Sometimes I think life is really just an enormous jigsaw puzzle. God doesn’t provide answers, necessarily; he just provides the pieces and leaves it up to each of us to fit them together as we find them. Fortunately this week, I managed to find a corner piece which allowed a couple other pieces to slip into place.
To put this into context, about two years ago, troubled by my PTSD and stuck in a horrible work place where I was targeted by a gang of snarky bitches who acted like school yard bullies than the professionals they were suppose to be, I scrambled to make sense of the world. My search for answers brought me to the teachings of Pema Chödrön, a famous (though unknown to me then) American Buddhist nun living and teaching at Gampo Abby in Nova Scotia.
I purchased two of her lectures on CD—Don’t Bite the Hook, and This Moment is the Perfect Teacher: 10 Buddhist Teachings on Cultivating Inner Strength & Compassion. The CDs are rich in content, the meaning and importance of which seems to shift and change like the view of a room through a prism, depending on outer circumstances. Long story short, I transferred to another department and started counseling to deal with my eating disorder, so my outer situation improved but I continued to torment myself on the inside.
Recently, I was asked to lead a committee to organize a professional development day for my new department. As part of this effort, I began “shopping” around TED Talks for presentations to facilitate staff discussion during one of the workshop periods. It was there I stumbled across Jane McGonigal’s presentation, “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”. The talk touched a nerve.
McGonical speaks to the issue of Post-Traumatic Growth and how some people come out of a traumatic experience with a positive psychological change. She also speaks to the top five regrets of the dying as cited by an article in The Guardian. McGonical re-orders and paraphrases the list but in essence, the top five regrets of the dying are:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live life true to myself and not what others wanted of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
I chewed over this list in my mind and thought about how it applied to my life. I’ve always lived true to myself, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt guilty about not fulfilling my mother’s aspirations for me. By transferring jobs, I’ve made the move to not work so hard, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt guilty about not making as much money to contribute to the household. Through therapy, I’m learning how to identify my feelings so eventually, I will also learn to express them. I have left friendships fall by the wayside because I feel a need to work on myself without burdening others with my moods and difficulties.
That brought me to number five: I wish I let myself be happier. The first time I heard the TED Talk, I couldn’t begin to relate to how this would even be possible. I wish I let myself be happier. Guilt and self-loathing, the things my therapist tells me are symptoms of low self-esteem, are my constant companions. Guilt and self-loathing dictate all the inner talk and inner criticism—this is my inner turmoil; my inner suffering.
Feeling particularly wretched last Tuesday, I searched the Internet for answers; praying to the Google gods to lead me to the perfect answers for building self-esteem; the perfect answers that were all too illusive. I found one site that recommended I make a list of all the things I feel guilty about and then follow the example set by the Catholic church and grant myself absolution. God, the site said, has already granted me forgiveness. I am the one who perpetuates my own misery and suffering by refusing to forgive myself.
Number one on the guilt list, when I was five years old, I was in a stationary shop with my mother and saw some Christmas gift tags that were pretty and sparkly. I wanted them but knew there was no money for such a frivolous thing, so I slipped the package into my pocket, prepared to steal them. My conscience immediately struck me. It was wrong. Stealing was wrong. I put the gift tags back on the hanger and walked away, praying I would not get caught for having considered stealing them.
Seriously? Yes, that happened but I wasn’t fully aware that I still carried guilt about the incident although I admit, it is a memory that pops up with regularity. It’s true. Throughout my life, I refused to release the guilt. I’d engaged in mental self-flagellation for something I *almost* did wrong as a five-year-old child. I stopped making the list, certain I was certifiably insane because I knew I’d only scratched the surface. I felt guilty about—everything. Breathing. Coughing. Sneezing. Even the way I laugh—loud, boisterous unfeminine laughter that always receives criticism from parents, family, and friends.
That same day, mulling over my early morning revelation, I was listening to the CD, This Moment is the Perfect Teacher, on my commute to work, following the guided Tonglen meditation practice of sending and taking. When the time came to breathe in a specific painful situation, I chose the burden of guilt I carried in relation to everything I’d ever, ever done. Somewhere in the back of my head, behind my right ear, I felt something pop. As I breathed out, I experienced Big Sky Mind—a moment of complete openness—a flash of absolute Bodhicitta. The burden of guilt was gone. I no longer felt guilt for my *almost* wrong or anything else.
“Usually difficulty is where we close down and shut off and where the cycle of misery on this planet continues…Chödrön says on the CD, “That’s where..as a species, we make matters worse…the ego-clinging; the sense of isolation; the barriers go up…and our sense of getting weaker, more lonely, more dead grows.”
“The question…to always ask…is, ‘How can I live my life so that when I die I have no regrets?‘ And I think that’s what I’m trying to teach here. How we can live our life so that when we die we have no regrets…even if you’ve never practiced [meditation] this way in your life before and you should die tomorrow, if you could practice [Tonglen meditation] this way between now and then, you could die with no regrets,” Chödrön says.
