesn’t work for me. I can eat right and exercise for months and I won’t lose a pound, because I’m different from everyone else (i.e., "special"). I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I think I’ve hired personal trainers in the past, IN ORDER TO PROVE that what works for everyone else wouldn’t work for me. It’s as if I put in all this work at the gym, only to EXPECT it not to work, because then I can go to the trainer and say, “see, I told you it wouldn’t work for me. I was right that I’m different and you can’t help me.” That’s my "moral high ground" and my "always being right" showing their ugly heads – and causing me to remain a victim, because after all – I am a victim, right?

If you know someone who is always the exception to the rule, it probably makes them feel special, which may mean they see themselves as a victim.

I feel like these three payoffs – No Accountability, Moral High Ground, and Feeling Special – pretty much encompass all other payoffs a victim might experience, although there may be others I haven't considered.

The other problem with being a victim, though, is how easily it perpetuates itself and how pervasive it is. Being a victim has affected every single area of my life – which I guess it has to if that’s been my “identity.” My identity is not just how I see myself, but how I see the world and that affects how I interact with the world, i.e., the choices I make. Even though being a victim has a lot of payoffs – the biggest being a sense of safety – I think any person who identifies as a victim will also tell you one thing – that they are miserable. Being a victim has made me miserable throughout my life. I suppose I’m writing this because I’ve just gotten to the point where that misery is no longer worth the “safety” I feel in being a victim. And it is only as I strive to shed that victim identity that I see that my sense of safety was actually a false sense of safety and one that actually inhibits growth and change.

A victim can never progress because they are stuck in an endless loop of being a victim NOW (the present tense “I AM” statement). They remain a victim even though the events that led to them identifying as a victim occurred in the past and are over and done with. So today I am trying to make a shift. I am moving with all the physical, mental and emotional intention I can muster from “I AM a victim,” to “I WAS a victim.” If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post (first of all, thank you for hanging in there!!), I hope you can appreciate how monumental making that shift is. I am opening myself to being accountable for my own actions/choices; I am opening myself to being wrong and also not needing to prove I’m right to anyone; I am opening myself to not being defensive and giving up my “moral high ground”; I am opening myself to the fact that I’m not any more or less special than anyone else; I am opening myself to being hurt and to not feeling safe.

Yet in opening myself up to those terrifying conditions, and they are truly terrifying, I find that I become an “agent,” free to act and not be acted upon. Yes, I WAS a victim, but today I am free.


Monday, June 26, 2017

The Stress of the Perfect Day

I’ve been walking for my daily exercise and I’ve found it to be a great stress reliever. Now that I’ve made it a daily habit it also seems to be lifting my mood as well. I also find myself actually looking forward to my daily walks. Not only is it great exercise, it gives me time to think and ponder about my life.

The other day, while I was walking, I found myself replaying past events that were relatively minor, but they were situations that dredged up some emotional triggers, where I was upset, but held my tongue. I was imagining what I would have liked to have said and it was something along the lines of unleashing “holy hell” on the person I was “talking” too. Now I know that some schools of thought actually advocate this – when you experience something where you felt powerless, to replay that event, but to alter your involvement so that you were in control or so that you say what you wanted to say, as a means of addressing the emotional stressor and resolving that particular issue. (I think it’s called “re-casting.”)  I’m on the fence about how helpful I think that practice is.

For me, and for this particular instance, I don’t think I was trying to resolve anything, I was just upset and I was imagining myself saying honest, but hurtful things to various people. What was different was that I caught myself doing it. I wondered why it was that on this beautifully gorgeous day, where I’m walking to improve my health and fitness, why was I stuck in this flood of negative thinking? And it kept happening. I’d tell myself that that issue was resolved and I didn’t need to waste any more energy on it. Moments later, I’d hear my inner voice berating someone else.

