Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Of Stupidity and Carbs


I did something stupid recently.

Have you ever done anything stupid? Like, you knew it was going to be a bad idea, even before you did it, but you did it anyway? Well, that’s what I did. I justified my “bad idea” by calling it an experiment: “If I do this, I’ll just see what happens and I’ll learn from it and it’ll be cool.”

It wasn’t cool.

Not cool, at all.

What did I do that was so stupid? I ate carbs.

Ok, I can almost hear you rolling your eyes at me… BUT, I have to explain why carbs are a stupid idea for me.

I don’t villainize carbs. I don’t think carbs are evil. I love carbs; I want to be carbs… the problem is, I have a chemical reaction to carbs that results in an “altered mental/emotional status.” More accurately, sugar carbs result in panic attacks and starchy carbs result in depression. Put ‘em both together and I get into suicidal territory. Yes, my reaction to carbs is that drastic; I’m not exaggerating here. I’ve tested this over and over and over – and always with the same result. Sometimes the reaction happens within a few hours and sometimes it doesn’t show up for a few days, but it always shows up.

This is just one reason a low-carb diet, like a ketogenic diet, has been so helpful for me, because it all but eliminates my drastic mood swings. Life still has its ups and downs, but I regulate my moods and thoughts SO  much better while eating Ketogenically.

So, for the last seven-eight months I’ve been following a ketogenic diet (carbs under 20-30 grams per day, protein based on lean body mass, and fat to round out my calorie needs). I certainly haven’t been “perfect” with it – I’ve had my moments of “carb-loading,” i.e., binge eating, but this time was different. I had bread or sugar carbs EVERY DAY for a week.

So, so stupid.

For the first 3-4 days I was in heaven – tons ’o carbs and no backlash. I thought, “hey, I’m cured; I can totally have carbs now.” But about day 4 is when the cravings started and the “willpower” began to run out. I know the difference between physical hunger and “emotional” hunger and I was becoming emotionally hungry all the time! One poor decision led to another and I just kept eating more and more carbs… Then the nightmares started; waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing and sweaty from fear/panic; or rising in the morning with a feeling of dread – that if I got out of bed, something bad was going to happen. Then came the depression. Everything in my life seemed bad, wrong, insufficient, an unsolvable problem, hopeless, helpless, like nothing would ever be okay – like I would never be okay. I became angry and annoyed by the slightest things and somehow, I just couldn’t shake hating myself for all of this. After all, I was the stupid one who ate all the carbs. I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway.




I mean, haven’t I lost 70-ish pounds eating low-carb? Yep, I sure have. So haven’t I “earned” the right to spend a week eating whatever the hell I want? Erm… that’s a tough one. I think the problem with that question is in the idea that I can somehow “earn” bad food. Is that the relationship with food that I want? To be “good” so that I can earn the right to be “bad?” And by bad I just mean throw caution to the wind and fly off the nutritional rails… No, of course not! No one “earns” the right to be bad! It’s probably a bad idea (irony intended) to “moralize” food into “good” or “bad” camps, because – for me, anyway – it's too easy for it to become a reflection of who I am as an individual; i.e., I ate “bad” food, therefore I am a “bad” person.

I keep asking myself why? Why would I do this to myself KNOWING it was a “bad” idea?! I think there must be a lot of reasons. I’ve spent so long fighting cravings that I just wanted to give in. I am so tired of fighting the desire for carbs (i.e., emotional hunger) that I just wanted to lose control and not think about consequences or repercussions. I was angry that I’ve been having such bad neck/shoulder pain that no one seems to be able to resolve and I just got angry at my body for hurting for no reason – and I wanted to punish it; as if I was saying, “hey, if you’re not going to work properly and be in pain for nothing more than just moving, then screw you – I’m going to get fat and lazy and just give up on you.”

Which is sad, now that I see it typed out in black and white. What a poor relationship I seem to have with myself. I’m so ready to hurt myself and punish myself as if that’s all I deserved; it’s almost just a knee-jerk reaction at this point. It’s not healthy; it’s not caring, or kind or compassionate. It’s abusive. How did I learn this? Where did I learn this?

Honestly, I don’t think the answers to those questions even matter right now. What matters is improving that relationship. So I’m going to do some really uncomfortable work here and commit to a couple of things:

1. Forgiveness – Yep, I made a poor decision to eat a bunch of carbs (premeditated or otherwise). Beating myself up for it isn’t going to change that, it isn’t going to “pay” for my dalliance(s), and it isn’t going to prevent me from making poor choices in the future. What it will do is reinforce the erroneous belief that I’m an inherently bad/weak person, deserving of self-abuse and punishment. Forgiveness is not ignoring what I did, or trying to remove/avoid consequences; forgiveness is me admitting I made a bad choice, but knowing that I am not a “bad person” because of it. Forgiveness is saying, “I care enough about you that I don’t want you to repeat that behavior, because I don’t want you to hurt anymore…”

2. Embrace pain. This may sound like it’s coming from left field or you may be wondering how “embracing pain” could help me change these destructive patterns. Well, it’s because pretty much all of my dysfunctional patterns are some form of avoiding pain (physical, mental, emotional, etc.). Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. Because of my trauma’s and learned self-abuse, I interpret “something wrong” to mean that I’ve done something wrong or that I am wrong; that I have somehow caused this pain. So when I feel pain, I blame myself for having done something wrong to cause it. Embracing pain means exposing myself to life and being vulnerable; it means challenging my beliefs about myself and more specifically what I’m worth or what I think I’m capable of. Pain is nature’s way of saying something needs my attention, not an indication that I’ve done something wrong or that I “am” wrong. Pain, while unpleasant to experience, can actually be an ally, and one I probably need to stop “avoiding at all costs.” I can be in pain and still be okay.