It has been five or so days since the experience of releasing guilt and I still have a sense of inner peace. My sense of nagging guilt is gone. The memories are just that. Things happened but they are done and over. The lack of suffering generated by my constant self-flagellation is its own happiness.
For me, “I wish I let myself be happier” really means, I wish I hadn’t tormented myself with guilt and self-loathing almost every day of my life. Thank you, God, for presenting me with the puzzle pieces that, once put into place, granted me an epiphany. Happiness is not just about puppies and kittens, birthday cake and balloons. Happiness is a lack of mental and emotional suffering at my own hands. Thank you for release.
I fell off the binge-free wagon early in October and have been on the skids for about seven weeks. Rather than simply accepting permanent changes, I’ve become obsessive in worrying about my weight and what I’m eating. The result is emotional misery and a stronger desire than ever to eat to escape my negative feelings.
I have a driving desire to enter a state of abject oblivion where I don’t think about anything. If I were a heroin addict, I presume I’d probably be overdosing by now. My drug of choice, however, is food. It is particularly sick to sometimes have the fleeting thought that heroin would be an easier addiction because one needle could end all the internal turmoil.
Unfortunately, my obsessive thoughts and anger at myself have resulted in my blood pressure increasing. I’ve never had high blood pressure in my life. Now, it seems I’ve turned that corner. So, I have something new to be self-accusatory about.
I am beating myself up at every turn, unable to find the compassion that I should be expressing toward myself. The more I beat myself up, the deeper I sink into depression and desperation over the fact I cannot succeed at weight loss. I am a failure, I keep thinking. No matter the fact I’ve been taking exercise classes three days a week. At the same time, I’ve been binged daily on well over 1000 calories of sugar. (And, yes, I openly admit, I’m glad Hostess has closed its doors. I am selfishly glad there will be no more fudge-covered donettes for me to scarf down by the dozen.)
The time has come to pick myself up and shake myself off and start over again.
Starting over. My primary goal is to not sugar binge. Period. I will not sugar binge.
My secondary goal is to get my blood pressure under control which means monitoring sodium intake in addition to caloric intake. The food journal program I use already does that, I just haven’t been paying attention to sodium.
I am eliminating the herbal supplements just in case they may be contributing to the blood pressure issue.
I will continue to exercise a minimum of three days per week.
In order to keep myself on track, I will keep up with my food journal and log my blood pressure and glucose each morning when I get up.
Most importantly, I need to stop focusing on the scale and how much weight I’ve gained or lost today vs. yesterday. I need to focus on accomplishing these five, simple goals and not think about weight loss or gain. I would like to add meditation to the mix, but that may be too much for right now. Maybe, after a month or so of consistently accomplishing these five measurable goals, I can consider adding meditation to the mix.
1. I will not sugar binge.
2. I will keep my sodium intake below 2200 mg per day.
3. I will eliminate herbal dietary supplements.
4. I will exercise a minimum of 3 days per week.
5. I will keep my food log & monitor my blood pressure and glucose daily.
I had another tough week but thankfully for all my transgressions—including a major sugar binge on Friday—I broke even on the scale. That means I get to call another do-over. That’s two in two weeks. Now, to make the most of a fresh start.
So, what happened? I faced a lot of personal and work pressure this past week and I didn’t sleep well. The most significant issue was the fact I was scheduled to start a 12-hour self-defense class on Wednesday evening. My therapist and I discussed it on Monday and she was very supportive of me taking this important step. We talked about what feelings might be dredged up and the importance of exploring those feelings in writing. Several woman at the office were enthusiastic about the fact I was going to take the class and were very encouraging. Oddly, the more encouragement I received, the more pressure I felt. In the end, I experienced an overwhelming sense of stress, left work Wednesday evening, and came home without taking the class. Missing the first class meant having to miss all of them.
What path did this experience take?
Monday, I had my therapy session but I was starting to feel anxiety about dredging up the past. I felt anxiety about having to face long-buried feelings—anger, sadness, fear—about the assaults I survived in my youth.
Tuesday night, I am wide-awake. I recall the first physical assault I ever experienced at the hands of someone who was not a relative. I was on the playground waiting for the bus after school. I was playing on the swings when Paul P****** came along, picked up my Miss America (Barbie-style) doll and ripped off one of her arms. Of course, I reacted as any child would, screaming at him about deliberately breaking my doll. I jumped off the swing to retrieve the damaged doll. He grabbed me by the shoulders and started kicking me repeatedly in the shins.
Paul P. worked in his family dairy barn before coming to school in the morning, so he was wearing steel-toe boots. I could not get away but danced about as he held me by the shoulders and repeatedly kicked me in the shins. I was wearing a one-piece, green plaid dress with a marigold-color top. The top has a ruffled collar and a string bow made of the plaid material. I was wearing white ankle socks, and black Mary Janes. Blood seeped from the open wounds Paul continued to kick, staining my stockings and causing me to panic even further—in pain and in dread for the ruined clothing. I was not supposed to get my school clothes dirty.
