Constant Craving

When I was a girl, I lived for food.

The promise of the after-school snack kept me going through the grueling days of my youth. I’d race home to find sweet and savory relief from the confusion of adolescence.

I’d eat from a box of graham crackers, spreading layers of vanillla chocolate chip canned frosting. Or I’d slice up a Snickers bar the way they did in a commercial on at the time, pretending I was in it. Then maybe some Lay’s potato chips. Maybe a Wonder Bread/Gulden’s Mustard/Kraft cheese and baloney sandwich.

I was on my own, so I could eat like I wanted to. No father home yet to bring tension and self-consciousness to the air.

I’d fill myself, quelling the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that haunted me at any other time of my day. This was all mine. My time free from criticism, pressure or fear.

Over the years, I became desperate around this intimate connection with food. Protective of the rituals. The private pleasure I found in food and the act of eating it.

I knew something was off about how I related to food. I felt ashamed and like there was something wrong with me, while at the same time feeling like it was crucial to my very existence. That trichotomy created a painful struggle inside me of shame and appetite and need.

I became secretive around it, knowing on some level that I was not like other people.

I now understand that somewhere along the way, I learned to equate food with so many things I needed: love, attention, security, connectedness, relief, quiet, peace, pleasure, a sense of having something for myself, a way to feel like I had control of one thing in the world.

I believe that some of this relationship to food was learned, familial. My mother, too, sought refuge in her treats. She loved candy, and when I came home from school, she was usually lying in her bed, reading mystery novels, eating candy from a stash she kept in her bedside table. She, too, at some point in her life, reached for food to solve and resolve being on this planet.

I understood her for this. I feel such compassion for her. For her huge needs and the dysfunctional way she had developed to cope with getting them met.

It has taken many years of unraveling this connection for me to find a new relationship to food. There’s been tremendous loss in it. A loss of my friend, my savior, my companion, my sidekick.

But it has been so freeing, too. I have  been learning how to give myself what I had asked for from food all those years: love.

Sounds easy, and obvious, right? But what does that actually look like?

It looks like this: giving myself The Five A’s of Love: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection, and Allowing.

(The Five A’s concept is from the wonderful book How To Be An Adult in Relationships – Five Keys to Mindful Loving by psychotherapist, David Richo, PhD.)

Those Five A’s satisfy the snack craving every time. I’m not saying I don’t still crave and even miss that snack eating ritual. I do. That’s a deeply embedded habit. I got pretty hard-wired around it.

But today, I take the snack-seeking girl inside by the hand, and I ask her what she really needs. 

Sometimes it is some appreciation for all I have been doing all day.

Sometimes it is affection. Maybe a bath. Some demonstration of loving care.

Maybe it is the need to be allowed to really acknowledge feeling afraid, or spent, or angry.

It took awhile for that part of myself to trust that my needs could be met in new ways. To trust in something other than food.

To trust life. To trust love. To trust loving myself, in life.

It is an every day practice, this mindfulness of love. I pour the energy I used to hold for food into other things. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gotten my wires crossed, that food wasn’t so complicated for me.
But it is.

And so I accept this truth as if I were diabetic, and I do what I need to do to care for myself.

Mostly, as I said, I feel free.

I no longer carry that shame I felt around it. I am literally lighter in spirit. That feeling is the prize I keep my sights on. It is what makes it all worth it.

I may no longer “have” snacks. But I have me.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: snack

Athlete, Interrupted

Growing up, I was that kid who hated gym.

I’d try to hide when it was side-picking time. I’d try to avoid someone passing the ball during basketball. I’d get in the far outfield in softball. Volleyball? It was simply terrifying. There was nowhere to hide.

I could barely run a lap. I couldn’t do one pull up or push up.

I had zero confidence in my self. I was awkward physically, and had no sense of athleticism.

I decided early on that I did not have the right body for sports like running. I was too shapely and too heavy.

I tried. Boy did I try. Despite my social shyness, my physical awkwardness, my lack of self-assurance, I scraped together what pluck I could and tried to be on teams anyway.

They were a series of humbling failures.

As a very young girl, I had loved to move. I took ballet, tap and jazz from ages 3 -6, and I loved it. I danced all around my room at home, choreographing dances to well-worn albums of my parents’.

But after a move and a series of significant events in my sixth year, I became disconnected to my body. I began to live in my head, in a fantasy world created to blot out a reality that I was not equipped to handle.

And I turned to food as my, well, my everything. It numbed me out, it made me feel good, it comforted me, filled me, calmed me, excited me, made me feel safe, made me feel a part of something. It was my weapon, my barrier, my mode of expression. It was a mood stabilizer and alterer. My best friend, my lover, my family. My church.

So no wonder I became uncomfortable in my own skin and body and had trouble being in the world within it.

Mix in the social world of sports, and it was a recipe for disaster.

Later, after I lost weight rapidly on an extreme diet one summer when I was 12, I started exercising compulsively. I didn’t realize it at the time. I justified it. It was healthy, after all, to work out, right?

