my father has an age old saying that i’ve honestly heard more times than i care to count. “it can’t always be them, xan. sometimes, it has to be you.” every time he’s ever said it to me in the past, i’ve wished for the courage to sock him in the nose. largely, because he was right. but who needs to hear that a whole bunch? apparently me.
today while i was doing laps, i was reflecting on my life up until this point. there were so many times where i took the “victim” stance – “they were mean to me,” “what was i supposed to do? i had to act like that,” “she got up in my face first.” i have a million stories in my past where i fell “victim” to someone else’s cruelty and therefore i was prevented from getting what i “want.”
but as i did laps today, i thought about all those times, where i said something or did something that was ultimately self-destructive; the times when my bad attitude cost me a work opportunity, or cost me a relationship, or made it ever more difficult for me to live a happy and productive life. and i realized that the common thread in every one of these scenarios was me. i was the one knee-capping myself. i was the one ensuring that my life didn’t move forward the way i “wanted” it to. i was the one sabotaging myself, cheating myself out of life-changing opportunities with my big mouth because i was afraid to have the thing i claimed to really want. because having the thing would force me to be responsible, and i was terrified of myself.
it was one of those lightbulb, the buck stops here, kind of moments. for my entire life, up until recently, i have run from personal responsibility and accountability like the plague. before lil’ flipper came into this world, i lived solely for me, but not even in a satisfying manner. i lived in a totally irresponsible and selfish manner and i got very little to show for it as a result. well, i got a lot of grief and heartache, and a billion extra pounds to carry on my tired body and none of that is worth having.
but since finding swimming again, since having to recover from injury, since i decided to embark on this journey to lose weight and change my life through healthy diet and exercise, i realized that all those were just excuses to keep me stuck in a negative rut of my own making. i was too afraid to really let myself shine. i was too afraid to really be myself. i was too afraid to really put myself out there because i was afraid to fail and i was afraid of others seeing me fail. so, what did i do? i sabotaged myself to make sure that’s exactly what happened – i would make myself fail and then be angry at the other person. and by doing that, i ensured that everything would stay exactly the same tragic way it had always been.
there’s a sick comfort in doing the wrong things over and over again. i know that binge eating at krispy kreme is not the key to a better life, that 12 is not a reasonable serving of donuts (honestly, zero is a reasonable serving of donuts), but there’s familiarity in that particular form of self-abuse. some people are eaters, some are drinkers, some are druggers, some are all three. everyone has vices, and those vices become negative rewards and reinforcements for depressed states and angst about who you are and the wrong way you’re living. the more depressed i was, the more krispy kremes i ate, the more depressed i got because i ate them.
they call it a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” and that’s exactly how i was living. i was depressed i was heavy, so i ate more. i was frustrated that my body didn’t work the way i wanted it to, so i stayed sedentary to avoid dealing with it. i said whatever shot out of my mouth to friends and co-workers, because i didn’t care enough about myself to present a positive and healthy self-image. the more i reflected on these too numerous incidents to count, the more i realized how i had been behaving like this my whole life, and it was really up to me to change the record immediately or nothing would ever be different.
when the disc in my neck herniated and my arms stopped working, i needed surgery. so, i had it. the surgeon told me, after my surgery, that it had been text book and was a total success. except i looked down at my arms and they were like floppy noodles. i could barely lift a pan with two cups of water in it, because i was so weak. i asked him what to do about my arms and he said, “well, you’ve got to rebuild your strength.”
it was a total blow. i was sort of hoping that he would be like “here are some drugs you can take and then you’ll be strong like bull!” or something akin to that, but the answer really was, if i wanted MY arms to work I would have to heal them. if i wanted MY body to work, I would have to heal it through diet and exercise. if i didn’t want to die from diabetes and other obesity related illnesses, if i wanted to live long enough to see lil’ flipper get married and make me a grandma, if i wanted to have golden years to rock on my porch with merman merrel and yell at the skateboard kids to get off my lawn, it was up to ME to make all that happen. i couldn’t say any longer that it was someone else’s fault, someone else was keeping me down. i could no longer look to the external as the sole blame of my internal problem. i had to take the responsibility on myself. i had to be accountable for my bad behavior, for my negative actions that brought me here to this place of noodle arms. the surgeon did all he could for me, but the rest of it, that was all on me. and honestly, it was terrifying.
i had only ever looked outwards about my problems, but i soon realized if i wanted to live, I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO START LIVING. i was never going to be happy or healthy by pointing my fingers at other people, “it’s her fault!” is a totally unproductive stance, even if it is her fault. the only thing that i have total control over in this world is me. i have control over how i spend my time, how i fill my days, how i move and use my body, what sort of fuel i stuff in there, who i surround myself with. those are the things in my purview. everything else is just white noise.