Finally, Paul P. let me go and ran back to the school. I was bruised and bleeding, with a shattered spirit. I was on the swings alone. I wasn’t bothering anyone. Paul P. identified me as a potential victim and attacked with the intent of causing physical and psychological injury. Seven-years-old, in pain and bleeding, I clutched my broken doll and limped back to the school building. I don’t remember anything that happened after that. I don’t remember if Paul was punished. I don’t remember if my parents took any action to report the incident. I just know that I was never the same person.
After that day, I was bullied and picked on by many of my classmates. I received too many mixed messages for a sheltered child of 7-years-old to understand. I cried to my parents about being teased and bullied, but was told that I had to grow a thicker skin. Sticks and stones and all that jazz.
My father encouraged me to fill my purse with rocks and use it as a weapon against the bullies.
“If they hit you, hit them back. Defend yourself.”
“Look, if the kids are teasing you, ignore them.”
“Don’t hit your brother! ”
Laying awake, it seemed like my entire childhood through high school unreeled through my mind as I re-lived bullying incident after bullying incident. I remembered the utter confusion I felt—not understanding why I was being targeted. I was a good girl. Why was I being picked on and abused?
There were rules of the world that I just didn’t understand as a child. Tantamount was the rule that it was my responsibility to defend myself against attack. It conflicted with all the lessons I was taught about being a good girl and exercising the Golden Rule. All these years later, I still feel the pain of the confusion and anxiety I felt as a child.
Good Girl Rules:
1. Don’t sit on the floor in a dress.
2. Use a handkerchief, not your sleeve.
3. Be nice to people, even when they are not nice to you.
4. Smile and do as you are told.
5. Don’t disappoint people.
6. Don’t raise your voice.
7. Don’t cause trouble.
8. Don’t be a tattle-tale.
9. Don’t break the rules.
10. Don’t question rules 1 through 9.
I was taught that it is not right to hurt other people (See Good Girl Rule 3). My grandmother gave me a charm bracelet with the 10 Commandments that I was instructed to memorize and live by (See Good Girl Rules 9 and 10). Rules were rules but this self-defense thing…this didn’t fit under the rules of being a good girl. It was contradictory. If everyone lived by the rules, self-defense should not be necessary.
Maybe it was because I was born in the 60s and grew up hearing talk of peace and love but not understanding the politics, history, and war behind the rhetoric. I was an innocent. I absorbed the rhetoric without realizing there was history or politics or war behind it. I was a good girl who blindly accepted that cleanliness was, indeed, next to Godliness and that I was to honor my Father and my Mother, and that Santa Claus was a real person and the Spirit of Christ’s birth should live the whole year through through our actions.
Now, as an adult, one would think I could simply put aside that childish confusion and write it off as the ignorance of innocence but facing the moment of walking into a self-defense class—specifically for the purpose of learning hand-to-hand combat against an attacker; specifically to do battle against someone incapable of living by the moral rules of society, I baulked.
I should not have to do this as a woman living in a modern, civil society. I felt angry.
No one has a right to tell me I have to live in fear. I’m following the f*ing rules.
Why I am responsible for adopting a warrior stance simply to defend my right to exist un-accosted as a woman in American society? Why do I have to remain on hyper-alert status all my life? Why do I have to feel bad about the person I am, abandon my belief system, and become someone whose first instinct is to be aggressive?
Yet, I’m already there. Because of repeated attacks, I’m already hyper-vigilant. I already know moves to attack the knee, throat, nose, eyes. There is something ugly about having to admit this to myself, though. There is something ugly about having to accept that no matter how much I abide by the Good Girl Rules, I’ve had to accept the rules of Warriorship to survive this muddy, messy world.
I am angry that Paul P. and every other bastard who attacked me in my life felt they had the right to do so. They were seeking to control me. I should not have to defend my right to live freely without fear of physical or psychological attack. There is a part of my being that wants to protect that childish, fairy tale belief.
Facing the reality of walking into a room full of bouncy, blonde, co-ed innocents, my anger clashed with anxiety of changing my world view. The reality of the situation is, yes, women have to defend themselves from ignorant bastards who feel they have a right to take whatever they want, whenever they want, and damn the consequences. I began to feel broken and sad that, at almost 50-years-old, I have to continue sacrificing who I am at the core in order to comply with external forces telling me what I should do.
Taking a self-defense class was supposed to be empowering but staring the moment in the eye, I felt like I was being stripped of power. A good girl would have ignored her feelings and the contradictions, and walked through the door and taken the class without asking questions. After all, I signed up for the program without anyone asking me to.