Deep down I know my days of making stupid decisions aren’t over. I’m certain I have plenty more to make. But my hope is that I can, at the very least, learn from when I’ve chosen poorly in the past and use that feedback to make wiser decisions in the future – especially when it comes to carbs!



Tuesday, June 26, 2018

You look so good!


I’ve been thinking a lot about the response I got to a picture I posted on FaceBook recently (the picture below). It's a photo of a group of people I was with at a survival course. I am standing in front, so you can see all of me. That photo in particular received some comments about how good I looked. I was surprised, actually, by the number of comments (I mean, it was only 5 or 6, but still…). My weightloss journey has always been aimed at losing about 130 pounds, give or take. At the point the photo was taken I had lost about 70 pounds total, or roughly half of my goal.



The thing is, I think I look the same, mostly. The program I’m on has me taking progress pictures and I have to admit that I do see changes in fatloss, but I also feel like I’m losing it so uniformly, that instead of looking like I’m “reshaping” my body, I think I look like I’m just… deflating; smaller, yes, but the same proportions. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, because fatloss is fatloss and I’m happy to be losing fat period, but my point is how I see myself hasn’t changed all that much.

Well, okay, wait, that’s not entirely true. Actually, the way I see myself HAS changed – enough that I’m writing this blog post, in fact. Maybe I need to make a distinction: the way I see myself physically in the mirror hasn’t changed all the much, but the way I see myself as a person, has changed.

I’ve always had a lot of reasons why I wanted to lose fat. Among them, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, is wanting praise or recognition. I’ve seen so many “transformations” on TV, in magazines, on social media, etc. and those people get tons of attention (and praise) for their accomplishment of losing fat – and I think it’s mostly well deserved praise. But I wanted that too. I wanted to lose fat and have everyone make a big deal about me as well. I’ve even seen motivational posters that say, “Do it for the ‘holy $#!@, you got hot!’” reaction.

Which deep down, I’ve always known is a pretty shallow reason for wanting to lose fat. I mean, yes, we make a big deal about those people, but where are they now? We don’t keep making a big deal out of those individuals, it’s kind of a “hey, cheers, you did great work,” then move on to the next inspirational success story. I’m not suggesting that I think that that motivation is wrong, so much as, I recognize that it’s superficial and somewhat fleeting.

Still, that is something that’s always been a desire of mine and part of what has motivated me to lose fat; until recently. The strange thing about losing fat – for me anyway – is that it has changed (and is changing) my perspective on everything – life, others, myself, what I want for myself, what I want out of life, I mean, all of it. There came a point when I realized that no amount of praise was ever going to be a true measure of success, nor be an accurate measure of my worth. Basically what I was telling myself was that I was worthless because I was fat, but once I lost all the fat, got “hot” and then got all the praise, then it would be okay for me to feel good about myself. The external praise for losing weight was going to be the marker of success and worth. Which, I hope you can infer by now, is not the case, nor should it ever be!

I have learned that I have worth independent of what I look like or what comprises my body composition. I have learned that no amount of losing fat, gaining muscle or praise will ever determine what I’m worth, because my worth is not dependent on that. My worth is inherent to my existence, to just being alive, to being here – to being a creation and son of God.

I’ve always had worth; I just couldn’t see it. I thought my worth was buried under pounds of fat and that I had to lose the fat in order to discover my worth. (In a weird way that totally contradicts my point, that’s actually kind of what happened.) Only I didn’t “find” my worth, I simply understood that I have always had it.

So maybe you can now imagine why it was so jarring to hear people comment on how good I looked. I’m actually getting some of the praise I thought I always wanted; only to realize that I’ve changed. My reasons for why I’m losing weight have changed. My need for praise or recognition has changed, dramatically (which is actually tied to another blog post I’m still working on – stay tuned). It’s also strange because for me, I’m only halfway through my journey. It’s almost as if I want to tell everyone, “wait, hold on, save your compliments, because I’m not quite where I want to be yet – wait until I’ve lost the rest of it, then you can compliment away!”

It’s also weird to receive those compliments, because, damn, if it isn’t nice to hear! (and I kind of hate admitting that). When I posted that photo I wasn’t expecting any praise at all. (The whole point was actually just that I did something really hard/challenging and came away with a sense of accomplishment.) But then a few people commented on how I’ve slimmed down and it was surprising to me to have that pointed out. Though, admittedly, I have worked SO hard (throw in joke about literally working my ass off!!). It’s been an emotional roller-coaster; nothing about this process has been steady or controlled, and yet, I’ve persisted, and that persistence is paying off. (To say nothing of how wonderful my coach/trainer/friend, Michael, has been; I can’t imagine how trying I must be as a client!)

So while I’m not seeing much “physical change,” (as I mentioned above, I still have the same proportions) I am seeing more identity change – or how I see who I am, not just what I look like. I may still be a big guy, but, ironically, being fat is just a small part of who I am.