it’s white noise to distract me from my real reality, which is if i’m acting out, why am i doing that? why am i getting an unreasonable level of angry about somebody or some nothing? why am i allowing the fact that some other person, i don’t care for, is out there roaming this earth bother me – they’re not thinking about me. why am i using my limited energy focusing on them? why am i not using the finite amount of time i have in my busy day of chasing a kid who knows four words, three of which are “no,” in a manner that betters myself and him? fear. it’s because i’m afraid.
once i strip away all of the bull, once i lay down all the grievance stories of my past and let go of the idea that “they did that to me, so i gotta show them,” i have 1000 more hours in my day to do healthy, positive and fun stuff that benefits me immensely, and my family, as a pleasant result. that’s so totally awesome.
but, there’s always this little voice nagging me in the back of my head. “what if i do give up all my negative behavior? what if i do good for me and i still fail?” well, what if? at least i tried. there will always be detractors, haters, judgers, and generally unpleasant people in this world who will cross paths with me and aggravate me for very minor things. i’m an easily annoyed person and i hate people who use small talk as a way to avoid dealing with real feelings. there will be at least a billion more times when i’ll get annoyed by someone else about very little. but it’s my responsibility to decide to hang on to that annoyance, or to change my internal record and say “they are annoying. phew. thank god i don’t have to spend another minute with them,” and then move on with my life.
i was so afraid at the beginning, it’s really humiliating. i was so terrified at the beginning of this journey that my arms would never work again, that i would literally be crippled from this injury and would never recover, that i was too scared to start. but eventually, i got sick and tired of being literally sick and tired. i realized that if i didn’t face my fears of failure, i would die and then no grandchildren, no rocking on the porch, just a lot of angst until i died from lethargy basically imminently. and i totally didn’t want that. i love my family too much to miss out on a single moment with them, so i decided, if i wanted to see them until my dying day, hopefully 60ish some years from now, i had to shape up or there was just no way it was going to happen.
i had to conquer my fears of failure to embrace the best part of myself; my courage. i am the bravest idiot i know. i always leap before i look. i’m always apologizing instead of asking first for permission. i’m always the first to charge into battle. and honestly, those are some of my best qualities. once i decided to embrace that for good not evil, once i decided to just hop into the pool and swim that first lap, i discovered the best part of myself, and it had been with me all along.
i had to take my fear and turn it into my fuel to guarantee my future health and wellness. will i always experience some level of pain due to this injury? probably. but how i deal with it is a different matter all together. i can choose to let my pain own me. i can allow it to depress me. i can let it get the better of me. i can succumb to it and let my son look back on his childhood with sadness and fear because his mom was always “sick” and “in bed resting” because she’s in “pain.” or i can harness my fear of all that and make it work for me. i can show him that i’m a tough, resilient person who won’t allow pain to define me. i can show him that i am a person who works out five days a week because i love it and to miss out on it is a total bummer, because that, like my nightly bubble bath, is my “me” time. his father and i can show him that when you’re having fun swimming as a family, it doesn’t seem like exercise, even though it is, because it’s a totally enjoyable endeavor. if you ask me, the latter is totally the way to go.
i have really discovered through this journey that i love myself and i love being with myself. me and myself have all the same interests. i get all of my own jokes. me and myself like the same tv and books. we love to cook together, and take photos together of the same things, and we both like what we write and do. we sincerely both love to draw a variety of hilarious mustaches on lil’ flipper with washable markers while we binge watch vintage sesame street. i don’t need to settle into the old negative groove, on that worn out record that is me blaming all the problems in my life on someone else. by taking responsibility, by holding myself accountable for my choices, decisions and actions, i am freed from my depressive prison. i am open to enjoy the myriad of blessings in my life and that is so much better than the first option.
but i am human, and sometimes, i backslide a little, without even realizing it. when i find myself there, slipping back into old negative patterns, and i’m having thoughts like “god, i hate her and her whatevers,” who ever she may be and whatever her whatevers are, i wonder to myself why am i allowing myself to go back there to that ugly place with that sad me? i don’t want to live in that space ever again. there’s nothing productive for me there; certainly nothing for me to feel good or proud about.
now, when faced with those challenges, i acknowledge that i’m feeling icky, that i’m clearly projecting my fears and insecurities and general crankiness outward, pinning my anger on someone else because i’m really just not satisfied with me and where i am in my own life and it’s easier to blame someone else than myself. once i realize that i’m doing that, it’s much easier for me to focus on my REAL problems and give them the attention they deserve. it’s so much easier for me to be kind to myself and ask myself “why?” instead of run to krispy kreme and punish myself with donuts while i hate on a random someone.
i never thought for a moment i would get here. a friend of mine said about me the other day “you’re so enlightened. you’re light years ahead of me.” but i don’t really think about it like that. recovery from anything, injury, illness, obesity, depression, drugs and alcohol, is all the same basic journey. but the only solution to resolving these issues, to the best of your ability, is to accept your personal responsibility for how you got here, and just decide to start living better. it seems like, at once, the most simple and yet the hardest thing to do. and trust me, it totally is. but living for you, choosing the best for yourself, living and being the person you want, is totally attainable. you just have to start with the first step. that first step is today.1