As I go through this process of dealing with my eating disorder and addressing the pains from my past, I am starting to believe that at my core, I am just a good girl who embodies unpredictable contradictions that are rooted in peculiar, rocky places in my past.
I’m learning that good girls can say no to demands on their time. I’m learning that good girls can take care of themselves without feeling guilty. I’m learning that I’m worth the effort of taking care of myself. This is the person I am. What I need to do is learn to not feel guilty about it because Gloria Steinem or anyone else tells me I should.
I am not a square peg. I am a star-shaped peg and I don’t want to fit into anyone’s ideal of what a woman should do or be. I am a person. I am a human. I am an individual.
I am who I am.
What I need to do is stop feeling bad and apologizing for it. That’s a whole different kind of self-defense.
I am continuing to mull the situation and the fearful PTSD thoughts I experienced yesterday. I have yet to reach the point of wise mind and put the thoughts completely aside. I am reading through the handouts given to me by my therapist and these materials are helping me to re-frame the thoughts today.
The first quote that really caught my eye this morning was: “Perhaps I am overestimating disaster.” (Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse. New York: Guilford Press.)
I’d say that’s an accurate statement and pretty safe bet but in the moment that imprinted fear is boiling up to the point it is flowing out my ears, it is difficult to let the voice of reason—any real, rational thought—enter the mix. In that moment of hot, rapid breathing; flashbacks; and tunnel vision, I experience the primal instinct to fight, flee, or freeze. I’ve discovered that I’m really more of a rabbit, freezing until definitive action is required. It is during the freeze that I pray for immediate, painless resolution but prepare for the fight.
In a manner of speaking, I suppose you could say I’m in “fight” mode now. This isn’t the lashing-out type of physical fight but a mentally-based struggle to reach a point at which I can allow fear-based thoughts to pass through my mind and leave my emotions unmolested.
That leads me to the second quote that I latched onto today: “We do not need to fight with thoughts or struggle against them…rather we can simply choose not to follow the thoughts once they have arisen.” (Goldstein, J., & Kornfield, J. (1987). Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.)
This quote speaks to the point of balanced mind when fear-thoughts arise in the emotion mind and are identified and tempered by the wise mind. The balanced mind acknowledges both the emotional and rationale states of being and chooses to release the thought, then ride the ripples that are generated through this process. Though Pema Chödrön likens this to clouds passing in the sky—or perhaps it was Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who described thoughts as the shadow of a bird cast against the sky—I find the “pebble in the a pond” analogy useful.
For me, balanced mind is like floating on my back in calm water, drifting with the current and winds. A PTSD thought is like a boulder dropped into the water next to me. The thought can completely swamp me, like it did yesterday, or I can regain composure and ride the surging water as it moves away from the point of impact. The water will flow over and around me but in balanced mind, I permit it to do so without flailing and without seeking solid ground on the boulder. With time and practice, I will grow use to the experience. Eventually, the boulder’s impact will no longer swamp me. I may get wet but I will mentally ride the flow until it dissipates.
PTSD thoughts are simply thoughts. They are not reality. They are not predictive. And, yes, eventually I will reach a point that I will genuinely believe these statements. Today, I am just beginning the journey of healing.
I have every reason to be pleased with myself. Although I did cheat on my program and have some sweets this week, I did not binge and I compensated for the extra calories by doing extra exercise. I lost two more pounds this week, bringing my total loss for September 2012 to 10 pounds. On September 1, I weighed 280 pounds. This morning, September 29, I weighed 270 pounds. I’ve earned the right to feel proud of this accomplishment. I worked hard. I struggled through some tough, negative thoughts. I accomplished my goal for September.
For a while, I did feel happy and proud. I e-mailed my mother to share the celebration in my accomplishment. Her response was, “You know, of course, if you exercise you won’t lose weight as fast.”
Okay, you and I and everyone on the planet knows that is a totally inaccurate statement. Aside from the illogic, it made me sad that my mother still cannot support me. She can’t just say, “good job” and leave it alone. She has to find someway to either undermine or be critical of what I am doing to improve my health and—specifically—lose weight. It hurts and it cut my personal celebration short.
Is it true? No, it isn’t true.
Is she consistent? Yes, she’s consistent but it still hurts my feelings that she can’t be supportive.
Is she like her own mother? Yes, she’s responding to me the way her mother responded to her and it still hurts that she can’t see herself repeating the pattern of behavior.
Does it really matter what she thinks? No. What matters is what I think but it’s disappointing when my mother is not supportive.
I tried to rebound as the day went along but, like an energy vampire, the e-mailed comment sucked away my joy in the day and left me feeling fatigued. My husband and I went grocery shopping. I shopped according to my dietary plan and even bought some of the 100-calorie sandwich rounds that I’d been avoiding because they’re so expensive. I crave sandwiches so I might as well pay a little more for whole wheat sandwich rounds that will save me about 140 calories per sandwich.