I’m here at the end of my post and I’m not quite sure what I want the “take home” message to be. I don’t want to discourage people from complimenting me (because, hey, I’m human and I have worked hard and the recognition does feel nice!), but I also want people to know that worth isn’t about what we look like – it’s about who we are and even though we may change as people, our worth never will – it can’t.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it isn’t the fatloss that taught me this, but the journey to achieving fatloss. Don’t change your body because you think it will make you worth more, but change your body because of what you will learn about yourself in the process of doing so. Do it because of what you’re worth, not because it will make you worth more. Does that make sense?

Lastly, a heartfelt thanks for those that did complement me – after all, no one had to say anything at all, but they did – and I thank you for it! Even though I no longer feel I “need” it; it means the world to me to know that I am supported in this journey – thank you.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Two Epiphanies


I recently had an epiphany about myself, or more accurately, about how I treat myself, which I’ll tell you about in a moment. After some time pondering over this epiphany, I was reminded of another epiphany I had about 12 years ago, which I’ll also tell you about in a moment.

My most recent epiphany was born out of some challenges that arose in my health and fitness journey; namely, an ultimately unsuccessful experiment with post-workout carbs (sweet potato, if you must know); an unexpectedly severe reaction to Mother’s Day carb-loading (bread and macaroni, also, if you must know); Which resulted in two days of calling in sick to work, and spending those days in bed, hiding under the covers and not wanting to face life – or even continue life – I’ll admit it, because I thought about it… and then, when I did finally get up the courage to go back out into the world, and get in a workout, I reinjured my knee from an old injury I’d had before (not severe, but bad enough to warrant some investigation).

Basically, I was in the dumps.

In trying to understand why things went south for me so quickly, I came to the realization that my initial reaction in life is to punish myself – for anything and everything. My epiphany was this: “I punish myself for being who I am AND I punish myself for NOT being who I want to be (or who I think I should be…).” When I say punish myself, what I mean is that I am mercilessly cruel in the way I talk to myself and in the thoughts I have about myself, which usually lead to some form of binging or “giving up” on myself in some way.

It was eye opening to me to realize that I put myself in a no-win situation. From this perspective I have been unable to see or acknowledge anything good about myself, such as making progress or even just not giving up sometimes. I could finally see how I have been holding myself back by the way I think about myself. I also saw that I have not been offering myself compassion for when things don’t work out the way I hope, or forgiveness for when I mess up or make poor choices, or even just allowing myself to be an imperfect human. Acknowledging that I don’t treat myself very well, I asked myself how I should think/feel about myself and this led me to recall a previous epiphany.

About 12 years or so ago, this would have been about 2005 or 2006, I was talking to a friend at work about relationships (we were both single at the time). As we ended our conversation she walked away, but then turned and asked me, “so, what are you looking for in a spouse?” I thought for a second and said, “I want someone who can see the potential for what I can become, but will still love me for who I am right now.” Even as I said it, it felt profound to me. That epiphany has been a yardstick for me, for every date or relationship I’ve pursued. It’s also been what I have promised myself I would do for someone else.

Here’s the kicker - somehow, in the last 12 years of my life, I never even once considered that I needed to apply that same attitude toward myself. Not once have I really considered my own potential – because all I could see was who I was not, i.e., who I “should have been.” Not once have I really loved myself for who I am – because all I could see was that who I am (a broken, weak, fat, ugly, man) wasn’t good enough. I punished myself – for being who I am and for being who I’m not.

I don’t know why these two epiphanies occurred 12 years apart. I don’t know why I had the answer for how I should treat myself for so long without realizing that I needed to apply it to myself. But I’m grateful to finally “see” it. I’m grateful because these epiphanies highlight what I need to DO in order to change my thoughts, my beliefs, and how I treat myself. Understanding is important, but it’s only half the battle. Now, I need to actually apply what I’ve learned. I need to see all the potential for what I could become, yet I need to love and accept myself for who I am – as I am – right now.

And no, that doesn’t mean “accepting” that I’m a broken, weak, fat, ugly, man. It means accepting that I am just a man – a human. A normally flawed, beautifully imperfect person who has just as many strengths as weaknesses; who has just as many gifts as handicaps; who has just as many talents as inadequacies; and who just wants to do the best he can in life. That’s worth something in this world and now I know to stop discounting that – to stop discounting me.

It’s wonderful when we can inspire and encourage someone to be more, to achieve more, to excel and to accomplish great things, but more often than not, those same people also just want to be loved for who they are.

Like me.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Aftershocks


Sometime in 1984 or 1985, there was an earthquake in Salt Lake City, UT, a city that happens to lie on a major fault line. I would have been 6 or 7 at the time. I don’t remember the earthquake at all – it happened while I was sleeping. Here’s what I do remember.

My eyes opened slowly to a blurry world of darkness and light. My vision cleared just in time to see my mother with a blanket in her hands, spread out in front of her. She was coming down the stairs to the basement bedroom that I and my two older sisters were sleeping in. She was coming down so fast that the blanket flew out to her sides and she looked like a bird, with wings spread, descending to its nest. She wrapped me up in her blanket wings and carried me - and subsequently, my sisters – upstairs to my parent’s bedroom.