So I stopped walking. I found a shady spot under a nearby tree in the park and did some thinking. I had a heart to heart with myself that went something like this:
“C’mon, Micah, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know!” 
“Why are you replaying these difficult events that are over and done with? Why are you re-hashing these difficult experiences when it serves no purpose? What are you really so upset about?”
“I don’t know what I’m upset about!”
 “Well, clearly, something is bothering you. Why are you imagining conversations that you know you aren’t ever going to have in real life and that aren’t productive? What’s going on? What’s really bothering you?”
“I don’t know what’s really bothering me! Maybe it’s just the stress of not being able to find the work placement I wanted. Maybe I just feel lonely and don’t want to admit it. Maybe I feel stuck with where I’m at in life and don’t really know how to move forward. Maybe I’m just trying to focus my energy on this stuff rather than facing the ‘real’ issue?”
“Well if you really don’t have anything truly bad going on in life, than what IS the real issue...?”

And that’s when the light bulb went on – there wasn’t a “real” issue! There really wasn’t anything bad going on and THAT was the problem!!

It dawned on me that I feel like I always having to be fighting something. My whole life I’ve been fighting something – being overweight; being molested; being gay in a very traditional, family-oriented religion; being overweight; depression; being overweight; suicidal tendencies; being overweight (yes, that one tends to come up a lot!!); being underappreciated at work; getting through undergrad and grad school; dealing with divorced parents and blended family dynamics; years of therapy; and the list goes on and on. I’ve always been fighting something – with the intent to improve my life, yes, but always fighting.

And now, all that fighting has paid off. I’m in a good place. I’ve come to terms with so much that has happened to me. I’ve done some pretty damn hard work to accept myself and my circumstances – especially the things that were done to me, or out of my control. And on my walk that day, I found myself in a good place. In a completely unexpected twist of irony, I’ve lived for so long “fighting” that I didn’t know how to handle being in a good place. I was so uncomfortable with nothing to fight against that I didn’t know what to do; so I mentally created something to fight. I created feelings of negativity and turmoil, because that has become my comfort zone.

How stupid is that?!

I’m not being hard on myself, here. I’m grateful for that epiphany. I am grateful to be in a good place, finally!! Is my life perfect? Of course not! I still have challenges and hardships. But I also have really good days. Like the day I was taking that walk. It really was shaping up to be a perfect day. I just had no idea that a “perfect day” would bring me so much stress!!

And speaking of fighting, I have always been fighting “bad” emotions,* like sadness and anger. I never learned how to feel those emotions appropriately, because I was taught that they are “bad” emotions and that if I was feeling them it was because I was doing something wrong. That is not only inaccurate, it’s unhealthy. (I think this has HUGE religious implications and I don’t mean specific to the LDS religion, but to virtually all religions.)

Every human emotion is valid and meant to be felt or experienced. The challenge is learning how to handle those emotions appropriately – not to avoid feeling them. I have been doing so much work on trying to experience “bad” emotions in a healthy way that I didn’t realize that I had villainized ALL emotions. Meaning that if I was feeling bad emotions I was doing something wrong, but conversely if I was feeling good emotions I was being complacent or I was “letting my guard down,” which was also wrong, because something is always bound to go wrong – because life is a fight.

It never occurred to me that I would be just as uncomfortable feeling “good” emotions as I was feeling “bad” emotions. It’s like I have to convince myself that it’s okay when everything is okay. 

I am grateful for my walk that day. Ever since that insight I’ve been feeling more hopeful and more at peace with myself. I feel like my all-or-nothing mentality (common among abuse/trauma victims) is beginning to diminish. Meaning, I can accept that life has ups and downs and that I don’t have to sacrifice my happiness during the “ups,” in fear of the “downs,” but that I can just appreciate that life will always rock back and forth between the two and that is as it should be.

*NOTE: I put the word “bad” in quotations because I actually think all emotions are good. When I say “bad” now, what I really mean is that some emotions are unpleasant to experience, but, when it comes to emotions, unpleasant and bad are not the same things!

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 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.