On the way home, my husband stopped at the end of our road to wait for traffic to zip past so he could turn and I had a sudden flash back to the car accident that destroyed my right leg. When the accident happened in 1989, I was preparing to graduate from college and apply to graduate school. I was successfully dieting and losing weight. I was only 10 pounds away from my goal weight of 160 pounds when the crash happened. In the seconds after the crash, with the pain and the shock, I suddenly realized I would have to start all over again. In microseconds, I lost all the progress I’d made in building my self-esteem, making friends and becoming a success in college, moving forward toward a professional career, and losing weight.
As cars zoomed past our vehicle, causing it to rock in the buffets of wind, I was suddenly nauseated. I’m starting to lose weight. I’m at risk. It’s going to happen again. The pit of my stomach churned and I started to shake. I’m bringing this on myself. I’m losing weight again and opening myself up for absolute destruction. I’m losing weight and making myself vulnerable to annihilation.
Is it true? I don’t know…I don’t know…maybe? Maybe no? What if…?
These thoughts—irrational and fearful—passed in a nanosecond but I might as well have been standing in front of a skillfully wielded samurai sword. Any consideration of accomplishment was in shreds. PTSD finished what my mother’s e-mail started.
Tonight, I’m trying to concentrate on reading a worksheet my counselor gave me regarding the process of rethinking and thinking recovery thoughts instead of PTSD thoughts. I’ve chosen the phrase, “I need to attend to my own needs” as my focus thought for the night and stop giving consideration to “What if…?” I need to focus on the here and now and set let go of the fear. Fear is not going to help me accomplish my goals.
Sugar abstinence give you some freedom from the physical urge to eat and binge on sugar . . . But it doesn’t give you emotional freedom from food.
— Karly Randolph Pitman, Overcoming Sugar Addiction, pp 78-79
I am 21 days binge-free and have lost a total of 8 pounds over this 21-day period but I’m dealing with a lot of fear.
Toward the end of last week, I was feeling particularly frenetic about my dietary and exercise program. I was grappling with a lot of fear over losing control as cravings ebbed and flowed. I lost sight of my primary goal which is to not sugar-binge, and self-imposed pressure for perfection in my program as I signed up for various challenges and accountability threads on the 3FC forums. I imposed a death-grip on the Eat to Live program, making living a whole lot less rewarding, quite honestly.
Since I don’t like beans, lentils, or tofu, I am somewhat painted into a corner when it comes to a vegan diet plan. The fact is, I was not getting enough protein from the vegetables I was eating last week and my caloric count dropped too much. In my quest to be perfect in my program I was eating bails of greens but barely cracked 900 calories during the course of each day. Adding exercise to the mix, I was burning far more calories than I was taking in and my body dropped into starvation mode. I felt physically and emotionally exhausted. When I stepped on the scale and discovered I lost only four-tenths of a pound last week, I started beating myself up for failing in my quest for perfection. The downward spiral I always encounter when dieting had begun.
Fortunately, being in therapy this time around, I was able to talk to the counselor about my failures and she helped me to recognize that I had not failed at my primary goal but was allowing my Type-A personality jump into hyper-critical mode. I was beating myself up physically, mentally, and dietarily out of fear of failing and losing control of my situation. By allowing myself to get side-tracked by competition-style challenges, my focus shifted away from my no-sugar binge goal to full-on diet mode.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? the counselor asked me. My answer: That I have to start over.
Setting aside reality for a moment, let’s follow that line of thought. Failing and having to start over again in the quest for perfection becomes increasingly difficult over time. I know because that is my habitual behavior.
As a child I was pushed to be a perfect female: smart, silent, always happy, never angry, skilled at cooking and homemaking. I was inherently a leader and possessed a stubborn independent streak that lead to many unpleasant events in my life: namely repeated sexual assaults by men who sought to prove they could break and control me. These assaults set me up for a life-time state of hypervigilance and a constant quest to remain in control of myself and my surroundings. Following this logic through to conclusion, failure to maintain control means leaving myself open to repeated sexual assault (aka failure on my part). Unfortunately, I know what it is like to experience repeated assaults despite an effort to perfect hypervigilance. Perfect hypervigilance means I’m always maintaining my safety. When I was assaulted a second and then a third time, I beat myself up for failing to secure my own safety. I failed at perfection and had to start over—the worst thing ever because it meant I’d been victimized again.
So, take this dysmorphic view and apply it to diet and exercise and you’ll see how easy it is to become obsessed with doing everything right and why, when I have a momentary lapse of humanity I can call it a fail and beat myself up making it even more difficult and mentally exhausting to start over again. Now, add the psychological layer that one of my long-time strategies for maintaining safety from sexual assault is to build the physical barrier of obesity and I am placed squarely in a Catch-22 of my own construction. If I succeed at dieting, I consciously fail in my quest for hypervigilance. Since the hypervigilance for physical safety is the stronger of the two quests, I am constantly at battle in the deep recesses of my psyche to sabotage my weight loss efforts. To be successful losing weight means becoming vulnerable to attack. To fail losing weight means I’m in the emotionally painful state of having to start over again and again in quest of perfection.