Once all of us kids were safely deposited to my parents bed, my dad came in and moved the bed away from being directly under a support beam, in case it came crashing down on top of us during the aftershocks. He went back to the kitchen to listen to the radio for updates.

I was scared, but I didn’t know why. “The earthquake is over, but there may be aftershocks,” I was told. I didn’t know what an earthquake was; I had slept right through it after all. But we waited for aftershocks and I didn’t know what those were either. I was scared because everyone else was scared. I was afraid of not knowing what was happening to us or not knowing what was going to happen to us. So we waited for the aftershocks.

Flash forward to today and the fear of aftershocks has come back to me, though not in a way I would have expected.

In my life, trauma has been like a massive earthquake; it shook up everything in my life and rattled me to my core. I felt powerless, weak and useless. It arrived unexpectedly and overwhelmed everything going on inside me. The actual events were brief, yet their impact would affect me for decades, because of aftershocks. And there were aftershocks. Emotional upheavals that weren’t as intense as full on trauma, but felt just as powerful, just as threatening and left me feeling just as helpless.

My aftershocks come in many forms: fear of not being good enough; fear of being inherently “wrong” or worthless; fear of being a failure and/or a disappointment; being ridiculed, pointed at, laughed at, or singled out in some way; fear of loneliness; fear of being weak and powerless; and so on.

When I feel these aftershocks, I do what anyone should do in an earthquake - I hide, I cover (or mask) and retreat. Only my hiding/covering/retreating includes isolating myself, binging on junk food, fantasizing about perfection/control over my body and my life, watching movies/tv to escape and so forth. 

But this is where my analogy differs because aftershocks – the inner/emotional aftershocks I’m talking about – aren’t really real. I mean, they are real in the sense that they feel real, and create an emotional/behavioral response, but they aren’t real because these emotional aftershocks are not the actual trauma itself. They are phantom traumas – they exist, but have no substance. They are reflections of traumas that ripple through my soul, becoming real, only because I expect them; I wait for them; I fearfully anticipate them…

I felt another aftershock recently during a workout. I was attempting to do a kettle bell down and up, which I’ve done before, but this time, I was flooded with fear. I couldn’t recall all the steps, for some reason. And even when I did, nothing felt right. My arms were giving out. I wasn’t able to lower or lift my core without some pain in my lower back. I couldn’t control my descent and felt like a sack of blubber, crashing into the ground.

And then the “aftershocks” began vibrating through me: “You’re weak. You’re not even strong enough to support your own bodyweight. You’re pathetic and never going to get this. You’re never going to make progress and you’re going to stay fat, weak and stupid your whole life. What made you think you could do this? What made you think you could get better at this? You’re only getting worse. You were able to do this with a 14 kilo kettle bell and now you have to go back to un-weighted? What a loser.”

I wanted to leave. I want to run away and say, “this is such bullsh*t.” I wanted to drive to the nearest fast food place and shove as much crap down my throat as I could stand. I wanted to cry. I wanted someone to hold me and say, “I’m sorry this is hard for you right now, but it’s going to be okay; you’re going to be okay.”

But I stayed and finished my workout. I went home and ate healthy food. Not because I wanted to, but because I recognized the aftershocks. I saw the phantoms rearing their ethereal heads again, only this time I knew they weren’t real. I knew that they would stay as long as I continued to believe in them and right now, it’s the hardest thing in the world not to believe in them. Aftershocks can be like that. They can keep coming and bringing a host of fears and doubts with them, but it is my belief that if I can see them for what they are then I can accept them for what they are, and I can gradually minimize their impact on my life. I can brace for them, or I can embrace them.

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, embracing aftershocks (accepting that they appear as remnants of trauma) helps me to dissolve them, because it means I can see them for what they are – fears of uncertainty, or fear of things that only “might” be true. I get to decide what’s real for me. Maybe I am weak, but that doesn’t mean I always will be. Maybe I am just a big loser, but somehow, I’m still here and I have to think that that makes me a winner on some level.

What I have learned is that I’m not worthless; because no one is worthless. I have worth, because we all have worth. Our worth cannot be changed and it cannot be diminished in any way. Not even by “earthquake” trauma and certainly not by aftershocks. Even though I still deal with aftershocks, I know where they come from and to some extent I know why they’re here. My challenge is not to be afraid of them when they do show up and especially not to waste my life waiting in fearful anticipation for when they’ll appear next.

And who knows, maybe one day, they won’t show up at all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Worth of Movement


Just some background so you know where this is coming from: I have always been overweight. I don’t really remember a time when I was thin, however the bulk (no pun intended) of my weight gain happened the summer between nine and ten years old. I nearly doubled in bodyweight and I went to several doctors who couldn’t explain why. So, I was fat. I grew up fat; I knew I was fat; my family knew I was fat; my friends knew I was fat; and being fat was a problem – for lots of reasons, but my message today is about just one of those problems in particular: movement.

Moving was hard for me – not because I was lazy, but because I felt “lumberous” and awkward. I didn’t move as well as other kids because I couldn’t move as well as other kids – there was so much more of me to move around. I grew up believing that maybe “being active” just wasn’t in the cards for me. And yet, I longed for that. I wanted to be active; I wanted to move as well as other guys my age. I wanted to be thin and athletic. I wanted to move with confidence and ease, like they did.

But I was afraid.