I lost and maintained a new, better looking weight, but I was just as disconnected from my body. As a matter of fact, though I knew I looked better to the world at this lower weight (suddenly I got positive attention – people wanted to know me,) I did not love myself any more than before. I actually became even more critical of my body. You could even say I hated it on some level.

It was never good enough. I wanted my body to look like the models in the glossy magazines I grew up reading. To be like the women in the movies and on TV. Like the girls at school that were popular and voted Most Beautiful. I compared the way I looked to world I was surrounded by in the media, and I always fell way short.

I concluded that in order to be lovable, I needed to look like them. Since I didn’t, I was doomed to a lonely, loveless, “loser” life. In my emotionally immature logic, I decided I had two choices: kill myself or reinvent myself.

So I turned to exercise as I had to food. It was a great way to numb out. A great thing to become obsessively-compulsive about. It’s much easier to disguise a disordered relationship with your body by working out too much. Most people think you are “just fine.” Our culture supports the idea of killing it at the gym: “No pain, no gain.” “Transform your body, transform your life.”

At my worst, I was working out 3 hours daily. My body ached, but I seldom noticed. My periods stopped and I felt exhausted all the time. My hair and skin looked awful.

There came a time when I realized that I wasn’t comfortable being around other people unless I had worked out for three hours. I started to understand that something was still way out of whack between me and my body.

Eventually, my world came to a crashing halt. My body simply could not withstand the way I was treating it.

I now understand how amazing the human body is. That it innately seeks healing and balance and has an intelligence far superior than that of my mind. My body called a halt to the imbalanced, disordered behavior, and demanded that I examine and re-approach my relationship to it.

Fast forward many years of therapy and recovery. I eventually have come to a place of understanding and connection again with my own body. A place of loving it as it is, even. (That journey is many blogs’ worth. Today I wanted to share about some of the fruits of that journey so far.)

After much healing, I started to work out again, but with the sole intention of doing it for my health, and for the pure pleasure of moving my body. I learned to listen to my body, giving it rest and recovery when needed. I found that early girl’s love of moving and I gave her plenty of space to play.

And at a certain point, after all those years of telling myself that it just wasn’t in the cards for me, I started to run.

In 2012, just after I had set a New Years’ intention of finding my inner athlete, I heard of an app that helped you go from “couch potato” to 5k runner. I was very inspired hearing about how well it had worked for a friend of mine. In June of that year, I started using it, and within a month, I was running 5k distances with ease.

And I found that I loved running! I started running 5 days a week, and it quickly became a major area of focus in my life. I ran a 5k race towards the end of 2012 on a lark, and discovered how much I loved running with a herd of other runners.

From that 5k, I ran a 10 miler, followed by a half marathon in Jan. 2013. I ran more half marathons in 2013, loving the training process. Training and racing became an important part of my life. I trained no matter what, and really began to feel like I had finally found my inner athlete.

And then, in 2014,  I ran my first marathon: the NYC Marathon. Crossing that finish line was a personal triumph for me for so many reasons. Not only was it an amazing accomplishment to have trained for such an iconic race and to finish it.

But to have brought myself through full circle from a child at home in her body, loving using it, to being completely shut down to my own physical life, to brutalizing it with disregard in order to become someone more lovable, to acceptance for and love of, to testing, training and ultimately celebrating the abilities of my own body.

I wept, as so many do, as I crossed that finish line. For the girl I had been before being interrupted. For the girl who got so lost and misdirected. I cried out of grief for all that they had lost. And I wept with joy for all I had come through, and for where I had brought myself to.

Today, I still love running. But I have continued to listen to my body, and today, she wants some different kinds of movement. I still run, but am not training and racing. I love those years where it held such prominence in my life. It was a five year span of joy, and I  learned so many things about how strong I am, and what amazing discipline I am capable of. But I’m seeking other experiences now.

I’ve been taking tap, which has been amazing to rediscover. (My inner 4 year-old is very happy!) I’d like to start taking ballroom dancing too. I am listening to see what is next. I trust my body will lead me where I most need to go. I know I will be moving, somehow.

My inner athlete is ever alive. Now that I found her, I will never let her go.

#itsnevertoolate #runforlife #running #runner #innerathlete

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: triumph

 

 

Split Decisions

Rose spit into the dirt, disgusted with herself, so mad she could barely see straight.

What jerks. She hadn’t been doing anything. Why did they hate her so?

She picked herself up off the lawn, peeling away the blades of grass that were stuck to her knees one by one, fingering the long dent-canals they left behind on her skin.

The kids had already moved on down the block, their laughter taunting her as they looked back, turning the corner.

She felt the hot flush of shame rush down the back of her neck and through her body, her fingers tingling, tears flooding her eyes.

She choked it all down and thought about what she could do. There was no where to go. No one to tell.

“This is just temporary, honey. You’ll see. In time, they’ll get to know you, you’ll find friends.” Her Mom tried, but she had no idea of the way things really were.