I need to do a lot of work to achieve a neutral state in this bowl of damaged psyche soup. My therapist suggested that I release the idea of sticking to a specific dietary program—in my case that’s Eat to Live. The world won’t end, she said, if I eat a piece of baked chicken. She encouraged me to keep up with eating lots of the green vegetables that I like and being conscious of serving sizes for things like pasta, potatoes, dairy, and meat, but—since I’m not a true lover of vegetables—she warned that I will never be able to succeed with a vegan dietary program. By attempting to strive for that goal I am, quite frankly, making a conscious decision to set myself up for failure.
The therapist suggested returning to a more “traditional American diet” only opt for low-fat, low-sodium fare. Continuing to avoid processed foods won’t present an issue for me, since I find that easy. As a result of my session on Tuesday of this week, I spent the rest of my week working to release myself from unrealistic, self-imposed pressures. I ate beef one evening of the week but otherwise maintained a diet of mostly vegetables with an occasional piece of cheese. I’m feeling more relaxed now knowing that I can have a piece of chicken if I want it but that sticking to just a salad is okay, too. By giving myself permission to be more flexible, I feel slightly less fearful of losing control but I have a lot of work to do, yet.
There. I said it.
I know in the world of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, no one references muscle aches and pains but I guess I’m just not as stoic. Actually, I just don’t have any sponsors that want to convince me that weight loss, fitness, and optimal health doesn’t involve pain. “No pain, no gain” is valid only as a bumper sticker that covers a rust spot. No one is actually suppose to believe it, right?
This week, I decided it was time to plug our elliptical trainer back in and start using it again. Yes, it was dusty. Although I anticipated muscle pain, I didn’t want to push myself to the point that I ripped the plug out of the wall and ignore the equipment for another 12 months. As a result, I decided my first workout would be all of 10 minutes long.
I suited up in sneakers, sweat pants, and sports bra and flipped the switch. Eight minutes in, sweat was running into my eyes and down my sides and I decided that the elliptical trainer must be based on some medieval torture device where a person’s ankles were strapped to the treads and they were made to run on the machine in order to operate a paddle wheel or grist stone or some other equally daunting device.
I know there are those who may say, “Don’t think that way! Stay positive! No pain, no gain!” Honey, as long as my feet keep moving and I can stay lost inside the music playing in my headphones, I’m not going to putz around over whether or not my imagination goes all Draconian on me and I start visualizing myself as a prisoner in a concentration camp or slave on a Viking ship being forced to labor under the whip. The fact is, thoughts like those help inspire me. When I think about genuine survivors of true labor camps, how reasonable am I being to want to pussy out after 10 minutes on a freaking elliptical trainer?
Accompanied by thoughts of torture and torment, I actually completed 12 minutes in my first workout before I reached the point I thought I was going to die. The next workout, I tied a bandana around my head as a dew rag and scored 13 minutes. Tomorrow, I get back on and give it another go, aiming for 14 minutes.
Inspired as I may be, the backs of my thighs are not pleased with this turn of events. At least my injured ankle seems to be holding up under the onslaught.
Today’s workout was a 2-mile walk outside—far away from the elliptical. There’s a 1-mile-long road across from my home that is all uphill in one direction and, not surprisingly, downhill in the other. Each weekend, I plan to make at least one trek up that hill and home again. This week, I managed to not just walk but to do intervals of light jogging without feeling winded. In fact, the elliptical seems a much tougher workout at this point than making a bee-line up that hill. Joy.
At home and showered again, the backs of my thighs have been joined by my butt and calves in protesting against the physical demands being placed on them. I’m sure some stretching will help loosen things up but the fact remains that I do, in fact, feel the ouch. I also know that I have to keep up with this routine because, like a woman who cleans her house before the cleaning service arrives, I need to get into a little better shape before Oct. 29 when the exercise class I signed up for starts.
That’s right. Miss Hyper-Alpha Personality signed up for a 6 week long, 3 day/week, 50 min/session exercise program for beginners that starts Oct. 29. My immediate panic is that I’ll be too out of shape to keep up with the class. So, between now and Oct. 29, I’m hoping to lose 10 pounds and get into good enough condition that I won’t fall down, gasping to breath like a fish out of water, after just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise.
What better motivation could one have to keep climbing on a modern-day torture device?
Now I’m on the road to recovery, I decided it is important for me to honestly assess and own what a day of bingeing looked like for me just a year ago. This is not a painless process by any means but I think it is important for me to do this exercise as a way of acknowledging my disorder and the damage I was doing to myself.