For one, I thought I would hurt myself if I tried to heave my ponderous bulk along the asphalt, whether walking, running, biking or otherwise. Also, after years of being sedentary, I was afraid that I would injure myself from trying to do ANY exercise and from not knowing how to use good form. Of course, my biggest (again, no pun intended) fear was going to the gym. Wow, could there be any other more perfect place where I felt like I did NOT “fit” in? (Pun totally intended this time.)

The gym was terrifying in that there were contraptions that looked more like torture devices than exercise equipment. But more than that, I was afraid of the people in the gym. I felt ashamed of my body and inferior on any given day – but put me next to a hot, muscular, athletic guy and you might as well stick a fork in me, because I’m done! I couldn’t even picture myself in the gym, working out next to these toned, athletic hunks (or meatheads, depending on the gym!). It was a foreign country and even  though the people there looked like their lives were so much better than mine, I just couldn’t fathom trying to learn their language and customs; again, because of fear.

I was afraid of how stupid I would look, not knowing how to work any of the machines. I was afraid of how much people were going to look down on me or look at me and laugh – as if they thought I was fighting a losing battle or wasting my time. I lived with these fears for years. Years and years and years; longing to be like those guys in the gym, but believing that I wasn’t worth it.

And then one day, at the ripe old age of 35, my life fell apart. Without boring you with the details, I had moved states for a job that didn’t work out; I was unable to find a job, living off my rapidly dwindling savings, waking up nightly with panic attacks, trudging through the days in full-on depression and realizing the problem was me – because I was afraid… of everything. And I knew I needed to face my fears.

I decided to start with one of the riskiest and hardest fears I’d known – I bought a gym membership. Man, that was hard! Just going through the doors for the first time was like facing down a charging rhino; but I did it. I met Kevin, one of the lead personal trainers. Kevin was a good looking guy and in good shape – not, like, just walked off a magazine cover or anything, but just in good shape; enough that I felt really self-conscious around him. But Kevin got it – he got where I was coming from and he understood that just coming to the gym was a challenge – it took me awhile to realize it was actually quite a large a victory.

Kevin taught me about using the i̶m̶p̶l̶e̶m̶e̶n̶t̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶o̶r̶t̶u̶r̶e̶ exercise equipment, but more than that he focused on movement and helped me learn the basics of lifting, squatting, pushing, pulling, etc. I got stronger and it felt great. I truly believed that what happened next was a result of me learning to move better and getting stronger. I was meditating one night when I saw in my mind flashes of two experiences that I had completely forgotten – repressed, actually. I recalled being molested by two different men, once at the age of six and once at the age of nine. These memories just about shattered me completely. Why would I connect the recollection of these repressed memories to getting stronger in the gym?

For two reasons: 1) I had proved to myself that I was ready and capable of facing my fears; 2) I was getting physically stronger, which meant I could physically endure the visceral recollection of the harm my body endured.

For those who might be curious, yes, I did seek out and received some excellent counseling to deal with this new emotional onslaught. But I also kept moving; I kept going to the gym. I worked out at this gym for about a year, until I decided I needed to move back home (to Utah). Once home, I found a new gym to go to. You know what? I was still afraid to walk in those doors! Even though I had spent about a year exercising, learning and improving, I was still afraid. What if this gym had different equipment that I don’t know how to use? (It did.) What if there were super athletic people there who look down and me and make me feel bad about how heavy I still am just by looking at them? (There were. [I still remember you, little-blue-shorts-guy!!]) What if I looked stupid or awkward because, even after a year, I’m still only just learning how to move? (I did.)

But it was also this gym that lead me to Craig and Kathryn; where I learned even more about nutrition and functional movement (I puked after my first time pushing an un-weighted sled for 4 lengths of 50 feet each!). I learned even more about the benefits of movement and even though I wasn’t losing much weight, I was moving better, I was getting stronger, and I was feeling better about myself.

Through Craig and Kathryn I connected with Chirofusion (sport chiropractors Chad and Janson) and they helped me understand functional movement even more. Life went on. I ended up moving away for a year, then moving back home and this time – thanks to Chad at Chirofusion – I connected with Michael at Wasatch Fitness Academy (WFA).

WFA is ALL about MOVEMENT! Functional movement – bodyweight exercises, sleds, slam balls, sandbags, kettlebells, TRX bands, and so on, but the focus is always on safe, efficient, proper form and movement. I have had some amazing results from working with Michael, but for me personally, the most profound revelation I’ve had is this: I can move. Even overweight, even heavyset, even morbidly obese (which I have been medically labeled by every doctor I’ve ever had!), even uncoordinated, awkward, uncomfortable me – I can move! And not only can I move, but I can move well. I’ve actually had my share of injuries already and had to scale back, adjust or even omit particular exercises at times, but I kept moving.

Why is that such a revelation? Because I spent SO MANY years afraid; afraid that I couldn’t move, that I wasn’t built for it, that I would never be able to be active. I was never able to see myself in a gym like WFA, because I was afraid I couldn’t do it, or that I didn’t belong there. But I was wrong. I can do it and I do belong there. I belong there because I WANT to be there and because I keep showing up and I keep moving. In all honesty, I still have days where I compare myself to other gym members – and yes, I’m still the fattest guy in the room (for now!) – but I can move! And the more I move, the less there is of me to move!