She folded her pain and confusion back into the loneliness that she carried with her always, and with lips pressed together with determination, she walked back home to the numbing relief and friendship to be found in oreos and chips. 

At least she had that.

#bullying #therootoftheproblem #foodisnotlove

Inspired by The Daily Post word prompt: temporary

Fat is Not Funny (to Me)

My whole life I’ve been confused as to why people laugh at fat people.

You see it everywhere. Greeting cards with pictures on the front of a fat lady in a bikini or some big man holding a sandwich or something.

Popular culture is flooded with fat jokes and humor.

Character actors and comedians have made careers out of making fun of their own fat: John Candy, Roseanne, Homer, Fred Flintstone, the King of Queens, to name just a few.

Some of these people lost weight at some point in their careers and actually had trouble finding their new audience dynamic because so much of their appeal centered around their being fat.

People love to laugh at fat people.

I never thought fat was very funny.

Maybe because I was a heavy kid who was teased and bullied mercilessly in elementary and junior high schools for being overweight.

If you were ever that kid, you know it’s not funny.

Maybe because I grew up loving one of the greatest men I’ll ever know, my brother, who also happened to be obese. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to jokes made at the expense of the overweight.

If you have ever had an obese relative, and know the suffering it creates for the relative and for the family and friends who love them…if you’ve witnessed first-hand the looks, the comments and mean behaviors of strangers…you don’t think fat is funny.

Fat shaming is a thing now. It has a name. It has been debated heatedly as something good.  (Shame as a motivational tool? Really?) And as something bad. (Fat people say that they are being discriminated against and just want to be accepted as they are regardless of a physical attribute, such as color or size of body.)

That fat shaming exists as an issue at all to me illustrates the total lack of understanding around the issue of being overweight. The issue of fat.

There are no greeting cards with junkies on the front. Or anorexic women or men. Why do we laugh at fat people? Why is there so little empathy for people struggling to lose weight?

Is it because generally most people think being overweight is someone’s fault and so the person deserves to be laughed at? Whereas there’s more room for forgiveness for a drug addict or some other more acceptable person who is afflicted by disease?

Is is because it is tied into the idea of sin? Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, also known as capital vices or cardinal sins. That goes way, way back into our social and cultural psyche…maybe it is encoded into our DNA so deeply that it has created a blind spot in our ability to have empathy or even understand what fat is.

Someone carrying extra weight is seen as a lazy loser, lacking will power, with too much appetite. Gluttonous. Lacking character and immoral. Disgusting.

I posit that most people, despite the over-saturation of information on dieting and other weight loss products that is out there, still view the issue of extra weight as a pure willpower issue.

Overweight or fat people are not commonly seen as a person who suffers from a disease, a food disorder, a reflection of an emotional disorder. As someone who learned to use food as a way to cope with life, in the same way an alcoholic or a heroin addict or a debtor uses those substances to handle their lives, in a disordered way.

I have a theory. I think that when people laugh at fat people, it is because on some level they are so uncomfortable at the literal evidence of pain that fat people are wearing. It cannot be hidden, the way an alcoholic’s or a bulimic’s or anorexic can. It’s out in plain view for all to see, a suit of pain, and on some level it reminds us of things maybe we also do not want to look at in our own lives. Our own appetites that we’ve learned to suppress. Our own uncomfortable feelings that we have not yet found a healthy outlet for.

We laugh because we see someone who is living out some revolution against something or someone on their own body landscape, and on some level it pisses us off because the person is not “towing the line” and keeping those feelings and desires stuffed down where we, as a society, have agreed such things should go.

So we express a cruelty towards these people in ways that in any other situation would be totally unacceptable and perhaps even unthinkable to us.

Why don’t we see fat people as people in pain? People who need help dealing with life differently? As people with a chronic disease?

Why do we still watch shows like The Biggest Loser that only address and promote the cosmetic issues of weight loss and not the underlying causes of the eating disorder: the person’s disordered behavior with food, a reflection of a disordered relationship to being in the world?

Why do we only want to get Physical Education back into schools when we need more than just “better eating” and to get kids moving to deal with the ever-growing numbers of obese children in this country? Those things are needed too, yes. But those things alone are not solving the issue. So they appear to not be working.

(Of course, this lack of understanding, this mis-education, is great for the diet product industry. It makes people constantly in search of the next big fad, the magic pill, the quick fix. Google and explore how much people spend each year on diets and pills and fads and you will see who benefits from the results of this misunderstanding towards fat and overweight.)

When will fat be treated as an emotional, behavioral issue, not a purely biological one?

As a disease like any other. Not a party joke. Not a greeting card.

I don’t know what to do to help this situation, to help educate and inform and shift the attitude towards fat, but I know something needs to be done.

Fat is not funny to me. When my brother died at 47 from complications of his obesity, I promise you, nothing about it was funny. He was a brilliant man with a wicked sense of humor and a huge, sweet heart. I will never stop grieving his death, and I miss him every single day.