The starting point for this process is to acknowledge that I was extremely depressed and experiencing a high amount of stress. I continue to struggle with my depression but I’m in a better place with it right now so it is important to take advantage of the timing. Others who experience depression will recognize that it is sometimes cyclical. I’m hoping, as I change my diet to a more healthy menu and exercise regularly, I can break the cycle.
A little over a year ago, I was in a terrible work place situation. I was targeted for bullying by a particularly vicious female co-worker who was openly protected by the director of the department. The director acknowledged that the woman’s behavior toward me was inappropriate but insisted it was nothing she could really do anything about. That’s just the way the woman was. Being as the woman was one of her best friends, couldn’t I just be the mature one? My recovery began the minute I told the director that her suggestion was unacceptable. Since she refused to stop the attacks, I demanded she assist me in transferring to another department, as she had done for other staff.
Rather than assist me in securing a transfer, she arranged for me to meet with HR personnel to polish my resume in order to seek work with another company. Not wanting to sacrifice my seniority, retirement package, or insurance benefits, I began applying for transfer opportunities on my own. Thankfully, God was watching out for me, and an opportunity sprang up within two weeks of my meeting with the director. I was hired by the other department and the transfer was complete within two additional weeks.
It took over six months of dealing with the post-traumatic stress of having been in such an awful work environment, before I sensed myself reeling completely out of control and finally reached out for help. Though it took longer to get into counseling that I preferred, once the process started, I began to make strides toward a more comprehensive recovery.
This morning, I sat down and wrote out a list of preferred foods I would eat in a typical day of bingeing at my old job. Through this process, I learned that during an average binge I was consuming approximately 5967 calories, nearly five times the recommended allotment. Beyond that, I was eating approximately 459mg of cholesterol, more than twice the daily recommended amount. Because of my poor food choices while bingeing, I also consumed 2.5 times recommended sodium levels, chowing down over 6020mg in a day.
Though there are no actual dietary standards for sugar consumption, it is suggested that women eat less than 20 grams (5 teaspoons) of sugar daily. My morning coffee alone use to knock back two-thirds of this recommended quantity. An average binge day? I ate in excess of 488 grams—almost 98% more than the recommendation or 122 teaspoons or 2.5 cups of sugar in a single day.
After horking down a binge high in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar could there possibly be any redeeming qualities in the fiber content of my day? There isn’t a remote chance. Recommendations vary from 25-50 grams of dietary fiber a day for women but by the end of the binge outlined here, I consumed less than 20 grams.
This is what a typical binge on any average work day looked like for me (though I won’t bore people with all the nutritional statistics).
Coffee with sugar and half-and-half
Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar—Apple Cinnamon
Chobani Greek Yogurt—Raspberry
Semi-Sweet Mini Chocolate Chips (mixed into the yogurt)
Tim Hortons Large Iced Capp Supreme
Two old fashion honey dipped donuts
Chocolate Chip Muffin
Milky Way Bar
Chicken Caesar Wrap
Two big, bakery M&M Cookies
Two Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
Snack bag of Peanut M&M Candies
After Work Treat
Chocolate Xtreme Blizzard
KFC Original Recipe 1 Thigh & 1 Original Drumstick
Two KFC Biscuits
Total calories: approximately 5967
Doing this exercise and taking the time to research the nutritional information for each of the items on my binge was an eye opener. I think it will help me develop a more critical eye toward what I believe is a “healthy” cheat. Learning exactly how many calories I was putting down in a single day is stunning but I refuse to feel ashamed because shame doesn’t help me move forward.
I am acknowledging and owning this truth so I can set it aside and move on with my life. I am learning that bingeing does not define me. With continued work, I will ultimately be free of this awful disorder.
Weigh In: 273.4 (-6.6 pounds)
I’m so happy with the success of this past week, I’m practically bouncing off the ceiling.
From January 1 to August 31, 2012, I experienced moments of profound depression that helped trigger horrific sugar-binges. By February, I was feeling utterly out of control and begged my doctor for help. It took two weeks to get in for a screening with the practice’s health-care assessment nurse, whose recommendation was needed for the doctor to make a counseling referral. It’s just the way this practice works to milk the insurance company. Fast forward to April, I was still waiting for the necessary referral, so started making phone calls. Fast forward to June, I finally received the referral but I couldn’t get my first appointment until July.
Throughout the six month waiting period, I continued to struggle to keep things together and limit my binge episodes as much as I could. I wasn’t successful. My blood sugars were high, my vision was blurry, my depression was a deep, dark pit. I made excuses to be late getting home from work in order to make stops at Dairy Queen or convenience stores to buy pastries. Loot in hand, I would park in remote areas of shopping center parking lots to gorge in secret, then drive to a local cemetery to dispose of the packaging in a trash barrel before going home to fix and eat dinner.
Just having someone to finally talk to about my depression, about my triggers, about my binges, and getting some feedback and suggestions for changing the way I look at things and think about things helped me start getting my head together.