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but I truly feel that “movement” saved my life. Movement made me stronger; movement gave me more confidence; movement caused me to face some dark memories and helped me work through them; movement has caused me to change the way I see myself and challenged what I believe about the world; movement has caused me to improve my mental and emotional function on every level. I firmly believe that none of those changes would have been possible without challenging myself physically – without movement. For me personally, the worth of movement in my life cannot be calculated.

What is movement worth to you?



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Carnocchio


I’m sitting here with an injured right knee. I injured it in the stupidest way possible – extending my leg from a bent position while sitting on the floor. That’s it. I just lifted my leg to straighten it out and felt like it “slipped out of socket,” although I didn’t feel anything move. It took several seconds to work the pain out and I was able to stand and walk on it, but there was a sharp twinge of pain every few steps.

That was yesterday; today is much worse. I can hardly bend it or straighten it. It aches when at rest and “lights up” with pain when I try to move it. I can put weight on it, however, and that makes me grateful, because it means it’s most likely just a tendon stretch or pull and not meniscus damage.

But I’m still mad. I’m mad that I got injured in the lamest, stupidest way possible – not doing anything! It would be one thing if I were injured from an accident or something, but just straightening out my leg? How stupid is that! Ugh!! And then it makes me angry at my body for being so weak and out of shape; especially when I’ve made so much progress over the last few months to increase my health and fitness. This just feels like I huge setback and I’m angry. I’m angry at myself, my body – everything!

And yet… I feel like every physical system has some mental/emotional component attached to it. A “broken” knee means I’m most likely afraid of something – afraid to move forward in life; it can also mean stubborn/inflexible pride. I know I have my moments in struggling with pride, I’m human – after all, but the fear of moving forward is something that resonates with me. I feel stuck in a job I don’t really love – although it’s a good job. I feel like I’m stuck by not really having anything I’m truly passionate about pursuing in life. I’m absolutely stuck in knowing which romantic relationship to pursue and feeling lonely most of the time!

Since I was laid up in bed anyway, I decided to do some guided meditation to see if I could understand what this particular injury is trying to tell me. I was all over the place and saw many images I couldn’t quite piece together. But a few things stood out in particular.

I saw myself at about the age of 9 or 10. This was the age when several things changed in my life – I was molested for a second time, I practically doubled in body weight, I required glasses at that age and I recalled that my knee would occasionally pop out of socket. I remember how much it hurt the first time and how panicked I was. But as it happened from time to time, I eventually grew to expect it and even though I was already not that active, I became truly sedentary, so as not to aggravate my knee further. (I as probably 17 or 18 the last time it happened.) I suppose I thought that not using it was healing it because I never really had a problem with it after that; until yesterday, that is.

What was truly strange was not that I saw myself at 9 or 10, but that when I saw myself, I was lying on the ground, on my back, lifeless – no more than a doll or a puppet – which made me think of Pinocchio; or rather, something like a reverse-Pinocchio. I saw myself as a lively human boy made of flesh (a Carnocchio, I suppose!), but after enduring some traumas, I became lifeless – I turned into nothing more than a puppet. No longer capable of facing life; I shut down and retreated to a place inside myself where I was safe – but unable to fully interact with the world.

I believe that several physical conditions changed as a result. For example, I believe I got fat as a way of protecting myself (fat is a cushion and a barrier, after all); I believe my eyesight deteriorated because I could no longer see a future where I mattered, or where my life could mean anything; I think my knee failed me because I was afraid to move forward to a future that held no promise for me, where I no longer understood what it meant to be a man.

In my imagery, I sat down next to my “lifeless” self and scooped him up into my arms. I held him and cried over him – perhaps I was crying for him. I told him how sorry I was that he had been through such hard things. I told him I understood why he would have shut down and lived a life of hiding his true self from constant fear. I told him I loved him and that he didn’t have to be afraid anymore. It struck me how my younger self had never felt emotionally supported and as I did so, I felt a sharp pain in my knee. That told me I was onto something.

I told my younger self that maybe my knee was initially damaged out of fear and that I haven’t had a problem with it because I’ve lived for so long in that fear – that I couldn’t tell that it wasn’t strong. I told myself that maybe this time, through attempting to improve my health and fitness, my knee became re-injured – not because I’m afraid, but because I’m ready; ready to move forward. But I can’t move forward on broken beliefs, just like I can’t move forward in fitness with a damaged knee. Maybe it’s as if my knee needed to re-break (i.e., break old belief systems), in order to re-set and heal correctly (i.e., “move forward” in life with new, healthy thoughts and beliefs about myself).

This may be a lot of hokum to some people – and maybe it is, but my point is that this experience helped me to reframe my injury. Rather than being mad at my body for breaking down again – this time, I could see it as my body trying to heal from past traumas and helping me to reset my foundation to something healthy and functional. It didn’t take the pain away, but now when I feel the pain, I can tell myself that this is a necessary step on the road to true recovery – physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.

I want to become “a real boy” again – alive, healthy, vibrant and able to direct the course of my life, instead of passively watching it go by, with someone else pulling the strings.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Double-edged Sword of Why

Do any of the following questions sound familiar:
Why do I keep doing (blank)? 
Why can’t I stop (blank)?
Why can’t I just move on?
Why does (blank) keep happening to me?
Why do I keep hurting myself with (blank)?

We ask why. A lot. I suppose humans are just curious creatures who want to understand everything. Which, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. I have been asking myself “why” questions for as long as I can remember. What I have learned is that asking “why” is a double-edged sword.

A little background to put this in context: My whole life I have been a mystery to myself. I suppose it’s just part of being an INFJ* (Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator - MBTI). I can often read others like a book, but when it comes to myself – I’m illiterate. There are other reasons for which I don’t know myself very well – I won’t go into detail about them, but I will just mention them because they are significant. Having been a victim of molestation, I repressed a majority of my childhood memories – better to lose all memories to hide the few horrifying ones, than remember them all in perfect clarity. Related to that, my body became the enemy – a place that had been victimized, in which I was no longer safe, or comfortable. So I ignored myself. I avoided myself. I distracted myself with “busyness”, dreams of a perfect life/future, and food… lots and lots of food! I punished my body for being damaged, weak and violated. I disconnected from myself physically. I became a mystery to myself.

So when I engaged in – and then couldn’t stop – self-destructive behavior, I naturally asked myself “why.” Why can’t I stop shoving junk food down my gullet like a human garbage disposal? Why can’t I pull my head out of my a$$ and just get my act together already? Why did I do (blank) when I know it’s wrong? The common thread among all these questions is, essentially, “Why am I like this?”

I asked why because I genuinely sought understanding. I wanted to understand myself and why I did what I did. I truly believed that if I could understand why, then I could stop bad behavior or change self-destructive behavior. So I started asking “why.” And I started going to therapy to help me uncover the “whys”. And I started journaling and meditating and praying and talking to others and so on.

All of this was terrifying, and painful, and at times excruciating. Those who have never had the courage to face themselves will never know just how difficult it is to bring light to the darkness we fear and/or try to hide from. Because it does take courage and it does take strength, just not the kind we typically think of. It was difficult, but it was also worth it.

I learned SO much about myself. I DID get understanding and it helped me see the source of so many destructive patterns in my life. The process of asking “why” and turning inward for answers was as healing as it was difficult and I wouldn’t change any of it because of what I learned from it.

But there was a downside. The other edge of the sword.

The “whys” became comfortable. I got good at looking inward. I got comfortable with analyzing my problems and behaviors. So comfortable in fact that whenever anything in life went wrong, I immediately began asking “why;” digging into the tough emotional fodder I was facing and thinking, “well, here we go again! I guess I have a lot more to learn…”

The problem with all of that “asking why,” lies in what I was NOT doing – I wasn’t actually fixing anything.

I thought that asking why would bring understanding and that understanding would bring solutions. But it doesn’t always work that way. Here’s a simple analogy: Let’s say my bedroom is pretty messy and I keep stubbing my toes on things in the dark. I can turn on the light to avoid stepping on hard or sharp-pointed objects. However, the act of turning on the light, while it helps me to avoid obstacles, isn't the same as making my room clean.

For years I developed unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving – based on faulty beliefs that resulted from traumatic childhood experiences. I needed to understand what happened to me to understand where these unhealthy patterns came from (turning on the light). But in all of my learning/understanding, it never changed my behavior or my actions, because I had spent years repeating and solidifying those unhealthy patterns. I had taken the first step to change, which is to understand, but I got stuck on the first step and never reached the second step, which is to ACT OUT NEW BEHAVIOR (i.e., actually clean my room!).

The trap of asking “why” is that it can feel like you’re doing something, but ultimately it can only take you so far. Seeking or gaining understanding may bring enlightenment, but it doesn’t automatically bring new patterns of thought or action. There have been many times in my life where I was asking why when I already knew the answer and what I really needed, was simply to behave differently; to act instead of to question. Understanding, in and of itself, did not change my behavior. The only thing that can change behavior is changed behavior! 

What’s difficult for me is that I’m a thinker. I like spending time in my head and my initial approach to anything is to think about it first. I know that there are people who are the complete opposite. There are some people who dive in head first and never really stop to think about what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. In many respects, I wish I were more like that. I could do a better job of striving for action rather than getting stuck in “analysis paralysis.” On the other hand, acting without knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is a little like trying to clean your room in the dark; how will you know when it’s really clean? Sure you might be busy, but you’re not likely accomplishing anything meaningful. In my mind, these are the people who just put their heads down, work hard and get to the end of their life realizing that they just weren’t every happy; never having realized that life could be any other way.

Just in case it doesn’t sound like it – I’m actually advocating for both conditions here: 1) ask why and 2) act. I think it’s crucial to seek understanding, but it’s just as crucial to change behavior. Sometimes I need the understanding in order to see how to change my behavior and sometimes I just need to change my behavior. For example, I may not know why I feel the need to shove burgers, fries and shakes into my pie-hole, but I don’t really need to question “why” I feel those urges when I know that that behavior is not healthy. I can put down the bag of Oreo’s (behavior) without knowing why I felt “triggered” to down a whole bag in one sitting in the first place (the “why”).

The other problem with asking why is that sometimes there are no answers. I’ll never know why the people who hurt me, hurt me. And I don’t need to know. I can still strive for better health – physically and emotionally – without knowing why. I can move forward with hope, happiness and courage without knowing why I went through the sh*t I went through. Because I’m no longer a victim and I don’t need to keep being a victim by “asking why.”