Keeping the adage, “Is it true?” upfront in my mind has helped me to combat the knee-jerk reaction to spin out of control when someone criticizes or insults me. Signing off Facebook and getting away from the snarky negativity of my online “friends” has lifted a huge mental burden. Focusing on making myself a priority in my life is helping me to bull through low points when I am so tempted to reach for a candy bar. The one thing counseling is helping me accomplish, that I was not able to do on my own, is making a true commitment to myself.
As odd as that sounds, being a hyper-perfectionist, Type-A personality, I have harbored a fear of making a commitment to myself because it would mean I could not make any mistakes in keeping it. Frankly, I haven’t felt I was worth that kind of energy. My husband is worth my commitment because he is precious and dear to me and I love him with my heart and my life. I will take a bullet to save his life. I will take any measure to ensure his safety, happiness, and health.
But me? I didn’t think I was worthy of that kind of devotion. I’m still working on the process of convincing myself that I am worth the effort. Making it through an entire week of the Eat to Live Nutritarian lifestyle without any cheats and sticking to the plan of doing a 30 minute workout each day, shows that I made progress this week.
I’m not going to say that I didn’t struggled this week. From childhood I was conditioned that 3 p.m. is afternoon snack time. That snack was always something for a sweet treat as a reward for making it through my school day and getting home in one piece. Changing that imprinted habit is proving to be a very big challenge. I want to reach a point that I can breeze through 3 p.m. without thinking about food of any kind. Five days this week, I managed to stave off eating but on the two days I was feeling ultra crazed by the urge to eat, I turned to a fruit snack instead of sugar. This alternative gave me a healthy option with less caloric impact.
There were points in the week where I felt anxiety and sadness over the prospect of having to eat a mostly vegetarian diet for the rest of my life. I experienced a sense of loss for my beloved sugar and carbs. Although I need to experience a sense of mourning for the past, when I believed sugar was my best friend and closest ally, I also have to be careful not to overwhelm myself by anticipating the future. The key is to keep reminding myself to stick to the present and let the future take care of itself. If I keep borrowing trouble, I’ll end up right back where I was in February—in a state of desperation.
I have, by no means, conquered my dietary demons but when I wrestled with them this week, I won. That alone is reason enough to celebrate.
Ugh-a-Bug! It is a dark, dank day with torrential rain. Oh, I don’t want to go outside. I don’t want to go to work. I just want to crawl back in bed and sleep for several more hours. Today is definitely going to be a challenge.
Yesterday was a tough one at work. I have to create this php form for our website and guess who *doesn’t* speak php!? That on top of six other projects with pending deadlines made yesterday a pressure-cooker day. I felt so frustrated, which is one of the strong emotional triggers for a binge. So, on top of dealing with work-related issues and having to be pleasant to everyone, I was in a face-off with my urge to fall back on sugar to give myself a pleasure boost.
Fortunately, I packed my own lunch yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack enough healthy snacks. I missed my morning break due to a meeting, so when lunch time rolled around, I ate my lunch as well as my afternoon snack all in one sitting. After that, still feeling stressed, I shoved a dollar in the vending machine and bought the last Milky Way bar. I tucked the candy bar under my computer riser when I got back to my desk and continued with my day.
At 3 p.m., my afternoon break and habitual snack time, I was feeling all the pressure of the day and picked up the candy bar. Holding it, I told myself, “You made a commitment to yourself.” I took a deep breath and put the candy back in its hiding place. Five minutes later, after a debate with my inner critic, I picked up the candy bar again and repeated, “You made a commitment to yourself.”
The devil on my shoulder whispered that I was below on calories for the day, so one chocolate bar wouldn’t really hurt. That argument spurred me to log into Fitbit to journal all my food for the day, since everything was pretty straight forward. The devil on my shoulder was right. I had over 600 calories left for the day.
That’s when I decided to take a bathroom break and walk to the restroom located all the way over on the other side of the building. It’s a good three minute walk so, after using the facilities and taking a long time to wash my hands with warm water and lots of lather as a way to relax, I’d had a 10 minute break from my desk. It was enough time to ride out the emotional craving. When I got back to my work station, the phone started ringing and the e-mail was pinging, so I didn’t really have time to think about eating again. At 4:30 p.m., I was the first one out the door (which is really unusual, since I’m typically the last to leave and lock up).
I survived my first day back at work after a long holiday weekend and after starting my new dietary plan. The next score for the day was taking time after dinner to prepare my lunch for this morning, with an extra fruit cup for an afternoon snack. The devil on my shoulder spent the entire time whispering that it was late and I was too tired to exercise but I kept repeating to myself that I’d made a commitment, and I changed my clothes, hopped on the recumbent bike and did my 30 minute workout.
By the time I crawled into bed last night, I all but passed out, I was so tired, but I was happy with myself for having resisted the temptation to give in. I know that devil is waiting to pop back onto my shoulder but with God’s grace, I will continue to ignore the lure and stay on the right path.