I guess it kind of boils down to this – asking why is good, until it becomes a distraction from action, then it isn’t serving you anymore. Action is good, unless it’s a distraction from knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, then it isn’t serving you anymore. Ask why, to see what behavior you need to change; or change your behavior and seek the understanding that will give your new behavior direction, meaning and purpose.

For someone like me, asking why can be a double-edged sword, but knowing "why" is half the battle and I’d rather go into battle with a double-edged sword than none at all.


*There is a pretty decent review of what it means to be INFJ here. The “Characteristics” section seems to be pretty accurate for me. 


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Rescue

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I used to, but I think I was more caught up in the hype of experiencing a new year and wondering what the year would hold for me and thinking of all the possibilities. The truth is, I am constantly seeking the resolve to make changes, regardless of the time of year.  And when I say “changes” what I really mean is “improvements.” I want to be a better man tomorrow than I am today.

But it’s deeper than just “self-improvement” or wanting to be better; what I mean by better is to be comfortable with who I am, the way I am, in my own skin, whatever my circumstances may be. It’s wanting to be so comfortable with myself that I naturally have the energy to contribute to all the good that happens in this world and to fulfill some role that will give happiness and meaning to the lives of those I meet; to be so fully authentic within myself that I can connect with others and help them feel loved – and accepted – for who they are; to provide comfort and consolation in times of trial; to share encouragement and praise in their triumphs; to offer support and counsel if needed; ultimately, to help them feel like they are not alone.

The irony, is how difficult it has been to fill that role for myself. I think I’ve had it backwards for a long time in that I’ve truly believed that I needed others to make me feel loved; that I needed others to make me feel accepted, comforted, consoled, encouraged, praised, supported, etc. And yet, even when I’ve had those things from others, I have still felt lonely and empty. It has taken me a long time to realize that it’s because I was the cause of the emptiness.

If my proverbial self-concept bucket was empty it wasn’t because there was no one to fill it, it was because I kept dumping it out.

I won’t go into the myriad reasons why this is the case (see ANY of my previous blog posts!!), but I will admit to one thing: I have been condemning myself my whole life. Any sin I commit or weakness I encounter and I am quick to condemn myself; any act of service or love I complete and I still condemn myself, because I could have done more, because it wasn’t enough, because I wasn’t enough and so on.

Self-condemnation is a victim’s “bread and butter,” so to speak. It has a lot of payoffs. It feels like humility. It establishes my place in life – which is at the bottom – which is something I can always count on and anything you can count on is predictable, i.e., feels safe (and victims ALWAYS need safety). From a religious standpoint, it ensures God will take pity on me and mercifully free me from my trials (i.e., the consequences of my own actions!) because I’ve “suffered enough.” (Which is wildly inaccurate, but that’s victim logic for you!)

The point I’m trying to get to here is, I’ve spent my entire life condemning myself for who I am AND for who I have failed to be. While there may be many “needs” that have only served to reinforce this condition, there is one in particular I want to mention: the need to be rescued.

Coming from the framework of a victim, I am not responsible for all the bad things that have happened to me, therefore I am not responsible for the deplorable circumstances I find myself living in (e.g., fat, broke and lonely). But if I’m not responsible for my problems, then I can also bear no responsibility for solving those problems, which means the solution MUST come from outside of me. In other words, I didn’t cause my problems, therefore I’m not responsible to find the solutions. As a result, I HAVE to be rescued because I don’t have the power to rescue myself.

That idea – dare I say “dream?” – of being rescued is so powerful for me, that I think I had begun to condemn myself simply to keep the hope of “being rescued” alive. I mean, who wouldn’t want a supernatural, all-powerful being to swoop in and rescue them from a life of pain, drudgery, misery and disappointment? Rescue means relief; it means hope; it means an end to pain and suffering; it means a life of ease and rest – and all at the merciful hands of another.

While I naturally think of characters like Superman as heroes who rescue, I also think of all the substitutes we victims might use in an effort to “rescue” us from our miserable, petty lives. Maybe some of us believe we will find rescue in financial security or in material wealth; or in that one, magical, meaningful relationship; or through accomplishments which garner public praise and accolades; maybe we hope to find rescue through our vices and addictions (such as food? *cough, cough*), because they make us feel good, even if it’s temporary. I don’t know, just something to think about.

In any case, these things will NOT rescue us, because they are external to us and cannot satisfy an internal need. Which brings me back to needs. I “needed” to condemn myself in order to create the possibility of being rescued. Here’s the ironic rub – I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to be rescued if I hadn’t been condemning myself in the first place!! (explosion sound = mind blown)

While this realization kind of makes me want to tear out what hair I have left, I am also grateful. This is one more area of my life that I can “give up” being a victim. I don’t have to continue to condemn myself. It does mean I have to give up the hope of being “rescued” and honestly, that is terrifying to me because it’s all I’ve ever known, I also know that it’s just part of the process.

Perhaps it’s just coincidence that it happens to be a New Year, but I resolve to no longer condemn myself for being me and I resolve to no longer condemn myself for not yet being the man I hope to be, because I am in the process of change and that takes consistent effort over time.

To whomever may be reading this – I do wish you a happy New Year! Whether you make New Year’s resolutions, or reflections, or are just always seeking improvement, I hope you obtain your goals because you have the power within you to change and you are most definitely worth it!


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.